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Editorial Notebook: September

| September 27, 2012

A reenactment of the Democratic National Convention: Jacques Louis-David, ‘The Death of Socrates’ (1787)

Last Updated: Sept. 29, 1:29 p.m.

Richard Ford’s Canada | Mitt Romney’s Cold Showers | Polls and Bigotry | The 47 Percent Attack Ad | Moochers by State | Hubble’s Early Universe | Quote Approval | Their Haters, and Ours | Obama on Letterman | Al Hadeed on the Supremes | Embassy Security | Memories of the Ford Administration | When David Ayres Inhaled | Florida Real Estate | 9/11 and Hiroshima | From Coolidge to Romney | I love Wanda Sykes | “Built to Last,” Like Buchenwald | United States of Amnesia | Romney’s troops | Obama’s dud | Jacques Barzun on American Democracy| August Notebook | Follow me on Twitter

Richard Ford’s “Canada”: One of the many superb passages from Ford’s newest novel, a shoe-in for what ought to be his second Pulitzer (he won it in ’95 for Independence Day). Dell Parsons, his 15-year-old protagonist, is just entering the fog of abandonment, his parents just jailed after an improbable bank robbery. Berner is his twin sister: “It’s odd, though, what makes you think about the truth. It’s so rarely involved in the events of your life. I quit thinking about the truth for a time then. Its finer points seemed impossible to find among the facts. If there was a hidden design, living almost never shed light on it. Much easier to think about chess— the true character of the men always staying the way they were intended, a higher power moving everything around. I wondered, for just that moment, if we— Berner and I— were like that: small, fixed figures being ordered around by forces greater than ourselves. I decided we weren’t. Whether we liked it or even knew it, we were accountable only to ourselves now, not to some greater design. If our characters were truly fixed, they would have to be revealed later. It’s been my habit of mind, over these years, to understand that every situation in which human beings are involved can be turned on its head. Everything someone assures me to be true might not be. Every pillar of belief the world rests on may or may not be about to explode. Most things don’t stay the way they are very long. Knowing this, however, has not made me cynical. Cynical means believing that good isn’t possible; and I know for a fact that good is. I simply take nothing for granted and try to be ready for the change that’s soon to come.”

Mitt Romney’s cold showers: The gift that keeps giving. From Jay Smooth at Salon:

Polls and Bigotry: Just as James Ussher can still claim followers for his biblical fictions, Mitt Romney, a fantasist in his own right, still has diehard believers who claim all the polls are wrong and he’s right: he’s not just tied with Obama (as Romney thinks, as he put it in his appearance on 60 Minutes), but he’s ahead. Way ahead. The fantasy is being spread by, a sort of anti-hero to Nate Silver’s mathematically based analyses of polling data. In a post wonderfully titled “How Mitt Romney is actually defeating Barack Obama in the presidential race,” Dean Chambers at claims that polls are pushing Obama “because the mainstream media-commissioned polls over-sample Democrats to produce skewed results that favor the Democrats.” Keep in mind, even Fox News has its polls showing Obama comfortably ahead. Keep in mind, too, that these are the same polls that called the 2008 election quite accurately. Real Clear Politics’ final average of 15 polls, coming in at a 7.6-point advantage for Obama in the week before the vote, compared to the actual vote of a 7.3 percent advantage for Obama. Pretty damn accurate. But today’s brand of evangelical conservatives, god bless ’em, have never been accused of flirting with evidence.

So allegedly does what its name implies, and produces the results you see below. (Chambers goes as far as projecting a 54-46 percent win for Romney.) Of course,’s theory could just as easily apply if existing polls were to account for all the bigots voting against Obama because they can’t stomach the notion of a fag-loving Muslim-Kenyan nigger not only occupying the precious linen closets in the White House, but defeating their mostly Christian but assuredly white alternative. Unskew for that, and Obama’s lead would likely be in the upper 60s, which should make whiter Democrats prospecting for 2016 giddy–or finally encourage Harvey Fierstein to run for president. The remarkable thing is that Obama’s lead (going by the legitimate polls, anyway) is as solid as it is despite the claims against him, and despite the not-so-latent racism of a goodly chunk of our electorate. The conclusion must be that for all its noise, for all its tea party brews and evangelical zeal, the racist white vote that did so much for Nixon and continued to do quite a bit for the first Bush is becoming an irrelevant minority, fighting its death throes. Karl Rove figured that out in 2004, when he tried, successfully, to channel the angry white vote through the angry evangelical vote, often the same thing, but with gayed-up causes to come at the polls (2004 was the year of the anti-gay-marriage amendments, one of the high watermarks of American hate in action). But there’s only so much the Atwaters and Roves can do to prolong the life of a dying monster.

