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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

There is no way that I could ever be considered a fan of Michael Jackson.

I remember watching him on television variety shows when he performed with his brothers, and in those days, although I thought he was both cute and talented, he wasn't someone I would have paid to see or to listen to, and the same pertains today.

I am only vaguely familiar with the material he performs as an adult. It's not the kind of music that I listen to. But I am aware that he is an enormously talented entertainer.

I am also aware that as a defendant in the child molestation case that has been brought against him, he is his own worst enemy.

I watched his interview with Ed Bradley on "60 Minutes" last Sunday and cringed as he dug himself deeper and deeper into the hole that the Santa Barbara authorities and his own incredibly bizarre behavior have placed him in.

I don’t believe that he is guilty of the charges brought against him. I think that District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who tried and failed to bring the same kind of charges against Jackson ten years ago, is on a witch hunt.

In 1993, Jackson reached a financial settlement with his accuser who subsequently refused to testify against him.

I don’t know why he settled - reportedly for millions of dollars - but major companies, while denying any misconduct, frequently settle law suits brought against them, particularly class action law suits, because it is a more prudent business decision than battling the case in court. Jackson may have settled on advice of counsel for the same reason

This time, there will be no way to make the case go away. If Jackson isn’t able to get the charges dismissed, he will go to trial, and Mr. Sneddon will get the chance that many observers say he has been waiting - and hoping for - all these years. To put Jackson behind bars. And unless his lawyers can stop him from acting like a freak visitor from outer space, Michael could be in big trouble.

During the interview, Bradley asked him if he still thought it was O.K. for a 45 year old man to invite children who were not related to him, to sleep in his bed. Jackson’s response? Of Course!!!!

If I’m sitting on a jury trying this man for child molestation and hear that kind of response, I’m going to wonder if he even understands what might constitute child molestation.

Supposedly, the lawyer representing him in this case is some kind of hot shot. Mark Geragos is filling the role of Defense Attorney De Jour, having represented such notables as Susan McDougal in the Whitewater case, actors Robert Downey and Winona Ryder, and is currently defending Scott Peterson.

So where was his lawyerly advice before and during the "60 Minutes" interview?

How could he let his client sit before an audience of millions and insist that it is perfectly normal for a 45 year old man to let strange children sleep in his bed?

There’s no way that Geragos can repair Jackson’s past bizarre behavior - the physical metamorphosis, the strange clothing and face masks with which he covers himself and his children, the ten year old accusation that was settled for cash. and of course, the balcony dangling incident.

But to allow him to publicly insist that it is normal to invite strange children to sleep in your bed, doesn’t strike me as skillful representation.

If I were advising Jackson and he would listen to me, here’s how I would tell him to answer the question.

O.K. Michael. If you believe that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with inviting young visitors to Neverland to sleep in your bed, I won’t try to change your mind. But understand that no one who will be watching this program will agree with you. Maybe they’re wrong and you’re right, but that’s the reality. The people watching "60 Minutes" will think there’s something wrong with you, and the jury in your case is going to come from those people, so you have to explain to them why it’s a good thing to invite children into your bed, and here’s how you do it.

You say - "Look, this isn’t a case of some guy that you know down the block taking some neighborhood kids into his house and having them sleep with him in his bedroom. That would be strange."

"The kids who come to Neverland are coming to enjoy a fantasy. There is nothing about Neverland that is like the world they live in. Many of them come from poverty stricken homes. Some are sick. Neverland is an adventure - a time to shut out the outside world and pretend it doesn’t exist."

"Now, about sleeping in my bedroom. I don’t want to blow my own horn, but to these kids -as well as to millions of my fans around the world - I’m a super star. And the bedroom I sleep in is no ordinary bedroom. Like the rest of Neverland, it’s something of a fantasy place" (I’m making an assumption here that the room is something out of the ordinary).

"When I show the kids my room, it’s like showing them other parts of Neverland where I spend time with them on rides or with my animals. It’s part of the experience of being at Neverland. And when I ask them if they’d like to sleep in my room, almost all of them say yes. It’s a big deal to them. It’s something they can go home and talk about. Hey - guess what? I slept in Michael Jackson’s bed!!"

"There’s nothing sexual about it. It’s an experience for the kids. It may be hard for you to understand, but you’re not a kid who thinks that Michael Jackson is something special."

Say something like that the next time you’re asked the question Michael, and your weirdness quotient will go down ten, maybe twenty points. And your chances of acquittal will go up at a corresponding rate.

Monday, December 29, 2003

I’m a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due.

I believe even more strongly that overextending credit is a bad idea that can lead to bad outcomes.

Witness the recklessness of credit card companies a few years ago, sending out mass mailings of credit cards. Not promotional pieces asking if you’d like to apply for a credit card - but "here, take this card, go out and spend money and worry about it later."

A lot of people who got those credit cards wouldn’t normally have qualified for a loan of twenty bucks ‘til pay day, and the result of course was a lot of bad debt.

All of which is a round about lead in to some comments on the latest bit of "reasoning from the right" by my favorite non practicing psychiatrist, Charles Krauthammer.

He sees the not so surprising decision by Moammar Gadhafi to stop developing atomic weapons and allow inspections, as the result of our invasion of Iraq and little else. It was all because of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attacks on hostile regimes engaged in or supporting terrorism - and, says Krauthammer, "Gadhafi got the message." He contemptuously derides those who give credit to two decades of sanctions and isolation. Those people are naïve he says.

Using that kind of reasoning, I suppose Krauthammer would credit Reagan’s 1987 message to the Soviet Union - "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" - as being the reason for the collapse of the evil empire. He would have contemptuously derided the decades of US policy of challenge and containment that preceded his presidency. And the internal changes that took place in the Soviet Union over this period would have been dismissed as equally irrelevant. It would all have been because of that scary challenge. They saw Ronnie standing tall, just as he did in many a movie and they "got the message." The eighties equivalent of "bring ‘em on."

To anyone who doesn’t see the world through right wing lenses, it’s been clear that Gadhafi has been trying to rejoin the world community for quite some time. Those efforts began long before the attack of 9/11 and certainly long before Mr. Bush decided to zero in on Iraq. I won’t try to analyze the "why" of those efforts, but that they were ongoing is without question.

The implication of Krauthammer’s reasoning of course, is that Gadhafi has only now agreed to halt his weapons program because of the invasion of Iraq and the capture of Saddam Hussein and because he is scared of the possibility that the Bush doctrine would be extended to Libya. Krauthammer also throws Syria and Iran into this same basket. They’re all scared that if they don’t dance to the tune we play, they’ll be invaded and their leaders put on humiliating display to the world.

I suppose the leaders of these countries could be scared listening to President Bush threaten any and all who he categorizes as terrorist regimes or supporters of terrorist regimes Even more so if they read Krauthammer.

They might conclude that this nation has adopted an absolute policy of war to solve any problem that we feel is a threat to our security or to our well being.

The more rational among them however, will quickly conclude that there is no way that we can launch the kinds of attacks that would be required to overthrow their regimes and to remain in their countries as occupiers for years. We simply don’t possess that kind of personnel or fire power.

The more rational among them will also quickly conclude that the rest of the world would be far more resistant to American military adventures than it was to the Iraqi invasion. Tony Blair would not survive politically if he were to join Mr. Bush in invading Libya or Iran or Syria or any other of the designated "evil" nations, absent any acts of aggression by them against us.

So it is unlikely that they will jump through any hoop we hold up for them because they fear we will attack them.

That is not to say that our invasion and continuing presence in Iraq is not something that these countries consider and are influenced by in their decisions about their weapons programs and their relations with other countries.

But to give too much credit to their consideration of our willingness to use war as a primary tool of foreign policy, is to persuade the already hawkish cabal surrounding Mr. Bush that the policy can be successfully expanded.

And I hate to think of what could result from that kind of thinking.

I have a great deal of sympathy for people who have physical handicaps, so I don’t mean to deride Mr. Krauthammer for being confined to a wheel chair.

But every time I see him or read his column, I can’t stop thinking of Dr. Strangelove.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Things are supposed to be looking good for President Bush.

The capture of Saddam Hussein gave him a jump in the polls and now we are being told that the economy is really doing well, and that’s bad for the Democrats because without an "it’s the economy stupid" kind of slogan that worked so well for Bill Clinton, unseating Mr. Bush is going to be a Herculean task.

So say the pundits.

But not in my house. Not if one of the big issues is this so called rising economy.

I wrote about this on November 3, 2003 and I guess this is a continuation of those thoughts with a couple of recent pieces of personal economic information to add to the mixture.

