Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Now that's what I call a politician

It must be nice to be Hillary Clinton. She gets to tweak Barack Obama anew for the ongoing spectacle that is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, while her supporter pushes him as a speaker to the National Press Club -- the very forum that has renewed the controversey over Obama's former pastor:

National Press Club president Sylvia Smith responded today to a Daily News article reporting that club member Barbara Reynolds, a Hillary Clinton supporter, organized yesterday’s breakfast talk with Dr. Jeremiah Wright Jr. Smith said by phone this morning that she still doesn’t know if Reynolds supports Clinton, and doesn’t care either way.

“Reverend Wright is newsworthy, period,” Smith said. But Wright wasn’t as newsworthy two years ago when Reynolds first pitched Barack Obama’s controversial pastor as a potential speaker for the press club, according to Smith. At that time, the speaker’s committee—of which Reynolds is now a part of, but wasn’t at the time—didn’t move forward with selecting Wright.

“He wasn’t newsworthy then in the broader context,” Smith said.

An ordained minister, Reynolds, teaches at Howard University School of Divinity, and knows Wright personally. So she was the ideal contact person for Wright when the controversy broke in mid-March. Smith said that Reynolds pitched Wright again as a speaker, and the speakers committee wanted him because he was far more newsworthy than two years earlier. Reynolds became the point person.

Clinton, meanwhile, agrees with the man she hopes to face in the fall election, John McCain, when it comes to his disasterous idea to suspend the federal gas tax:

Mrs. Clinton, of New York, has also taken varying stands on the issue of gas taxes. In her 2000 Senate campaign, she spoke against repealing the federal gasoline tax, calling it “one of those few taxes that New York actually gets more money from Washington than we send.”

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

More things I learned by reading the newspaper

It turns out that John McCain would be the first person born in the 1930s to become president, which may be more than mere demographic anomaly, according to this New York Times essay. I found the article fascinating because my parents were born in the 1930s -- my father in 1933, my mother in 1936. (The same year as McCain.) They are part of what is known as the silent generation -- almost, in some ways, a lost generation. They have vivid memories of World War II but were too young to have participated. They were too old to enjoy the cultural revolution that rock 'n' roll ushered in, and while they may have been sympathetic to the civil rights and anti-war movements, many didn't participate.

Interestingly, one of my favorite TV shows, "Mad Men", set in 1960, focuses on this generation, and it portrays them -- sometimes to the point of caricature -- as woefully ill-prepared for the social and cultural upheavals that were to come.

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Silver linings

Frank Rich may be whistling past the graveyard, but there's a lot of merit methinks in his arguments that things aren't going great right now for presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. First of all, Rich notes, McCain's opponents in the Pennsylvania Republican primary Tuesday received 27 percent of the vote, even though McCain now has enough pledged delegates to win the nomination. (Ron Paul is a western Pennsylvania native, but he's drawn so little media coverage lately that I'm guessing that fact faded from voters' memories.)

To add to Rich's point, the broohaha in North Carolina over the state GOP's ads linking statewide Democratic candidates there to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright may be alienating some Republican voters from McCain, who has roundly criticized the ads. I listened to an NPR report (I think it was this one) in which North Carolina conservatives complained that they still haven't heard what they want to hear from McCain, a candidate distrusted by many conservatives. Given the flawed candidates McCain beat for the nomination, it's possible he still has to seal the deal with many Republican voters.

As Rich notes, McCain is also missing out on the grilling that the Democratic candidates are giving each other, which Rich seems to think will do less damage to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton than the conventional wisdom holds. In fact, McCain has a bunch of problems, according to Rich:

Mr. McCain is not only burdened with the most despised president in his own 71-year lifetime, but he’s getting none of the seasoning that he, no less than the Democrats, needs to compete in the fall. Age is as much an issue as race and gender in this campaign. Mr. McCain will have to prove not merely that he can keep to the physical rigors of his schedule and fend off investigations of his ties to lobbyists and developers. He also must show he can think and speak fluently about the domestic issues that are gripping the country. Picture him debating either Democrat about health care, the mortgage crisis, stagnant middle-class wages, rice rationing at Costco. It’s not pretty.

Indeed.

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I hope he heeds it

Here is some good advice for Barack Obama.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

The things you learn by reading the newspaper

The Trib today has an article about Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's fears that community benefits agreements (CBA) like the one forged between the Penguins and Hill District residents will scare away developers if other neighborhoods push for CBAs.