It’s not for another generation that the United States will be a minority white nation. But in spirit, it has already embraced its essential pluralism. The re-election of Obama will be–among the many things that it will be–an affirmation of that reality that Strom Thurmond’s descendants cannot accept. But their marginalization, self-inflicted–because it goes against the grain of the American character as it has finally grown–is unmistakable. Here, for laughs, is the how the unskewed see it:



The 47 percent attack ad: It’s finally here: the Obama campaign is making Romney’s 47 percent blunder pay. It took a week, an unusually long time for the Obama war room. Every campaign has an ad it hopes will make the ultimate difference. I’m not so sure this one will: it’s more cluttered than one would expect, and diffuses the message by first pounding the 47 percent,l but then going off on Romney’s other matters–his refusal to release tax returns before 2010 (which to me is not that relevant), his Cayman Islands bank accounts, his 14.1 percent tax rate last year. It ends: “Maybe instead of attacking others on taxes, Romney should come clean on his.” Again, not the most memorable line in the world. In the pantheon of attack ads, few stand out like this one, from the Johnson-Goldwater campaign, still a classic of fearmongering that worked: a little girl is pulverized by a nuclear explosion. Curiously, it’s an American-voiced countdown, presumably that of a Goldwater man, making him, in Johnson’s view, a more threatening child-killer than the Soviets:

This was the classic of the first Bush campaign, the Willie Horton revolving door ad that appealed directly and very successfully to the bigotry Southern whites, always a reliable bloc of racist votes. Here’s the ad with a little extra analysis:

Four years ago there was McCain boasting of agreeing with Bush 90 percent of the time:

So in light of these ads, I’m not sure how effective this one from the Obama campaign will be. Once again though, Obama is helped by Romney’s flaccid response. He has yet to produce a memorable ad.

Not surprisingly, moochers are concentrated in the South:

Click on the graph for larger view.

The early universe: I never get tired of seeing these time-traveling pictures, these stutters of eternity lit up like smudges on creation’s retina. This is the latest from the Hubble Space Telescope. “Like photographers assembling a portfolio of best shots, astronomers have assembled a new, improved portrait of mankind’s deepest-ever view of the universe,” NASA tells us. “Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photo was assembled by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken of a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The XDF is a small fraction of the angular diameter of the full moon.” It is disbelief in full, real suspension.

Quote approval: Good to hear from the Gray Lady, though it tells you how low journalism ethics have fallen when our most important news organizations have to write policies about what should be a given: “The New York Times is drawing ‘a clear line’ against the practice of news sources being allowed to approve quotations in stories after the fact,” Margaret Sullivan, the Times’s new public editor, writes. “The practice, known as quote approval, ‘puts so much control over the content of journalism in the wrong place,’ the executive editor Jill Abramson told me in an interview. ‘We need a tighter policy.'” Abramson’s memo: “The practice risks giving readers a mistaken impression that we are ceding too much control over a story to our sources. In its most extreme form, it invites meddling by press aides and others that goes far beyond the traditional negotiations between reporter and source over the terms of an interview.”

It’s not a black and white thing of course. There’s nothing wrong with reading back quotes to the un-initiates, those private people who haven’t dealt with media before: it’s our responsibility as reporters to protect them, not take advantage of them. But it’s an entirely different story with politicians, public figures, business interests and especially PR flackers whose job is to manipulate, spin, lie, self-serve, making it our job to turn on the bullshit meter and limit the damage as much as possible. That includes forbidding quote approval, which is in reality a different way of saying quote manipulation–spin by other means. The always straight-shooting David Carr got to the point in his column Monday, aptly entitled “The Puppetry of Quotation Approval“: “Keep in mind that when public figures get in trouble for something they said, it is usually not because they misspoke, but because they accidentally told the truth.” That was written just before Mitt Romney’s 47 percent bomb. Carr concludes: “Journalism in its purest form is a transaction. But inch by inch, story by story, deal by deal, we are giving away our right to ask a simple question and expect a simple answer, one that can’t be taken back. It may seem obvious, but it is still worth stating: The first draft of history should not be rewritten by the people who make it.”