I’ve always been suspicious of the numbers that are supposed to reflect the true state of the economy.

Take the gross domestic product for example. The official description of the GDP is the measure of the total market value of all goods and services produced within the political boundaries of an economy during a given period of time. The items measured include personal consumption, government expenditures, private investment, inventory growth and trade balance.

And all of this is supposed to tell us how well we’re doing as an economy.

Lately, the published numbers have been good. We’re supposed to be doing well as an economy.

But you have to consider that these numbers come from a department of the Federal Government. That’s the same Federal Government that devised and continues to devise and revise, that pillar of our national economy known as the Federal Income Tax. In this case, it’s the Commerce Department, not the IRS that puts out the GDP numbers, but I’m sure you get my point.

What they tell us can perhaps be understood and commented upon by so called experts in economic matters, but the rest of us have to accept the pronouncements of a rising or falling economy as articles of faith . The only measure that we have available to us to compare with the official view of the economy, is what is happening to us personally and what we are able to see going on around us.

As I said, I wrote about this in a general sense in my November 3, 2003 post, but here are a few things to add that are happening to me currently and that I see happening to others.

Along with millions of other Americans who have arrived at retirement age, I received a notice from my government that my social security benefits would be increased by 2.1 percent in 2004.

About the same time, my wife and I were getting the new numbers on our health insurance program for 2004. Co-payment for doctor’s visits, up 20%. Co-payment for newer drugs that we take on a sustaining basis - up 40%!! Everything else medical also up, including, of course, the premiums.

You’ll notice, no changes in the range of 2.1%, which I presume to be the government’s idea of the rate of inflation.

On Christmas Eve, I got my homeowner’s insurance bill for next year. The increase over this year’s premium - 22%. And last year, the increase over the previous year was 35%. And from January, 2000 to January 2004, the cost of my homeowner’s insurance has more than doubled!!!

Hardly in line with that magnificent 2.1% increase in my social security benefit.

Property taxes, which I guess are reflected in the government expenditures part of the GDP - go up every year and this year is no exception. People on fixed incomes, many of them recipients of these annual social security increases that are supposed to reflect increases in the cost of living, can no longer afford to stay in houses that they bought in their working years and have paid off, because they can’t afford the property taxes that now far exceed the mortgage payments they once made.

This is the season of good cheer, and I was touched by stories of holiday meals being provided to the less fortunate among us. Except that this year, the number of people showing up for these free meals is way up over recent years.

And that in a rising economy!!

So what are we to conclude? That somebody concocts these numbers and they are not to be believed?

Not exactly.

Although I really don’t know how all of the numbers are calculated, I would imagine that the "value of all goods and services" includes the millions - probably billions, in increased expenditures for medical care, and the hugely increased amount that we have to spend on things like homeowner’s insurance, because we have no choice - and of course government spending which goes in only one direction.

So the numbers may indeed reflect what the experts tell us is a "rising economy," but that statement shouldn’t be accepted as a reflection of what is happening to the economic condition of individual Americans. For many of us, the "rising value of all goods and services" means that our personal financial situation is going in the opposite direction.

If this keeps up, and enough of us stop and think about it, maybe there’ll be a new slogan for next year’s elections.


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

There is no question that the Palestinian people on the west bank and in Gaza are suffering.

I have commented on and sympathized with their situation on this blog site on more than one occasion.

I can empathize with the pilots who refused to carry out attacks in these territories and with the thirteen members of the elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit who have recently adopted a similar stand.

Last Sunday, I watched the 60 Minutes report on the building of the security fence/wall, and how it is affecting thousands of west bank Palestinians who are being cut off from their farm lands or work places, and who can only travel between these destinations through gates that sometimes are shut for days at a time.

It was quite moving. It was difficult not to feel sympathy for these people.

The Palestinians who were interviewed for the report seemed intelligent and reasonable and ready to live in peace with Israelis. If only the Israelis would lift these restrictions and stop the military occupation, said one farmer, we could live with them as brothers.

There were comments from the Israeli side - some about the need to have this barrier to prevent or reduce the danger of suicide attacks - and some expressing the opposite view - that the fence robbed the Palestinians of hope and so was a barrier to achieving eventual peace.

All in all, a thoughtful and balanced report.


There was one thing missing in the report and I plan on sending 60 Minutes a memo, calling it to their attention.

Where were the interviews with members of Hamas, or Islamic Jihad or Al Aqsa Brigades?

Are they ready to join with the peace loving farmer and other Palestinians who are ready to live in harmony with their Israeli "brethren?"

And how about the Palestinians who attacked the Egyptian foreign minister, ostensibly because he committed the crime of conducting dialogue with Israeli officials? Of course that happened after the Sixty Minute report had aired - but the same question pertains. Are they ready?.

Maybe Sixty Minutes needs to go back and ask those questions of those people, and see if their answers evoke the same feeling of sympathy that they created last Sunday.

They wouldn’t of course. There’s the dilemma of this long smoldering conflict.

Sane people on both sides could solve the conflict in a New York minute. Including the conscience stricken Israeli pilots and soldiers.

But the madmen have a veto.

Free Speech Contrasts

Interesting contrasts.

A German right wing rock group has been convicted of violating Germany’s anti discrimination laws.

The lyrics of some of their songs advocated violence against Israel and expressed hatred towards blacks. The lead singer got 30 months in jail. Other members got probation

In New York, a judge gave a hip hop magazine permission to send out a CD with one of their issues, on which there is 30 seconds of rapper Eminem making racial comments. The magazine, The Source, had accused Eminem of being a racist and I guess believes that the recording proves it. Eminem says it was a bit of "foolishness" he recorded as a teenager.

In Germany, the court would have ruled against the Magazine and may have penalized Eminem, teenage foolishness or not.

Which is the right approach to "free speech" in this day and age?

I’ve talked about it before in this blog and I will do so again. Not today though. Lots to do and not a lot of time to do it….

Monday, December 22, 2003

On October 29, 2003, I wrote about "scandalous drivers."

Take a peek to refresh your memory - or to read it for the first time if you feel so inclined. And excuse any gobbledygook that appears instead of apostrophes. I'm working on the problem.

Today's comments are connected to those October 29th observations.

Last Friday, I went to renew my driver's license, and because I will be reaching an age milestone next February, this renewal called for a road test.

The only other time I've had to take a road test was way back when I got my very first driver's license - and that was more years ago than I like to think about. More than 50!!!

So when I wrote my critique on October 29, I did consider the possibility that the testing procedures might have changed fifty years later and that someone would call that to my attention and I would feel obliged to acknowledge my lack of current knowledge.

Id didn't happen of course. The testing might even be sillier than it was a half century ago.

But let me begin with a compliment. I don't know how it is in other states, but in Illinois, going to a driver's license facility for any reason used to be a nightmare.

There were long lines. Always long lines. You had to stand in one line to progress to one spot, then another line to progress to a second spot. And always standing. There was no place to sit down unless you were willing to lose your place in line. And rudeness was the order of the day.

I went on what was obviously a slow day, but even if it had been crowded, the current system is a vast improvement over what once was. The only line you have to stand in is at a check in counter, where the reason for your visit is ascertained and you are given a number and invited to sit on one of the many rows of chairs available, while you wait for an automated voice to call your number and direct you to a specific window at a specific counter. It went fast and it went smoothly. And no one was rude.

Once I finished with the necessary paperwork and eye test, I was directed to another seating area to wait for my road test.

There were four or five others waiting to be tested, among them a couple of octogenarians who looked as though they needed to be measured rather than tested - and for a hearse rather than a passenger vehicle.

I began to feel as I did when I wrote my October 29 piece. Why on earth did people like this still have licenses to drive - and what kind of state office is it that invites such people to come in and get renewed permission to menace the rest of us on the roads?

The appearance of the state employees doing the testing didn't instill any greater feeling of confidence in the whole licensing process. Just from the look of them, I wouldn't have volunteered to be a passenger in any car they might have been driving - and these were the people charged with the task of passing judgment on other people's ability to drive!!

My name was called by a heavy set lady who I would have judged to be a senior citizen, but may have been younger. She walked with difficulty. I have severe sciatica, but I had to slow down so that we could walk to my car together.

Here was the test. I had to demonstrate that my brake and turn signal lights were working and that my horn worked.

We then exited the parking lot of the license facility and drove for a few minutes, mostly on back roads. I was instructed to make a right at this corner - a left at the next corner and so on. At one point I was told to pull over to the curb and then asked how I would park if I was facing down hill. I told her. I showed her. At another point, I was told to pull into a parking lot, then to pull over to a fence and then go back out the way I came in. As I was backing away from the fence, I was advised that this was a three point turn test. I nodded politely. I turned on the radio to some soft jazz music. I tried to make polite conversation.

