What's All This Then?

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Friday, January 30, 2004

A lot has been said about Jack Paar, who died this week at the age of 85, but how his death has affected me and the thoughts it has brought to mind are somewhat different from all of the accolades and retrospectives that I read, heard and watched on television.

First, I must say that I agree with all the wonderful things that have been said about Paar. The man was a giant.

There was no one quite like him before he took over the Tonight Show from Steve Allen and there has been no one like him since. All of the others who have hosted the late night slots on national and local television, have been comedians or interviewers or both.

Paar was a conversationalist - a wonderful conversationalist. He was totally himself before the cameras, and totally vulnerable. Nothing was hidden. What you saw was what he was. You could have been a fly on the wall in his dining room and the conversation probably wouldn’t have been much different. For sure Jack wouldn’t have been.

His nightly conversations were the subject of "morning after" conversations in homes and offices and factories across the nation. Such was his impact and his influence.

It was sad to hear of his death (I refuse to use the euphemism "passing" - passing to what??), but we all have to die, so while it was sad, it was only sad in the sense that those of us who knew him and remain alive, will miss him.

But his death, like the death of other entertainment icons and people in the public eye, remind us of our own mortality, particularly if we can identify with them generationally.

So many entertainment icons of my generation are now gone. Hope, Crosby, Sinatra, Benny, George Jessel and George Burns, Steve Allen, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart. The list goes on and on. And the musicians that I grew up with. Dorsey, Goodman, Miller, Basie, Ellington. Many others. All gone.

As I look around, I realize more and more that the world I know, or perhaps I should say the world I knew and was comfortable with, is slowly fading from existence.

Not that I’m particularly uncomfortable in the world that is taking its place. That is indeed the way of the world. That is things as they should be. Things are supposed to change.

But having traveled a lot more years than I have left to travel, as more and more of the icons of my youth and my middle years depart from the scene, I get the feeling that I have become engaged in my own slow departure from life, which is being heralded by the slow departure of my world. Or to put it another way, I get the feeling that I’m being preceded in death by the death of the world in which I have lived. It’s a strange feeling, but one with which I’m somehow comfortable.

I don’t mean this to sound morbid, because I have no morbid feelings as I write this. But I think that Mother Nature, or whatever force determines the cycles of life, has certainly made the process of dying very logical.

To survive to an old age and not be affected by the ailments that affect the aged, the degeneration of bone and tissue, the loss of hair and vision and memory - would be illogical. If we remained young and healthy and vigorous and still died in our seventies or eighties or nineties, it would be tragic. It would be a bummer. We’d all be asking who the hell designed this system!!!

But nature prepares us for our own demise by making sure that we do age and degenerate and it slows us down to the point where we understand and accept the idea that death is the logical conclusion to life. In many cases, it becomes a desired alternative .

Mother Nature may not have anything to do with the idea that "our worlds" precede us in death, and in a sense are thus a part of our own dying process, but I think it too is a pretty logical concept. Not that we can’t be very much alive in a world that no longer resembles the world of our past, but I think it helps us as we near our own ends to be aware that so much of what surrounded and influenced and delighted us in our life, has already gone on ahead. As though it was leading the way.

Anyway, so long Jack. We’ll miss you. Even though you’ve been off the air for decades, this world won’t be the same without you.

I kid you not.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

It’s truly astonishing how some members of Congress and Bush administration officials are re-inventing their positions on why it was necessary to invade Iraq and what the vote to authorize military action actually authorized.

It’s particularly evident among the Democratic presidential candidates. John Kerry’s yes vote for example, was not to authorize war, only to authorize military action as a last resort. Clark, who had words of praise for Bush before he announced his candidacy, now says he would never have voted for war.

And Mr. Bush of course, now says that maybe there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction, but we were still justified in going to war to protect us and the world from the evil Saddam.

The volume of rhetorical doublespeak boggles the mind.

And now, defense of the indefensible is coming from disappointingly unexpected quarters.

I’ve always had respect for John McCain.

I don’t know how many men would have stuck to principle and refused an offer to be released ahead of others as he did after he was taken prisoner of war in Vietnam in 1967.

For 5 ½ years, he suffered through torture and solitary confinement because he refused to take advantage of his heritage as the son and grandson of high ranking U.S. naval officers .

I’ve always thought of him as an independent Republican, one who wouldn’t automatically support programs and policies advanced by Republican leadership. At one point in his career, he made it clear that he thought he was better equipped to lead this nation than George W. Bush.

But last night, my respect for him dropped several points.

There’s no question that following 9/11, McClain was very much in favor of military action against Iraq, believing that the war on terror could not be won "until the threat from Iraq is eliminated."

But now that the "threat" has been revealed as imaginary, one would hope that McCain, like super WMD hunter, David Kay, would agree that "we got it all wrong."

Instead, appearing on the PBS News Hour with Carl Levin of Michigan, McCain gave a tortured defense of our invasion of Iraq, referring over and over to the Iraq regime change legislation, enacted during the Clinton administration.

Hey folks, it wasn’t just Mr. Bush who thought that Saddam Hussein was a danger and needed to be removed. Clinton - the hated Clinton, who we tried to hound out of office, also thought that Saddam was a danger to the world. Two presidents in a row with the same views about Iraq. Doesn’t that justify the action our president took?

And besides which, he proclaimed (again), we already had legislation on the books calling for Saddam’s ouster.

Well, sort of.

Congress passes a lot of bills that urge this or that action and this one wasn’t that different. There was unanimous support in the Senate and a huge majority in the House. But it was not a bill authorizing war. It was a bill that stated pretty much how we felt about Iraq. The meat of the act stated;

"It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."

"Support." "Promote." Not invade. Certainly not unilaterally.

Of course there was almost unanimous support for that kind of a policy. And President Clinton opted to carry it out through continued containment and the pressure of sanctions to try to bring about the goal of regime change. But not by military action.

The hawks were urging it - the same hawks who now surround President Bush and who were and are the architects of his doctrine of preemptive military action. .

But President Clinton did not follow the recommendation of those hawks, and to suggest that his signing of the "Iraq Liberation Act" somehow agrees with or justifies the subsequent Bush policy of preemptive war, is something I might have expected to hear from a Tom DeLay or a Dick Cheney or a Rush Limbaugh, but not from John McCain..

As if that wasn’t enough, during the back and forth between McClain, Levin and moderator Jim Lehrer, the issue of whether or not Mr. Bush misled the American people was raised, and McClain, his face somber, his tone pained, couldn’t conceive of his president lying in such a fashion. No way. Not possible. He just couldn’t believe it.

As I watched and listened, I had a sense of deja vu. My mind flashed back to the era of the Nixon impeachment hearings and to a supporter and apologist for that president, syndicated columnist James Kilpatrick.

As the evidence mounted against Nixon and he continued to deny wrongdoing, Kilpatrick was one of the last supporters to stand by him and insist that he was telling the truth. But finally, he came to the realization that his support and partisanship was blinding him to what everyone else could see and he made his famous "concession" comment - "My President Lied!!" It was a revealing moment.

So far, the supporters of President Bush are using "bad intelligence" to excuse the possibility that he might have "inadvertently" misled the American people about why we simply had to go to war against Iraq..

There are those who believe that there are more reasons to call for impeachment proceedings against Mr. Bush than there were against Bill Clinton.

Personally, I’d settle for someone from the Republican side of the aisle to come forward and admit that maybe the decision to invade Iraq had less to do with weapons of mass destruction or the war on terror and a whole lot more to do with policy decisions being framed as Mr. Bush was taking the oath of office.

Where’s a James Kilpatrick when we need him?

