from items published in the
(See the category index for more.)


Newspaper items

index pages:

Lawrence R. Jacobs

additional category: politics

“To succeed, reformers must foresee the paths to failure”

Star Tribune,
12 December 2021

James Madison and his posse of Constitution writers deliberately booby-trapped the process of making government decisions in America to blunt large, quick change.

The barriers to change should be the starting point for advocates. Their challenge is to tailor strategy to neutralize or circumvent known barriers. Failure to anticipate barriers is a failure of leadership.

“Policy is politics” is an axiom of former Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn. The path to political success is through policy, and vice versa. But impassioned advocates – on the left and the right – are remarkably disinterested in designing policy to fit circumstances and this handicaps them.

Here are down-to-earth lessons from generations of community organizers and strategists on the left and right.

First, search for allies to build a coalition of well-organized groups that stretches beyond purists. [...]

Next, focus on the future when designing policy today.

Change is possible but only if the possibility of defeat is anticipated and understood. Many of the big shifts in policy in America only occurred after reformers studied failure and designed policy to circumvent it.

text checked (see note) December 2021

top of page
Samuel Johnson
quoted in “Did You Know...” by Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo

published in the Star Tribune 12 April 2003

The plaintiff and the defendant in an action at law are like two men ducking their heads in a bucket and daring each other to remain longest underwater.



top of page
Syl Jones

additional category: politics

“A retreat, but not from the truth”

Star Tribune,
10 June 2007

Beyond party affiliation and labels, what we’re seeing in latter-day America is nothing less than a merger of wills from both sides aimed at maintaining the power elites. No president — I don’t care who he or she is — will remove those new military bases from what has become our 51st state, Iraq. No president will stop genuflecting at the phrase “support the troops” long enough to note that what poses as patriotism is actually patronage of defense contractors.

Simply saying such things provokes hatemongering, name-calling and no-holds-barred personal attacks on the Internet and in other media. We can no longer have a conversation about anything other than “American Idol” in this country. Every opinion becomes an opportunity for character assassination.

This makes the United States a frightening place to be at the moment. Not as frightening as Iraq, where we’ve been training jihadists and common criminals in the art of guerrilla warfare since the invasion. And not as frightening as it’s going to be here, either, once the apocalyptic scenarios that we know are coming finally arrive.





“Online comments: An art form”

Star Tribune,
9 June 2009

We professional Internet responders represent Americana at its best and we don’t want anybody sanitizing it. [...] Just imagine how much better the Lincoln-Douglass debates would have been if we’d had the Internet:

Lincoln: Slavery is an abomination.

Douglas: So is your mama.

Cool, huh?



text checked (see note) Jun 2007; Jun 2009

top of page
Paul Krugman

winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, 2008
additional category: politics

“After the war, a bleak fiscal future will await Americans”

from The New York Times,
published in the Star Tribune March 24, 2003

The Onion describes itself as “America’s finest news source,” and it’s not an idle boast. On Jan 18, 2001, the satirical weekly bore the headline “Bush: Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over,” followed by this mock quotation: “We must squander our nation’s hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it.”

The Onion

“Few Americans will gain from Bush plan”

from The New York Times,
published in the Star Tribune Jan. 22, 2003

A liberal and a conservative were sitting in a bar. Then Bill Gates walked in. “Hey, we’re rich!” shouted the conservative. “The average person in this bar is now worth more than a billion!” “That’s silly,” replied the liberal. “Bill Gates raises the average, but that doesn’t make you or me any richer.” “Hah!” said the conservative, “I see you’re still practicing the discredited politics of class warfare.”



text below checked (see note) when added

“Reagan’s ideas failed, yet we won’t let go”

from The New York Times,
published in the Star Tribune Aug. 25, 2009

Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good.

Call me naive, but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it.


Ronald Reagan

President George W. Bush, who had the distinction of being the first Reaganite president to also have a fully Republican Congress, also had the distinction of presiding over the first administration since Herbert Hoover in which the typical family failed to see any significant income gains.

And then there’s the small matter of the worst recession since the 1930s.

“Let’s unfold Ryan’s map, see where it really leads”

from The New York Times,
published in the Star Tribune Aug. 8, 2010

Ryan’s plan calls for steep cuts in both spending and taxes. He’d have you believe that the combined effect would be much lower budget deficits, and, according to a Washington Post report, his plan would, indeed, sharply reduce the red ink: “The Congressional Budget Offfice has estimated that [Ryan’s plan] would cut the budget deficit in half by 2020.”

But the budget office has done no such thing. At Ryan’s request, it produced an estimate of the budget effects of his proposed spending cuts alone. It didn’t address revenue losses from his tax cuts.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has. [...] If you add in these revenue losses, you get a much larger deficit in 2020, roughtly $1.3 trillion.


Fakin’ it

The Tax Policy Center finds that the Ryan plan would cut taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population in half, giving them 117 percent of the plan’s total tax cuts. That’s not a misprint. Even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population.



In its first decade, most of the alleged savings in the Ryan plan come from assuming zero dollar growth in domestic discretionary spending, which includes everything from energy policy to education to the court system. This would amount to a 25 percent cut once you adjust for inflation and population growth. How would such a severe cut be achieved? What specific programs would be slashed? Ryan doesn't say.