All to stop myself from laughing or screaming.

The test was and is ridiculous.

It demonstrates only an individual’s ability to avoid a serious accident driving in circles for about five minutes. I can’t imagine anyone with any level of driving experience not passing such a test.

I realize that there is no way that proper testing can be administered. No state has the personnel and the budget to allow for a license test to last for maybe an hour and to test driving in heavy city traffic and expressways. And of course there is no way to test a driver’s ability to function under conditions of heavy rain or snow or fog or ice on the road. Applicants choose what day they want to come in for a test and few are going to come in on days when conditions are bad.

But at the very least, there needs to be some staged problems to test how a driver would handle certain situations. Something as simple as introducing artificial weather conditions in a closed testing area, or having a second examiner in a second car, creating problems for the driver being tested.

I’m licensed to be on the nation’s roads for the next four years. Based on the kind of testing I was subjected to, I could be the kind of driving menace that I see and curse at on the road every day.

I’m not, but that’s just the luck of the draw.

It’s also a scandal, but one without pizazz, so nothing will ever be done about it and we’ll continue to license scandalous drivers to menace our lives and our mental health.

It’s reality television without the cameras.

A real life fear factor…..

P.S. The Blogger wizards MAY have solved the apostrophe/gobbledygook problem. It may not even
have been a conspiracy. But I'll still be checking those
commas carefully for a while.

Friday, December 19, 2003

As readers of my blog may have noticed, strange things are happening in Blogland.

Apostrophes have been OUTLAWED!!!

At least on this blog.

On just about all of my December postings, wherever I have inserted an apostrophe, such as in the word I(apostrophe)ve, the Blogger conspirators have substituted an insidious piece of gobbledygook. The nature of the gobbledygook changes from day to day.

I do not know (gotcha - you thought I was going to use an apostrophe there, did not you) why they are doing this or what they wish to accomplish, but I want you to know that I plan to resist with every fiber of my keyboard.

I will not surrender, even if I have to go through life apostropheless.

P.S. They also substitute gobbledygook for lines of dots, which I have just had to eliminate from the foregoing, or it too would have been a victim of this insidious conspiracy.

Stay tuned to this "blog sans apostrophes and lines of dots" for updates.


The wizards of blog believe that the apostrophe problem arises from the use of Microsoft Word containing "smart quotes," which is what I use, though why the problem has only just arisen and selectively affected some but not all December archives, remains a mystery.

Meanwhile, I'll try using Word Pad, alternating with WORD and see what happens. It might be interesting reading, since Word Pad has no spell check feature!!!!


I have now discovered that the "apostrophe/line of dots" "virus" (fear not folks, it isn't reallya virus) has spread retroactively throughout this entire blog site.

I'm not about to try to correct that much material, so, dear reader, should you look at any archived posts and see strange hieroglyphics or even perhaps a question mark, where there should obviously be an apostrophe or a line of dots, just imagine those punctuations in your mind and ignore the gobbledygook.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

As has long been expected, George Ryan, the former governor of the State of Illinois and recent Nobel prize candidate, was indicted on multiple criminal counts yesterday.

Sitting in the bedroom of my house that has been converted to a computer room - I have no way of judging Ryan's guilt or innocence, but having had a passing experience with federal prosecutors and grand juries, I feel qualified to comment on the screaming headlines in today's papers.

Many years ago, I was in the credit adjustment business which was a thorn in the side of major loan companies. One of them exerted enough influence to get a grand jury impaneled to investigate credit adjusting and that grand jury obliged them by indicting me and others for mail fraud.

Private companies of course can't impanel grand juries. That's the sole function of law enforcement. And that's what I used to think. Until the day I had a conversation with a reporter for one of Chicago's daily papers who covered the courts and the sitting grand juries. I don't remember how many were in session more than 45 years ago - it was several - but I will never forget what that reporter told me about them. Each "belonged" to some special interest. They were not sitting because law enforcement officials had determined that there was sufficient cause to launch an investigation. They were sitting because of the influence and pressure of a company or an industry. He named the company that "owned" the grand jury that caused me a lot of grief. I won't repeat it here because I don't want them to come after me again.

The document listing my alleged "crimes" were full of the same sort of scary language that punctuates the 91 pages of the Ryan indictment. There were references to "schemes" and "artifices." It said that I and others "unlawfully, willfully, knowingly and feloniously devised a scheme and artifice to defraud," and went on to describe all kinds of illegal acts in great detail.

Reading through all of the charges and how they were described, it wouldn't have been too much of a leap for the average citizen to conclude that this guy they were talking about was a mean and vicious criminal.

But none of it was true. A lawyer was hired who petitioned the court to quash the indictment. The judge who heard our petition, excoriated the prosecuting attorney for bringing such a ridiculous case and threw it out of court. He said that even if all that had been alleged was true, it didn't amount to violations of any laws. That's how bad it was.

Allegations, however detailed and however evil sounding, are not necessarily true - and even if true, are not necessarily "crimes." That's something that needs to be kept in mind by the media reporting on the Ryan case and by politicians and commentators who have been all over the airways today.

Even though there have been 58 convictions resulting from the five years of investigation leading up to the Ryan indictment, that doesn't automatically make him guilty.

Some of the alleged criminal acts seem like little more than acts of cronyism. Maybe cronyism is indeed a federal crime, but if that's the case, I'm surprised that one prominent past mayor of Chicago managed to stay out of jail. In fact, if one could believe all of the columns written in Chicago newspapers about sweetheart city deals being awarded to friends of the current mayor, I'm surprised that indictments aren't pending against him as well.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is supposed to have a sterling reputation as a prosecutor who cannot be swayed by political considerations - a true blue career prosecutor who wears blinkers following the path of the law.

Still, as his investigation unfolded over several years - it began more than 5 years ago with his predecessor - I got the nagging feeling that he was out to "get" Ryan and that it was something of a personal goal rather than a pure pursuit of the laws of the land.

Did he really need to allege some horrible crime was committed by the awarding of low number license plates to pals and campaign contributors?

I don't know George Ryan. I've never met him. I never contributed to any of his campaigns. And as I said at the beginning of these remarks, I have no idea if he is guilty of criminal conduct or not. But I do know for a fact that an indictment can be put together alleging all kinds of things that may not be true and that the prosecuting attorney who puts it together will suffer no penalty, no matter what the final outcome.

Stay with that thought for a minute. Someone is put on trial for all kinds of horrible crimes. A prosecuting attorney gets up in court and accuses the defendant of being the worst kind of ogre, spelling out in detail all of his crimes and how and why he committed them. But the jury doesn't buy it. They think the prosecutor made it all up to get a conviction and a reputation and they acquit the defendant. And they may be right about the prosecutor and his motives. But nothing will happen to him. He's done his damage and he's ready to move on to his next case.

It may also be so that many things that a prosecutor alleges are criminal acts, are not criminal acts. That was so when I was indicted. None of the allegations against me were true, but the court found that even what was being alleged didn't amount to a violation of any law.

One last comment on the Ryan case. It all started with the "license for bribes" scandal and the case of six children being killed in an accident caused by something falling off the back of a truck that was being driven by someone who had obtained his trucker's license through bribery.

It was alleged that the driver, who spoke little - perhaps no English - couldn't understand when other drivers were signaling that something was hanging from the rear of his truck.

The claim has been made for years that the accident would not have happened had the driver held a legitimately obtained license. It's not a claim that can be well documented, since there are many drivers in Illinois with legitimately obtained drivers licenses, who speak little or no English. Some of them are even taxi drivers who don't know the difference between Wrigley Field and the Wrigley Building and don't know how to get to either one of them.

Yet the death of those children has somehow been attached to George Ryan who was secretary of State when the accident occurred, and may play a role when his case goes to trial

It shouldn't and Mr. Fitzgerald shouldn't allow it to be part of his case.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

So far, Saddam Hussein doesn't seem to be telling his interrogators anything of value and I would doubt that there is much value in confronting him with atrocities. He will say - he issaying - that others did the dirty deeds or that they were justified and legal.

The most important information that he could provide, would be confirmation of what President Bush presented to the world as the compelling reason for the invasion. A huge cache of so called weapons of mass destruction, an absolute connection to Al Qaida and/or other known, active terror organizations, and plans - HIS plans, to attack the United States.

He will admit nothing. (Another of my continuing predictions).