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

One of the advantages of doing a daily (more or less) opinion piece here, rather than in a newspaper, is that if I can’t think of anything in particular to write about on any given day, I can always turn to the op-ed and letters to the editor pages of almost any major newspaper, where I am sure to find something that cries out for response or rebuttal or embellishment.

Today isn’t one of those day. I have several things to write about. But I’m putting them on the back burner because a couple of letters in today’s "voice of the people" section of the Chicago Tribune, need response, rebuttal and embellishment.

I’ve written a couple of times about "The Passion," Mel Gibson’s film about "the last twelve hours of the life of Christ." Even though I haven’t seen it, I’ve read enough about it to form some conclusions, and they are that it contributes nothing to our understanding of history and it has the potential to fan the flames of anti-Semitism.

Jewish scholars who have seen the film, have concluded that it is indeed anti-Semitic.

A gentlemen whose letter appears in today’s Chicago Tribune, has also seen the film and he not only doesn’t see anything anti-Semitic, but says that it brought home the "reality" of the crucifixion in "an amazing way."

Let me tackle that second point first. I don’t know what went on at "the crucifixion." Nor does the letter writer. Nor does the Pope. But I know what didn’t go on.

The people who were there, who saw what they saw, who witnessed what they witnessed, who understood what they understood and believed what they believed, did so without the benefit of dramatic lighting and shading. Without compelling music pounding in their ears. Without seeing the scene or scenes from multiple angles. Without gut wrenching close ups. Without sound effects.

The letter writer saw a movie- one man’s dramatization of events described in the gospels. If that can be classified as "reality," it is a strange classification indeed.

But perhaps to believers, anything that agrees with their beliefs and can be portrayed in more dramatic ways than they can visualize, is "reality" enough.

This letter writer, who one can reasonably assume to be non-Jewish, also sees nothing anti-Semitic in the film.

That’s a pity, because as long as non-Jews are unable to recognize anti-Semitism that is obvious to Jews, anti-Semitic acts and anti-Semitic commentary will continue unabated.

If I could lure the letter writer to this blog, I would urge him to read my posts of last June 3rd and 4th in which I discussed the Chicago Tribune’s lack of understanding of what is and isn’t anti-Semitic. I think the affair represented a classic example of how and why anti-Semitism flourishes. I’m afraid "The Passion" will turn out to be an equally classic example.

The second letter writer took issue with a Tribune editorial that pretty much agreed with my assessment of Carol Moseley Braun’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, though in much kinder terms. They didn’t call her a clown.

Among other things, this writer complains that the Tribune didn’t acknowledge the significance of an African American woman competing at this level.

The trouble with that complaint is that it reveals the writer’s lack of understanding of what should be considered significant in terms of opening new avenues for minorities to aspire to the highest levels of leadership in our democracy.

As I said in my previous commentary on the Democratic presidential rivals, anyone with the appropriate qualifications of citizenship, age and residency, can run for president.

Carol Moseley Braun took advantage of having those qualifications. But she did not do so on a rising tide of support from African Americans or women. There was no groundswell movement to promote the candidacy of an African American woman to run for the presidency. Her so called candidacy is as significant as the so called candidacy of Al Sharpton. Mr. Sharpton isn’t running for the Democratic nomination. He is running to be the Jesse Jackson of 2004 and to have a voice, maybe a speaking role, at the Democratic convention.

Neither of their efforts are significant or groundbreaking. They are simply self-serving.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

I suppose it is to be expected. While sane people, Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, search for ways to resolve the seemingly never ending conflict, the madmen lay in wait, ready to insert their insanity into the process at the drop of a hat.

It is absolutely astonishing to me that the so called "cease fire proposal," voiced by Abdel Aziz Rantisi, is being reported in newspapers around the world as a legitimate news story.

The fact that it was originally reported by Reuters does not make it so.

The world knows that the insane among the Palestinian population reject the very idea of Israel’s existence. Some of them even argue that there was no ancient Israel, that it was always "Palestine," and that all of the ancient structures and artifacts are "Palestinian."

Is this something that should be reported as news?

I’m not saying that the ridiculous Hamas proposal of a ten year truce if Israel would just withdraw to its 1967 borders, give up Jerusalem and otherwise commit national suicide, shouldn’t be a four or five line squib, somewhere on the inside pages of any paper that covers world affairs. Stranger things are found in such small squibs. But to report it at length, as though it had some meaning other than an expression of madness, is just a little crazy in itself.

There have been wars and other kinds of conflicts between nations and between peoples throughout history, but search as I may, I can’t find a single attempt at settling a conflict by one side saying to the other - look, you give us what we want and we’ll quit attacking you for ten years. After that, it’s Katy bar the door, because we plan to destroy you. Wipe you off the face of the earth.

You would think, since the story was published just about everywhere, that there would be some reaction from Arafat. Endorsing or condemning. Something!! You would also think it would be a big story in the Arab press. Al Jazeera reported it, but I had a hard time finding any mention in English language Arab papers or Internet sites such as the Electronic Intifada, and I couldn’t find any comments from Ahmed Qurie or his alter ego Abu Ala.

It’s moments like this that make one despair of the conflict ever coming to an end.

Yet, while the madmen pursue their mad dreams, sane proposals keep surfacing.

I was pleased to see that some Israeli and Palestinian academics have proposed close economic cooperation
between Israel and a future Palestinian state. It isn’t quite the open border, free trade concept that I proposed in my comments of last October 10, but it moves in that general direction.

Bu the authors of the proposal warn that "current conditions" could put a damper on the idea. They were referring to the security fence or wall - what you call it depends on who you are - but somehow the fence seems a minor obstacle when viewed alongside the insanity of the Hamas proposal.

Every time I write about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict - and I do so frequently - I comment on what might have to happen before we could begin to see a glimmer of a resolution, and each time, it seems that more and more things need to happen.

I had concluded that nothing could happen until Arafat passed from the scene. Then, in my first comment on the subject this year, on January 9, I concluded that nothing could happen until a new Israeli leader emerged who would make imaginative proposals to the Palestinians.

Today, I’m fresh out of conclusions. Maybe I’ll come up with some new ones when the disgust and disbelief at this latest piece of insanity has faded somewhat from memory.

On yesterday’s topic…….

Someone pointed out that I omitted to include the "smirk" among the many facial expressions of the President. I guess I thought I had that covered with my reference to "silly grins." But I stand corrected. The smirk is indeed an expression apart.

Monday, January 26, 2004

I really hadn’t intended to add anything to the comments I made about the State of the Union Address on January 21.

It was, after all, a political speech, perhaps even more so than usual because it was the kick off of the President’s reelection campaign. And I only had it on my television screen for a few minutes.

But I’ve been exposed to some of the bizarre things he said through watching newscasts and I’ve been amused and stimulated by some "letters to the editor," complaining about the facial reactions of Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton to some of those bizarre utterances.

I did see some of those audience reaction shots, including those of Ted and Hillary, though I don’t recall exactly what was being said at the time. I think it might have been when Bush made the quantum leap from the statements of last year’s state of the union address, that Iraq had enough horrible weapons to destroy all life on earth in a matter of hours, to, "they had some ideas about creating horrible weapons so that they could take over New York and subdivide it into torture chambers and a Manhattan palace for Saddam to stay at while he’s taking in some Broadway shows, and we had to stop them."

O.K. He didn’t say anything like that, but he did say some things that would make even a fair minded conservative grimace.

But what amused me about these letters to the editor, complaining about people showing disrespect to our great leader as he made his inaugural 2004 campaign speech, was that they would select facial expressions as the focus of their complaints.

