Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Month of Reflection and Looking Ahead

Earlier this month I celebrated my birthday, and it was wonderful. Emelia was wholly engaged in the celebration -- wanting to open the cards with me, singing me Happy Birthday, and looking forward to/enjoying the cake. Kathy made my favorite breakfast, huevos motuleƱos (fried eggs over tortilla, black beans and peas, covered with green salsa and goat cheese (Kathy uses feta)), and for dinner took me to one of my favorite restaurants (Nam Viet in Arlington). And my gift from Kathy and Emelia was a year's worth of massages, an extravagance that will probably do me a world of good but which I would never bestow upon myself. The day was completely low-key, and it was all I needed -- Kathy had trouble believing me when I said how much I enjoyed myself. The fact that several dozen people wished me happy birthday on facebook was surprisingly satisfying as well -- I like to think that it gave me a taste of what it might have been like to have had a birthday during the school year instead of the summer.

As the day of my birthday approached, I reflected on the fact that it had been a year since my mugging. Hard to believe that it's only been a year, as it seems much longer ago. It doesn't seem to affect me on a day-to-day basis (heck, days go by when I don't even think about it), though it's possible my troubles sleeping are influenced by that event. It's slipped in among my life events to become one of the multitude of things that have gone into defining who I am, never becoming a singular something that defines me.

Also this month I hit the halfway point for eligibility for full federal retirement. Amazingly enough, I can get full retirement in less than another 16 years. I'm not really one of those people who obsesses over my retirement eligibility, but I get a reminder of it every year in my statement of benefits, and as a numbers geek I'm more than capable of dividing by two. Before we had Emelia, I used to daydream about early retirement, and fully contemplated retiring no later than my first opportunity for that full pension, a worst-case scenario. Full retirement at the first opportunity, however, is less than one-third of my salary, and like everyone else's, my 401(k) took a big hit with the market crash. And now we have Emelia, and my eligibility for full retirement coincides with the time that Emelia would be about to start college -- I don't know that we'd be able to get Emelia all the way through college on a pensioners' income, though it'd be plenty easy to take that income and find a job I might like more. However I do it, I expect to work longer than I once contemplated, but I no longer mind it as much -- with the arrival of Emelia, my mindset has shifted from having to work to set me up for life, to having to work to provide for my family. I'd be lying if I said there isn't a bit of wistfulness, but it's a trade-off that I've made and would gladly make again.

And that statement provides the segue to something that's been on my mind every day of the month, and then some. Earlier this week we reached a big milestone, the end of the first trimester of Kathy's pregnancy. Yes, that's right -- something that took so much effort the first time happened without so much as a visit to the fertility clinic this time. Child #2, a.k.a., the Groundhog,* is due at the start of February. Kathy's been having a harder time this go around -- last time she was stressed by the absence of symptoms, worrying that was a bad thing; and this time she's complaining about those very symptoms. I guess there's no pleasing some people. We had wanted to keep the news completely quiet during the first trimester, but figured we had to tell my family during the week at the beach given Kathy's symptoms (and the inability to provide any other reason why she would reject all of Josh's delectable alcoholic offerings). So then in the name of equality, we had to tell Kathy's family. And although the story's been slowly leaking out, we've kept things mostly quiet, and I suspect that many of you are hearing about it for the first time. Now that we're making that news public, I can talk about it on the blog -- it's been tough to offer posts on the blog given that I couldn't discuss that particular elephant in the room of my mind (said elephant currently weighs less than an ounce), but I'm hoping to write more frequently again.

* - Note that the use of the nickname The Groundhog is not meant to suggest that we would name a boy child Phil.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Washington Post

Once upon a time, the Washington Post was considered both liberal and one of the best newspapers in the business, particularly with respect to national politics. Back in the '80s and early '90s, before I even lived here, I subscribed to the Washington Post National Weekly Edition. At the time, I felt I learned a lot about what was going on in the world by reading such great columnists as the late Molly Ivins. When I moved here, I subscribed to the Post for a number of years, until I ultimately decided that I didn't read it enough to justify all the paper being produced. I continued to read sections of it online, particularly the soccer columns.

As many of you know, newspaper subscribership has plummeted, driving many newspapers out of business as they are unable to generate a profit. I can't say that I like the direction journalism has taken in the past decade or so, where stenography seems to be the focus rather than reporting. All the same, I don't think the demise of newspapers is a good thing, and have on occasion considered restarting my Post subscription in order to support the institution. Unless things change dramatically, however, I don't see ever going ahead with doing so. The reason is simple -- the Post is no longer a newspaper for which I have any respect.

