Monday, March 30, 2009

Who Will She Be?

I've been very impressed the past couple of days by Jennifer Granholm, the Democratic governor of Michigan. She's very articulate and fast on her feet, deftly supporting President Obama and the auto industry, including ousted CEO Richard Wagoner. I've been enthusiastic about Kathleen Sibelius, Democratic governor of Kansas, for a long time. Both of these women look like presidential material to me. Of course, any woman who wanted the Democratic presidential nomination would have to get through Hillary Clinton, who I am proud to say I supported for the nomination most of last year. The point is, the Democrats are the party of women, and their bench is deep: women in the Democratic Party will assert their claim for spots on the ticket, presumably after we try to reelect this administration in 2012 God willing.

So it was particularly obnoxious, I thought, to get a media blip today about how Sarah Palin was predicted to be the first woman president. If she's on the ticket in either 2012 or 2016, I'd say the GOP will be in big trouble. The argument is that it's the conservatives who can elect a woman, but the opposite is true. It's not about tokenism: the Democrats are the party of women, just as they're the party of blacks, and the party of gays. Anyway, if the Republicans can't find a responsible, centrist candidate the next time they have a shot, their time in the wilderness will be quite long.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Charisma Gap

This week's faces of the Republican Party in the media are Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. Only Gingrich has any chance of running for the 2012 GOP nomination, a prospect almost as delightful to Democrats as Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin would be. Meanwhile there is a question as to whether Obama is becoming overexposed, in the media sense of being in our faces too much. This can happen and he needs to be sensitive to the possibility, but so far I think he is deliberately being the Anti-Bush: Bush, through a combination of natural aloofness, natural inarticulateness, and a philosophy that the president ought not have to explain himself too much, ended up seeming out-of-touch. Obama is behaving as much like Theodore as like the other Roosevelt: the presidency is a "bully pulpit" and we live in times when the public needs to be continuously updated and educated on what's happening.

I think Obama is also trying to humanize (as in cut down to size) the presidency. He is essentially a technocrat, a fact obscured by his recent historical political successes. If he keeps talking publicly as much as he has been so far, the public (and the media) will tune out a bit, and that might not be a bad thing for the institution. Some unglamorous, nonsuperstar officials are trying to make the trains run on time and keep the lights on, and if you're interested in that sort of thing you can tune in, otherwise you can seek entertainment elsewhere.

It was ironic today when the Czech president denounced the stimulus spending strategy of the US: the Eastern European politician thinks that the Americans are too socialist! When the crisis is economic it sorts out the wheat from the chaff, it's real work to figure out any of this stuff enough to start to get a handle on it. For example Paul Krugman is all for stimulus spending, in fact he thinks that so far the government has not spent nearly enough, yet he is equally adamant that the banking policy of buying up bad assets is a terrible mistake. I confess that this is too deep for me at the moment, but I'm working on it!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Testing Obama

The first 100 days of a presidency, when the new president still enjoys the support and hopes of the public, is a time to get things done, and Obama is doing that. It is also a time for severe testing from his antagonists: will he buckle under pressure? I am glad to say that our man shows no sign of doing that. He is severely and dangerously hampered by the economic crisis, but my sense is that the public is clear enough on the fact that this is a crisis created by funny-money Republicans and their corporate clients. Not that Obama should leave that to chance, and he isn't, repeatedly referring to the fact that he "inherited" the crisis. He also keeps saying, "I'm the President now and I accept responsibility," which among other things is a graceful way of saying "I'm in charge here and you're not." MSNBC stuck with his town meeting in California last night and I thought he was masterly. He knows that his function is essentially political and that he needs to stay in permanent campaign mode, and he's doing that, and he's great at it. Good for him.

He is being criticized for discussing the Final Four, and for going on Jay Leno tonight, but he understands that he needs to communicate with the public and maintain a relationship with the public. He will reach a huge audience on Late Night (not including me - way past my bedtime). That is not "neglecting" the economic crisis, it's functioning as the president. As to that, I'm as disgusted as everyone else by the AIG bonuses, but it has become a distraction. $160 million is big money but it's nothing compared to the money that the government is using for the bailouts, the stimulus package etc (and I am supporting the government at this point). The Republicans have double-downed on that: if he fails they hope to win big, but the flip side is that if he succeeds they definitely lose big. And aren't they the ones arguing that the economy will turn itself around in a year or two? In which case credit will go to...Obama.