After 2020, the main alleged saving would come from sharp cuts in Medicare, achieved by dismantling Medicare as we know it, and instead giving seniors vouchers to buy their own insurance. [...]

And we know, from experience with the Medicare Advantage program, that a voucher system would have higher, not lower, costs than our current system. The only way the Ryan plan could save money would be by making those vouchers too small to pay for adequate coverage.

So why have so many in Washington, especially in the news media, been taken in by this flimflam? It’s not just inability to do the math, although that’s part of it. There’s also the unwillingness of self-styled centrists to face up to the realities of the modern Republican Party; they want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the GOP making sense.

“Joblessness: A Very Serious explanation”

from The New York Times,
published in the Star Tribune Sept. 28, 2010

I’ve been looking at what self-proclaimed experts were saying about unemployment during the Great Depression; it was almost identical to what Very Serious People are saying now. Unemployment cannot be brought down rapidly, declared one 1935 analysis, because the workforce is “unadaptable and untrained. It cannot respond to the opportunities which industry may offer.” A few years later, a large defense buildup finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs – and suddenly industry was eager to employ those “unadaptable and untrained” workers.

But now, as then, powerful forces are ideologically opposed to the whole idea of government action on a sufficient scale to jump-start the economy. And that, fundamentally, is why claims that we face huge structural problems have been proliferating: they offer a reason to do nothing about the mass unemployment that is crippling our economy and our society.

So what you need to know is that there is no evidence whatsoever to back these claims. We aren’t suffering from a shortage of needed skills; we’re suffering from a lack of policy resolve.




top of page
Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar
“What fear has wrought: an unseemly policy of cruelty,”

written for the Washington Post,
published in the Star Tribune May 20, 2007

These assertions that “torture works” may reassure a fearful public, but it is a false security. We don’t know what’s been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture — only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works — the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking tme bomb. Any degree of “flexibility” about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone — the rare exception fast becoming the rule.

To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military’s mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations.



Victory in this kind of war comes when the enemy loses legitimacy in the society from which it seeks recruits and thus loses its “recuperative power.”

The torture methods [...] have nurtured the recuperative power of the enemy. This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.



Charles C. Krulak was Marine Corps commandant from 1995 to 1999. Joseph P. Hoar was commander in chief of U.S. Central Command from 1991 to 1994.

text checked (see note) May 2007

top of page
Brian Lambert
“Global warming calls for truth, not ‘balance’ game,”

published in the Star Tribune June 22, 2007

One thing for which I’ve always envied conservatives is that their fundamental message is such an easy sell. Boiled to its essence it is this: “YOU have already done more than your share. If sacrifices and changes need to be made at all, they should be made by others. Support us and we’ll protect you from change.” Short of saying, “We’ll pay you for your vote,” it doesn’t get much more simplistically appealing than that.



Any newspaper or TV station that holds up a hand and says, “Thanks, but no thanks” to the next scientifically suspect opinion disputing “the hoax” of global warming will inevitably be hit with charges of bias. That’s how the system is gamed these days. Those charges will come from the same crowd that first denied any warming was happening, then moved to accepting global warming but denying a human involvement, and now to essentially saying, “OK, it’s warming and carbon dioxide is involved ... but there’s nothing we can do that’ll have any significant effect, and the only thing we’ll achieve is the destruction of a lifestyle that is the envy of the rest of the planet.”

Selling a credulous public the too-good-to-be-true nostrum that nothing more should ever be asked of them may win elections, but it’s not a game any honest journalist can play.


Climate change


text checked (see note) Jun 2007

top of page
Anne Lamott
“Christian feminist had to speak out on abortion rights,”

written for the Los Angeles Times;
published in the Star Tribune February 16, 2006

I wanted to express calmly, eloquently, that prochoice people understand that there are two lives involved in an abortion — one born (the pregnant woman) and one not (the fetus) — but that the born person must be allowed to decide what is right.

But as a Christian and a feminist, the most important message I can carry and fight for is the sacredness of each human life, and reproductive rights for all women is a crucial part of that: It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society.

text checked (see note) Feb 2006

top of page
Kristofer Layon
“Left-handed marriage: A slippery slope”

Counterpoint in the Star Tribune November 12, 2009

Right-handedness is a nearly universal human institution. Across the world and throughout history, marriage has been almost exclusively right-handed. That’s not because of anti-left-handed bigotry, but because marriage is anchored in a primal biological and social fact: Most people are right-handed, and tend to have right-handed children.

Left-handed marriage would not — as advocates claim — merely extend the benefits of marriage to more people. Such a redefinition would compel us to repudiate time-honored ideas of social organization.


Same-sex marriage

Once right-handed relationships are stripped of their organic purpose, why restrict relationships to people who use their hands properly? People who eat with their fingers, people like doctors who insist on writing illegibly, and people who use only their thumbs to text on their cell phones: All will want society to recognize and respect their relationships.

text checked (see note) Nov 2009

top of page
Los Angeles Times
“Food Police, may we introduce Common Sense”

editorial; reprinted in the Star Tribune August 13, 2009

If there’s anything good about putting warning notices on packages of frankfurters, it’s that the labels could say: Beware of Dog.


Hot dogs

text checked (see note) Aug 2009

top of page

Background graphic copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen