Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tussing to run?

Just got this message from the Yellowstone County Democratic Party:

Billings Mayor Ron Tussing is making an announcement regarding his plans for his political future. Please attend this announcement on Thursday, February 28th, at 11:00am, 1525 11th Street West (Corner of 11th and Ave C). This will be held at the residence of Pat and Ralph Dixon.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Really proud

I was thinking off and on most of last week about what Michelle Obama said: "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country."

Right-wing talk radio loved it, of course. Even Bill O'Reilly, less predictably right wing than the bulk of them, offered to "go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama" if "there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels."

It got me thinking because I have this odd thing about pride. It's a deadly sin, of course, maybe the deadliest, and it always strikes me as a bit odd when I find it in obituaries -- which I often do: He was proud of his bowling trophies; she was proud of her grandchildren, etc. It's never been clear to me why people would confess to that particular sin just as they are exiting the world.

Of course, there's pride, and then there's pride, and most people seem better able than me to keep the sin separate from the normal human emotion. My brothers and I were definitely raised old school: You don't brag, you don't put on airs, you're always humble and give credit to God and to others - never to yourself. I'm not saying I've always lived up to that (note the affected humility), but that's how I was raised. I still can't take a compliment well.

So her comment made me wonder when I've felt "really proud" of my country during my adult life. What Michelle Obama meant by "really" is open to debate, but I read it to mean without reservation or qualification. So feeling a bit of a catch in the throat when Old Glory parades by -- which actually has happened to me -- doesn't count in my book as "really" proud. Real pride engages both head and heart.

So what has made me "really" proud? I hit drinking age in the Army, and I wasn't proud to be a soldier. I had a low draft number, and I did my duty, but I didn't enjoy it, wasn't especially good at it and was glad to get out. Any pride I have felt has been strictly in retrospect.

That was followed pretty quickly by Richard Nixon's resignation, not a proud moment. Then there was the collapse of Vietnam, probably the lowest point in national pride in my lifetime. Then there was Reagan, who somehow failed to make me proud. He cut taxes, which may have been good policy but wasn't much to be proud of, then followed up with record deficits and the disasters of his second term.

Then the Soviet Union collapsed, the great event of my lifetime. O'Reilly and other talk show pundits focused on that as a source of American pride, and I see their point. But I don't remember feeling proud. I remember feeling thankful, amazed and relieved. But again, any pride I felt seemed to surface only later, especially after those same talk pundits tried to pass off the Soviet collapse as Reagan's personal achievement. It wasn't. It was something we all had a hand in, from every Joe Sixpack who paid taxes to a whole string of Republican and Democratic presidents, senators and representatives. And including GIs like me who guarded that lonely German border, a tiny but necessary role that I never saw Sean Hannity take on.

First Gulf War? A remarkable political and military achievement, but fundamentally a mismatch. Second Gulf War? Don't get me started.

Boil it down, and the things about America that have made me proudest are precisely the things that were denied to people like Michelle Obama for most of U.S. history: the Bill of Rights, tolerance of dissent, opportunity for all. So when she says that now she's "really" proud, maybe what she means is that for the first time, she has cast off the baggage that black people in this country have carried around as their special burden since its founding. If that's the case, then that sounds like cause for celebration, not criticism.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

Will is right

I'm getting pretty sick and tired of having to agree with George Will all the time. Sometimes I think that he, Ron Paul and Patrick Buchanan are the only conservatives left in the Republican Party.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Valentine eats

Just got the Valentine's Day menu for McCormick Cafe:

McCormick Café, Valentine’s Day
starting at 6 p.m. Six-course wine-pairing dinner, $125 per couple, groups will be accommodated

amuse- grilled diver scallop ceviche, glazed peaches, lavender-fennel puree -Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc

soup and salad- eggplant veloute with fig gastrique; julienne jicama, pomegranate, dates, butter lettuce, carmelized walnut vinaigrette -Boutari Moschofilero

appetizer- roasted pistachio and grilled porcini tar tare, white balsamic, rosemary flatbread -Durochoy Sancerre

fish entrée-balsamic strawberry-glazed, grilled Opa, toasted almond, red quinoa risotto, cardamom-molasses braised endive -Rombauer Chardonnay

beef entrée- butter-poached Kobe strip-loin, truffled Yukon gold mashed, black truffle aioli, grilled white and green asparagus -Orin Swift the Prisoner

dessert- bittersweet chocolate ravioli filled with roasted cranberries and hazelnut mascarpone served under a white chocolate coffee sauce -Laverriere Banyuls

reservation only call 255-9555 for details
chefs Steven Marsh and Jason Corbridge

Oh, man. It was worth $125 just to read that.

The deep six

This sort of thing makes me cry for my country (h/t Andrew Sullivan).

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Talk show bust

Listening to conservative talk radio, as I am wont to do, has been a pleasant and satisfying experience the last couple of days. Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, et al, are having to come to grips with the fact that the next president will not only be one they didn't choose, but will be from their point of view one of the three worst possible choices (not counting Kucinich, who was never going anywhere). It's as if listeners tuned in to the blowhards, carefully considered what they had to say, then decided to adopt the exact opposite position.

So I got to hear Limbaugh this week responding to speculation that he is depressed. And Beck arguing that McCain should "French kiss" Limbaugh out of gratitude for showing liberals that it's OK to vote for McCain. And Hannity in nonstop self-aggrandizement mode, vowing not to surrender his "Reagan conservative" principles.

They all agree that it isn't conservatism that voters are rejecting, and I think they are right about that. At least not if one considers what always have seemed to me to be the traditional conservative principles: restraint in spending and size of government, reluctance to intervene overseas, a chief executive strictly constrained by Congress, and respect for traditional American beliefs of in liberty, courtesy toward opposing political positions and unstinting commitment to human decency.

I can't be sure what voters intend to say with their votes so far, but I hope it is this: They explicitly reject the world the talk show mavens have tried to create, a world in which political disagreement is an act of treason; where presidents, so long as they are Republicans, are free to create and ignore laws at will; where dissidents are punished and enemies are tortured; and where countries that pose us no threat are invaded at will.

That would be a conservative America that would mean something.

Friday, February 08, 2008

E-mail down

If you sent an e-mail to editor@billingsnews.com between 7:03 p.m. Tuesday and 2:56 p.m. Wednesday, you had better resend. We were down for a while.

Shield laws

The Outpost editor recently saw "The Truth About Cats and Dogs," a movie in which a key scene involves Uma Thurman placing her finger up a turtle's butt.

We thought the turtle overplayed the scene. He managed to keep a poker face, but stuck his head out of his shell with a bit more alacrity than the script required.

Nevertheless, the Outpost editor was inspired enough to stick his own head out of the shell far enough this week to write about this interesting case involving Montana's shield law.

While you are there, you will want to take a look at Roger Clawson's column, in which he poses his own odd but strangely appropriate entry in the competition to give Billings a new catchphrase. Clawson left his shell behind long ago.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Conservatives at the border

Dave Budge links, with disapproval, to a John Cole post that says, among other things, that conservatism today is is

a joke, an empty suit- it means whatever you want it to mean, and right now it means double Gitmo, permanent war, hating on liberals, and tax cuts forever.

Which brought to mind a conversation I have been having with myself over conservative opposition to John McCain for, among other things, his position on immigration. The nature of the immigration bill that McCain supported has been widely distorted, but set that aside. Let's ask the fundamental question: What principle of conservatism is embodied in opposition to the sort of immigration reforms that McCain has backed?