On the sports thing, remember how Hillary had a Yankees/Mets problem? She couldn't have it both ways, and as a carpetbagger, she couldn't claim lifelong allegiance (that's how the local politicians finesse it). Sarah Palin got outed by the media for making the same speech about the local sports team in every city she visited. True fans have feelers for that. I always wondered why Bush, one of whose sole actual interests was baseball, didn't discuss it more. Mr. Regular Guy probably figured that the best way to stay out of trouble was just to say nothing, and he was aloof enough in general that it fit. Obama is a real person (politicians: are you listening?). He knows that sports is polarizing but he also knows that it's all in fun. It's a way for people to talk to each other (half of the men in any bar wouldn't be able to converse at all if they couldn't get into something about sports). He's not gaming us. He's being himself. He's into basketball - so sue him!

Which brings me to my last thought for now: out of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama, which would you least like to sit down and have a beer with? I know not everyone will agree with me, but Bush is a white-knuckle drunk, tight-lipped and with a chip on his shoulder, hypervigilant about "authenticity," always the sure sign of an inauthentic man. Meanwhile I'd love to hang out with either Bill or Barack, relaxed, smart as whips, enjoying themselves, generous-hearted and articulate.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Colbert en espanol

Monday, March 9, 2009

Irish Peace is Easy

The despicable murder of two British soldiers and wounding of two others and of two pizza deliverymen, for God's sake, at a British base in Antrim outside Belfast is a bizarre recidivist act almost certainly carried out by the so-called "Real IRA," a benighted group of social misfits who cannot summon up the strength of character to give up hating. Hating is like a drug, in the sense that getting intoxicated on the hatred constitutes an escape from unpleasant reality.

There also continue to be belligerent and bigoted Orangemen; Ian Paisley only managed to back into civilization within the past few years. But the real story of Northern Ireland today is the total marginalization of both groups from the vast majority of people living in the province. Belfast and Derry today are prosperous middle-class communities where most people have only a vague idea of whether their neighbors are Catholic or Protestant, and couldn't care less. The violence is carried out by poor, ignorant slum-dwellers on both sides who have been left behind by recent Irish history.

As to that: Irish peace is easy. There is absolutely no danger to the economic or political interests, let alone the physical safety, of the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland posed by unification under the Republican government in Dublin. None whatsoever. And this is a fact that will be readily admitted by the great majority of Protestant northerners on the street. Reunification would be best done by a majority vote in a plebiscite that demonstrated that a majority of Protestants as well as Catholics favored it, and this could be organized over the heads of the reactionary Orangemen leaders, so far as I can see, today. But there is also nothing stopping the British from withdrawing unilaterally: as I said, the possibility of some sort of bloodbath in that event is long, long gone. The British government should stop posing as the virtuous guardians of public safety in Ireland (have they ever been that since the 17th century?), and start making concrete steps towards full withdrawal and the reunification of Ireland. And that would be that.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Required Viewing

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Time for Marijuana Reform

Something that has troubled me for a long time is the absence of any public debate (or media coverage) of the US's out of control rate of incarceration. With 5 percent of the world's population, we hold 25 percent of the world's prison population: 7.3 million people, one out of every 31 adults in the country (in 1982 it was one out of every 77 adults). Beyond the outrageous fact that the US imprisons more of its citizens than any other country, there is a long trail of statistical evidence of pervasive racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, consider the following:

1) a study by the Sentencing Project in 2005 found that almost half (45%) of the estimated 1.5 million drug arrests in the US that year were for marijuana.

2) An article in today's NYT reports that spending on prisons is growing faster than any part of the budget except Medicare spending; it costs an average of $29,000 a year to keep someone in prison.

3) A recent study by the Congressional Research Office reports that marijuana sales may account for more than 60% of the $8 to 25 billion of Mexican drug cartel profits through the sale of drugs in the US. This is the money paying for the weapons used in the escalating violence that is destabilizing Mexico.

4) It has long been recognized that taxes on legal marijuana would be a significant source of revenue for states. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that in California, where the annual budget gap is now at 42 billion dollars, marijuana is the most valuable crop, with an estimated worth of 14 billion dollars: completely untaxed.

5) The main obstacle to legalizing marijuana is political: public opinion has been consistently against it. But the situation is not static: Gallup reports that today over a third of respondents favor legalization, and the trend line is strongly towards pro-legalization. Going a little further into the politics: almost half (44%) of men between ages 18 and 49 favor legalization, as well as almost half (49%) of residents of Western states, half (44%) of independent voters, more than one out of three (37%) of registered Democrats, and a majority (54%) of self-described "liberals." This indicates that a popular Democratic president could reform federal marijuana laws without undue political risk; Attorney General Eric Holder stated last week that the government would halt DEA raids on medical marijuana vendors.

People, this one's really not that hard, is it? Full legalization of production, distribution and sale, with full taxation, sales through licensed vendors with proof of age, just like alcohol. It's not just "OK": it's urgent.