Are these people blind or just blindly partisan Republicans?

I can’t think of any president within living memory who used facial expressions to emphasize the points he was trying to make in a speech, the way Mr. Bush does. Sometimes, the facial expression changes when he’s not trying to make a particular point!!

George Bush is the Lon Chaney Senior of American presidents. The only difference between them is that Chaney, the "man of a thousand faces," was a professional actor. Mr. Bush is a bad actor.

When he’s giving a speech, the President has an expression for virtually every emotion that he tries to convey. If he’s making some (to me), childlike statement, such as the United States not needing a permission slip to protect itself, the facial expression is one of defiance. When promoting the pretty much discredited reasons for invading Iraq, the expression is one of anger. How dare you not believe me? Of course what we did was right!!

If he’s talking about some "sound good" domestic program, he might go through a series of the silly grins that are so often on his face.

From word to word and sentence to sentence, he raises and lowers his eyebrows. He clenches his teeth. He sometimes looks quizzical, sometimes pained. One gets the impression that instructions for which expression to use with which words are printed on the teleprompter.

But I get a different impression. I get the impression of a man reading words that are weighted politically but not necessarily logical, meaningful , convincing or truthful, who knows that they’re not necessarily logical, meaningful, convincing or truthful, and who instinctively uses a facial expression to try to convey the rectitude of what he is saying.

It is reminiscent of what children often do when they try to deny that they have done something that they were not supposed to do, even when the evidence against them is overwhelming. They throw themselves into their denials with every fiber of their being. Me? Not me. I didn’t do it. And the words are accompanied by a whole range of facial expressions and body language of denial. Usually, the more elaborate the expression, the more obvious the guilt.

I’m not necessarily saying that the President told a bunch of lies during his state of the union speech, but from the news clips that I saw of some of his facial expressions, I got the impression that the words that accompanied the expressions left something to be desired.

At any rate, if I’m a Bush supporter and want to attack Democrats for showing disrespect to the president, I would remember that ancient adage about the pot calling the kettle black and find something other than facial expressions to criticize.

Friday, January 23, 2004

If I say so myself, I think I did a pretty good job of expressing how a lot of people feel about Mel Gibson’s film about the last 12 hours of the life of Christ in my post of September 25, 2003.

The film, "The Passion," is in the news again because there are ongoing private showings before its scheduled general release.

Gibson is being very careful about who is being allowed to see it. It is being shown to clergymen and other religious leaders by invitation only.

A news report today cited the reaction of two prominent Jewish leaders to the film. Rabbi Marvin Hier, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and the Anti Defamation League’s national director Abraham Foxman, found it to be anti-Semitic in its portrayal of the Jews of ancient Israel and their role in the prosecution and death of Jesus Christ.

But neither of these gentlemen had been invited to any screening by Mr. Gibson. Hier was able to view a copy given to him by a friend who was not identified, and Foxman snuck in to a screening for pastors in Florida.

Perhaps they weren’t invited because both have been critical of the movie, based on portions of the script that have been leaked over the past several months.

But one has to wonder what it is that Mr. Gibson thinks should be hidden from prominent members of the very religious group that the movie is about.

Last night, on a public television station in Chicago, I watched a panel discussion about the film that included a member of a local church where it had been recently screened, and an official of the American Jewish Committee who had been at the screening - either as an invitee of Mr. Gibson or maybe as a "snuck in" guest of a Christian invitee.

What was fascinating to me about the discussion was that the AJC official, like Messrs. Hier and Foxman, saw rampant anti-Semitism in the film and explained why in some detail, including the fact that the only moment in the film where Jesus is even portrayed as being Jewish, is when he is referred to on a single occasion as "Rabbi" - and then, the words are put in the mouth of Judas!! He also cited an example of how the movie is already fanning the flames of anti-Semitism - a posting on an Internet chat room from someone who wanted to "kill Jews" after seeing the film.

The church member however, couldn’t see anything anti-Semitic in the film, which he thought accurately portrayed the words of the gospels.

These were both subjective views of course, but I am always surprised when a non-Jew takes issue with a Jew on the question of what is or isn’t anti-Semitism. It’s a little bit like a Caucasian not understanding why African Americans don’t share their humorous views of Steppin Fetchit or Amos and Andy.

I haven’t seen the film and I would not spend money to see it when it is released for public viewing, but I have heard enough of its content to know that it is indeed anti-Semitic, and I am inclined to believe, by intent.

As I noted in my comments of last September 25, Gibson claims that he is sympathetic towards Jews, even though his father is an acknowledged Holocaust denier and he was raised in an atmosphere of anti-Semitism.

Gibson has said that his aim was to portray "the truth" and both he and biblical scholars say that the film is indeed faithful to what is found in the gospels.

But I am more than just a little disturbed at the way some people interpret "truth." I’m not saying that Mel Gibson supports his father’s belief that the Holocaust never happened, but isn’t it interesting that Gibson senior and many others who profess to be religious, believe without hesitation in the "truth" of the gospels - a narrative of incidents that are alleged to have taken place at a time when there was no television, no radio, no film, no cameras, no newspapers, no magazines, no books and no news reporters to capture and preserve them , yet deny that events that were meticulously recorded, and witnessed and documented by people still alive, ever took place!!

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine which of these two historic events is the "truer" truth.

Neither, in my view, does it take much analysis to understand the motives of those who would swear that the one for which irrefutable evidence exists is a lie, but the biblical stories are not just the truth, but the gospel truth.

The other day, I asked what was more dangerous than a small mind, a large ego and the power over the life and death of others. I was talking about some judges.

Today, I wonder if there is anything more dangerous than a blindly religious film actor and director with millions of dollars at his disposal, who decides to make a motion picture of his concept of the birth of the Christian religion.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I am a strong supporter of social security - and not just because I am of social security age and thus receiving benefits. I believe that one of the primary obligations of any civilized, industrial society, is to guarantee that its senior citizens have a minimal, assured income when they reach retirement age.

Because I believe in the basic concept of social security, I get concerned when I hear suggestions about allowing workers to invest a portion of their social security taxes in a personal investment account that they control, removing the money involved from the social security pool from which payments are being made to retirees.

Such a change, if it ever got through congress, would likely mark the beginning of the end for social security. It would go against the basic principals of workers paying into a pool from which retirees draw their minimum guaranteed income. That’s what the tax is for. A personal investment account is something entirely different and should in no way be tied in with social security.

There is nothing stopping workers from setting up any kind of investment account they wish to set up, so what would be the purpose of allowing them to make personal investments with funds that they are obligated to pay as taxes?. What would be next? Allowing workers to withhold a portion of income tax debt to invest in the bond market?

We keep hearing horror stories about social security going broke and not being available for today’s young workers when they retire.

Yet somehow we are able to find billions to spend invading and breaking Iraq and then repairing the damage. Or to send manned missions to the moon and Mars.

But the worriers keep worrying, and I just heard from one of the nation’s leading worriers, which is really the subject of this blog posting.

Her name is Barbara B Kennelly. She’s a former member of congress, who served for 17 years before quitting in 1998 to make an unsuccessful bid to become the governor of Connecticut. Today, according to the letter she sent me, she’s the President and CEO of The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare - NCPSSM.

There are a lot of organizations like this in Washington, organizations that advocate one thing or another. I don’t have a list of them handy, but I’m reasonably sure they number in the hundreds, if not in the thousands.

Their issues may be vastly different. Indeed, some of them may exist just to counter the advocacy of others. But there is one thing they all have in common. They all need money and they all look for ways to keep their coffers filled.

