|From The Editor
I talk to my aunt on Fridays after work, as I'm walking home. She is well into her 80s and the last of my dad's generation.
And while the ailments grow greater, her commentary on politics is as clear as ever.
She has been an erstwhile supporter of the president. A pacifist in large measure, she did not necessarily approve but understood and defended his return to the theatre of war in Iraq, his mass deportations, his prosecution of journalists, his support of our spies spying on us, his compromises great and small.
So it was with a slight smile of surprise that I heard her say on Friday, "I think our president gives in a little too much."
It was the banks that did it.
As usual, she was ahead of me on the news.
After a day of e-mails and meetings about e-filing transitions in Iowa, Missouri, Massachusetts and Oklahoma where press access is being limited, it was as though I had been in a news blackout.
She said the banks were getting a break, a loosening of their ability to gamble with our money. "They get to keep it if they win and we pay for it if they lose," is how she put it.
I admit I thought she might be confused. The economy is only just now, this holiday season, coming back to full force, after the meltdown brought on by big bank practices.
We could not be that memoryless.
She also said something about increasing the amounts wealthy individuals can give to politicians.
So, when I got home and turned on the news, I saw that she had it dead on.
Her generation lived through the great depression, and has not forgotten the harm unrestricted banks can cause. But there is something else there, a clear, straight-ahead brand of populism.
It is different from the Republican populism that opposes taxes while favoring guns and war.
It is one that has seen the hard times in great swathes of America while the guys in tophats lived the high life and messed up the economy so bad that only the forced spending of a world war could bring us out of it.
The tophats are gone but the same guys are there in fine dress watching the politicians give them breaks as part of the grand round of horse trading that comes in a budget bill.
And she sees it.
In such clear terms that it has dented her faith in the president.
In the same conversation, my aunt was complimentary towards Elizabeth Warren in her battle against the banks. But also figured she would lose.
So if one were to see whisps of the future in the words from the past, in that slow and reluctant loss of faith in the president, in the guarded embrace of a new politician, it would be that the Democrats need to start fighting if they want to survive.
And in a way, I look forward to seeing the political battle re-engage in the New Year. With the Republicans controlling both houses, they will set the agenda and they will be under great pressure to sound moderate, show that they can govern. But I don't think they can do it, they will not be able to restrain the horses of the right.
At the point the Democrats will need to put up a fight or be ground under.
There truly is a cycle in life, something that becomes more and more clear as you get further into the cycle. And just as clearly, the economic life and political life of a nation also have a cycle.
A new cycle is about to begin in our nation's political life, and I suspect it will be really ugly. But something great might come out of it, because the strategy of appeasement from the forces of the left will have to be abandoned.
Nothing like being a lame-duck president if you want to get things done.
Many years ago, when I lived on the rez, an old Indian told this story about a wounded duck.
The old man said that one day when the wind was blowing strong, he shot a duck with his shotgun. But he only winged it.
He said the duck kept flapping its wounded wings, facing into the wind, and just hovered there in the wind forever.
"I think that duck is still up there after all these years," the old man said, "flapping its wings. Getting nowhere."
For more than 50 years, the United States' punishment of Cuba has been like that wounded duck. Flapping its wounded wings, getting nowhere.
President Obama's opening to Cuba is a wonderful thing.
Not that Cuba has a wonderful government. Of course it does not. But Cuba's government is far less brutal and corrupt than many countries with whom we have normal diplomatic relations, among them Mexico, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Two million people of Cuban ancestry live in the United States. More than 11 million people live in Cuba. There is no reason whatsoever for the United States to punish and separate 13 million cousins forever.
Well, there is one reason: so unscrupulous politicians in both our political parties can keep whipping up hate in search of votes.
President Obama has drawn their sting, and it's about time.
Congress will have to act before our relations with Cuba are truly normal, and it's foolish to expect that Congress will do this.
No, the congressional minority will keep whipping up hate until they see it's no longer in their interest to do this. Then they will shut up.