Their haters, and ours: Thomas Friedman sums up the hypocrisy of the Arab-Muslim world well today, but it’s only half the story, with a convenient veil on its American equivalent. He writes: “I don’t like to see anyone’s faith insulted, but we need to make two things very clear — more clear than President Obama’s team has made them. One is that an insult — even one as stupid and ugly as the anti-Islam video on YouTube that started all of this — does not entitle people to go out and attack embassies and kill innocent diplomats. That is not how a proper self-governing people behave. There is no excuse for it. It is shameful. And, second, before demanding an apology from our president, Mr. Ali and the young Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and Sudanese who have been taking to the streets might want to look in the mirror — or just turn on their own televisions. They might want to look at the chauvinistic bile that is pumped out by some of their own media — on satellite television stations and Web sites or sold in sidewalk bookstores outside of mosques — insulting Shiites, Jews, Christians, Sufis and anyone else who is not a Sunni, or fundamentalist, Muslim. There are people in their countries for whom hating “the other” has become a source of identity and a collective excuse for failing to realize their own potential.”

But then there’s this: The Arab-American institute released a survey in August on how Americans view Arabs and Muslims. The results got little attention in the American press, not least because of the source: the Arab-American Institute, because it has the word “Arab” in it, is taken less seriously than, say, Gallup, for the very reasons the survey’s numbers are what they are: bigotry toward Arabs (and Muslims) is a casual fact in American life. The survey found that 42 percent of whites and rate Arabs unfavorably, and 44 percent rate Muslims unfavorably, with Republicans thickening the unfavorable numbers: 57 percent of Romney voters see Muslims unfavorably (compared to 26 percent of them seeing Mormons unfavorably). Just 32 percent of Republicans surveyed said they were confident an Arab could do the job in a position of influence in government. Just 27 percent of Romney voters say so. It’s not flattering to Democrats that just 50 percent of them think so. (See the full survey.)

And in July there was this: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 17 percent of Americans still think Obama is a Muslim, and 30 percent of Republicans do–double the proportion of Republicans who bought into the bigotry-laced lie four years ago. It’s not that Obama’s religion would be necessarily relevant, but that his association with Islam is designed to be denigrating by the very people who (see above) see Islam as a third-class religion–the same Christians who would, from behind their very glassy houses, since Christianity remains by far the most murderous and blood-soaked religion in the history of humankind. (To the Muslim world, those GIs running around Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade, those planes raining missiles, are no different than their Crusader forefathers).

Obama on Letterman: It was his seventh appearance. Letterman had no other guest. No Top 10 List. No stupid pet tricks, except when discussing Romney for a segment. We learned that Obama weighs “about 180,” which means 190, and that he would not put a precise number on the national debt as it stands today ($16 trillion, Mr. President). Letterman also asked him who holds all that debt. A lot of it is owed to ourselves, the president said, correctly: All but $4.7 trillion is either owed by the government to itself, or owed to Americans who’ve invested in Treasury bills. The remainder is owed other nations, lead by China ($1.3 trillion) and Japan ($885 billion), and Luxembourg is in there somewhere, in 12th place or thereabout, with $114 billion owed that postage stamp of a nation. Here’s the full list. And here’s the full bit from last night’s show:

Of course Letterman asked him about Romney’s confessions on his road to Damascus, by way of Boca Raton. The full exchange:

Letterman: Now, I don’t know if you have seen the videotape, but I’m sure you know what we’re referencing here. Mitt Romney at a fundraiser, I believe, in Florida, there’s a cell phone videotaping his remarks, and he talks about being – in very dismissive terms, why 47% of the people voting don’t matter to him. And what does that mean? Is that just – is that what rich guys at country clubs are talking about?

