Sunday, May 15, 2016

Not Don Draper's style of flying

I flew this past weekend for the first time in 8 years. I have been flying since I was 3 years old, and flying used to be like being in a "Mad Men" episode--well-dressed, nicely groomed, well-spoken, well-behaved smokers sipping cocktails and enjoying restaurant-quality meals served aloft. And this was coach. In first class, you got wine.

Alas, those days are gone, unless you enjoy quite expensive private travel. Most of my flying experiences have been pleasant enough, but based on the articles I have read over the past few years, about loutish and impertinent TSA agents, sullen and insolent airline staff, and brutish fellow passengers, I had made up my mind that I would never fly again if I could help it.

That is not to be, since my son has been in Greece for 4 years and will be begin Ph.D. study in Britain this Fall. I will fly to New York in 3 weeks and see my son for the first time in 4 years and meet my new daughter-in-law, whom I've never met at all. They are flying to New York for Mark to present a paper at a conference at NYU.

This past weekend, I went to Washington for a family reunion. It was a very quick trip--flying to Washington Friday night, back in Memphis by midnight Saturday--but it was not nearly as unpleasant or inconvenient as I anticipated. Here are the pros:

* You can get great hotel + flight deals through Travelocity. Other sites may have even better deals - I don't know - but I was amazed at how spacious my room was Friday night, for the price I had paid. At first, I seriously thought they had put me in a suite by mistake. I was at the Holiday Inn Rosslyn - Key Bridge, perfecty comfortable, just a block down the street from the Rosslyn Metro station, and with a great view of Northwest DC and the Washington National Cathedral out my bedroom window.

* You can visit your airline web site 24 hours before your flight time, do online check-in, and print out a boarding pass. (You can also do seat selection, if you wish.) I have known this was possible for about 15 years, but what I didn't know is that if you do this, you are considered a "preferred TSA pre-checked traveler" and get in a shorter line at the security gate and don't have to take off your shoes or belt--all you have to is empty your pockets and show your ID. No frisking, no wanding, no body scanning, and the agents seem noticeably more polite. Indeed, it was the first time I *hadn't* had to take off my shoes since 9/11. (And if you forget to do this at home, there are many kiosks throughout the airport where you can do your own check-in when you get there, including printing out your adhesive baggage sticker, and then all you have to do is take your bag to the counter, show your ID, and check in your bag.)

*If you are flying American out of Memphis airport and need to eat a light supper before an evening flight, you could do worse than eat at Home Team Sports, a café near gate C12. I had a perfectly serviceable Bloody Mary there and a grilled veggie sandwich that perfectly hit the spot and was very filling.

* Airline terminal gates now have outlets for you to plug in your phone charging cord, and even some airline terminal restaurants and bars have these. This was a complete revelation to me.

* If you are returning to Memphis from Reagan National and flying American, you could do worse than to stop in at the Kapnos Taverna, next to gate 37, a Greek-accented place with good food and a serious selection of wines and liquors, including Greek wines. I enjoyed a St. George Skouras red, and it reminded me of the Shiraz I usually have with my evening meal.

* Airline gift and newsstand shops seem quite well stocked, selling the magazines I read, including Time, The Economist, and even Foreign Affairs; a selection of hardback and paperback books, and modern travel equipment such as noise-cancelling headphones, which I need to buy before my flight to Greece in September.

* If you are flying out an airport 50 years old or older, such as Memphis airport, you can sigh with nostalgia at the sight of the empty brick alcoves that formerly housed pay phones.

* If you have reserved an airport shuttle with Super Shuttle, ferrying passengers from Reagan National to various hotels in the DC area, you will receive a text message while you are standing at baggage claim, welcoming you to DC and asking you to check in with the uniformed gate agent, to get you on your shuttle.

Here are the cons:

* You have to pay $25 extra just to check a single bag. I guess I was vaguely aware of this on some level but still found it deeply offensive.

* If you're using "airplane mode" for your cell phone, you might as well just have the damn thing turned off, even if the airline provides WiFi. It just doesn't work--or at least, it didn't for me.