"My belief is that it was a unique situation," Ravenstahl said Thursday. "It was the result of the prior experiences that they had with the Mellon Arena site that was developed, and the uprooting and dislodging and changing of a neighborhood without any consultation. That's why a community benefits agreement was ultimately reached and why we entered into the dialogue." (link)

The mayor may be correct that the situation in the Hill District is unique because of the historical baggage the construction of a new arena carries. But it's my belief that any time a developer is relying on the power of government to get their project done -- either through subsidies or the granting of exclusive development rights -- then neighbors deserve to have a say in how that development will unfold. If developers use their own money, and secure land or development rights on the open market, then, perhaps, they can tell neighbors to go pound sand. Otherwise, residents deserve a place at the table.

In other news, according to this story about new highway funding, the federal gasoline tax has remained at 18.4 cents since 1993. In constant dollars, that's about 13 cents. Adjusted for inflation, the tax would be 27 cents.

So what's my point? People who know me or who read this blog regularly (about three people) know that I'm an advocate of walkable, high-densiy development, and that government should be pushing people to conserve fuel, and not just throwing money at developing alternative sources of energy (though given the rapid development of ecomomies in places like India and China, both strategies are probably necessary.)

Therefore, I propose that the gasoline tax be adjusted for inflation at least every two to three years. Making gasoline even more expensive than it is now would encourage people to drive less, and also encourage more sustainable development. In the short term, it would also raise more revenues for road repairs, since short-term demand for gasoline is relatively inelastic. In the long-term, gas tax revenues would fall, but so would wear and tear on roads and bridges.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

You're g--d--- right I'm bitter

She's on her way:



(Thanks to Jason.)

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Yes and no

As I think I've made clear, I'll be voting for Barack Obama on Tuesday. So I'll admit to a certain amount of initial glee when I read this essay by Camille Paglia telling women that Hillary Clinton does not deserve their support. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized it contained more than a couple cheap shots. To wit:

Whatever her official feminist credo, Hillary's public career has glaringly been a subset to her husband's success. Despite her reputation for brilliance, she failed the Washington, DC bar exam. Thus her migration to Little Rock was not simply a selfless drama for love; she was fleeing the capital where she had hoped to make her mark.

In Little Rock, every role that Hillary played was obtained via her husband's influence - from her position at the Rose Law Firm to her seat on the board of Wal-Mart to her advocacy for public education reform. In a pattern that would continue after Bill became president, Hillary would draw attention by expressing public "concern" for a problem, without ever being able to organise a programme for reform.


Clinton, I'm sure, would appreciate the irony. In 1992, she has to defend herself for being too independent, and now, when she's running for president, she's criticized for being little more than a glorified housewife.

Here's the problem with what Paglia writes: Hillary Clinton is 60 years old. No doubt she's had far more opportunities in her life than her mother -- but she's probably had far fewer than her daughter. The glass ceiling in politics is no doubt lower and sturdier than in many other fields. Even if you have the wherewithall to get your name on a ballot, voters are not bound by anti-discrimination laws.

Look around. No other female politician is poised to make a serious run at the presidency. Paglia's feminist sensibilities may be offended by Clinton's use of her husband's career as a springboard, but nepotism is a venerable tradition in politics, and it's propelled numerous male careers.

I'll confess to not being as familiar with Clinton's history as Paglia purports to be, so it's possible that the future First Lady did run from Washington with her tail between her legs, as Paglia writes. I'm also not a lawyer, but I bet Clinton isn't the first intelligent person to fail the D.C. bar exam. I'm sure she could have tried again. Perhaps she chose to make her career secondary to that of her husband. The Clintons would not be the first couple whose ambitions came into conflict, or could not be simultaneously realized. Certainly, there is far more social and cultural pressure on a woman to choose family over career, but Paglia doesn't even give Hillary Clinton credit for making a choice in the first place. Having failed in her own right, Paglia writes, Clinton accepted the consolation prize of her husband's coattails. It's an unfair and patronizing assessment.

There is, however, some poetic justice in Clinton facing this line of attack. Her famous line in 1992 about not having stayed home and baked cookies may have been a broadside at people who see no place for women outside the home. But it was also demeaning to women who choose, for whatever reason, to be homemakers. It was also, dare I say, elitist.

Like Paglia, I find Clinton to be an odd choice for a feminist icon, given that much of her career is owed to her husband. But she's also a reminder that in 2008, women still face the kind of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't dilemmas that trouble men not a whit.

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Mister we could use a man like Jimmy Carter again

Smarter people than I have already weighed in on how ill-advised it would be to suspend the federal gasoline tax, as John McCain has proposed. Let me add my own voice nonetheless: This is a really, really, stupid idea. Our so-called leaders should be telling us to consume less fuel, not giving us license to use more. (Not to mention the loss of funds for road and bridge repair.)

And I'm not letting the Democratic candidates off the hook. They can spar all they want over oil company profits, or who did or didn't vote for the Bush administration energy proposal, but I don't hear either one of them giving the hard truth to the American people: The age of cheap energy is gone, probably for good, and neither technology nor alternative fuels will save us unless we make fundamental changes in the way we live.