He has already said that he had no weapons of mass destruction. He has denied connections to terrorist groups. (He doesn't consider the Palestinian suicide bombers to be terrorists).

But before he said anything. Bush was already calling him a liar.

He may well be. He may be incapable of telling the truth. But there's an interesting pattern developing here. He may be incapable of telling "truths" that Mr. Bush wants to hear.

Shortly after Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz surrendered to US forces last April, Mr. Bush said that he was lying to his interrogators. It doesn't take any special analytical skills to interpret that as meaning that he was denying knowledge of weapons of mass destruction, of connections to Al Qaida or of plans to launch attacks on the United States.

If none of the captured members of Saddam Hussein's hierarchy reveal the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction, or provide evidence of connections to Al Qaida or other terrorist groups or of plans to launch terror attacks against the United States, and we are unable to find the evidence ourselves - credible evidence that would hold up under international scrutiny, we are left with only the assertions of Mr. Bush - supported by Mr. Blair - that the weapons, the connections and the threat, existed and justified military action.

The defense of those actions that is being put forward is an interesting mix.

We have an accumulation of UN resolutions and our assertion that Iraq was in violation of those resolutions. We also have the UN demanding that Iraq obey those resolutions. Mr. Bush holds that up as a major pillar of support for his decision. But the UN did not authorize or approve of military action. Yet, when defending military action, Mr. Bush repeats, as part of a mantra, the years of Iraqi defiance of UN resolutions.

We have the "bad guy" assertions. He murdered his own people. He used gas. He had torture chambers. There were mass graves. He invaded Kuwait. He went to war against Iran. Oops. That isn't part of the mantra. We supported him in that war. Come to think of it, we more or less gave him a green light to invade Kuwait.

We have the "we know" assertions. That he had all kinds of weapons. That he had terrorist connections. That there was "intelligence" to prove it.

And finally, we have the assertion, repeated over and over at every opportunity, that the primary duty of the President of the United States is to defend the country, and in the post 9/11 era - "should we wait until someone attacks us, or make sure that they can't attack us?

The Bush/CheneyRumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Perle/Feith doctrine of preemptive military action

I predict that nothing will be learned from Saddam Hussein or any of his henchmen, that will support the reasons that we have been given for why we invaded Iraq, and why the United States is a safer place because of that invasion.

That this horrible dictator is no longer ruling Iraq is a good thing . Few would disagree with that..

But whether or not the cost and sacrifice will prove to be a good thing for the United States, for Middle East stability and for the war on terrorism, is another matter entirely.

Regrettably, we won't have the answer to that before the next presidential election. One just has to hope that American voters will take a mature look at where Mr. Bush, surrounded and influenced by his cabal of neo-conservative advisors, is leading us, domestically and internationally, and weigh it carefully against the ideas, proposals and character of whoever is the candidate of the Democratic party.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I guess I should have added one more prediction to the list I posted yesterday, and that would be that right wing yackers, as I called them in that post, would not just use Saddam Hussein’s capture as a springboard from which to attack Democrats, and their evil spawn - liberals
- but would deny and attack any confirmation of any of my predictions.

Less than 24 hours after making my five predictions, one has already come true, and has resulted in the inclusion and confirmation of prediction number six, described above.

I’ll explain.. This morning, while driving to a couple of appointments, I indulged my habit of punching in different radio stations to try to find something interesting or soothing, and stopped at one that has a strong conservative bent (it carries Limbaugh), because I heard a female RWY - that’s right wing yacker, (if President Bush and his administration can popularize WMD for weapons of mass destruction that don’t exist, I can certainly, for space saving purposes, refer to right wing yackers who most certainly DO exist, as RWY), say that she was about to talk to a Wall Street Journal reporter who had just returned to Baghdad from Tikrit.

I didn’t catch the name of the reporter, but I detected a slight accent and got the impression that she was from somewhere in the area. Certainly, she spoke with authority about the mood among Iraqis in the post Hussein capture hours - and now days.

Here are some of the things she said. Confirming my prediction that somehow we would be blamed for the shame of Hussein’s meek surrender, she said that there was a widespread feeling, among those who hated Hussein and those who were supporters, that showing the pictures of him in his disheveled condition with someone poking around in his mouth like a horse having its teeth examined, was an unnecessary humiliation. After all, this was a leader of the Arab world, a man who had supported the Palestinian cause and had stood up to American pressure, and subjecting him to this kind of public humiliation was an insult to all Arabs.

That wasn’t the reporter’s view, just the impression she was getting from people she spoke to.

With regard to the general conditions in the country, she said that many people had the view that as bad as Hussein was, and she made it clear that most people were glad that he had been deposed, things in general were better when he was in power, and she cited current problems with electricity and water supply, long waits for gasoline that never occurred before, the lack of jobs and so forth.

That wasn’t the reporter’s view, just the impression she was getting from some Iraqis

But the female RWY on this right wing radio station, began to argue with the reporter.

She had little interest in getting the facts on the ground. She wanted to defend the United States role in Iraq.

Wasn’t everything that was bad the fault of Saddam, she wanted to know? Wasn’t it all because he spent millions on his palaces instead of the country’s infrastructure? And so on.

The reporter seemed confused. She didn’t disagree with anything the RWY was saying. She didn’t enter into the argument about who was good and who was bad. She wasn’t trying to say that the Americans were to blame for anything. She had been reached by ‘phone by a radio host in Chicago, asking how people were responding to Hussein’s capture , and she was trying to convey her impressions.

The RWY, obviously aggravated, asked a final question, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Is there anything good you can tell me about what’s happening in Iraq?

Again, the reporter seemed confused at the question. She obviously wasn’t sure what the RWY was getting at, probably because she had no previous experience dealing with RWY’s. But she tried. She said, well obviously, deposing Saddam Hussein was a good thing. The man was a tyrant and no matter what the future holds for Iraq, it has to be better without him on the scene. Or words to that effect. I didn’t have a tape recorder with me.

At that, the RWY hung up and then went on a tirade about how the "media" distorts and spins the news and how "they" try to say that everything that is wrong in the world is our fault.

Again, I paraphrase. But while the words may not be exactly what she said, the impression conveyed is dead on.


The right wing disease de jour.

By the way, I keep forgetting to include important comments that need to be made on Monday mornings - sometimes on Tuesday mornings.

Memo to Rush Limbaugh. Eagles and Donovan McNabb. Nine in a row. Averaging 32 points per game. See what can come of being black, overrated and praised in the liberal media?

Monday, December 15, 2003

I suppose millions of words will be written about Saddam Hussein’s capture. Most will be news reports. Some will be perspective pieces. And some, in countries where strange ideas exist about right and wrong and fact and fiction, will report something entirely different from what actually happened.

I’m happy to accept the news as it was reported in the American media. Someone "dropped a dime" as the colloquial expression for informing goes, and using that information, we were able to zero in on where Hussein was hiding and capture him without a shot being fired.

I have no idea what will happen to him now. It’s a tricky business. We don’t want to turn him over to a world body and lose control or protect him from a possible dearth sentence. The Iraqi legal system is probably in no condition to try him, even though it’s the Iraqis who should not only be the ones to decide what to do with him, but should also be the ones to do it. It’ll be interesting to see how this progresses.

I give high marks to Bush, or to whoever was advising him on this issue, for not gloating in his short speech to the nation. Obviously, he will try to use Saddam’s capture to his political advantage in the weeks and months ahead. His hope will be that it will offset the political downside of our continuing losses in Iraq, but I hope that he will continue to refrain from gloating.

If he does gloat, it’ll come back to bite him, ‘cos I have some predictions to make about Hussein's capture, and at least one of them won’t be good for the president if I’m right.

My first prediction is that whatever happens in the stock markets of the world, it will be attributed to the capture of Saddam Hussein. Even if there are no movements of significance that market pundits can point to as being the result of his capture, there will be punditry about why there will be/should be /is/may be market reactions. If you can believe that, then you’re not the least bit concerned that economists can take the same set of facts and statistics and draw opposite conclusions.

You wouldn’t be that unconcerned if the subject was your health. If you had two doctors examine you and draw diametrically opposite views on the state of your health, you’d get a third and fourth opinion. Maybe more.

So think about what the pundits may tell you. Do you really think that your 100 shares of IBM or 50 shares of Pfizer or any other quantity of any other stock, are really worth more or less because Saddam Hussein is in custody?

