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Showing posts from July, 2011

Let's get rid of our government, start over with a parliament

That's the case I (probably needlessly provacatively) make in this week's Scripps Howard column.
The debt limit debate is only the latest, greatest manifestation of America's broken politics. For more than two years, President Obama has faced unprecedented Republican obstacles to getting executive branch appointees and federal district judges confirmed. The day-to-day business of government is increasingly going undone because the GOP is happy to obstruct for obstruction's sake.

Why is this the case? Partly because the two major political parties are more ideologically coherent than ever ― there are no more conservative Democrats like Scoop Jackson or liberal Republicans like Lincoln Chaffee in Congress. Politicians are less willing and less able to compromise, for fear the other side will get credit.

The problem is compounded by the divided control of Congress, where Republicans have the House and Democrats hold the Senate. Add the Senate filibuster into the mix and th…

Back from surgery. Ish.

On July 8, I entered Thomas Jefferson University Hospital here in Philadelphia for the second surgery in my Summer of Surgery. The first was a colostomy to relieve the life-threatening diverticulitis inflammation that had brought my gastrointestinal system to a standstill. This follow-up was designed to remove several inches of diseased colon and, if all went well, to reverse the colostomy during the same procedure—making it possible to poop out my butt again, among my most cherished aspirations.

All did not go well.

Turns out a reasonably large section of my colon wasn't just diseased: it had collapsed, and the dead portions fused themselves to my bladder. And in the course of trying to separate live bladder from essentially dead colon, my bladder was nicked with a scalpel blade. A surgical urologist was called; an operation originally scheduled to take three hours or so took seven. The surgeon told me afterwards it was one of the three or four worst cases of diverticulitis he…

Should government do more to encourage marriage and prevent divorce?

That's the subject of this week's Scripps Howard column. It's prompted by news in several states of social conservatives leading legislative efforts to make it more difficult to divorce, as well as the unveiling of a new "Marshall Plan for marriage" by the conservative Heritage Foundation. My 300-word limit only lets me scratch the surface of the creepiness involved, but here's my shot at it:
Let's talk about freedom.

Republicans use that word -- and its cousin, "liberty" -- quite often.

Usually they're talking about financial matters. Individuals should be free from taxes. Businesses should be free from regulation. So it's odd that when the topic turns to marriage, conservatives rush to embrace the kind of nanny-state infringement on adult decision-making they otherwise decry.

What Republicans have failed to do is consider how their supposedly freedom-oriented policies may have undermined marriage in this country. One of the prime benefi…

Time for my next surgery

I go under the knife again on Friday. It will probably be extra-quiet around here for awhile. I'll post a link to the latest Scripps Howard column today, and after that it'll probably be a week before I get back to a keyboard. If you want to keep up with my progress, or my half-assed opinions about anything else, you can always follow my Twitter feed.

The Wall Street Journal's misleading op-ed about defense cuts and China

You know what? I really hate it when op-ed writers deliberately conflate apples and oranges to make the oranges appear to be hordes of Chinese soldiers bent on dominating the world. That's exactly what the Wall Street Journal gives us in an offering from Dan Blumenthal and Michael Mazza. The key graph:
Last year, the Obama administration took the first steps in a $400 billion defense spending cut, ending several crucial programs. The White House has now asked for another $400 billion in cuts. China, meanwhile, has averaged 10% annual spending increases for more than 20 years. As former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown once said of the Soviets, "When we build, they build; when we cut, they build."Here are the three faulty points of comparison:

• The writers compare China's 10 percent annual increases with $400 billion in U.S. cuts that will be made through 2023. We're not cutting $400 billion out of next year's defense budget—that's the target spread out …

Bag O' Books: 'The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction' by Alan Jacobs

Three thoughts about this book:

• Since my May 1 surgery, I had—until this week—been able to read exactly one book front-to-back: Tina Fey's "Bossypants." It was clever and entertaining, but it took all of an afternoon to read. Everything else I've tried to read the last two months has either been a bit of a slog, or else I've simply been unable to maintain focus. But reading is important to me; it frightened me to think I might be losing my capacity somehow. So when I saw this slim volume at the Joseph Fox Bookshop in Philadelphia, I snapped it up immediately. Maybe, just maybe, I could find my way back.

• A wise choice, because one of Jacobs' chief messages in this book is: "Relax." He eschews reading lists and eat-your-veggies approaches to reading in favor of urging readers to follow their Whim. In Jacobs' hands, this is not a call to dispense with Great Books and devote oneself entirely to Stephen King. He makes it quite clear that one'…