June notebook


Choosing a new mayor is a long way away. Today’s polls simply reflect name identification. If a poll of Democratic gubernatorial candidates had been taken a year ago, Tom Wolf would have finished behind “None of the Above.”

Things change rapidly in politics. There is only one certainty in the minds of Philadelphia voters today — we don’t want more of the same. We don’t necessarily need an outsider. What we do need is someone who will change the culture of City Hall. Isn’t that why Michael Nutter was elected? But as his second term nears its end, many of the familiar problems still exist. Somewhere along the way, Nutter fell in love with the idea of being more of a national figure than being mayor of our city. He was seduced by the photo-ops. The vitality of the Ed Rendell years has largely dissipated. We need a mayor who will make us believe in the future of Philadelphia again. …

Former President Jimmy Carter was once maligned for saying that a “malaise” has taken hold in America. Maybe malaise sounded too foreign to Americans. How about doldrums? How many times have you replaced an appliance and been told not to expect the new one to last as long as the old one? We hear it all the time. We have been led to expect that anything we make today is of inferior quality. That’s just the way it is. The old way is now too expensive.

Our mantra seems to have become “no can do.” Educate our kids properly? Costs too much. Provide all Americans with decent and affordable health care? Not possible. Explore outer space? Are you kidding? Forty-five years after our astronauts walked on the moon, we have seemingly packed it in. The moonwalk is just some sentimental footage in an episode of “Mad Men.” We act as if climate change is not considered science, but a political opinion. We’ll see whether the president’s recent ambitious proposal to reduce coal emissions at power plants goes anywhere once our constipated Congress gets hold of it.

Maybe we owe an apology to Jimmy Carter. …

How can we be shocked at the recent disclosures about the Department of Veteran Affairs? It was 2007 when the Washington Post disclosed the shabby way our veterans were treated at the prestigious Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Vets languished in vermin-infested rooms in deplorable neglect. Seven years later, we find out that things are even worse across the board at VA hospitals. It should be obvious that the problem is more, much more than a lack of adequate funding or General Eric Shinseki. We created an agency to give special treatment to returning vets, but there is nothing special about it, except its systemic problems.

Consideration ought to be given to dismantling the VA and giving vets adequate coverage to have their needs met in the private sector. It won’t be easy, and, in the transition, it might even be more costly. But what is worse is pouring good money after bad into an agency that has no longer a rational reason for existing. …

After watching Edward Snowden being interviewed by NBC’s Brian Williams, I have changed my mind in a positive way about him. I found Snowden credible, sincere and seemingly with honest intent not to do harm to our country by his disclosures. Unlike some of his supporters, he admits we need the NSA, so long as it acts within the constraints of the law, and accepting that there are legitimate secrets under which a government must operate. I was one of those who championed him coming home to face trial, but I now understand his refusal to do so while the Espionage Act, under which he would be charged, prevents him from presenting the information that he would need to defend himself.

My initial concerns about anyone deciding for themselves which secrets are appropriate and which should be disclosed still holds. I think we lucked out this time. We may not be so lucky next time. Enforce the constraints under which the government should be able to spy legitimately. Tighten our security so that it is not so easy next time for someone to steal secrets. And negotiate with Snowden so that he can get a fair trial and come home. …

Our initial joy at the release of an American soldier from captivity has been tempered by the disclosure that he may be guilty of desertion. A legitimate investigation is underway to determine the facts. The initial statements by the Obama Administration following the Bowe Bergdahl’s release were muddled and contradictory, something that has plagued the White House in the past.

I am concerned that other American soldiers died in an attempt to find an accused deserter. On the one hand, the president was faced with the difficult choice of abandoning an American soldier to the Taliban. You can imagine the howls from Republicans if Obama had allowed that to happen.

On the other hand, we should take a second look at the requirement for the president to consult with Congress prior to negotiating for the release of American prisoners. Is it realistic or even necessary to have Congress posture while one of our soldiers is held in an enemy prison one day longer than necessary?

What would your answer be if it were your son or daughter? 

Contact the South Philly Review at editor@southphillyreview.com.