Anyone who lived through the Cuban missile crisis, as I did, knows why Washington has pursued this policy. Because Fidel Castro let Nikita Khrushchev put atomic weapons in Cuba.
Big mistake, Fidel: you selfish, self-seeking brat. Communist, my ass. A true communist is not a dictator.
We all know what happened next. The United States, paternalistic dictator of the Western Hemisphere, sent Cuba to sit in its room and think about what it had done. For 50 years.
Our embargo of Cuba has done no one any good. Not the United States, nor the Cuban people. Our stupid policy, supported by no one but our client states, has made the United States a hemispheric laughingstock.
President Obama has restored our country's reputation around the world.
God blesses him for it, if you can accept the word of Pope Francis.
Pope Francis, in helping to broker the deal, helped restore the reputation of the Catholic Church.
It's a good deal all around, except for short-term haters. But Washington should not have to seek help from the Vatican to speak with a government within rowing distance of our shores.
To say all this is not to bless the government of Cuba. Fidel and his brother Raul are cruel dictators. But look what they have done.
Cuba's per capita gross domestic product is $6,051 - about one-ninth the U.S. per capita GDP of $53,142.
Yet life expectancy in Cuba is 79.1 years - 8 months longer than U.S. life expectancy of 78.4 years.
Cuba's doctor-to-patient ratio is 170 to 1 - tops in the world.
(The U.S. ratio is 390 to 1 - 31st in the world, just behind Mongolia.)
Many people, I know, will find this column offensive.
Many people in our country find the word "Cuba" offensive.
That's ridiculous. It's long past time for us to grow up.
|From The Courts
I'm getting old so I forget things.
At least I think I do. I don't remember.
So I had to stop after reading the first sentence of a lawsuit filed in Federal Court in Los Angeles last week on behalf of an outfit called Americans for Prosperity Foundation.
Here's the sentence: "The First Amendment grants individuals who donate to private advocacy organizations the right to remain anonymous lest public disfavor and harassment chill their speech."
It does? Maybe I don't remember what's in the First Amendment.
So I had to look it up. This is the entire First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Where's the Right to Remain Anonymous clause?
I must be missing something. Let me go back to reading the lawsuit ...
It turns out that the plaintiff is a right-wing group, aka "a nonprofit that promotes limited government and free markets (whose) views are not universally popular."
The suit says the group has to guard the identities of donors to assure their safety, and that "grotesque threats" have been made against "known associates" of the founders.
"More mundane threats abound too, including boycotts, firings, and public shaming," said the complaint.
Pause for a moment to reflect on the irony of conservatives complaining about threats of boycotts, firings and public shaming.
Reflect also on the irony of a right-wing organization reading something into the Constitution that isn't exactly explicitly there.
Now stop laughing. This is serious.
After all, isn't secrecy what democracy is all about?
How do you expect to run a torture program if everyone knows about it?
How do you expect journalists to do their jobs if they can't keep secret sources who rat out government programs that are supposed to be secret?
How do you expect the government to do its job without keeping secrets and forcing journalist not to keep secrets?
How are you supposed to make an election come out the way you want it if you can't keep your funding sources secret?
How are you supposed to keep your tax-free status if you have to reveal what you do with your money?
How do you run an intelligence program without keeping its existence secret but expose an intelligence program that wreaks havoc?
We need to know stuff.
And we don't need other people to know stuff.
Now I know the easy answer is just to stay off Facebook, but we can't solve every problem that way. Things get out of hand on Twitter too.
The obvious solution is that we need to know bad things but not know good things.
How do we tell which is which?
Whenever there's a dispute over whether something should be a secret, it should be tried in a court that specializes in secrecy.
Whether filings and proceedings in these cases should be open to the public would be determined by a Special Mystery Master whose identity will be revealed annually in a special New Year's Day television special open to commercial sponsorship by corporations and special interest groups whose identities may or may not be revealed depending on the roll of gigantic dice at the beginning of the program.
Write your legislators to demand this.