My second prediction is that the right wing yackers and writers will have a field day - attacking the Democrats. Of course they will take time to revel in the "triumph" of Hussein’s capture, but they will hasten to assure their audiences that Democrats - and they probably won’t even bother with that intermediate appellation - they’ll cut straight to the evil ones, the liberals - are not happy with this news. And they’ll tell you why. You can listen to or read them or fill in the blanks yourself. It makes no difference. It’s all the fiction of the right. It’s the same principal as the practice of attaching stock market movement to events or to alleged moods of investors.

My third prediction is closely related to my second prediction, and it is that the same right wing pundits will tell us how lucky we are that there isn’t a Democrat in the White House, because a Democrat would not have sent troops into Iraq and Saddam Hussein would still be at large and oppressing his people. Democrats, they will tell you, would rather talk the bad guys to death than to fight them. Don’t remember them jumping all over Bob Dole when he talked about the millions slaughtered in "Democrat Wars." Maybe I wasn’t listening to the right stations or reading the right papers back in the seventies. Oops. Almost sounded like a pun there for a moment. Not intended, I assure you.

My fourth prediction is that this will actually turn out to be a good thing for Democrats. Bush will get a boost for a short time, but the capture won’t be the lead story for very long and as the election approaches and the attacks on our troops continue, Democrats will be able to make Hussein the focus of their criticism of the President in a different way. They will be able to demonstrate with a "time line" of the President’s statements on Iraq, that he mislead us and the world from the beginning and that his goal and that of his hawkish advisors, was not to "disarm" a belligerent nation about to attack to us or other countries, but to "get" Hussein. And as Paul Bremer said, as though reporting directly to his boss - "we’ve got him."

My fifth prediction - and I’ll leave it at five - is that Hussein’s apparent betrayal of Arab "honor" by surrendering meekly instead of putting up a fight or committing suicide and taking some of his captors with him, will ultimately increase Arab hatred for the United States. Somehow, they will find a way to blame us for the way he humiliated himself. We will become the ones who deprived him of his honor. And that won’t be helpful to Bush in an election year either.

I had some thoughts on the few minutes of the Bush press conference that I listened to. I might force myself to watch and listen to little more of it on PBS where it will be sure to appear tonight, and I might make some comments on it later.

Friday, December 12, 2003

From what I’ve been reading in the newspapers, people are upset over the price of eggs.

I don’t blame them.

I’m not really upset, but for sure I’ve noticed that a dozen large eggs which cost around a buck a few weeks ago, are now going for around a buck fifty.

That’s a pretty big jump, but how angry do you think people would be if eggs that were maybe 75 cents a dozen, five years ago , went to $2.25 during the next couple of years then jumped to $3.87 and didn’t back off a cent!! That’s the price for eggs folks. If you want them, they’re $3.87 a dozen. And that’s your ordinary, up from the local farm, medium white eggs. Fancy imported brown eggs that used to be $2 a dozen, are now going for $7.50 and they’re certain to be more next year.

If that happened, there’d be riots. Grocery chains would be under siege. Members of congress would be deluged with calls and letters and e-mail. Jesse Jackson would organize a march on Washington.

Well, it’s not happening with eggs, but that’s about what happened to the prescription drug "benefit" that’s part of my health insurance plan. In one two year period, the cost of getting a ninety day supply of a generic drug jumped two hundred percent and costs for brand names and lesser amounts have increased just as dramatically.

As I say, if it happened with basic foods, the country would go nuts. But because it’s prescription drugs, controlled by the influential and incredibly profitable drug companies, we get the Bush Medicare "reform" package. It’s almost criminal. Hell. Not almost. It is criminal.

The cost of drugs is supposed to represent a huge portion of the overall cost of healthcare in this country, but it’s not the only culprit. If you’ve ever been hospitalized for a week or two, maybe for a routine operation, and got your hands on the hospital bill that (hopefully) your insurance company usually gets and pays, you’d most likely get a migraine before you finished reading all of the charges for the first day.

Well, you might say, hospital charges are complicated, and the average person doesn’t understand all that’s involved in patient care costs. And you’d probably be right.

But I want to finish up my week of comments with a little medical story to add to the annals of The Journal of American Medical Cost Mysteries. There isn’t such a journal. There should be.

I suffer from sciatica. (Look it up).

I thought I might be able to get some relief from the pain it causes with epidural steroid injections, so my doctor referred me to a physical medicine specialist and I had two such injections two weeks apart. They didn’t help, but it was worth a try.

Here’s how the injection procedure works. You take off your clothes and get into a hospital type gown, open in the back. You get onto a table, face down, and you first get a small injection of lidocaine in the are of the coccyx . This is supposed to numb the immediate area where you’ll get the steroid shot. The doctor rubs the area for a second or two, presumably to spread the lidocaine , but maybe not. I never asked him. Then, using
, he injects a little dye to make sure the needle is positioned just the way he wants it, and then injects the steroid medication. The whole procedure takes three or four minutes. It’s painless, except for the tiny needle prick to inject the lidocaine.

Here’s the way the procedure is billed. I got two bills, exactly the same. Be sure you have migraine medication handy.

Surgery… ……...........400
Therapy……………....... 50
Manipulation… ……......60
X-Ray Services…….. .135
Injections …… …….....200
Injections…… ……......150
Med/Surg Supplies......60


Of course, my insurance paid a lesser amount. That’s the way these things work today, but it was still a substantial sum for getting a shot in the rear.

I had occasion to speak to the office that handles this particular doctor’s billing, and asked how all of these charges entered into the picture. Surgery for example. I’ve had lots of shots in my life, but I never thought of them as surgery and I’m pretty sure, neither did the doctors and nurses who gave them to me.

But the doctors of today charge for what they do under a series of "codes" designed by the AMA and insurance companies assign dollar values to each of those codes. There are other codes that are used to determine various medical costs, but it is the AMA that assigns codes to everything a doctor does in his practice.

It was explained to me that this particular procedure is considered "surgery" by the AMA , and so that’s how it has to be billed.

As to the other items, "therapy" and "manipulation" for example, the billing specialist didn’t have a clue. He could only speculate that the doctor had to select from the various codes available to him to describe what he does during the procedure, and the codes for the listed items probably came the closest.

This doctor gives these and similar kinds of shots three days a week. I don’t know how many he does on any given day, but if they average $1055 a crack, it doesn’t take that many for him to be pulling in pretty big bucks. The billing guy acknowledged that this was probably true, but suggested that doctors need to run up these charges to be able to afford the astronomical cost of malpractice insurance. Doesn’t that give you a warm feeling?

The cost of medical care moves only in one direction and the movement is constant. The prescription medicine component of the overall cost is in the hands of the pharmaceutical companies. They have the power to reduce those costs. So does government, as demonstrated in other countries. But it isn’t going to happen. Not with these (American) pharmaceutical companies. And not with this (Bush administration) government.

Most of the cost of the other components of medical care in this country, is in the hands of doctors and hospital corporations and medical associations, and of course the insurance companies.

They too have the power to reduce costs.

But don’t hold your breath. There’s probably a code for that . Maybe "self manipulation." Fifty bucks.

Do you think maybe the egg farms of the country are secretly owned by doctors??

Thursday, December 11, 2003

I have no particularly kind feelings about France.

I was only there once, a long time ago for a long weekend in Paris and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

But the France of today is the worst hotbed of anti-Semitism outside of the Arab world, and for that reason alone, I would find it difficult to be supportive of any of France’s positions or actions on the world scene.

I was also in Germany for several months at the end of World War ll. At the time, I found the German people that I had to deal with to be reasonably pleasant and friendly, despite the fact that they had just suffered a major defeat. And it’s a beautiful country. But I have strong memories of what Germany was and what the German people did, and those memories have an effect on any judgments I render about that country’s positions and actions on the world scene.

My grandparents fled from Russian oppression, and that knowledge has some bearing, perhaps only subliminal, but a bearing nonetheless, on my views of that country.

Having said all of that, I must say that I sympathize somewhat with the angry reaction of these three nations, to the announcement that they will not be allowed to bid on any Iraqi projects funded by US taxpayers.

Don’t get me wrong. If we have to spend taxpayer money to do some re-building in Iraq, I think it makes perfect sense to give the projects to American companies and to companies from countries that supported our Iraqi policy, provided that bidding for the work is open and competitive.

What I don’t think makes sense, and what I disagree with and why I can sympathize with the angry reactions of France, Germany and Russia at being frozen out of the bidding process, is the publicizing of the decision at a moment in time when Mr. Bush has recruited James Baker to persuade these countries to forgive billions of dollars owed to them by Iraq.

What’s even nuttier, is that this almost childish nose thumbing at the three nations, was also being widely publicized at the same time that Mr. Bush himself was calling the leaders of the three countries to talk about forgiving Iraqi debt.