Obama: Well, I don’t know what he was referring to, but I can tell you this: when I won in 2008, 47% of the American people voted for John McCain. They didn’t vote for me. And what I said on election night was, ‘Even though you didn’t vote for me, I hear your voices, and I’m going to work as hard as I can to be your President.’ And one of the things I’ve learned as President is you represent the entire country, and when I meet Republicans as I’m traveling around the country, they are hard-working, family people who care deeply about this country and my expectation is that if you want to be President, you’ve got to work for everybody, not just for some…The other thing you discover as you travel around the country is, boy, the American people, they work so hard. I mean, the progress we’ve made since the great recession is because you’ve got single moms out there who are working two, three jobs to help make sure their kids can go to college. And you’ve got small business owners who are keeping their doors open and keeping their employees on even though it means they may not be taking down a salary. And, you know, you go up to Detroit or Toledo and you see auto workers who take huge pride in the fact that they’re bouncing back. But they work hard. And you don’t meet anybody who doesn’t believe in the American dream and the fact that nobody’s entitled to success, that you’ve got to work hard, and so I promise you, there are not a lot of people out there who think they’re victims, there are not a lot of people who think that they’re entitled to something. What I think the majority of people, Democrats and Republicans, believe is that we’ve got some obligations to each other, and there’s nothing wrong with us giving each other a helping hand, so that if there’s that single mom’s kid, even after all the work she’s done, still can’t afford to go to college, for us to be able to give them, you know, some help on a student loan so they can end up being – curing the next disease or making sure that they’re starting the next Google, I think that’s a good investment for America, and that’s – if you want to be President and you want to bring people together, I think that’s the attitude that you’ve got to have.

Al Hadeed. (© FlaglerLive)

Al Hadeed on the Supremes: Here’s something you don’t often get to hear locally, as gleaned from the county’s web calendar: “Al Hadeed, Flagler County Attorney, will be [the] featured speaker on how we select our justices for the Florida and U.S. Supreme Court. The talk is entitled ‘The Law of the Land: The Public’s Role (or not) in Selecting our Justices.'” That’ll be at the Flagler County Library today, Monday, Sept. 17, at 2 p.m., part of the 225th anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. From what I know of him, Hadeed–when he’s not mired in the muck of government legalese–has two intellectual passions: history and environmental protection. He is an absorbing storyteller who can get into the trance of his narrative to such a point that somewhere in him must float a few atoms of Billy Sunday. The topic today is especially relevant in two regards: A reactionary group that calls itself the Southeastern Legal Foundation (based in Atlanta), with more Southern than legal foundations about it, has been chasing after three of Florida’s supreme court justices in hopes of booting them off the bench, just because they’re Lawton Chiles appointees. That is, they’re relatively more liberal than the rest of their colleagues. So far the sniping has been unsuccessful. More critically, and I hope Al addresses this, is the fate of the U.S. Supreme Court, should Mitt Romney be elected. Justice Ginsburg is on her last walker: she wants out. But if Romney were to appoint her successor, those occasionally salvaging 5-4 majorities that still give the court a measure of liberal sanity would be history. We would have a court no different than that of the 1920s, when Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis alone faced the equivalent of a Chamber of Commerce board as supreme court justices, led by the rotund William Howard Taft, who at least could be occasionally reasoned with, but also sullied by the likes of Joseph McKenna, one of the great incompetents in Supreme Court history. Taft himself tried to get him to resign several times. Didn’t work–until McKenna’s wife’s death, which got him off the court in 1924. He was replaced by the far better Harlan Fiske Stone, but a minority of three was not enough to overcome the court’s compulsion for legal classicism, which translated into a war on labor unions and civil liberties in the name of business and property rights. We’re already there in several respects, though the present court has been more respectful of civil liberties than its 1920s version. Let’s see how Al takes on the Nine.

The new American embassy in London. Click on the image for larger view.

