Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blog has moved

Thank you for visiting my blog. 

The preferential blog has moved.  The url is now:

Click here to get to the new blog. 

Please change your bookmark and continue to come by.

Thank you and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Away in a Manger

 A Real Manger
I sometimes think it's a mistake to drill into children the Christmas story of Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem. In a way, we end up trivializing the story because it becomes so familiar by the time the child reaches critical thinking that the story loses all its powerful. You almost have to relearn the enormous implications of this story if you, in fact, believe it. What is says is that the creator of the unimaginably vast universe, of which the earth is but a less than insignificant speck, lowered him of herself to be born as a human on this speck and offered a promise of eternal, joyful life. Of course, the story gets even more improbable as it goes on to Jesus's actual life.   But even the birth story is a bit hard to grasp when considered tabula rasa.

It might be better to work backwards.  Imagine there's a God who cares about us.  Now, imagine that this God wants to communicate a certain message to us.  Finally, imagine that the message is one of humility and love for the least among us.  How would God communicate that message?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chicken Hawks

Today's Washington Post shows the utter hypocrisy and false bravado of the tea party nut jobs that are running the U.S. House.  The story is about the grumbling over the outcome of the payroll tax debacle and all their brave talk about how they act on principle and not politics.  Of course, all the messaging coming from House Republicans has been that they want a full year deal, not a 2 month fix that "kicks the can down the road."

But here's the key passage;
The temporary deal extended a tax cut many freshmen believe had been embraced by President Obama and Republican leaders merely because it was popular. Opponents argued that it would not stimulate the economy as Obama had maintained. They also said it could harm Social Security funding over time.
 That is not an argument for a one year deal. That is an argument for no payroll tax cut, at all.  But you won't hear them arguing for no tax cut.  They may be dumb, but they're not stupid.  They want to block the cut without paying the political price, which would be enormous.

Of course,  those who outwardly support the cut are hypocrites, as well.  When the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy came up for renewal, we were told that there shouldn't be offsets, that it was irresponsible to find a way to "pay" for them because we are just giving people their own money back.  But now, when the renewal of a tax cut is for the middle income and poor, we must pay for it.

It's enough to make your head spin.  I hope and pray that the voters are getting all this.  Given the high visibility of this fight, I think they are.  And, for anyone who's missed it, the tea partiers vow to renew the fight next year.

Bring it on!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ann Richards

One of my fondest political memories is the evening I spent with Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas.  Her daughter Cecile's family live across the street from me in Washington and Cecile invited me and my wife to dinner with her mother.  It was just the five of us and what a night it was!  I wish I could remember every moment, but I can't.  Mainly I remember Ann and her daughter ridiculing our Boston accents.  But the strongest impression I came away with was her amazing authenticity.  The Ann Richards at that dinner was exactly the same as the Ann Richards that electrified the Democratic National Convention in 1988, just a little quieter....just a little.

Monday, December 05, 2011


I just finished the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.  It may be the best book I've ever read, certainly among the top five.  It is the story of Louis Zamparini, an Olympic runner who crashes in the South Pacific during World War II and is captured by the Japanese.  I won't give away any more of the plot, but suffice to say it is a story of unimaginable suffering, but told in a way that grabs hold of you and doesn't let go.  Hillenbrand knows exactly when you've had enough suffering and lightens the story at just the right moment.  She is an extraordinary writer.  I had no interest in her previous book, Secretariat, thinking, "Who wants to read a biography of a horse?"  The fact that it was a bestseller and made into a movie, suggests there's more to it.  Having read Unbroken, I can better appreciate its popularity.

Her research is extraordinary.  The book recounts day by day, even minute by minute accounts of events that took place 70 years ago and does so in ways that take your breath away.  Buy this book and set aside some time.  It's a long book, but you'll want to read it in one sitting.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thank You Barney Frank

Barney Frank had more impact on my life than any human being outside my immediate family.  I was 27 years old and adrift.  I was in the final semester of UMass/Boston after an bumpy 8 year odyssey toward an undergraduate degree in political science.  I had been working as a stock boy at the Stop & Shop for 11 years and was contemplating the exciting prospect of being promoted to frozen food manager at Store 431 in Roslindale, a blue collar neighborhood of Boston.  Then, everything changed.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake!

If you want to give your class-based moral indignation a big boost, read today's front page story on Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder fortune.  The lengths to which the Lauder family goes to avoid taxes is extraordinary.  Clearly, this family believes that its wealth is divinely granted and it owes nothing to the country that has treated it so well. 