A few weeks ago, I got a pitch for money from one of the major political parties. There must have been a hundred ways they could have asked me for a contribution. They chose to assume that I was the kind of idiot who would believe that I had won a fortune when I received one of those Reader’s Digest contest packages in the mail.

The NCPSSM was at least their equal, maybe their superior as snake oil salesmen.

Here’s their pitch. It comes in a 13 ½ x 11 inch envelope, looking very much like a FedEx delivery. On one side, in two inch high block letters, in black and red, were the words EXPRESS PRIORITY. and in smaller letters "please expedite, dated material enclosed." And finally, in script slightly smaller than the express priority message, the word "letter." That was the good side.

Here’s side two. Across the top, the word "urgent" - SIX times. Just below that, "Extremely Urgent: Recipient Please Hand Deliver To Addressee. Below all of this, six numbered boxes. One had the sender’s name and one had mine. Box three contained a "sender’s source number." Box four was headed "Payment Type" and there were five options listed - sender, third party, recipient, credit card, cash/check. "Sender" had been selected. Box 5 was headed "Special Notes" and of its five options, time sensitive, postage paid, materials inspected, recipient’s name confirmed and recipient’s address confirmed, the first four had been selected. The number six box was designated "Service," with four options, standard, urgent, next day and Saturday delivery. "Urgent" had been checked.

There was some other gobbledygook on the envelope, "Package Tracking Number," Weight, Zone and other meaningless nonsense.

All before I opened the package to look at the contents. All utter nonsense, except for the sender’s and my name and address. And some of it of course was pure fiction - a polite euphemism for lies. "Sender’s source number." "Package tracking number." Sure!!!

Inside was a six page epistle outlining the dangers facing social security from those who would destroy it, and urging me to write to my U.S. Representative, urging that worthy to resist any efforts to privatize or otherwise change social security. It even included a sample letter, addressed to my representative and signed with my name!!

And of course, the main purpose of the mailing, the pitch for money. And not just your garden variety pitch that you get from charitable institutions, with a special "membership form" on which you can indicate how much you’re sending. At the bottom of page six of the letter, there was a P.S. that implored me to send money, even if I was unable to send a letter to my Congressperson!!

I have no reason to doubt that the NCPSSM does good work, though I doubt that its absence from the scene would have any strong negative effect on social security, and I would imagine there are many other advocacy groups that also present their views on social security to members of congress - the AARP for example.

But my reaction to this kind of pitch is the same as it is to negative political ads. It insults my intelligence. And the last people to whom I am likely to donate any of my hard earned money, are those who insult me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

I had the State of the Union address on my television for only a few minutes last night. The basic content had already been distributed to the news media, so there was no need to sit through a long, rambling speech to find out what was in the president’s re-election kick off. Besides which, Mr. Bush is not an easy person to watch or listen to. Clinton was an orator. Bush is not.

But I do want to make the same comment that I make about every State of the Union address. If people from other countries are watching, they must think our congress is populated by a bunch of immature schoolboys.

What on earth is the reason for the interminable applause and cheering when the president walks into the room? And then, after it dies down and he is introduced from the podium, the same pandemonium erupts. Greet him politely, yes. But the response of our elected officials, cabinet members and invited guests, is more that of a crowd of teens and pre-teens greeting some rock and roll super star. It may be an American tradition but it is positively embarrassing.

As to the content of his speech, Rep Jesse Jackson Jr. summed it up this way during a radio interview this morning. "Weapons of Mass Distraction." He has his father’s gift for turning a phrase. I won’t comment on his analysis. I’ll leave it at that.

On to more important things.

I was in Dick Gephardt’s presence only once, when he was a speaker at a college graduation.

I sat at the side of the stage, and by the time he had finished giving his address, I was ready to support any effort he might make to seek the presidency of the United States.

He not only made sense and had an obvious grasp of the problems and issues facing the nation, but he held the audience spellbound for close to an hour. People speak of Bill Clinton’s magnetism and how he could dominate a room full of people with the sheer power of his personality. Dick Gephardt struck me the same way.

It’s a sad commentary on the strangeness of our political system that this thoroughly sincere, knowledgeable and competent man, feels compelled to retire from public life because he was unable to convince a handful of voters in Iowa that he was the Democrat most able to defeat George W. Bush.

It’s even sadder that while Gephardt begins to wind down his political career, clowns continue to strut across the public stage pontificating about their presidential qualities.

One has gone, after annoying us for months on end and spending what little money her campaign was able to wheedle out of people and very likely running up political debt that may never be re-paid.

Carol Mosely Braun was at one time a rising political star, but made one mistake after another during her six year senate term and got turned out by losing the support of people who at one time were avid supporters. Her attempt to make a public come back after serving out her gift ambassadorship has been ludicrous. Not that she didn’t have things to say that made sense. She was and is a bright woman who can hold her own in a political debate. But announcing that she was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in order to give herself a platform to make political pronouncements and to draw attention to herself was an abuse of our political freedoms.

I would suspect that the only reason she stopped is that she couldn’t squeeze any more money out of anyone and was being refused credit.

A clown who hasn’t stopped is Al Sharpton. I guess he still has sufficient funds to get to wherever a debate among the candidates is taking place and to pay for a hotel room. He certainly isn’t spending money in any other way to persuade voters that he is a viable candidate for any kind of office.

He knows and the world knows, that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades of him becoming the Democratic nominee. So why is he running? If he wants to hold the other candidates feet to the fire on certain issues, he can do that without taking up space and time on the debate stages to do his comedy act. David Letterman and Jay Leno are doing that job five nights a week.

The answer of course is that our political system is set up to allow any native born American over the age of 35, who has been a resident of this country for at least fourteen years, to decide that he or she is capable of becoming the president of the United States, and there really is no way to stop them. It is their right under our constitution. The wonder is that even more clowns aren’t cluttering up the primary scene.

Fortunately, none of the current crop of clowns and near clowns will be facing George Bush next November. The nominee will be someone who has an appropriate background, a broad based platform of ideas, and the support of a sufficient number of voters to make his candidacy something other than a joke.

But in order to get to that point, we have to suffer through some pretty irritating nonsense.

There are times when one wishes we had a system similar to the British parliamentary system.

In England, it isn’t possible for some clown to announce out of the blue that he or she is running for prime minister. The government, including the prime minister, is formed from the party that wins the election, that is, that wins the greatest number of seats in Parliament. The prime minister isn’t elected by a national vote. He is simply a member of Parliament, elected from a single district. It’s the members of his party that designate him as their leader, so that when they win an election, he becomes the prime minister.

And whichever party wins, there is no surprise about who the prime minister will be. The party not in power maintains a shadow cabinet, so voters know who will be the prime minister if that party wins.

People may consider the prime minister in office and the shadow prime minister who would like to assume office to be clowns, but at the very least, they are not clowns who emerge from the woodwork during an election season to amuse and confuse the electorate. The potential winners are known entities before the election season arrives.

With that kind of a system, maybe we’d still have a Dick Gephardt as an option to a George Bush.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

I don’t like to be one of those "I told you so" people, when something that I’ve said will happen, does happen.

Oh what the hell. It iskind of rewarding to be able to point to something that illustrates the wisdom of one of my posts.

J.P. Morgan is buying Bank One, and the combination will be the second largest banking organization in the country after Citigroup.

What happened when the acquisition was announced was that Bank One’s shares shot up 11% and Bank One
shareholders were looking at some nice profits. But what happened before the merger was announced has made the SEC wonder if maybe something not quite kosher was going on.

Or to put it in movie line terms as illustrated in my November 6, 2003 post on this topic, the SEC is "shocked, shocked to discover that insider trading goes on just before a merger is announced."