Cooperate with us please fellows - while we tell you how we really feel about you!!

You get the feeling that everyone in the government is out to lunch and no one is minding the store. Let’s face it. Publicly announcing that these three countries won’t be allowed to participate in any project in Iraq that is funded by US dollars, is an "in your face" pay back.

It’s Paul Wolfowitz, reputedly one of the main architects of our Iraqi policy and of the preemptive strike doctrine, saying na na na na na na to these annoying nations that wouldn’t support us in the UN or on the battlefield.

The total amount of money that will be spent on Iraqi reconstruction will probably be several times the eighteen billion that’s at issue here, and certainly these three countries could be involved in projects not funded by these specific tax dollars. And from what I can gather of the ban, they could even be included as sub-contractors to any primary contractor that we select to do reconstruction work.

So why are we doing this, other than to continue this shoot from the hip, cowboy approach to world issues? Do things our way or get out of the way. We don’t need you. We can go it alone. We can fight wars on two or three fronts if we have to. (Didn’t Donald Rumsfeld say something like that at one time?)

But this is a complex world in which "going it alone" really isn’t an option. Not for the long term.

As annoying as our putative European allies can be in their dealings with us - and us with them for that matter, we need to be able to work together, and giving them a public kick in the butt is hardly the way to heal the rifts that our differing views on Iraq have caused.

No matter what private feelings we have about France and Germany and Russia and their leaders, they are no excuse for the way we’ve acted over the past few days - like a bunch of keystone cops!!

The right wing pundits and talking heads may think that the Wolfowitz proclamation is exactly the right way to proceed and that critics of the decision are just a step away from being traitors, but as is often the case, they’re wrong.

This was a moment when we could have shown some class.

Instead, we showed arrogance.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

As I indicated in my blog posting of September 26, 2003, I am no football aficionado.

I know the basic rules, but I’m not a fan and I don’t watch the games, so many of the subtle nuances of the sport escape me.

Not so my wife. In our house, she’s the super football fan. She watches the games. Professional and College. She has season tickets to Northwestern University home games. She knows who all the teams are and a good many of the players, and she understands most of the nuances of the game.

Still, despite this strange role reversal, every once in a while, I feel compelled to comment on the state of the game - to my wife and to anyone else who will listen. And of course I have this blog as a platform from which to pontificate.

As any sports fan worth his salt knows, a 14 year old kid from Ghana has been signed to play professional football in the United States. That’s football. As in a game where a ball is moved up and down a playing field propelled by the feet - and occasionally by the head. Called soccer. I guess to distinguish it from American football where the foot is only occasionally used to propel the ball.

This kid - his name is Freddy Adu, could have signed with one of the major league teams in Europe, probably for a lot more money, but he opted to play in the US where professional soccer is still an orphan sport.

But even if he had signed with the world’s greatest soccer team - assuming there is such an animal - his role would have been the same as it will be with the team that he opted to join - DC United. He will be a starter. Not a reserve or a trainee. He will go out onto the field along with all of the team’s veterans and, unless he’s injured, play a full 90 minutes.

I mention Freddy’s story as a contrast to what goes on in the game that my wife follows and the professional team that she supports.

Right now, the Chicago Bears have three players whose position on the team is that of quarterback. One of the three is Rex Grossman, picked in the first round of the 2003 draft.

But unlike Freddy Adu, Grossman wasn’t signed to play the game, but to be a quarterback in waiting.

It’s a phenomenon attached to no other team sport that I know of. Players are signed. They train. They practice. But some almost never get to play in actual games, and the next thing you know, they’re no longer with the team, and the question that I ask is - what’s going on here?

One has to assume that when a player is signed by a professional football team, he has the skills to go out onto the field and do whatever is required of him. With only 32 professional football teams, each carrying a roster of 53 players of which only 45 are allowed to play in any given game, selected from a national population approaching 300,000,000, you’d think that each and every one of the professional athletes on those teams would be individual super stars. Think on it. US Population in the area of 292,000,000. Professional football players - 1,696!!!

Instead, we have the sort of situation that is making an almost daily news item out of the Chicago Bears. They’re having a lousy season, so each week, the same question is asked. Will Rex Grossman start at quarterback? And each week, the answer is, we’ll see. And each week he doesn’t start.

Now the Bears are out of the playoffs and the speculation is rife that he finally will start.


I know that American football is really a chess game with human chess pieces and that in order to play, one needs to know the moves. But surely each of these professional players has the athletic skills to execute those moves once they are learned, so the question I ask is - how long could it possibly take Rex Grossman to learn one or two or three or even a half dozen chess moves and get out onto the field and execute them?

Obviously, if you have one healthy quarterback who is doing a fine job, there’s no need to replace him just for the sake of giving someone else playing time. But when that’s not the case - when you have a couple of veteran quarterbacks on a team that aren’t doing that well, what sense does it make to refrain from bringing in the rookie, just because he’s a rookie?

The sense that I get from comments by the coach and by some sports writers and sportscasters, is that starting a rookie quarterback is tantamount to conceding defeat!!

It’s a strange game when you have someone on your team that you don’t think is good enough to help you win a game because he’s a rookie player, when he’s one of only 1,696 people in the entire country who are the professional practitioners of the game.

I suppose people who actually know football understand it, but it beats the hell out of me.

If professional soccer operated the same way, Freddy Adu, who is now a US citizen, would be starting his first game right after he casts his vote for president in 2008!!!

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Molly Ivins was in rare form the other day, taking off on politicians for all kinds of failings.

Her main target of course was the party in power - the Republicans, of whom she said; "There's no planning, no investment, no thought for the future. They're throwing away the seed corn, and we're watching it happen. It's not just the money they're throwing a way, it's democratic traditions - bi-partisanship, compromise, sound public policy."

Her column evoked a complaining letter from a reader, to which I penned a response.

I don't expect the Chicago Tribune to publish my letter. I pretty much quit writing to them some time ago because they were ignoring what I had to say. But I can say it here, so here it is.

You'd think that someone with a good old American name like Adams would be able to appreciate the fun that Molly Ivins brings to the pages of the Tribune, but it seems that Phil Adams of Lincolnshire has neither an appreciation for her swashbuckling writing style nor an understanding of what she's writing about.

I enjoy reading Ivins, and even if she does tend to rant and rave on occasion, her excesses are more than offset by the rantings and ravings of the likes of Charles Krauthammer and Dennis Byrne. The Tribune is an equal opportunity irritator.

Molly says that 24% of American workers make less than $8.70 per hour.

Mr. Adams doesn't dispute this, but I gather considers it ranting and raving that she didn't also mention that the people making that magnificent wage lack the education to get a better job, proving that it's their fault, or the fault of our terrible public education system that they're paid so poorly, not the fault of greedy corporations that employ them

Here's a flash for you Mr. Adams. The two issues are mutually exclusive. If every worker in the United States had a Ph.D., there would still be jobs that didn't pay more than $8.70 per hour and workers would be needed to fill those jobs. You can be sure that employers aren't about to start paying big bucks to dishwashers and cleaning ladies and hamburger flippers because they have college degrees

All Molly was saying here was that an unacceptably large number of American workers are not represented by a union, are employed at a very poor rate of pay and that corporations are a greedy lot. That may be ranting and raving, but it's truthful ranting and raving.

I said a while back that I didn't think a "liberal" radio network would work, but newspaper columnists who are as passionate from the left as Limbaugh and his ilk are from the right, provide a useful balance that does work, and Molly Ivins is as good as they come at what she does.

Monday, December 08, 2003

It seems so easy sometimes, sitting in whatever passes for our personal ivory towers, to offer solutions to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

I’ve been doing it myself recently, offering what seemed to me to be the obvious approach to a settlement to anyone who cared to read it. As readers of this blog know, I sent my ideas to interested parties on both sides of the conflict, and heard from one on the Israeli side who pretty much agreed with me. Nothing from the Palestinians.

The Geneva accord idea got and is getting a lot of attention because it is at least an attempt by sincere and sane people from both sides to offer a total plan for consideration.

But therein lies the problem. The plan is one that was dreamed up by sincere and sane people and could only work with populations of sincere and sane people.

My own ideas, though different from the Geneva plan, also relied on it being applied to populations of sincere and sane people.

Over the weekend, I think we all got a reality check.

For me, it began with a small item in the paper about the attempts in Cairo to get the Palestinian militant groups to agree to a cease fire.

All thirteen of them!!

Thirteen independent, unregulated, armed factions - self appointed mini-military governments, with whom
the Palestinian "prime minister," serving in that role at
the pleasure of Yasir Arafat, is trying to negotiate an
agreement to stop attacking Israelis so that some sort of
dialogue with Israel can be resumed.