Here's just one example.  A ten year fight over a piddling $90 million for a family sitting on billions:
When Mr. Lauder’s father, Joseph, died in 1983, family members fought the I.R.S. for more than a decade to reduce their estate tax. The dispute involved a block of shares bequeathed to the family — the estate valued it at $29 million, while the I.R.S. placed it at $89.5 million. A panel of judges ultimately decided on $50 million, a decision that saved the estate more than $20 million in taxes.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cue the "Law and Order" Theme

There is a truly stunning article in the Financial Times that provides a "tic toc" of the event leading to and following the famous incident in the New York Sofitel Hotel between Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the chamber maid.  It must be read in its entirety to get the full impact.  It suggests the possibility that DSK may have been set up by political forces supporting French President Sarkozy. 

Here are some of the amazing documented facts:
  • The maid entered the room at 12:07.  At 12:13 pm DSK was on the phone with his daughter making lunch plans.
  • The maid made frequent visits, before and after the incident to a nearby room on the same floor.  The hotel won't reveal who was in that room.
  • DSK was warned that somebody was monitoring his cell phone calls, which caused him to have his blackberry checked for bugs.  He left his blackberry in the room and it was mysteriously disabled.
  • There a a video of two security guards "high fiving" and doing a 3 minute celebratory dance after DSK was arrested.
  • The head of security for the holding company that owns Sofitel Hotels was at a soccer game with Sarkozy when the incident occurred.
It's a plot worthy of Law and Order.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Krugman on the 99.9%

Paul Krugman points out the economic fallacy of coddling the 0.1%.

Given this history, why do Republicans advocate further tax cuts for the very rich even as they warn about deficits and demand drastic cuts in social insurance programs?

Well, aside from shouts of “class warfare!” whenever such questions are raised, the usual answer is that the super-elite are “job creators” — that is, that they make a special contribution to the economy. So what you need to know is that this is bad economics. In fact, it would be bad economics even if America had the idealized, perfect market economy of conservative fantasies.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Moneyball Trashed

I have not seen the movie "Moneyball," but I want to.  Unfortunately, I rarely see first run movies these days.  But I read the book and liked it a lot.  I thought Michael Lewis was smart and insightful in his theme and analysis.  And I have heard good things about the movie.  Everyone I know who's seen it has given a good review.  So, my expectations for the movie were high, whenever I get around to seeing it....until now.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thank You James Fallows

For exposing another example of shoddy journalism.

The familiar lament of a disfunctional Washington without explanation.

-- Post From My iPhone

Location:Wellington Dr,Chevy Chase,United States

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

False Equivelancy

Jeffrey Sachs has a new book that I love without reading it, because its title communicates a point I believe fervently.  The book is titled The Price of Civilization and it makes the point that government and the taxes that support it are the price we pay for living in a civilized society and it's a price worth paying.  Fundamentally, it is a repudiation of the "no taxes, ever, ever, ever" of the Republican party.

But Paul Thomasch in his article about the book starts in piece this way:
In "The Price of Civilization" he contends that as Democrats and Republicans bicker over how to reignite the faltering U.S. jobs market, both sides have it wrong and that what is needed is greater investment in education, better health care, more civility and fewer Gulfstream jets.
Helloooooo??  What about that indicts "both sides?"  He says both sides get it wrong and then lays out the Democratic prescription.  What is up with that?  It looks to me like the familiar technique by pundits, writers and other commentators whereby they have to declare "both sides" wrong so they can establish themselves above and apart from these bickering politicians.  But when they do that they effective absolve the true perpetrators of any blame, i.e. the Republicans.

I will grant to Mr. Thomasch the possibility that Sachs book is the offender, not he.  But I wish people like him would simply call it like it is and not try to rise above it all.
Technorati Tags: ,

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Martin Sheen and The Way

I was very tempted to go to see Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez discuss their new movie, The Way.  It's a spiritual film that reflects Sheen's pretty devout Catholicism.  I admire him, even if his acting is occasionally over the top and self righteous.  I think his heart is in the right place.

Here's an account of the event I missed at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.  I didn't go because they were not going to show the movie, but rather show a trailer and discuss the movie.  I didn't think that would be particularly fruitful unless and until I had seen the movie, which I plan to do.  Still, it sounds like it was a good event.

But imagine my surprise to learn this about him:

Sheen also gave the audience a brief history of his own spiritual growth. He explained that he was born Ramón Estévez. When he moved to New York to pursue acting, he found himself faced with racial discrimination and decided that he needed a stage name.

He chose the last name “Sheen” after Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whom he described as having an “extraordinary presence” in his household when he was young.

“I grew up watching him,” Sheen said. 

“I thought of him as this magnificent actor,” he explained, recalling the archbishop’s sharp sense of humor.

“He had this fire in his eyes that was a reflection of his passion.”

Anybody reading this who is younger than about 50 probably doesn't know who Fulton Sheen was, but he was a phenomenon in the 1950's and 1060's,  a Catholic bishop with a prime TV show that was top in its time slot, even beating out comedian Milton Berle (someone else you probably don't know).  My parents watched him religiously, so to speak.

I'm sure Bishop Sheen would be flattered to have Martin choose his name.  Not sure he'd be as happy has having Charlie also share his name.