Sure. And Brooklyn Bridge Preferred has always been a sound investment.

This is the way of business. It always has been and always will be. Some people will always have some special knowledge that will permit them to make profits not available to the average investor.

On occasion, astute traders who watch the markets closely, will be able to "piggyback" onto a move that is precipitated by insiders. They see a sudden surge in Bank One option trading and see the option prices skyrocketing and they jump aboard, figuring something must be afoot. But most of the people making money off of deals like this are those who know all about the deal before the rest of us.

Martha Stewart goes on trial this week, accused of this kind of insider trading. It’ll be interesting to see if we really get any inside peeks into the profitable (but shocking, absolutely shocking ) world of insider trading.

Later in the day......

I couldn't resist coming back to this post to add a comment. I just heard a market reporter on the radio saying that analysts had determined that the reason the Dow was down some 60 points - while the overall market had gainers leading losers by a two to one margin - was that John Kerry won in Iowa!!!!!

I can't wait to hear the connection between the price of IBM and the winner of the New Hampshire primary.


I’ve made it clear before, but I’ll say it again just to be sure that everyone understands.

I’m not a football fan. I don’t much care who beats who and who plays in whatever kind of bowl.

I do however want the Chicago Bears and the Northwestern Wildcats to do well, because my wife is a big time fan of both those teams.

And she’s knowledgeable about football. She knows the teams, the players, the coaches, the refs - even the plays. And despite all of this, she actually approves of the Bears hiring a head coach named Lovie Smith. Lovie!!!! Coaching the Chicago Bears. The Monsters of the Midway.

How in heaven’s name does anyone expect the Bears to win games with a coach named Lovie???

The Bears need to be coached by a Mongo or a Bronco, or a Rock or a Danimal or a Tiger or a Hunk or a Samurai. But a Lovie??

The late, great Sweetness must be turning in his grave.

Monday, January 19, 2004

If there is a more dangerous combination than a small mind, a large ego and life and death power over others, I surely don’t know what it is.

And what makes it extremely dangerous is where such a combination is most often found. In the nation’s courtrooms.

Talk to any lawyer practicing in the local courts in a city like Chicago for example. Ask them what they think of the various judges in whose courts they have to appear,
and you will get opinions like - senile, doesn’t know
the law, doesn’t follow the law, shouldn’t bea judge and so on.

Most judges below the Federal level are either elected or appointed by local officials, which means they are political animals. They can be relatives or cronies of some influential political figure, and with the proper support and handling, they can finish up sitting in judgment of the rest of us. Even if they are morons.

In election after election, bar associations and newspapers tell us who the bad judges are. Those with zero judicial temperament. Those with inferior legal knowledge . Those who make ridiculous decisions. Yet they get re-elected, year after year. Political muscle trumps public apathy.

I don’t know if Rodney Melville, the judge presiding over the Michael Jackson arraignment is one of those kinds of judges. He was originally appointed to a Municipal Court position by the Governor of California in 1987 and in 1990 was promoted to Superior Court by the same Governor, where he currently serves while also serving as the supervising judge of the civil division. A busy man, Judge Melville. And, according to his bio, a competent and respected jurist.

Still, if I were in Michael Jackson’s shoes, I would be worried.

I don’t know if Judge Melville matches the description at the start of these comments, but he has been described as "diminutive," and it appears from news stories found on line that he is a recovering alcoholic.

But the size and past addiction of Judge Melville aside, if I were Mr. Jackson, I would be worried at the tone of the judge’s reaction to his (somewhat understandable) tardiness.

The judge didn’t say - "Mr. Jackson, I know you have to battle through the circus outside to get here, but we like to start on time each day and I would appreciate your making an effort to be in the building before court starts in the future."

Or, "Mr. Jackson, is there some reason why you are 15 (or 21) minutes late for court." Different news reports gave different times.

No, he said something along the lines of, "Mr Jackson, you have started out on the wrong foot with me. I want to advise you that I will not put up with that. It's an insult to the court. You must be here on time. Is that understood?"

Now, what was the purpose of admonishing the pop star in this fashion? You have started out on the wrong foot?" "I will not put up with it?" What is he saying? "You’d better watch it because if you get on the wrong side of me, I can make it tough for you. I’m in charge of this court. I can rule any way I like. I can make you lose this trial!!!"

Of course he didn’t say anything like that, but there’s obviously a threat in what he did say. "I will not put up with it." What’s he going to do? Fine Michael a few bucks? Throw him in jail for a few days?

When Jackson excused himself to go to the bathroom near the end of the proceedings, it resulted in what the news reports called "a bit of a stampede of reporters and fans," which again set Judge Melville off, this time, saying to his lawyers, "Did you see the disruption that caused? Perhaps you should address his liquid intake."

This guy is supposed to be some kind of big time judge, but he is acting like an ingenue.

I’ve heard criticisms of Jackson’s antics outside of the courtroom. Apparently, he has his own film crew with him and he performs for the crowd of fans, some of whom have flown in from points around the world. "The guy just doesn’t get it," is one comment. "He lives in a world of his own, not ours," is another.

I don’t know whether or not he "gets it," but for sure, he lives in his world, not ours. In a sense, he can’t live in our world. Can you imagine Michael Jackson trying to go out to dinner or to a movie or just for a walk? He’d be mobbed. Maybe injured.

I’m not sure that Judge Melville realizes this. He has been assigned to a case that will be watched by people around the world. Once a trial gets under way - assuming he rules that there is sufficient evidence to proceed - and the chances of him ruling otherwise are slim, none, and "are you kidding" - every nuance inside the courtroom will be reported in the world’s media.

Obviously the rules of the court have to be followed, but if Judge Melville tries too hard to show that he isn’t about to treat Jackson any differently than any other defendant, and in fact assumes an overly tough stance just to prove that he’s in charge and isn’t intimidated by having one of the most recognizable humans on earth in his courtroom, it may bode ill for Michael, but the judge could finish up looking exactly like one of those dangerous individuals that have small minds, big egos and life and death power over others.

And the whole world will be watching.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Sometimes I hope that a week can go by without there being a compelling reason to comment on certain topics or people. After all, how many times can you write about the Middle East conflict or the nonsense coming out of Rush Limbaugh’s mouth or the latest antics of President Bush and his band of merry men?

I guess the answer is, as often as they are in the news headlines, and this week is no exception.

I haven’t had a chance to read Ronald Suskind’s book, but it’s been quoted enough for me to have a pretty good grasp of its major themes, and I watched Paul O’Neill on 60 minute.

What I find interesting is the defense being put forth by White House spokes people and various Bush apologists, of one revelation in the Susskind book. That an invasion of Iraq was being discussed ten days after Bush took office..

I suppose the most interesting - or maybe the most amusing - explanation for O’Neill’s revelation of how early in the game discussions about how to remove Saddam Hussein were taking place , was that this was a topic discussed by the Clinton administration!!

Never mind that the Clinton administration didn’t threaten or start a war. The fact that it was discussed by Clinton and that Clinton also considered Hussein to be an evil and potentially dangerous man, was cited to illustrate that Bush was just doing what other presidents have done - having discussions with cabinet members and aids about how to deal with the man. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere down the line, a White House spokesman reminds us that sometimes you have to consider just what IS is!!!,

The second most amusing item of defense was Don Rumsfeld’s dismissal of O’Neill’s understanding of the plans to topple Saddam Hussein. Rumsfeld asserts that O’Neill only had a glimpse of all that was going on and not the broad picture. Despite the fact that they were at the same meetings and that O’Neill appeared to have verbatim transcripts of some of those meetings.