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What's the matter with conventional wisdom

Paul Krugman challenges, as he has before, the entire bitter/What's the Matter with Kansas thesis:

It’s true that Americans who attend church regularly are more likely to vote Republican. But contrary to the stereotype, this relationship is weak at low incomes but strong among high-income voters. That is, to the extent that religion helps the G.O.P., it’s not by convincing the working class to vote against its own interests, but by producing supermajorities among the evangelical affluent.

So why have Republicans won so many elections? In his book, “Unequal Democracy,” Mr. Bartels shows that “the shift of the Solid South from Democratic to Republican control in the wake of the civil rights movement” explains all — literally all — of the Republican success story. (link)

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Context? We don't need no stinkin' context

Bram posts Obama's "bitter" remarks in their entirety. He could have chosen his words better, but it's nowhere near the condescending tripe it's made out to be.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Someone needs to take away his copy of "What's the Matter with Kansas?"

Cling to guns? Really?

At issue are comments Obama made privately at a fundraising gathering in San Francisco last Sunday. He explained his troubles winning over working class voters, saying they have become frustrated with economic conditions:

"It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The comments, posted on the Huffington Post political Web site Friday, set off a storm of criticism from Clinton, Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain and a number of other GOP officials. (link)

So much for narrowing Clinton's lead in Pennsylvania.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

This parrot is no more

Someone decided to make a list of the top 50 comedy sketches -- quite a bold undertaking. Personally, I prefer the cheese shop sketch (see below) to the dead parrot.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Steely McDrunk

Not only is this guy facing DUI charges, but now everyone knows what he did for a living.

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The problem lies not in our stars, but in ourselves

A blogger at the Chronicle of Higher Education says that technology can't save us from our addiction to cheap oil:

Better solar panels, improved insulation, and more miles per gallon are attainable if we want them; the lab wizards can be counted on to provide them.

The real problem is that the energy crisis is mainly in our heads — in our habits and comfort preferences. (link)

That's why it drives me nuts to hear politicians -- including those I support, like Barack Obama -- complain about oil companies' "windfall profits." If we stop driving so damn much (says the Brookline resident who works in Moon), then maybe those gas prices will go down.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

"Don't look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find."

The New York Times obituary of Charleton Heston noted that reprised his role of astronaut George Taylor in "Beneath the Planet of the Apes", the sequel to 1968's "Planet of the Apes." Heston, however, appeared on briefly in the second "Apes" film (which, in my opinion, was the worst). The protaganist of the second film, cast for his resemblance to Heston, was James Franciscus.

I don't think anyone would ever call Heston a great actor. Others of his generation had far greater talents. But he never failed to entertain, either as Moses or the guy who discovers that Soylent Green is people. That's what it's all about.

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Let's keep our eye on the ball, people

Frank Rich lays out the case against John McCain. All those Obama and Clinton supporters who say they won't vote for their opponent against McCain had better pay heed:

The difference between the Democrats and Mr. McCain going forward is clear enough: They want to find a way out of the morass, however provisional and imperfect, and he equates staying the disastrous course with patriotism. Mr. McCain’s doomed promise of military “victory” in Iraq is akin to Wile E. Coyote’s perpetual pursuit of the Road Runner, with much higher carnage. This isn’t patriotism. As the old saying goes, doing the same thing over and over again and hoping you’ll get a different result is the definition of insanity.

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That's one they might want to let us have

The New York Times has a fascinating article about persistent rumors, during his lifetime and after, that President Warren Harding had African-American ancestry. One can imagine the chuckle African Americans might have at the thought that at a time when racism and segregation reigned supreme in American society -- the articles notes that the Ku Klux Klan enjoyed a revival in the 1920s -- Americans inadvertenly elected a president with black relatives. On the other hand, no one is going to be doing any bragging about Warren Harding, who, as a friend noted, had the good sense to die before the extent of his administration's corruption was revealed.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

This is your hometown

The New York Times visits the birthplace of yours truly and allows readers to draw thei own conclusions.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

The road to Damascus

Luke Ravenstahl has seen the light and embraced city-county consolidation. But what is the likelihood that a referendum calling for a city-county merger will pass? I'm wondering if Ravenstahl and Dan Onorato are pushing this, thinking that it probably will be rejected by voters. They'll be able to claim credit for pushing a bold solution to the region's problems, without taking too big a hit for endorsing an unpopular idea. And if the referendum did pass, then regardless of the consequences, it would be an historic achievement that would bolster both men's careers.

In other words, it's a win-win proposition. Why wouldn't the mayor get behind it?

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