* Even if you are flying a major airline like American, and into a major city like DC, you may find yourself on a subsidiary carrier such as "American Eagle Airlines, doing business as American" and, worse yet, you are on the smallest airliner you've ever been on, unless you've been on a 50-passenger commuter plane or something. I'm pretty sure I flew an Embraer 175. Forget Boeing 737s--this plane makes you feel shrink-wrapped. I could hardly even reach for my wallet to pay for my on-board glass of wine without risking elbowing my seat-mate. I am just under 6 feet tall--if I had been 6' 3" or more, my head would have been brushing the ceiling. This would have been the perfect airplane for the days of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, when men were about 5'9" and weighed about 160 pounds. I understand that Memphis's hub status is gone with the wind, but this is what I would have expected if I were flying out of Dubuque or Owensboro. Holy crap. (In addition, I don't remember airplanes being this noisy, or at least not since my childhood days, flying the old turbo-props.)

* The last time I flew, in March, 2008, on some budget carrier, you could only purchase wine or cocktails aloft with a credit card. On the flights I took this weekend, you could only pay cash, a retro touch that struck me as rather odd.

* Your airline trip voucher may have a knife and fork icon indicating food service, but that actually means a "snack," which means a bag of pretzels or biscotti smaller than what you might get out of a vending machine.

* If you are flying to Reagan National and have made a reservation with Super Shuttle, mentioned above, and you have printed out your voucher from the Super Shuttle site with a confirmation number and even called to confirm that you are all set, they will


Even with a voucher with a confirmation number. Because your voucher doesn't have a *bar code* "And the driver can't get paid without a bar code."

You have to purchase another fare on the spot. Seriously. When you call their customer care number later that night to complain, the customer service agent will say "You should have had a bar code." It isn't until you reach a sane customer service agent the next morning that you get agreement that your voucher was, itself, evidence of payment, and you should have been let on the shuttle. I'm still waiting for resolution on that one.

So what I learned this weekend is that if you're traveling by air, do your check-in in advance, so you can be a "trusted traveler," practice yoga, so you can contort yourself into the small seat space on a modern down-sized jet, and carry some cash, so you can buy a drink to help you get through the flight.

© Michael Huggins, 2016. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Alas, the Bern, no longer so hot

In January, I went to a "Run, Warren, Run" organizational meeting. I have voted Republican most of my life, but my party has been hijacked by wingnuts and yahoos, and I am alarmed by the lack of accountability for powerful financiers. Of course, Warren didn't run, so many in the group turned their hopes to Bernie Sanders, as I did. As I see it, Bernie, no doubt out of noble motives, effectively ended his candidacy the other night when he cut off discussion about Hillary's e-mails.

This evening, I got an e-mail from a member of the "Run, Warren, Run" group, repeating the viewpoint of some in focus groups that Bernie was the real winner the other night. I wrote the following reply:

"This will be my valedictory message to the group. I'm the lifelong Republican who showed up at the Warren meeting, was sorry Warren decided not to run, and was prepared to vote for Bernie. Obviously, I don't agree with him on everything, but in a country where a man can be sentenced to 28 years for selling tainted peanuts but not one banker spends one night in jail over wrecking the economy, something is wrong. Bernie is strong medicine, which the country needs. Moreover, the candidates of my former party are either insane or forced to give a convincing imitation of it.

"I wanted Bernie to win the other night and then to go from strength to strength. Hillary is a thoroughly contemptible person, in my opinion, and I fervently hoped Tuesday night would be her Waterloo.

"That was not the outcome. Hillary won, and won big. Let's remember the difference between winning morally and winning a debate. Socrates, Jesus, Lincoln, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King all won the moral sweepstakes but didn't make out so well in worldly terms. Neither did Bernie the other night. He won the justice sweepstakes, not the debate. I say that, in part, as a long-ago college debater.

"This happened, in part, because of things Hillary did and said and things Bernie did and said. She helped herself, and he helped her, but he didn't really help Bernie. Among the shoals he foundered on were:

"1. Bernie said 'The gun bill was big and complicated,' to which Hillary replied, 'It wasn't that complicated to me, and I voted against it.' Hillary wins.

"2. Bernie said 'I come from a rural state,' to which Hillary replied 'So only gun manufacturers escape accountability?' and, more to the point, O'Malley said 'We have a hunting tradition in Maryland, but we still passed a gun bill, without pandering to the NRA.' O'Malley does his bit, and Hillary wins again. (The other issue was, what nobody actually said, 'Bernie, the country isn't rural any more; we live in an urban and suburban society, and the question is whether you are prepared to govern who we are today, not who we were 100 years ago.')

"3. Bernie said 'We need to learn from Denmark,' to which Hillary replied 'I love Denmark, but we're not Denmark--we're the United States.' Again, in debating terms, Hillary wins.

