Charlie Wilson

Sidelined

In the good old days, they were called “the cardinals,” because the chairmen of the appropriations committee were so powerful. An insular group, they met behind closed doors, and, without wasting their time with input from anyone, they decided how the government should spend precious tax dollars. The most legendary example of the appropriator’s might is Charlie Wilson, the Texas representative who launched a covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, simply through canny use of the power of the purse.  How times have changed.

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Why is this picture called Larry Crowne? Is it because the filmmaker and star, Tom Hanks, buys into the limp orthodoxy that he is an American everyman figure? Is it because he has vague hopes that this is a story about everyday, good-natured American stick-at-it-ness, in the league of Jerry Maguire or Erin Brockovich? Or is it because no one involved in the making of it really knows what the film is about? Just think for a moment how the film’s attitude toward us, and its sense of purpose, might shift if the title was, For Example, Larry Crowne? And why not?

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Stay Forever

No soldier wants to be the last one to die in a war, goes the old saw. In Afghanistan, make that: No coalition member wants to be the last one to quit. And so, competitive withdrawal has practically begun. According to President Obama, the United States will start drawing down next year. Canada is preparing to exit in 2011. Poland is talking complete withdrawal by 2012. Britain wants to end it all by 2015. This is no way to win. It’s like a trainer announcing in round three that he will throw in the towel in round six.

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As many of you know, the controversy over abortion rights has been threatening to undermine health care reform. And a big reason is the actions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have steadfastly opposed reform because, they claim, it would allow for federal funding of abortion. Democrats who oppose abortion rights or represent districts with lots of voters who oppose abortion rights have been reluctant to cross the Bishops on this matter. Many have said they won’t support a bill without stronger abortion restrictions. The Bishops aren’t the only authority on the matter, though.

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