Embassy security: Disheartening pictures from the Benghazi embassy attack in today’s Daily Mail and in the Independent, what looks like a better report on what took place that day than what we’ve read so far in the American press, including this blast of Hurricane Katrina behavior: “According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and “lockdown”, under which movement is severely restricted.” They hadn’t had time in Benghazi to start building an embassy in line with the ugly and expensive fortresses being built around the globe by the State Department for its imperial staff, like that $750 million monstrosity in Baghdad, which sooner or later will have to be vacated if that country continues to go the way it’s going, or the even uglier horror going up in London, that one at a cost of $1 billion, with an architectural evocation of the Middle Ages: one of its security features is a 100-foot moat. No joke. If American embassies have to be guarded the way nuclear plants do, something has gone seriously wrong with America’s image in the world. Stephen Walt in a 2010 Foreign Policy article: “We like to think of our country as friendly and welcoming, as open to new ideas, and as a strong, diverse and confident society built on a heritage of pluck and grit. You know, we’re supposed to be a society built by generations of immigrants, pioneers and other determined folk who faced adversity and risk with a smile and a bit of a swagger. Yet the ‘Fortress America’ approach to embassy design presents a public face that is an odd combination of power and paranoia. Don’t get me wrong: states in the modern world have to worry about security for their representatives, and we ought to take all reasonable measures to ensure that our diplomats are adequately protected. But as with dangers (such as extremists with explosives in their underwear), it’s possible to go too far in the quest for perfect security. Trying to blast-proof everything may even be counterproductive, if the damage done to our global image is greater than the damage that violent radicals would do to a slightly less-fortified global presence.”

But that’s been nothing new since the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, or maybe–going by Bill McGuire’s timeline–since 1953, when the CIA toppled Iran’s Mosaddegh. Compare the new London embassy to the one it’s replacing, that one, as Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote in an appraisal in 2010, “an effort to project a progressive cultural image abroad, at the height of the cold war. One entry led straight from the street up a broad staircase to a public library and an art gallery that showcased postwar American artists like Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler and Philip Guston.” I imagine the new embassy will have paintings of Thomas Kinkaid and scenes from “Singin’ In The Rain.”

Memories of the Ford Administration: Anthony Ferreira was a third grader at Henry B. Milnes Elementary School in Fair Lawn, N.J., when he wrote this letter to President Ford, after Ford’s Sept. 8, 1974 “full, free, and absolute pardon” of Richard Nixon, who himself now seems like a third-grade lawbreaker compared with his party’s successors to the White House (Iran-Contra, the S&L scandal, Bush II’s encyclopedic end-runs around the Constitution):

ford nixon pardon

Click on the letter for larger view.

When WNZF’s David Ayres inhaled: “Yes I did inhale,” David Ayres, our favorite closet liberal–he’s the general manager of WNZF and joyful host of Free For All Fridays–said this morning on his show, talking about marijuana and the Palm Coast City Council’s stoned decision to chase after sellers of synthetic pot, “but got past that stage in life.” Too bad he did. Radio chat hosts without pot. What do you get? Conservative radio.

Florida real estate: “They took us prospective buyers on a special train out to a barren waste where it was proposed to sell them lots. Hastily thrown-together headquarters–indifferent lunch. But, after lunch, sudden eruption into room of real estate evangelist: he said there were three cardinal sins–fear, caution and delay–and gave them a sermon on those three heads. ‘And if Jesus Christ were alive today, he’d buy a lot right here!’–Inspirational effect on audience–several bought lots then and there. –When everybody else had gone, the promoter complimented the evangelist, who was mopping his brow like Billy Sunday: ‘That’s a great line of bunk you’ve got there! You ought to make a lot of money out of it!’ Evangelist: ‘Yes, it is. And I don’t get paid half enough.'”–From Edmund Wilson’s The Twenties.

Speaking of ground zero.

9/11 and Hiroshima: John McCain, the senator, the former presidential candidate and a man for whom John Hersey might have dedicated one of his books, just released a statementcommemorating the anniversary of 9/11: “Our shock over the enormity of the attack has long passed, as has the nation’s trauma, at least for those of us who did not lose loved ones on that terrible day. But we have not lost, and we never will, our outrage at the inconceivable cruelty, the depravity, it took to plan, organize and execute the atrocities. And let us act on our outrage, and teach our children to do the same, by not only remaining resolute in our efforts to defeat our enemies, but even more so in our efforts to remain the moral opposite of our enemies. Let us be, forever, a people whose respect for the dignity of all human life is our highest and defining value.”

Strange. Apply the very same sentiments, the same sentences, the same outrage and sorrow at the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it would be just as appropriate a statement, at least if you’re Japanese (this past Aug. 6 and 9, the anniversaries of those war crimes passed in the United States with hardly a mention of the more than 200,000 killed in those couple of flashes.) Just goes to show that no one has a monopoly on sanctimony, or the moral high ground.