"4. Bernie criticized predatory capitalism but gave no evidence of distinguishing between J.P. Morgan Chase and the Jiffy Lube on the corner. Both are manifestations of capitalism. Hillary's position was more nuanced: 'Sometimes, we need to save capitalism from itself.' I understand Bernie agrees with this, but Hillary articulated the more balanced view. Hillary wins.

"5. Bernie semi-shouted the whole evening, which made his characterization of Hillary as shouting a little ironic. As The Economist said, if I remember correctly, 'Mr. Sanders seemed unaware that he had a microphone.' Hillary modulated her voice, for the most part, and seemed more calm and poised, while still engaged. Hillary wins.

"6. Bernie failed to press the advantage with regard to Hillary's close ties to Wall Street. When she told her little Pollyanna story that 'I went to the Wall Street bankers and said 'Guys, you've got to stop doing that bad stuff, got to stop the foreclosures,' etc.' Bernie (or anyone else) needed to have said 'Yes? And? That somehow stopped the financial crisis or mitigated its effects? You personally going into a room full of bankers and telling them to stop? If what happened afterward is a measure of your effectiveness as a persuader, what can we expect from you when you confront Putin?' But he didn't say that. He called her 'A little naïve' in passing but really didn't press the point. Hillary wins--by Bernie's omission.

"7. Bernie had a point about the possibility of Putin's Syrian escapade eventually blowing up in his face in his own country and making him withdraw, and that could happen, but the immediate question had to do with a President's willingness to use either military force or forceful diplomacy with characters like Putin to begin with. Bernie did not show that he was prepared for this. It's almost as if his thinking was 'Is Putin a Wall St. banker? No? Then why are we even talking about him?'

"8. Finally, Bernie's greatest moral gesture of the evening also amounted to a kind of hara kiri. Let's look at the situation we have. The Secretary of State is fourth in line of succession to the Presidency. By the very nature of the office, the incumbent goes in knowing he or she will handle matters of a highly sensitive nature and that such material ought to be secured. Knowing this full well, Hillary kept official business on a private server, failed to turn it over to the government upon leaving office, as required, and, when confronted about it later, airily replied 'I opted for convenience.' By the most generous construction, such fatuous self-complacency on the part of anyone disqualifies him or her from being county court clerk, let alone one of the highest officers of state for the most powerful nation in the world. And we haven't even gotten to the question of whether she knew at the time that some of the materials were classified.

"So what happened the other night? Anderson Cooper said, quite accurately, that Obama himself had referred to Hillary's actions as 'a mistake' and that the FBI is investigating her. A candidate for President owes the country a serious answer for his or her incredible lack of judgment on such a point and what it says about his or her fitness for the country's highest office. Hillary's airy impudence on this point ('Did I wipe my server? What you mean with a cloth?') is a walking attack ad for the GOP.

"Now Bernie may have felt that strategically, he didn't care to be the one to take a meat cleaver to Hillary on this point. Fine. He could have said, what he in fact did say after the debate, that the FBI would do their investigation and events would take their course. Fine.

"Instead, he forcefully intervened to dismiss the whole issue! That can't possibly be because a man of his intelligence is unacquainted with, or indifferent to, the simplest common sense requirements of handling state papers, but because, being Bernie, he wants to excoriate Wall Street bankers, and he wanted to get back to that point.

"That's fine, Bernie. Wall Street bankers are a huge problem, but not our only problem. Hillary's dishonesty is another (as in her lying her backside off about her 'gold standard' comments about the Trans-Pacific partnership). And cyber-warfare and China flexing its muscles in the South China Sea are also problems (as I recall, only Jim Webb seemed concerned about either of those problems).

"Anyway, as to Bernie's intervention on behalf of Hillary, in a way, it was a noble thing to do. And the moment he did it, Bernie might as well have said 'And now, friends, farewell,' and walked off the stage. His raison d'etre, as an alternative to Hillary, had now ended, and by his own hand.

"Hillary won, Jack. The people in those focus groups who thought otherwise were stoned, or might as well have been. Bernie is now a noble might-have-been. Hillary will be the nominee, unless she shows up in a video beheading someone for ISIS.

"I know that many reading this will emphatically disagree, and that's fine, and I can only say that I will always cherish admiration for Bernie and what he wanted to accomplish in reining in the wild excesses of Wall Street and holding predatory bankers accountable. I trust that his effort, like that of Howard Dean before him, will galvanize like-minded people of good will and that the movement will be the beginning of real, positive change in our society. My best wishes to all who work toward that end."