That’s Donald Rumsfeld. He of the "there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know, but there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know."

Which of course explains why O’Neill is wrong.

What I find so outrageous about this whole affair, is that this is the crowd that made a such a big deal about Bill Clinton looking into the television cameras and saying, with a straight face, that he did not have sex with that woman.

For months on end, President Bush looked into those same cameras and lied repeatedly to prepare the nation for what had already been decided - the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein. And they continue to lie when caught red handed. "Oh no, that was just a discussion. The president just wanted to look at the alternatives. He just wanted to consider his options.

Sure he did.

That’s why he refused to accept anything that Hans Blitz and his team reported.

That’s why when Iraq produced it’s voluminous report in response to UN pressures, Mr. Bush dismissed it as a pack of lies almost before anyone had looked at it.

That’s why we were building up our armed forces in the area while Mr. Bush was making speeches about what Hussein had to do to bring Iraq into compliance with UN demands.

That’s why, within hours of the capture of Tariq Aziz, Mr. Bush was calling him a liar. Because there was nothing that they could get him to say to support the Bush lies about all those dangerous weapons of mass destruction that were ready to be launched against the United States. Or maybe handed over to Saddam’s bosom buddy, Osama bin Laden.

That’s why David Kay, our personal, post invasion hunter of weapons of mass destruction is back in the United States and doesn’t want to go back to Iraq.

There was never any doubt that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator and that he had committed unspeakable crimes against his own people. Even that he had the potential to further destabilize an already unstable Middle East. And that perhaps, as part of our war against terrorism and nations that give aid and comfort to terrorists, it was within our rights of self defense to demand that he resign and leave the country, or face a military invasion.

A bit of a stretch, but if properly presented, the American people might have bought the argument and supported the idea of going to war against Iraq.

Instead, we were presented with a months long charade, and to this day, when no evidence has been found for the reasons we were given for why we had to go to war, and with confirmation by a former Bush cabinet member that the invasion was an agenda item almost from the moment Bush took office, the charade continues.

I don’t know if there will be any other revelations. It really doesn’t matter. There’s no question that the charade will continue. At least until next November. Then we have the opportunity to put an end to it. It can’t come soon enough for me.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

It took only nine days of 2004 for me to write my first comments of the year on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and to observe that nothing much had changed from the situation that existed a year earlier. Still, I expressed hope that someone would present the sort of ideas that I proposed last October, of a cooperative two government, two state solution, with open borders and joint economic projects.

It took only five more days to say something critical about religious belief, and only one day more for the two things to come together again in tragic fashion.

If the news reports are correct, Reem Salah al-Rayashi, was born in 1981, 14 years after the 1967 war. Her whole life was spent, if not under direct occupation, then under the military influence of Israel.. Could that have been the reason for this young mother of two to record a farewell video and say " It was always my wish to turn my body into deadly shrapnel against the Zionists and to knock on the doors of heaven with the skulls of Zionist?"

Or was it a lifetime of being indoctrinated with hatred for her Israeli neighbors that caused her to say " I always wanted to be the first woman to carry out a martyr attack where parts of my body can fly all over. That is the only wish I can ask God for?"

Perhaps both influences played a part in her decision to become a suicide murderer, but I suspect that the biggest influence is revealed in another part of her farewell statement. "God gave me two children and I loved them so much. But my wish to meet God in paradise is greater, so I decided to be a martyr for the sake of my people. I am convinced that God will help and take care of my children."

I have noted here in the past that peace is possible between warring parties if they are sane. Sane people can weigh the pros and cons of the various proposals that are put before them and make rational choices.

But it’s obvious that there are enough insane people among the Palestinian population to keep the battle going indefinitely. One could make an argument that there is also a goodly measure of insanity to be found in the Israeli population. There certainly are radical positions. There are those who believe that the Arabs should be expelled from the west bank and Gaza. There are those who believe that modern Israel should encompass all of Biblical Israel, whether there are Arabs living there or not. But I don’t think there are any Israelis who believe that their positions can be advanced by blowing themselves to bits.

It’s only the insane teachings of Islam, that which promises a continuation of life after death in a place called "paradise," that convinces people like Reem Salah al-Rayashi, to think of themselves as potential weapons against their "Zionist enemies."

I’ve asked the question before and I pose it here again. Would there be suicide bombers if the bombers were not convinced that they were going straight to paradise?

Would they be willing to sacrifice their lives to kill a few Israelis, if they thought for a minute that their death would bring only oblivion? The end of thought? The end of existence?

I doubt it.

So the enemy is not just insane Arabs.(I say Arabs rather than Palestinians, because suicide bombing isn’t confined just to Israel). The enemy is that which makes them insane. The inculcation of the belief in a life in paradise following earthly death. Taught from the moment a child is able to understand a spoken language.

So how do we fight this enemy? Obviously the threat of bodily harm or death doesn’t deter the suicide bomber. Death is their goal. Theirs and as many of the "enemy" they can take with them. Which makes me wonder. Do they think only THEY go to paradise, or those that they kill as well?

But I digress. The question is, how do we fight the enemy when the enemy is the teachings of a religion? (And this has nothing to do with "hijacking" a religion. Muslims who don’t blow themselves up believe in an after death paradise).

Attacking the religion itself isn’t an option. That would backfire. But maybe something can be accomplished by trying to reach young Arabs in the west bank and Gaza with messages of sanity. Obviously, Israel can beam radio and television signals into these areas. If they can create the kind of format that would attract young listeners, maybe they can begin to ask them to think about the concept of blowing yourself up and "going to paradise." Maybe that wouldn’t have any effect, but some sort of effort to counter the nonsense they are taught from birth must be undertaken.

The Arab belief in immortality is an enemy that has to be fought alongside the physical battles that must be fought on the ground. As long as the so called "spiritual leaders" of Hamas and the other terrorist groups can convince young people to sacrifice their lives as a weapon of war, there will be no way to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

Not even my "ideal two state solution."


Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I’ve been hanging on to a newspaper clipping for a few weeks, trying to decide whether or not to use it as a springboard for some comments about religious belief.

I’ve stayed away from religion for a while, though the temptation to comment is always there.

For instance, at the time of the recent disastrous earthquake in Iran, when thousands of stories were being written and broadcast about terrible tragedies, miraculous survivals, outpouring of aid from around the world and the possibility of rapprochement between Iran and the United States, I was thinking about what the Mullahs who run the country would have to say about the massive death toll. Would they say it was an act of God? What kind of God would deliberately wipe out as many as 50,000 people in an instant and leave thousands more in desperate circumstances, trying to survive? How would they explain it? That Allah needed am extra 50,000 souls for some mysterious reason?

Question after question occurred to me along these same lines, incredibly irreverent questions that I declined to put into blog post form. It tends to upset or annoy some people whose feelings I respect. So I’ll try not to be too irreverent as I comment on religion today.

The clipping that I’ve been holding onto is that of a letter to the editor, which was given the headline Looking for proof of Jesus in today’s world. The writer starts out by suggesting that during the holidays, extending from Thanksgiving through Christmas, there are people who proclaim that the birth of Christ is a myth, and he attributes this wrongheaded (in his view) thinking to the fact that people get so immersed in the secular world that they are unable to believe in anything outside of their "limited material senses."

He then goes on to describe what might have happened if the biblical story of Christ’s birth were to unfold in today’s world. Bottom line - Mary, having told her story of spiritual coitus, totally supported by her believing husband, would likely finish up in some mental institution.