For starters, the Post has decided that it wants to be nutty conservative (I guess so it can compete with the Washington Times), and has grabbed neocons aplenty to go with a stable of run-of-the-mill conservatives. Just to be clear, I was fine with George Will. And I could tolerate the off-the-wall ruminations of Charles Krauthammer, as one neoconservative at least allows you to keep tabs on their thinking. But to those the Post has added Bill Kristol and Michael Gerson, and Fred Hiatt has revealed himself as a full-fledged neoCon as well. There are others as well (here's a mostly complete rundown), and apparently that's insufficient, as they are complemented by frequent guest columns from additional "luminaries" of the conservative world (Sarah Palin of all people had a nonsensical appearance just this week).

The Post's recent decision to fire Dan Froomkin was also rather troubling, as he actually is a reporter in the traditional sense of the word. He was willing to challenge both the Bush and Obama administrations when their actions deviated from their words. Just as importantly, he challenged others in the media when they failed to do their jobs. I guess that made him unpopular with the Post's management, but he was very popular with its readers, for good reason.

The most recent brouhaha concerned the Post's pay-for-play scandal, whereby the Post's CEO and publisher, Katharine Weymouth sought to sell access to Obama administration officials and to her own reporters and editors. I think this one speaks for itself.

And in yesterday's paper, Gerson wrote a scathing article condemning Justice Ruth Ginsburg for favoring eugenics through abortion. The problem with his writing of such vitriol is that Justice Ginsburg said nothing of the sort. The man said in his column that the Ginsburg quote should not be taken out of context, all the while omitting the last three sentences from the quote, i.e., the ones that provided context. Here was the question Ginsburg was asked:
Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid abortions for poor women?
Here's what Gerson says her response was:
Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae -- in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.
Here's the actual response Justice Ginsburg gave in her answer:
Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong. (empahasis added)
That alone would be an enormous problem, compounded by the fact that he basically stole the misrepresentation from other conservative hacks (one, Jonah Goldberg, got his misrepresentations printed with the L.A. Times, while the other, Ben Domenech, is a well-known conservative blogger).

I actually wrote the ombudsman for the Post about the Gerson article, asking at what point the Post feels an obligation to, you know, fact check the material that appears on its editorial pages. The ombudsman politely and promptly responded, informed me that he handles the news pages, and indicated that my complaints are best delivered to Mr. Gerson (e-mail address provided). I suppose the response I got shouldn't surprise me, but it still disturbed me -- the Post allows columnists to publish their opinions without regard to the truth. I understand the opinion page should be held to a different standard than the news sections, but what the ombudsman's response tells me is that the only standard is what the author says it is. Perhaps that's the norm for the opinion pages these days, and the Post is just following along, but that doesn't make it right.

In sum, between the right-wing slant and the questionable practices, the Post has left me with no desire to offer it my financial support ever again.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Obama So Far

I said a year ago that my support for Obama was tepid, and six months into his presidency, sadly I cannot say that I think better of the president than I did the candidate. In fact, I think far worse.

On the plus side, he's not Bush. He has stated that torture is not to be permitted going forward. His judicial nominees are presumably adequate -- Sotomayor for example seems like a competent judge who shouldn't tilt the court any further to the radicalism of Roberts/Scalia and the Federalists. In terms of Middle East policy, actually stating that Israelis should keep to their word and cease settlements is also a positive step, no matter how obvious or incremental it actually is. He promoted and signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, undoing a mischievous ruling by the Supreme Court that interpreted the Equal Pay Act in a way that essentially rendered it useless.

On the minus side, despite his campaign rhetoric to the contrary, he's actually working to expand executive authority -- his administration's pleadings in prisoner abuse cases and warrantless wiretap cases endorse Bush administration arguments and even somewhat expand upon them. I'm still having trouble grasping how anyone could support him on these matters after he argues that not only should his administration be able to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely, but that the government should be allowed to keep individuals it deems dangerous even if they have been acquitted. Further, his statement that he plans to close Guantanamo is being shown to be wholly symbolic given his interest in maintaining the ability to create a similar prison in Bagram and who knows where else. I'm almost as disturbed by the relative silence of Democrats in criticizing these positions as I am by the positions themselves.

He's also continued the Bush administration's policies for Wall Street, and doing nothing to make Wall Street accountable for the economic implosion and almost nothing to move forward reforms that might prevent similar implosions in the future.

Meanwhile, Obama's insistence on bipartisanship resulted in a mediocre and inadequate stimulus package, and still yielded only a handful of Republican votes. This mentality is also hurting the likelihood of meaningful health care reform, and jeopardizes efforts at significant climate change legislation. For better or worse, the Republicans have decided to act as the party of No, and unless they want to come to the table with a position that allows for bipartisanship (e.g., both sides possess a common goal but disagree on the means to an end), Obama and the Democrats are much better off doing the right thing. Doing less than that results in bad or failed policy for which Republicans can gleefully point to their votes against.

Obama may yet redeem himself and his presidency, but if the presidential vote were tomorrow, I would unquestionably vote for a third-party candidate.