© Michael Huggins, 2015. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A timid facsimile of leadership

This article is well-intended, but it's simply false. Obama did not "find his voice" in eulogizing Rev. Pinckney; instead, as in just about every other crisis he has faced, Obama gave the impression of one who comes late to the party, makes tentative gestures in the direction of doing or saying the right thing and finally, emboldened or perhaps ashamed by the examples of those with more heartfelt conviction than he, makes a mighty effort to overcome his characteristic buttoned-up timidity. That's what we saw yesterday in Charleston: not a leader, not a prophetic voice, but a callow young man, "trying his wings" at "leading a black congregation," as he had seen done by better men than he, by launching into "Amazing Grace." Coming from the likes of AME Presiding Elder Norvell Goff, it might have been a majestic gesture; coming from callow Barry, it reminded me of nothing so much as Aldous Huxley's label "Arch-Community Songster," from "Brave New World."

Obama's problem is that he is made of lemon jello and yet trying to lead a dangerous and challenging world. He isn't really a leader and not really a grown man; he is a glib, clever lad, forever trying on various costumes and poses in front of a mirror, to see which combination will have the best effect.

The thing that came across in Charleston, as it had come across in Boston two years ago, was that he is still "trying" to be taken as a mature man, a morally commanding figure, a leader of stature. Trying. That pretty well sums him up. Because, sadly, trying is about the best Barry can do. There is something fundamentally missing from him. If you didn't see it yesterday, it was either because you wanted Rev. Pinckney and his fellow martyrs to be honored, or because, like many others, you are inclined to give Obama too much of the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Lost in a fog

"Celebrate this decision, if you will, but do not celebrate the Constitution, for the two have nothing to do with each other." - John Roberts, reading his dissent from the bench in the matter of the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage. Oh please. First, no one who was guilty of Roberts's craven dereliction of his duty as an impartial jurist in the Obamacare case yesterday has *any reason whatsoever* to complain about extra-constitutionality in this matter. Second, ironically, the gay marriage case was *more Constitutionally solid,* John, if you can get your head out of your black-robed backside and glimpse the light of day once more.

In the case of the Affordable Care Act, affordable care for all is, to be sure, a desirable societal goal (as even Ted Cruz implicitly admitted when he signed up for it himself), but the act *as written* limited the benefit to people purchasing exchanges created by the freakin' *states.* Roberts simply ignored that and acted as though vanilla really meant double-fudge all along.

But in the case of same-sex marriage, bizarre, exotic, and reprehensible as it may seem to some religious, there is *nothing*--as in N-O-T-H-I-N-G--in the Constitution that can be read as preferring, either implicitly or explicitly, opposite-sex over same-sex couples. Nothing, Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

There *is,* meanwhile, the "inconvenient truth" of the 14th Amendment, which *is* part of the Constitution, and which says, among other things, that no one shall be denied "equal protection of the law."

That means that unless you can establish an *intrinsic* disqualification for gays being married--as in, blind people cannot be airline pilots--then you have no Constitutional grounds to *deny* them marriage.

In short, Roberts was letting his thinking be clouded, as so many others were, with centuries of irrational prejudice and acting as if religious standards were, somehow, part of the Constitution.

Which they're not.

So sorry, John, but you got it exactly backwards.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

You're a careless lad, but you're still my son

Obamacare decision turns Roberts from conservative dream to nightmare | MSNBC

The history of Obamacare's transit through two Supreme Court challenges reminds me of a column by William F. Buckley, Jr. that I read years ago.Buckley said there was a liberal law professor at Notre Dame who used to confuse his students every year by passing out a collection of quotes criticizing decisions by liberal Republican Chief Justice Earl Warren in terms so harsh that one would have taken them for the most rabid propaganda of the far right.In fact, they were simply excerpts of dissenting opinions by Warren's associate justices. Their dismay was shared by some legal scholars, even those who shared Warren's progressive views. "Alphaeus Mason of Princeton applauded the decision in Brown v. Bd. of Ed," Buckley wrote, "but tore his hair at the legal reasoning behind it."

Twice, now, John Roberts has shown good sense and a good heart while egregiously disqualifying himself as a constitutional jurist. Sorry, folks--it's open and shut.