As best I can figure, the conservative bloc that has dominated American politics for a couple of decades consists, with considerable overlap and disagreement, of four groups: libertarians, who want less and cheaper government; evangelicals, who want government to use its power to enforce certain moral strictures; big business Republicans, who think the business of America is business and anything that helps business is OK; and traditionalists, who are skeptical about and sometimes actively hostile to change of any sort. So how do these groups stack up on immigration?

1. Libertarians think that individuals, not governments, should decide how the world is. Mexicans cross the border not because they are criminals or cantankerous but because this is where the jobs are. It makes no more sense to try to control immigration by blocking the border than it does to try to control pornography by shutting down the internet. People gotta be free.

2. Evangelicals have to believe -- because God tells them to -- that they must love their neighbors as much as they love themselves. If we can improve the lot of a few million of our Mexican neighbors by absorbing them into the American economy, then God will reward us some day.

3. Traditionalists don't want anything messing with what they regard as authentic American culture. That includes a centuries-old tradition of having the longest unguarded borders in the world. When Ronald Reagan signed off on amnesty 20 years ago, he was just acknowledging a reality that already existed. What's different now? Besides, traditionalists already are taking a beating from the current Republican administration, which announced today that it has reversed a 230-year American tradition and has publicly embraced war crimes. Take that, George Washington.

4. Big-business Republicans -- hey, aren't they part of the problem? That's the gripe I hear: We can't get meaningful immigration reform because Democrats are afraid to lose Hispanic votes and Republicans are afraid to lose cheap Hispanic workers. Why would they want to change that?

So what's the conservative argument against immigration? For that matter, what's the liberal argument? Can't we all just get along?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The business of schooling

Somebody forgot to take his smart pills.

Let's see now. Public schools as a business model: You offer a free education to anybody who lives within your geographical area. You hire union employees who want raises every year. You're pressured to keep adding new technology because that's what employers want. You have no source of income except a declining share of state dollars and the support of the public, which includes people who say they have never voted to give you a nickel and never will. Sounds like a business plan to me!

In the meantime, I could buy a Coke for a nickel when I was a kid. Now it's 65 cents at the campus vending machine. When will the Coca-Cola Co. ever learn to live within its means?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The skinny

My take on Constitutional Initiative 100 is at the Outpost website. I think it may be the most detailed look yet in the Montana press at what the amendment is all about.

So what do I think? I think there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the amendment, no matter what one's position on abortion is. Leaving it to the Legislature to decide what the amendment really means doesn't sound like such a hot idea. Making the right to life "paramount" sounds unnecessarily mischievous. If the right to life is paramount, would it be constitutional to send soldiers into combat, knowing that some of them would die?

Indeed, if you read the section on what the amendment actually says, it seems to guarantee all sorts of rights that don't really make much sense for someone who has no brain or detectable body parts. It's just meaningless to say that "all persons recognize corresponding responsibilities" to the rights they enjoy when "persons" include organisms that have utterly no notion of either rights or responsibilities.

You could say the same thing about newborn babies, I suppose, but at least birth draws a neat, bright line that conception doesn't. Babies start to acquire notions of rights and responsibilities so quickly after birth that defining them as "persons" at any point later than birth would open all sorts of cans of ugly worms. Pushing the date of personhood back to the moment of conception isn't much neater.

I know that Roe vs. Wade mucked up the abortion debate something fierce, and that's too bad. But at this point there's no real remedy that I can see other than trying to amend the U.S. Constitution to leave abortion in the hands of the states. That wouldn't make anybody happy, probably, including me, but it beats the other options.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Hold on

Yesterday's e-mail from the Republican National Committee seems to attack Hillary Clinton for failing to support efforts to unionize Wal-Mart.

The e-mail quotes an ABC News blog:

In six years as a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors, between 1986 and 1992, Hillary Clinton remained silent as the world's largest retailer waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers. ...

Wait a minute. Doesn't the RNC hate unions? Doesn't the RNC love Wal-Mart? Is the well so poisoned that Republicans attack Clinton even when she takes positions that Republicans support?

Beware of exploding heads.