Friday, December 14, 2007

Merry Christmas

Snow fell yesterday, enough to warrant the use of the snowblower, and more is forecast for this weekend. For some reason, a large flock of geese flew over this morning - heading almost due north. They may have sensed the bad weather to the southwest and are looking for sanctuary.

Speaking of sanctuary, we will soon head for warmer climes for a bit, and so this blog will be quiet until we return in late January. To all our readers - and they are apparently in every corner of the globe - go our best wishes for a very Happy Christmas and New Year.

Oh yes - there's now a new collection of these blog posts in book form. It is called Lines from the Beachcomber, and it is available on, as is an earlier collection, Searching for Joan Leslie. Either book may be purchased as a printed paperback or downloaded free.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Candidates (continued)

It is time to take another look at the presidential candidates. In our last episode we declared John McCain out of the running. Nothing has happened since to change this opinion. We thought Fred Thompson was a dark horse. He has become an even darker horse, fading into the blackness. We thought Rudy Giuliani was the one to watch. But by staunchly endorsing the President’s invasion of Iraq – an act that, more than any other, has driven George Bush’s poll numbers to the cellar – Rudy has shot himself in the foot.

The comer is Mike Huckabee, who commands attention with his unscripted, laid-back demeanor and his agreeable looks. Ron Paul is also interesting, but Huckabee is more plausible as a candidate.

Mitt Romney is a good man, I believe, and he clearly has administrative ability and, most important, character. The foofaraw about his religion is ridiculous. But Governor Romney does not have the kind of personality that connects with large masses of voters. He just does not light up the TV screen. It’s unfair, perhaps, but there it is.

Among Democrats, Hillary is like a marathoner who raced out of a starting gate and now is looking tired, or rather, tiring. People are tiring of watching her campaign month after month. She would have been better off saving her energy for a big finish, as Obama seems to be doing. Still, she is the front-runner, and the only real opposition she faces comes from her own negatives. Hillary is the only person who can defeat Hillary.

In my last piece on this subject, I said that Obama could overcome either of his two handicaps (inexperience and race), but not both. I still believe that, but I am more convinced than ever that he will be a strong, maybe unbeatable, candidate next time around. He oozes common sense, decency, and intelligence with every syllable, and he takes the glare of attention with a cool demeanor that is very impressive for one so young.

Edwards, on the other hand, is a different breed. What he oozes is insincerity, and it is a mystery to me that he has attracted any support at all. The more earnestly he gives his “two Americas” pitch, the more he sounds like a charlatan. If Huckabee is the campaign’s Kevin Spacey, Edwards is its Tom Cruise, glib, shallow, and well coifed.

How will it all turn out? It depends on events in the Iraq. If things appear to be going reasonably well, the Republicans may hold the White House and could recapture Congress. If the situation deteriorates, the Democrats are in. It’s not automatic; candidates matter. But one side or the other will have a strong tailwind blowing from the Middle East.

I look at the debaters, all lined up on the stages mouthing their carefully rehearsed talking points, and I wonder, as so many must, whether this is the best we can do. And yet, as William Allen White said of a lightweight presidential candidate named Roosevelt in 1932, “responsibility is a winepress that brings forth strange juices out of men.”

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The "We're at War" Syndrome

The candidates are all being asked for their opinions on torture, and they all say they’re against it. (What else can they say?) But then they add, as Fred Thompson did on the Charlie Rose Show last night, that if a terrorist was in custody and in possession of information that could save American lives they would favor “doing whatever is necessary.” Thompson went on to say that he believed that the other candidates, even John McCain, would say the same thing, though when pressed he admitted he hadn’t spoken to McCain on the subject.

Thus the straw man lives on. There is this terrorist, see? And he knows when a bomb is set to go off in a crowded New York theater, see? It could even be Yankee Stadium, see? So what are going to do, read him his Miranda rights?

But, said Charlie Rose, some people, including McCain, say that torture in such instances doesn’t deliver the goods; the prisoner will say anything under torture, even a pack of lies. And what about the high moral ground? Are we no better than our enemies, as we always claim to be?

Well, said Thompson, who looked as he was having trouble remembering his lines, those are all valid arguments, but there are valid arguments on the other side, too. Torture is wrong, but it may also be right. Next question.

The story about the hypothetical detainee who has life-threatening information is bogus. For openers, who says he actually has that information? An Army field officer? A CIA operative? A neighbor in Baghdad? Dick Cheney? He can't face his accuser. He can’t call a lawyer. He is completely at the mercy of someone who claims, without proof, that he is a terrorist, or supports terrorists, or knows a terrorist, or has read a terrorist pamphlet.

Consider the following scenario: A black car pulls up in your driveway. Three men get out, and one of them rings your doorbell. When you open the door you are whisked off to a black hole somewhere. You are held incommunicado, month after month, and you are grilled harshly about things you don’t know about. But that can’t happen; this is America, land of court trials, habeas corpus, a jury of your peers, the right to face your accuser, etc.

Under normal circumstances, says the Administration, all that is true. But we’re at war, and the President’s power at such times is absolute. All your rights go out the window with the magic words: “We’re at war.”

That’s the real issue, not waterboarding. The burning question, which no one seems to bother to ask, is: How do we know – really know – that the person we have in custody is the “very bad guy” the administration insists he is? We can’t tell you that, they say, because if we did it would compromise our intelligence methods. Translation: We know, wink, wink; nudge, nudge. Trust us.

Even if I were inclined to trust them, we are as a nation on thin ice. The case for total, unchecked Presidential power, so artfully constructed by White House Lawyer-in-Chief David Addington, sets a precedent for all future presidents, including whoever becomes President in January 2009. Looking over the field, and considering that “we’re at war” will still be an available defense, that’s a sobering thought.