The Affordable Care Act needed to be saved, and the right's opposition to it was patently absurd. ACA was the spiritual child of what was originally a conservative idea, promoted by the Heritage Foundation 20 years ago. It is one of the best things that has ever happened to health care, and by deciding as he did, Roberts actually saved the GOP from impaling itself on its own perverse opposition, which would certainly have happened had ACA been gutted. The Congressional Budget Office only recently released a report projecting that if ACA were no longer in effect, the deficit would rise by $137 billion over the next decade.

But Roberts is not the President. His position, as he noted in his written decision, is to "say what the law is" and "respect the legislature." In both of those, he has spectacularly and laughably failed.

The first failure was in the first challenge, a couple of years ago, over the individual mandate. By no conceivable principle of logic or ethics can a government compel me to engage in economic activity in which I profess no interest. It may, to be sure, require me to have a license and insurance *if I wish to drive,* but it may not *compel me to buy a car in the first place.* Federal judge Fred Vinson of Florida laid out the whole history of Commerce Clause jurisprudence in his earlier decision. There really was nothing more to be said.

But Roberts still said it. He called the individual mandate a tax, something the Administration itself denied, and, thus, saved glib, clever Barry, the man who had become president of Harvard Law Review without ever having authored a single article, from his own slapdash approach to one of his own "signature" achievements.

It is important to understand this. Roberts did not function as a judge. He functioned as a sort of super-President, the President's wise and understanding dad, saving the young whippersnapper from his own sloppiness.

He did so again today. Yes, of course it is obvious that the intent of the act passed by Congress was that people would buy insurance through public exchanges, even if states demurred.

Well, then, they should have freakin' *said so,* thank you.

But once again, glib, clever Barry couldn't be bothered with anything so tiresome as to actually draft a sound law. He perhaps expected the act to be hailed for no reason but that he had been the author and, as all right-thinking people know, he's just, well, so interesting and wonderful and everything.

And so, once again, it was up to Dad Roberts to save Barry from himself.

A jurist would have written that while the intent of the law was clear and its salutary effect on public policy evident, the law *as drafted* was defective, and that it was unwise to decide legal questions based on deliberate, if well-intended, misreadings of the plain language of a sloppily worded statute. Remember, this wasn't some tortuous deliberation of the original intent of men 200-years dead, as to what they must have meant by the 2nd amendment; this was an easy issue in response to the carelessly worded text adopted only a few years ago by an immature man who takes a little too seriously the admonition of the Gospel to "be careful for nothing."

For Roberts to decide as he did showed a warm heart. For him to defend it on the grounds that he must "say what the law is" and "respect the legislature" is, under the circumstances, simply inane. Saying "what the law is" is precisely what the Roberts Court did *not* do; otherwise, the Affordable Care Act would be on its way, in redrafted form, back to face a hostile and wary Congress.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Huckabee's copout

Huckabee: Confederate Flag Controversy Is Not a Presidential Election Issue - NBC News

During the American Revolution, South Carolinians were under-represented in the Continental Army because so many adult males had to stay at home to keep slaves in order. Before the Civil War, South Carolina forbade postmasters to let abolitionist literature pass through the mails, and abolitionists were hounded out of the state in fear of their lives. South Carolina fired the first shots of the Civil War, in the bombardment of Ft. Sumter. Forty years after the war, when Teddy Roosevelt had Booker T. Washington as his dinner guest in the White House, a South Carolina newspaper editorialized that Roosevelt had turned the White House into a "coon café" and said it would be necessary to "kill ten-thousand n____s to put them in their place once more."

In 1968, South Carolina was the site of the Orangeburg Massacre, in which police fired into a crowd of 150 blacks protesting segregation at a local bowling alley, wounding 28, mostly in the back as they ran away, and killing 3. As recently as 2012, South Carolinians cheered as Rick Perry told them in a campaign speech that "South Carolina is at war with the Federal government." In April of this year, Walter Scott, a black man, was shot to death from behind as he ran from a police officer following a traffic stop from a non-functioning brake light.

No, Mike Huckabee, the continued presence of the Confederate flag over South Carolina's state capitol is not a "little issue," as you glibly described it to Chuck Todd this morning. It symbolically flies in the face of some of the most important decisions made by our national leadership, including the Emancipation Proclamation, Brown v. Board of Ed., and the Voting Rights Act, and if you can't see that it is an essential affront to the promise of American life for all and a matter of concern for any presidential candidate, you are a fool, a moral coward, or both.