Optimism in the face of recession

American presidents do not predict recessions. It’s just not done. Even in their annual budgets that look five years ahead there’s never a forecast of even brief hard times. It’s always slow, steady growth.

Two reasons suggest themselves. Americans want their leaders to be optimists. They don’t much care for pessimists as the dour President Jimmy Carter found out when he ran against the congenitally sunny Ronald Reagan. The other reason is that such is the power of the bully pulpit that the prediction might become self-fulfilling.

No country for old men?

I take as my text today the phrase “no country for old men,” which lurks in the public imagination thanks to the Cormac McCarthy novel that has been made into an Oscars-nominated film.

As you may know, the novelist borrowed the title from the words of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, who wrote them as the opening line of his poem “Sailing to Byzantium” in order to curry favor with English majors. And why not? As numerous people weren’t shot dead in the poem, it naturally was a waste of stirring expression for jaded American readers.

U.S. military unprepared for any new crisis

A classified Pentagon assessment concludes that long battlefield tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with persistent terrorist activity and other threats, have prevented the U.S. military from improving its ability to respond to any new crisis, The Associated Press has learned.

Despite security gains in Iraq, there is still a “significant” risk that the strained U.S. military cannot quickly and fully respond to another outbreak elsewhere in the world, according to the report.

MSNBC suspends reporter over Chelsea remark

A distasteful comment about Chelsea Clinton by an MSNBC anchor could imperil Hillary Rodham Clinton’s participation in future presidential debates on the network, a Clinton spokesman said.

In a conference call with reporters, Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson on Friday excoriated MSNBC’s David Shuster for suggesting the Clinton campaign had “pimped out” 27-year old Chelsea by having her place phone calls to celebrities and Democratic Party “superdelegates” on her mother’s behalf.

Wolfson called Shuster’s comment “beneath contempt” and disgusting.

War in Iraq equals danger at home

We are finding out how difficult it is to fight a long war without a draft. Not only are the extended campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan debilitating to the regular volunteer forces, they have severely damaged the nation’s readiness to meet challenges at home, including everything from natural disasters to nuclear or biological attacks. The potential for failure in the latter category is particularly enormous.

Secret prison camp at Gitmo

Somewhere amid the cactus-studded hills on this sprawling navy base, separate from the cells where hundreds of men suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban have been locked up for years, is a place even more closely guarded, a jailhouse so protected that its very location is top secret.

For the first time, the top commander of detention operations at Guantanamo has confirmed the existence of the mysterious Camp 7. In an interview with The Associated Press, Rear Admiral Mark Buzby also provided a few details about the maximum-security lockup.

Border indignities

Last summer, a friend invited me to step out into the patio during a dinner party in a tony neighborhood. The dinner was at one of those places that predate gated communities, a throwback to kinder, gentler, genteel days. It was a classical setup to find out about some indiscretion, a rumor, preferably a confession, the stuff behind the headlines. Indeed it was.

The Super Bowl’s call to the young

The Super Bowl has once again worked its magic. I have no doubt that somewhere in the American heartland, a youngster saw the action and was inspired to believe that one day his talent will be the focus of the nation.

You can be sure that he will practice at all hours to hasten that day. As he does so, he will recall the great Super Bowl moments and will dream the impossible dream, because there are no impossible dreams in America, there are just some with a high degree of difficulty.

Facing a hi-def future

The very first video aired on MTV was the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” I recently entered the wonderful world of high-definition-television ownership, and after a few months I’m beginning to wonder how many careers will be killed by HDTV.

In particular, there’s a real chance that John McCain, who appears to be on the verge of wrapping up the GOP nomination, will see his presidential hopes crushed by a technology he helped make commercially viable.

NFL, thy name is greed

If ever you wondered about how much owners of sports franchises really care about their fans, the NFL has taken a step toward providing the answer — very little unless you’re a paying customer. When a church or homeless shelter tries to provide some wholesome entertainment for the less fortunate, the league’s attitude is about the same as that ascribed to Marie Antoinette just before the French Revolution.