From Coolidge to Romney: It happened with Ronald Reagan, when that great fabulist said he’d eliminate all tax brackets but two and cut the top marginal tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent (and reduce the other rate to 15 percent). Reagan said he’d do that and balance the budget. By the time those brackets and rates were fully in effect, from 1988 to 1991, the federal budget deficits he’d promised to erase went from $55 billion (in 1979) to $255 billion in his last year as president, and $375 billion a year later. The nation went from the world’s largest creditor to the world’s largest debtor. The national debt went from under $1 trillion in Jimmy Carter’s final year to $3.2 trillion in Reagan’s last–more debt accumulated on his watch than by all presidents before him combined, the enormous spending of World War II and World War I combined and included. Yet Ronald Reagan is still Republicans’ hero of fiscal responsibility. He’s certainly their role model, too. (See all marginal tax rates from 1913 to 2011 here.)

calvin coolidge, ronald reagan george bush mitt romney economics

Coolidge retreads.

So it happened again with the second Bush. When he was running against Al Gore, he claimed he could cut taxes from Bill Clinton levels (39.6 percent for top wage-earners, still among the cheapest rates in the western world) and not only preserve the federal budget surpluses he’d inherited from Bill Clinton, and a projected $5 trillion surplus over 10 years, but help pay down the debt and save Social Security and Medicare. Paul Krugman called him a liar, since the math simply did not add up. Bush went on to win the election and lose the economy: the deficit in his last year was $472 billion, the deficit in the following year, Obama’s first, but largely driven by the wreckage of Bush’s economy, was just under $1 trillion. And the national debt had literally doubled on his watch (it had tripled on Reagan’s), from $5.8 trillion to $12 trillion.

Now it’s happening again with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Not only does that odd coupling claim to be able to balance the budget (eventually), and restore fiscal responsibility, but it’s doing so by almost precisely replicating and compounding the Reagan and Bush approaches: first, make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Then reduce all marginal tax rates by 20 percent, which means reducing the current top tax rate of 25 percent to 28 percent–back down to those Reagan-era levels, which, not so incidentally, happens to be the lowest top marginal tax rate since when? 1929, when it was 25 percent. Please don’t think the Coolidge-Hoover years were the norm in tax rates: they were, like the Depression they seeded, aberrations. Before Coolidge, and from 1917 to 1923, the top tax rate was between 67 percent and 58 percent. So our current Coolidge-Hoover reenactors want to bring back the 1920s in tax laws, despite the lessons of the 1980s and of the 2000s. It gets worse. Romney claims his plan can be revenue-neutral. In other words, federal revenue won’t drop. He says he’ll eliminate tax breaks to make it work. Nothing else. But when he was asked on Meet the Press on Sunday which tax breaks he’d eliminate, he didn’t say. Not one. Not a single example. How’s that for trusting the blind? Yet he claims he won’t raise taxes on anyone, including the middle class. “The problem, tax analyst say,” the Times reports today, “is that it is mathematically impossible to do all three of those things.”

Can’t cut taxes for all, eliminate tax breaks and keep it all revenue neutral while not raising taxes for anyone. Cannot be done. In other words, in good Reagan-Bush style, Romney, good Mormon that he is, is lying. Yet he’s still taken seriously by half an electorate that claims to want honesty and responsibility in government.

Calvin Coolidge, too, had been governor of Massachusetts.

I love Wanda Sykes:

wanda sykes to republicans

“Built to last.” Frightening to discover that that phrase, a centerpiece of the Obama campaign (stolen from GMC’s monster-truck ads), was once used by Ed Murrow in a radio dispatch from Europe, on April 15, 1945, after his visit to Buchenwald: “It is on a small hill about four miles outside Weimar, and it was one of the largest concentration camps in Germany, and it was built to last.”

jim sheeler final salute soldiers funeralsUnited States of Amnesia: It’s not just pandering. It’s forgetting. Nobody really cares that the Afghan war is still going anymore than anyone gave a snot about the Iraq war once the economy here began to sour (ironically, in good part because of those wars, which sucked the blood out of the fiscal soundness of the treasury). I referred to this last month, but the words of a Marine, Sgt. Damon Cecil, at the funeral of a fallen soldier from Iraq, put it best: “‘I feel like the world has changed the channel,’ he said. ‘When the soldiers started dying at the beginning, it was like this big movie on the screen. And now it’s like it’s gone to DVD. It’s on the shelf….Those yellow stickers, it was like they were cool for a while, but everything seems to come as a fad, a big wave. But the wave crashes.'” Cecil is quoted toward the end of Jim Sheeler’s Final Salute, the excellent book by the Rocky Mountain News reporter who covered military funerals and followed the lives of victims’ families and survivors back home over a year. He won the Pulitzer in 2006. The photographs in the book are equally powerful, shot by Todd Heisler, who won a Pulitzer for them and was eventually hired away by the New York Times. The Rocky Mountain news went out of business in 2009. Sheeler is now a professor at Case Western Reserve University.

Romney’s troops I’m no fan of Romney, and he didn’t help himself when given a chance to explain, but too much is being made of his not pandering enough to troops at the Republican National Convention while democrats went porno on pandering at theirs. Sheer exploitation. First send them off to get killed and maimed for absolutely no useful purpose, not even to the nations on whose soil they’re dying (do I really want to spill blood to protect Afghanistan’s regressive religious rule? I don’t mean the Taliban, but the reigning tribes and the existing government, whose oppression is different from that of the Taliban only in degrees, not in principle.) Then they use them as props. What’s left of them, anyway. The country spends altogether too much time indulging in that sort of tumescent militarism, a sad commentary on what Andrew Bacevich (a conservative) refers to the country’s “path to permanent war.”

Obama’s Dud: I sure hope Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention isn’t an indication of his next four years, should he win. The speech was a dud regardless. Coming after Bill Clinton’s, Michelle Obama’s and Joe Biden’s, it bombed: uninspiring, cliche-ridden, unliterary, tired, light-weight. We expect that from Republicans, who have no idea how to turn a phrase, making more glaring the vacuum at the heart of their policy ideas, such as they are. We don’t expect it from Obama. Maybe he’s become too self-conscious about his alleged eloquence, the charges of “soaring rhetoric” at the expense of solid ideas. But his convention speech abandoned both. I didn’t need him to tell me what he’ll be doing over the next four years. That’s what he’s being criticized for, but that’s beside the point. We pretty much know what he’ll be doing. I was wanting to hear him tell us what method he’ll use to get done what he wants to get done, since method hasn’t been his strong suit in his first term, despite considerable achievements: he waited too long (two and a half years) to finally realize that Republicans weren’t interested in governing with him, but in screwing him at every turn, as Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, put it candidly and cynically in July 2011 (“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president”). Obama didn’t have to wait until July 2011 to learn what we all learned weeks into his administration, when not a single House member and just three senators voted for the stimulus package that, speaking of achievements, prevented a second depression. But it wasn’t bold enough to lift us out of the enduring recession. The convention speech sounded as mired as his governing style. He can use an awakening. For now he’s relying too much on the Democrats’ Great White Hope: Romney’s astounding vacuity.

From Jacques Barzun, “Of Human Freedom”: “The United States is a free democracy, but we who live in it are still afraid of discussion. We prefer kindness to intelligence, boosting to knocking, conformity to criticism. We dread unpopularity and so court one another with lies, as minions used to court princes, to their joint peril in this world and the next.”

15 Responses for “Editorial Notebook: September”

  1. question says:

    Obama’s Dud ! ? it bombed: uninspiring, cliche-ridden, unliterary, tired, light-weight. ! ?

    Bitch, bitch, bitch…geesch. He is saving our sorry butts from extinction. He should have walked on stage, said “What President Bill Clinton said” and walked off the stage. ALL that was needed at the Presidential level had been said. It previewed the hellscape sure to ensue if the kindly but vacuous empty suit Governor takes over the reigns of this splendid country. It was perfection…said better than anyone on this green earth could say it. He clarified every key element of this election and President Obama’s effect upon said elements. It drew for us a crystal clear, 4-color picture of what we’re getting with our current, almost 4-years under his belt at being the Osama ‘s dead & GM is alive President. Oratory complete.

    The Beatles performed… Obama wrapped it up, closed the show. [a damn successful convention & light years ahead of the hot mess served up by the Guv]…and I don’t think any of the delegates in the arena asked for their registration fee back.

  2. question says:


    forecast has moved toward President Obama over the past several days. It now gives him about a THREE-IN-FOUR chance of WINNING the Electoral College on Nov. 6.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Question, I hope you’re not getting the impression that my criticism of Obama equates to an endorsement of Romney. There’s no competition there. This election is the chess equivalent of Gary Kasparov playing Sarah Palin. That doesn’t mean Kasparov shouldn’t be criticized for playing unimaginatively, which is I think what’s happening here. But I don’t see this election as Obama-Romney so much as Obama-Obama. If he loses, it won’t be because of Romney’s qualities. Nor should it mean that liberals should pull a Rove and fall in line behind their man, submissively and unquestioning. That would be illiberal. It would be Republican.

  3. Dorothea says:

    I just watched Norah O’Donnell interview Paul Ryan on “Face the Nation.” Very impressed with O’Donnell. She was armed with the facts and really pushed Ryan when he began his litany of lies. However Ryan squirmed and obfuscated, ducked and dived and when that failed he just plain changed the subject.

    Pierre, I hope that adding my “scratches and notes” of the day’s events conforms with your expectations or do you want me to just comment on the matters you have already commented on in your editorial? This is a serious question. No sarcasm intended.

    • Piere Tristam says:

      Dorothea, just as the notebooks are a place for me to wander about a bit less restrained, so should the comments be in that space (you know, within reason). It’s the closest thing we’d have to an open thread. So by all means, scratch away. You got me curious about that interview. I’m hunting for it.

  4. Damon Cecil says:

    Piere Tristam, thank you for making comments about the book “Final Salute”, It means a lot to me that there are people out there still mentioning this. Jim Sheeler and Todd Heisler are great guys and we had no idea of the impact the pictures Todd was taking of us were going to have. My hat is off to you. There is even a song written about the book as well posted on the damon4421 you tube page. Anyways, stick in there and again, I appreciate you brining up the reminder in your editorial. Semper Fidelis. Staff Sergeant Damon Cecil, USMC.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Thank you for dropping by Sgt. Cecil. The value of Final Salute keeps appreciating with time just as the politics and muck of that decade keep depreciating: it’ll always be about the lives lost, given how little was gained at their expense.

  5. Magicone says:

    Scary isn’t it. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem. We have abused power and called it politics. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. The United States of Amnesia needs to wake up and vote Obama out of office. Did you know that Obama’s daughter spent Spring Break in Mexico with 2 of her friends, 25 secret service agents,plus air force one; it cost us taxpayers more than the average American makes in a lifetime for his 13 year old to enjoy Spring Break. WAKE UP AMERICA B-4 ITS TO LATE

  6. Dorothea says:


    Bet you didn’t complain about the cost of Secret Service protection when the undisciplined Tequila Twins traveled abroad. Just imagine the cost of Secret Service protection required by the Romney family; five sons, wives, grandchildren. Malia was on a class trip with about a dozen students. But if you are the daughter of President Obama, suddenly the cost matters to you.

  7. Magicone says:

    @Dorothea On the contrary my dear; I did complain about the costs of the “Tequila Twins”abroad. I complain about the travel expenses that we are paying for Nancy Pelosi being one of the worst, congress traveling to Hawaii. All these travel expenses are one of the reasons that the Obama administration is borrowing $50,000.00 every second that passes…………..tick, tick, tick……………….One Big Ass Mistake America!!!! It is an Obamanation!!

  8. Liana G says:

    The new world opinion report has America standing in the world at even newer lows (our standing has been steadily declining for years) since Obama became president. Even among Russians and Japanese, the two countries that have consistently recorded the highest favorable opinions of America. The reason has more to do with America’s increasing hubristic and belligerent attitude around the world, not to mention its new ‘double tap’ drone attacks. The fact that liberals choose a black person to hide behind while promoting their evil agenda, no doubt, sealed the stereotype of blacks being “scary and dangerous”.

    I have to admit that, initially, I had felt resentment that a Native American was not given first preference for president. But you know, given what these folks have endured in this, their very own country. I am glad they are spared from this world view.

    BTW, where is Michael Steele. He is one lucky man.

  9. Dorothea says:

    @Liana G

    Please provide a link to the “new world opinion report.”

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