It boggles the mind.

In many ways, Israel is as fractionalized as the Palestinians. Its system of electing representatives to the Knesset would drive American voters nuts. I’ve no idea how many political parties are currently active in Israel, but there are a lot. I know some of them are pretty nutty. I know there are Israelis who advocate shipping all of the Palestinians to other Arab countries and creating something resembling the Israel of Biblical times. I know there are Israelis with extreme religious views who believe that Israel should not have been re-established without the return of the Messiah.

Occasionally, an Israeli madman acts like the Palestinian murderers that we all deplore. The name of Baruch Goldstein comes to mind. He’s the Brooklyn born doctor who opened fire in a mosque in Hebron, killing 29 people and injuring many others, before he himself was killed.

But for the most part, the internecine warring among Israelis is confined to the Knesset and to other debating arenas, including the Israeli press.

There are no independent Israeli armies with whom the Sharon government has to negotiate to stop launching indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians. And Sharon doesn’t have to consult with all of the disparate Israeli groups in order to agree to a cease fire with the Palestinians. All he needs is for the other side to be ready and to abide by such an agreement.

So those of us who pray for peace between the two peoples - and I suspect that includes a huge majority of Israelis and a healthy majority of Palestinians, were dismayed at the second half of the one/two weekend reality check - the failure of the thirteen militant Palestinian groups to agree on a cease fire.

I suppose we should have expected it. We get caught up so easily in the excitement of plans that are logical and practical and reasonably fair to both sides, that we forget that madmen have a veto over any and all such plans and there is no reason to believe that they will ever surrender that weapon.

This isn’t what I wanted to write today. I thought about ignoring the middle east altogether. The problem will still be there if I don’t comment on it for a week, or a month, or a year.

But this is my way of recording and commenting on history, good or bad, so today I have to record that as far as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is concerned, we seem, once again, to be back at that same old stand, the extremely worn out patch of territory, commonly referred to as square one.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst system of government - except for all the others, and we are, if not the oldest, certainly the leading democracy of the world.

As such, it’s easy for us to believe that our rights and freedoms are guaranteed, and that the sort of things that happen in totalitarian regimes - the dreaded knock on the door in the dead of night, wives and mothers pleading for news of their menfolk who have been hauled away without warning and without being charged with any crime, kangaroo courts where defendants are not allowed to have legal representation, and so on - could never happen here

I’m sure that most Americans believe that. But I am just as sure that most Americans believe in the ideal image of the United States rather than the actual country in which they live.

Not that the actual country is bad by any means. But it’s not as good as we may think it is

On a few occasions since I started this blog, I’ve touched on the subject of how the US government can deprive people of their liberty if it wants to, and that you don’t necessarily have to be guilty of anything for something like that to happen.

I wrote about the Jonathan Pollard case, a man who is being kept in jail, not for the crimes to which he pled guilty, but because people in power want him kept there for reasons that may never be revealed.

I wrote about the racial bigot Matthew Hale, charged with soliciting the murder of a judge on very flimsy evidence and held without bond while attempts are made to build a case against him.

I haven’t written anything about what the government can do to citizens and non citizens under the RICO act , but almost anyone can get caught up in its web and find their property being confiscated without a trial ever taking place. The government has the power to do that.

And now of course, we have the Patriot Act. I’ve written a little about it and about people being taken into custody and being held incommunicado under its provisions.

But I didn’t bring it into focus the way the ACLU did in a letter to the Chicago Tribune on December 3, 2003.

It’s a scary proposition.

We have weathered similar assaults on individual freedoms in the past. That is to say, we can look back on such things as the internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor and the era of McCarthyism and Red Channels , and, with the benefit of hindsight, realize how horribly wrong they were.

Yet here we are, in the post 9/11 era, following the same kind of path, and when those who have learned from history question it, they are vilified by John Ashcroft, while he and other defenders of this unfortunately named piece of legislation, chase around the country trying to convince us that the Patriot Act is for our protection , that we are safer in our beds because of it and that claims of our freedoms being eroded are totally without merit.

Tell that to the people being held at Guantanamo

We have to remember that while we can look back and deplore the internment of American citizens in the early 1940’s and the assault upon other citizens in the 1950’s , and pride ourselves on our ability to recognize our mistakes and our efforts to right the wrongs that were inflicted, people’s lives and careers were ruined by actions that were taken under the cover of "law."

We have to remember that just because bad things are not happening to us, it doesn’t mean that they’re not happening. And it doesn’t mean that they’re not happening to us because we are upstanding, law abiding citizens. If you want proof of that, ask some of the people who languished in death row cells for years before modern technology proved their innocence.

On the same day that the ACLU letter appeared in the Chicago Tribune, that paper wrote an editorial noting that the post 9/11 requirement for men from predominantly Muslim countries to register with the government and present themselves for questioning and fingerprinting and photographing, was being, for the most part, withdrawn

The editorial concluded with the statement that if history demonstrates anything about the U.S. system of justice, it is its intrinsic fairness and ability for self correction and that the abandonment of the Muslim registration program demonstrates that once again.

One has to wonder though, if all these "once agains" are less demonstrative of the "intrinsic fairness" of our system of justice, than they are of its too frequent periodic failings.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Apropos of Tuesday’s comments

Israel has fought and won many important battles since 1948, but it continues to struggle with the battle for the hearts and minds of the nations of the world, otherwise known as the PR battle.

You would think that with all of the creative talent in Israel, this wouldn’t be a problem. That it should be relatively easy to convince the rest of the world that Israel is and has been the good guy in its 55 year struggle to live in peace with its Arab neighbors.

But whatever good will Israel may have built up in the early years of its existence, began to fade away in 1967.

To a great many people around the world, particularly young people, the entire history of the conflict has been Israel’s occupation of "Arab lands" and its "subjugation" of the "Palestinian people."

There are waves of sympathy for Israel when a suicide murderer slaughters innocent civilians, but the sympathy soon swings to the other side when Israel retaliates, particularly when it retaliates with massive military action.

The building of the security fence/wall is an issue that has garnered waves of sympathy for Palestinians who have lost access to their land. Those pictures of ominous looking segments of the structure and of frustrated Palestinian farmers pleading with the world for help, certainly isn’t creating any good will for Israel.

Could there be a worse defender of Israel’s actions than Ariel Sharon?

He presents a picture of a stubborn old man who has absolutely no vision of how to achieve peace for his people other than the iron fist.

And when a fellow citizen cooperates with a Palestinian to create a possible peace plan for both sides to consider, he condemns it out of hand and practically calls Yossi Beilin a traitor.

And then when Colin Powell says that he plans to meet with the two architects of the Geneva peace plan, the official Israeli position is that "he (Powell) is making a mistake" and that "he is not being useful to the process."

The impression left is that Israel has no genuine interest in considering a peace plan and has little respect for its only true ally in the world.

And it would be so simple to reverse that impression and to regain the good guy image. All it takes is an understanding by Israel that all of its dealings with the Palestinians and all of its pronouncements about the conflict, are being played out on a world stage with a world wide audience.

O.K. Of course Israel understands this, but it certainly isn’t evident by its actions and statements. What other explanation is there for the open criticism of Colin Powell which will be reported in newspapers and radio and television broadcasts around the world, other than a total lack of understanding of the power of public relations?

What could Israel do to improve its PR standing, and coincidentally, to actually move in the direction of solving the seemingly unsolvable conflict?

Here’s just a couple of things.

Announce, to the Palestinians and to the world, that if there are no attacks on Israeli citizens, there will be no attacks on Palestinians.

An unequivocal statement. Not "peace and quiet for so many days and we’ll see where we go from there." Not "we must attack the militants because you refuse to disarm them." Just "you stop and we’ll stop" and mean it. No targeted killings while you’re waiting to see if the Palestinians will stop. No raids to weed out militants as long as there are no attacks. One or more militants remaining at large isn’t going to make any huge difference in the long run and the absence of military incursions which are like magnets to the world’s television cameras, can make a big difference in the PR war.

Second, and most importantly, put forth an official Israeli plan for peace. Show that you do indeed have a vision, even if you know it’s one that will be rejected by the Palestinians.

The reason the Geneva plan is getting so much attention is because it is an end game plan. It lays out a vision of a final arrangement. It may not be an acceptable vision. I personally do not think it’s a plan that will work. I think the general ideas that I have laid out here stand a better chance of succeeding. And it’s unlikely to be accepted by the official Palestinian leadership and for sure not the militant groups.