The news media would treat any story of a heavenly savior, about the same way that people with an I.Q. above 100, treat today’s television evangelists who claim that God has instructed them to collect money to celebrate his glory. (The letter writer didn’t include that last sentence. I include it to emphasize a point that he did make. That in 2004, there would be no great media interest in stories about anyone claiming to be a messiah.)

He then makes his big point - that modern skeptics who decry Christ as a myth, will eventually become myths themselves!!! He says that 2,000 years from now, there’ll be little evidence that we ever existed, but that belief in Christ has already lasted 2,000 years and "will go on and on" - and that’s good enough for him.

I guess what interested me most about his letter, is that in describing how someone claiming to be a Messiah or the mother of a Messiah would be greeted today, he actually presented an argument against believing in the deity of Christ.

Two thousand years ago, there was of course no way to record events for posterity or for future scrutiny and analysis. What was eventually written about the life and death of Christ was the product of eye witnesses and second and third hand stories. The fact that the stories became the basis for a religion that has so far lasted 2,000 years, can hardly be construed as an argument against a mythological origin. I’m not necessarily arguing that Christ was a mythological figure, but there are mythologies much older than 2,000 years, as there are religions that have already lasted much longer than 2,000 years.

And remember, when we speak of 2,000 years or 5,000 years or 10,000 years , we’re talking about something less than a microsecond of the span of earth’s history. In cosmic terms, these things happened less than an eye blink ago.

To believers in the Christ story, it is highly convenient that it originated in a time when there was no way to examine it scientifically and preserve the results for posterity. It was thus easier for the story to grow and be embellished and to spread and to become the religion in which the letter writer believes and follows unequivocally.

Had there existed the technology that we have available today, as the writer correctly points out, the claims surrounding Christ would have been examined scientifically and either confirmed or dismissed - as fiction or as gross exaggeration. Maybe even as fraud. I suspect that at the very least, it would not have been confirmed.

As for the assertion that 2,000 years hence there will be little evidence that those who decry Christ as a myth ever existed, obviously the opposite is true. Unless the world manages to blow itself to smithereens, the written, audiotaped, videotaped, filmed, microfiched and computerized records of our times and all who lived through them, will be preserved and will be available for examination by our descendants.

Christ on the other hand, if the religion based upon his life is still widespread, will be the same as today, an historical and possibly mythological figure, whose story can never be confirmed, making it easy for those who want to believe he was a deity and to worship him.

I guess that we can at least be grateful that we now have all of the modern technology and scientific understanding that wasn’t around to confirm or refute the story of Christ. Otherwise, 2,000 years from now, we might all be worshipping Sun Myung Moon. Or magician David Blaine. Or The Beatles.

Think about it. I’m not being facetious. It absolutely could happen if today’s world was like that of the world of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I guess I can truthfully say that I’m scared intellectually. I should be scared viscerally, but I’m not quite yet, because, like millions of other Americans, I can’t believe that it could happen to me.

I’m a good citizen. I pay my taxes. I vote. I have no criminal record and I don’t commit criminal acts. And there’s no way I could ever sympathize with or support, anyone advocating the infliction of harm upon the United States and its citizens.

But none of this is a protection against the possibility of it happening to me. Or to you. Or to any of your family or friends.

It is the ability of the United States government, under the leadership of President George W Bush, to decide that you are an "enemy combatant," or perhaps a supporter of an enemy of the United States, and to arrest you, strip you of all rights, and hold you, without charge, for as long as it likes.

If you’re not a citizen and you’ve been picked up and held as a possible "enemy combatant," but you are innocent of that or any other criminal charge, what slim hope you might have had to get help or to challenge your accusers in some legal venue, became even slimmer yesterday when the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the Government’s policy of holding you in secret without the need to reveal your name.

Most of the "suspicious people" who were rounded up after the 9/11 attack have been released or deported and so far, only one, Zacarias Moussaoui, has been charged with any crime. But others - names unknown - are still being held.

If you are a foreigner, captured oversees, accused of being an enemy combatant and being held indefinitely at Guantanamo, your chances are a little better. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not you are entitled to a hearing to try to prove your innocence.

Similarly, if you are a citizen of the United States who your government has accused of being an "enemy combatant," and are being held by the military, indefinitely and without charge, you have a slim chance of being able to defend yourself and perhaps even win your freedom. The Supreme Court has also agreed to decide whether US citizens can be arrested and held in this manner, without being charged and without access to a lawyer or to the courts.

As I’ve said, I am one of millions of Americans who is not yet viscerally afraid that something like this could happen to me. Most Americans, who are decent, patriotic, law abiding citizens, are absolutely certain that if some ridiculous mistake is made, or if someone who doesn’t like you tries to cause trouble by feeding patently false information about you to the authorities, and you are subsequently accused or suspected of being an "enemy combatant," you will be able to prove the wrongness of that accusation without too much trouble. You or your lawyer will gather together the witnesses and the facts and figures of your life, and easily prove that the charges are ridiculous.

Except that you will be caught up in a catch 22 situation. You will not be allowed to challenge whatever you are being accused of. You will not be allowed to have your lawyer go into court and ask for a hearing. Habeas Corpus is a meaningless Latin phrase. There is no opportunity for you to prove that you are not an "enemy combatant" except perhaps to try to convince your interrogators that you’ve been "detained" by mistake. Assuming that those being held as "enemy combatants" are being interrogated. We don’t know. It’s a secret detention. We have no idea what goes on. Not unlike what happens today in many third world countries, and what used to happen in the Soviet Union.

I know that in the post 9/11 period, it was necessary to adopt certain security measures that infringed somewhat on freedoms that we’ve always taken for granted. The sacrifices are not that great, and if they help to prevent another catastrophic terrorist attack, they are well worth it.

But how far should this nation go in its quest for security? Is it proper for us to use the same methods that are used in some nations that we have designated as being "evil?"

There’s not a great stir about all of this. So far, it only affects a couple of us and neither are sympathetic figures. But they are American citizens and public interest groups are challenging the President’s right to designate them as "enemy combatants," effectively stripping them of any legal right to defend themselves, a privilege that is accorded every day to drug dealers, rapists and serial murderers We should watch those challenges carefully. And we should try to understand what’s at stake.

Remember the words of Martin Niemoller, the Protestant pastor who resisted Nazi attempts to control German churches and finished up in a concentration camp.

"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did little. Then when they came for me, there was no one left to stand up for me."

Maybe it couldn’t happen here. But don’t tell that to
Jose Padilla or Yasser Hamdi.

Monday, January 12, 2004

One of the fall outs from the indictment of Former Illinois Governor and Secretary of State George Ryan, has been renewed discussion in the media of the accident/license for bribes case that started the ball rolling toward his current predicament.

The accident case involved Ricardo Guzman, a Mexican native with little English language skills, who obtained a trucker’s license by paying a bribe to someone at a motor vehicle department branch of the Secretary of State under Ryan’s watch. A mud flap assembly fell off the rear of Guzman’s truck on an expressway near Milwaukee. It killed six children riding in a mini-van behind the truck.

A few days ago, a Chicago Tribune columnist, writing about the case, implied what many people have implied in the past - that if Guzman had been a "good" driver who had obtained his license legitimately, the accident might never have happened.

I have heard this same assertion for a number of years - the accident occurred in 1994 - and it’s one of a couple of things about the case that bother me.

First, the issue of "license for bribes."