But nonetheless, Yossi Beilin and Abed Rabbe have done something that Sharon, or any Israeli leader for that matter, has not done, and that’s put a total peace plan on the table - not just the usual suggestions of interim steps with all kinds of issues put off for some future date that never arrives.

Sharon and his government have allowed themselves to be pre-empted by the Geneva plan, and with their angry condemnations and rebuffs of American officials, are now looking like people who are more interested in maintaining an untenable status quo than in pursuing the dream of a final settlement.

If Israel were to put its suggestions for a comprehensive, final peace plan on the table, as Beilin and Rabbe have done, the ball would be in the Palestinian’s court, and it would be my guess that many world leaders would be cheering for the Israeli side, - some with great reluctance no doubt, but cheering nonetheless.

Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?


The question of "no blog today?" has been raised more than once.

Here’s the answer. No, no blog today. Well, not literally, since you’re reading today’s blog. But you know what I mean.

This is a commentary blog, my own way of recording my thoughts on a variety of matters affecting large populations, often world wide populations.

I write to satisfy myself for the most part, but I’m flattered that some people take the time to read what I write and are sometimes moved to think about and comment on the topics I raise.

But it is a commentary blog, not a personal diary or a single topic diary, or a forum for saying silly things or for posting pictures or posting a list of links.

And as a commentary blog, it may not have a new posting every week day. As it is, it rarely has a weekend posting.

I have other things that take up my time. At the moment, I’m working on possible revisions of "Educational Adventures, " the children’s audio-visual series that I wrote and narrated some years ago. You can see the original version here and the updated version on interactive CD with coloring books and crayons and soon to be available as just an interactive CD, at this site.

Newspaper columnists who do commentary and get paid big bucks, rarely write more than two or three columns in a week - some even less, and writing their columns is a full time job, not an unpaid pastime like this is.

So if I skip a day here and there, I apologize to anyone so impressed with my work that they actually miss it.

I’ll try to satisfy your addiction, but I can’t guarantee that a daily fix will always be available.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Originally, the name of this blog, (what’s all this then), was meant to reflect the concept of questioning everything.

It still holds true to that concept, but it could just as easily be sub-titled, "questioning what I read on the editorial and op-ed pages of major metropolitan newspapers," because that’s where I find a majority of the things I question.

On the op-ed pages, a columnist who almost always evokes a desire to comment, is Charles Krauthammer, and his latest effort, "signing a suicide note for Israel" is no exception.

In his column, he attacks the so called "Geneva Accord" - the "virtual" peace plan dreamed up by Palestinian Abed Rabbe and Israeli Yossi Beilin, which is getting world wide attention and praise, even though it has no official backing from Israeli or Palestinian authorities.

Krauthammer calls it an Israeli surrender, and says that it makes Oslo, which he has condemned on many occasions, look "rational." Ironically, the radicals on the other side call it a Palestinian betrayal!!

The trouble with the Krauthammer approach, which seems to mirror both the Sharon approach and the philosophy of the militant Palestinian groups, is that it offers no alternative to this or any other peace plan, except to condemn efforts of the past - in particular the Oslo agreements - and to hold to a hard line that leads absolutely nowhere except continued conflict.

In suggesting that the Geneva plan lacks serious security safeguards, Krauthammer says that it would allow for the Palestinians to acquire as much lethal weaponry as it wants, but then makes the most revealing statement of his argument. Today, he says, Israel still has control over Palestine’s borders, but under the Geneva plan - this ends.

In other words, Krauthammer’s view is that in order to maintain security, Israel must continue to control "Palestine’s borders." For how long? 10 more years? 20 years? Indefinitely?

I can agree with some of what Krauthammer says. The aftermath of Oslo has been a disaster. The Geneva peace plan as presented is a non starter, the support and encouragement of world leaders notwithstanding.

But the kind of solutions that Krauthammer and his mirror image Palestinian hawks have to offer are also non starters, because they are uncompromising and thus totally unacceptable to both sides.

In my view, there is only one approach that makes sense and that can lead to an eventual peaceful solution, and that is one that is based upon the premise that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians - one has to hope a huge majority - want to live together as peaceful neighbors in two sovereign states that are linked together through peaceful endeavors and aspirations. The extremists from both sides have to be dealt with of course, but they cannot be allowed to dictate the agenda.

There is a growing demand from many quarters for a one state solution, which is also a non-starter. That indeed would be a "suicide note" for Israel. But no one from either side has suggested what I have proposed on these pages and that Israelis and Palestinians might accept if it is presented to them persuasively - and that is a modified form of a one state solution.

Two states with two governments but with open borders and free movement of goods, services and people. And with the Palestinian state disarmed and Israel responsible for the defense of both states.

I outlined the concept here on October 10, 2003, with a follow up on November 14, 2003.

In the tiny land area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, there is no other kind of arrangement that will work

Of course such a solution will be difficult to reach. There is a history of mistrust and hatred that goes back may years.

But it needs to be proposed so that it is on the table and can be looked at and discussed and modified, while both sides wait for new leadership that might not dismiss it as cavalierly as Sharon and Krauthammer have dismissed the Geneva proposal.

Who am I to make such a suggestion?

I am someone inspired by the imagination of the late humorist, Robert Benchley.

Benchley was scheduled to take his final exam in international law at Harvard. He opened the exam paper and found that it consisted of a single question:

"Discuss the abstract of the international fisheries problem in respect to hatcheries protocol and dragnet and procedure as it affects (a) the point of view of the United States, and (b) the point of view of Great Britain."

Benchley didn’t know the answer to the question, but he had great imagination.. So he wrote:

"I know nothing of the point of view of Great Britain in the arbitration of the international fisheries problem and nothing about the point of view of the United States. I shall therefore discuss the question from the point of view of the fish."

I think he passed.

Just think of me as a fish.

Monday, December 01, 2003

My first reaction to the images on my television screen was that no matter what else you might think of the guy, he has guts.

The President of the United States showing up in Baghdad where madmen would gladly sacrifice their own lives to kill him if they could.

But then I learned that the images I was looking at weren’t live. That they were part of a delayed film or tape broadcast that was allowed on the air only after the President’s plane had left and had cleared Iraqi air space. That he had slipped in under the cover of darkness, had never left the Baghdad airport and spent all of 2 ½ hours there. And then I had a second reaction

It was a stunt. It was landing on an aircraft carrier again to announce the end of major hostilities.

It was part of the 2004 presidential election launch which got under way a few weeks ago.

And it was part of the ongoing effort to legitimize the third or fourth re-write of why we absolutely had to invade Iraq and why the sacrifice of hundreds of American lives was justified.

I’m surprised that Hillary Clinton was approving of the stunt when she was caught on camera and asked what she thought. Maybe she hadn’t had time to think it through.

Yes, Presidents go to war theaters to boost troop morale and maybe the few who were at the airport to have a Thanksgiving meal with the President had a morale boost, but it was a stunt nonetheless, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

As one might surmise from reading my occasional comments about Mr. Bush and the Iraqi war, I am not a big supporter of the president. I didn’t vote for him and I can’t see myself voting for him next year, even if the Democratic candidate turns out to be someone equally unacceptable to me.

Still, those of us with a sense of fairness - that of course excludes right wing ideologues - strive to give any sitting president the benefit of the doubt.

But in the case of Mr. Bush, the image of that silly grin which covers his face at the most inappropriate moments - when he’s talking about life and death for example - and the image of him, within the safety of these shores, surrounded by his contingent of bodyguards, responding to lethal attacks on our troops by challenging those who oppose us in Iraq to "bring em on," gets in the way.

While Mr. Bush was pulling his stunt, discussion in my house turned to the question of his future.

There were ten of us around my Thanksgiving table this year , and nobody seemed to support the idea of a second term for Mr. Bush.

These weren’t people you might expect to be knee jerk supporters of a Democratic presidential candidate . There were two lawyers, a banking executive , a retired professor of marketing and the owner of a commodities brokerage. Nobody at the table was hurting. I don’t know if any were members of a political party. or thought of themselves as Republican or Democrat or Independent. But none said they would vote for Bush a second time around. If there were any Bush supporters at the table, they were silent supporters. One hopes not part of a silent majority!!

One of my fellow diners felt that if the economy kept "improving," he might be unbeatable, but that a steady toll of Americans dying in Iraq through the election season, could tip the scales the other way.

One has to hope and pray that the reason to replace this man with someone who does not have an evangelical world view will not be for such a horrible reason.

There are enough other reasons. Let’s hope that people will recognize and use them when they exercise their precious franchise next year.