When I got my first driver’s license, I was pretty well prepared and was reasonably confident that I would pass the written and driving tests without any trouble. But at the time - this was decades ago - I was made aware that it wouldn’t necessarily be out of line to "sweeten" the process with a monetary gift to the driving examiner. It was an era when this was not an uncommon practice, as was the five, ten or twenty dollar bill wrapped around driver’s licenses that you offered to the cop who pulled you over for some real or alleged driving infraction. Most of that has disappeared over the years. Today, a cop would most likely arrest you on the spot if you tried to bribe your way out of a traffic ticket. But apparently, the practice lingers on at the department of motor vehicles - or did until the early nineties.

Obviously, Mr. Guzman was required to sweeten his process in order to get a commercial driver’s license, but that didn’t necessarily mean that he had zero skills as a truck driver. I don’t know the precise details of what went on at the driver’s license facility, but he may have been given a road test and a pass on the written, which he probably couldn’t have passed legitimately if the test was in English. We know however that there are plenty of drivers on the road today who speak very little English and that doesn’t stop them from being hired to drive delivery trucks or taxis.

I don’t think it necessarily follows that if Guzman spoke and understood English, the accident might have been avoided. Nor do I think it would necessarily have been avoided had he been driving with a legitimately obtained driver’s license.

Apparently, a number of other truckers tried to get Guzman’s attention and tell him that his mud guard assembly was loose, but he either didn’t understand the urgency of the messages that were being conveyed or had decided that he would stop to check what was wrong when it was convenient to pull over.

It could have happened to any truck driver. A native born, English speaking, legitimately licensed, experienced truck driver, might not have pulled over before the assembly fell off.

It was a horrible accident, but it somehow became an "avoidable" accident when it was learned that Guzman spoke little English and had paid a bribe to a license examiner. Because of that, he was to blame - just as much as if he had been driving erratically or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But there was never any allegation that the accident was caused by his lack of driving skills.

Of the people in the mini-van that was hit by the falling mudguard assembly which caused the vehicle to erupt in flames, the parents of the six children survived.

Scott and Janet Willis appeared to be remarkable people with a deep, abiding faith in God,. He was identified as Reverend Willis, so I assume he was a minister of some church. As I recall the news stories of the time, they blamed no one for the tragedy. It was God’s will. The impression was clear that they were not looking to assign blame or to sue anyone for damages. It just wasn’t their way. I was impressed. These were indeed remarkable people. I would have sued everyone in sight.

But eventually they too sued, won the largest personal injury award in Illinois history and became advocates for hanging George Ryan from the nearest yard arm. There was little question that they blamed him as though he was the proximal cause of the accident. Columnists tied their name to that of Ryan as though it represented cause and effect for their loss and they seemed to endorse that connection. They became as a family of Javerts pursuing their personal Jean Valjean, even though they now say that Ryan’s indictment brings no joy and that "it’s all in God’s hands" and they’ll be satisfied with whatever the outcome is. As though there truly is a direct connection between their tragedy and Ryan’s indictment.

Everybody lost in this case, and the loss will probably extend to Ryan’s trial. It isn’t any part of the indictment, but it will be a cloud hanging over his head. And even if nothing is said about it in court, there will be columnists picking away at the wound that they won’t let heal and placing liability for the tragedy at Ryan’s doorstep. For jurors to read.

It was a terrible tragedy, but it wasn’t because a crime was committed by Guzman or former Governor Ryan and I can’t imagine how any good can come of people in the media continuing to imply otherwise.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Looking back over the things I wrote here in 2003, I count 20 commentaries on the Israeli/Palestinian or Israeli/Arab conflict.

In case anyone wants to read or re-read any of them, they are dated 4/30, 6/5, 7/17, 7/31, 8/8, 8/12, 8/16, 8/21, 9/8, 9/10, 9/12, 10/6, 10/9, 10/10, 11/14, 11/21, 12/2,12/4,12/8 and 12/23.

I’ve re-read them all and they confirm the tragedy that we’re all familiar with. No matter what is said, written, proposed or imposed, the impasse remains. A permanent state of conflict.

Now, ostensibly in response to Ariel Sharon’s threat to unilaterally separate from the Palestinians, Palestinian Prime Minister of the moment, Ahmed Qureia is again raising the specter of a one state solution.

That of course is a non starter and was so made clear by the Israelis and by Colin Powell , insisting that the two state solution of the road map was the only option for eventual peace.

I disagree, as I have in the past.

Ariel Sharon, emulating his predecessors, has failed to use imagination to propose the only solution that stands a chance of working, even though it will be attacked and rejected by the Palestinians and most likely by many Israelis. But with persistence, it can be made to work

I laid it out - albeit somewhat tongue in cheek at the time, but now looked upon by me and others more seriously - on October 10, 2003 - Ideal Two State Solution.

I am absolutely astonished that no Israeli leader, from the Prime Minister on down has had the courage and the foresight to state the obvious.

The chances of a viable Palestinian state being created on truncated parts of the west bank and in Gaza are slim and none Unless it is the kind of state outlined in my above mentioned commentary - one bound to Israel economically and in every other way except politically. The bi-national state proposed by Qureia, but with two governments. One man, one vote for Israelis. One man one vote for Palestinians. But for their own separate governments, even though they might share the land and live side by side.

In all of the years between 1948 and the 1967 war, there was no attempt to establish a separate Palestinian state on the west bank and Gaza. Jordan annexed the west bank with very little international recognition, and Egypt controlled Gaza. In those days, there was little or no support for the idea of yet another independent Arab state with little chance of succeeding economically or politically. And the Palestinian political identity had yet to be born.

But circumstances have brought us to where we are today. It is fruitless to carry on arguments about whether or not the west bank and Gaza are "occupied" or what is or isn’t historically accurate about the territories or who has rights of ownership.

There are millions of Arabs calling themselves Palestinians living in a state of limbo, and millions of Israelis holding their collective breath waiting for the next explosion. It’s a situation that cannot be allowed to continue. Time is no longer on anyone’s side, and "facts on the ground" can cut both ways.

There are numerous solutions that have been put forward. There is the Geneva Plan and the The People’s Voice.

There are those who believe that something other than a two or a bi-national single state solution would work.

In an interview with the Canadian Jewish News, Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi , chief Imam of Italy’s 500,000 Muslims, said that the only "realistic" solution is to give the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza autonomous administration, similar to that now extended to the Tyrolean region of northern Italy, where German is the official language.

But that basically is what has been tried since Oslo and we see where it has led.

Now Sharon is proposing separation, but how can there be separation that will work with hundreds of thousand of Israelis living among Palestinians and millions of Arab Israelis living among non Arab Israelis? To say nothing of maintaining a separate and secure nation where you can drive from your border to the sea in a matter of minutes!!!

I’ve said in the past that nothing of substance can be accomplished while Arafat holds sway over the Palestinians.

Now I’m starting off 2004 believing that nothing of any consequence can be achieved until we have an Israeli leader with the courage and the vision to show his people and the Palestinians how they can live together as two separate nations and both be winners.

Along the lines of my solution of October 10, 2003.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Either I am getting to be a grumpy old man, or the rest of the world is losing its sense of proportion.

I’m the first to say that I appreciate good service of any kind, whether it’s coming from the private or the public sector.

In my little suburban town outside of Chicago, the garbage is picked up twice a week without fail - holidays excepted. I’ve even gotten to know some of the collectors - at least enough to nod and say hi if I happen to be outside when they’re doing their pick up. I appreciate their dedication and their efficiency.

We have recycle collectors too, and they are prompt and efficient. I appreciate them.

The mail comes six days a week. Not necessarily at the same time each day and not always delivered by our regular mail carrier, but it always comes. I really do appreciate this wonderful service.

Then there’s our newspaper delivery person, This isn’t anyone I’ve ever met, but unlike my garbage and recycle collectors and my mail carrier, she - yes it’s a she - has gone to great lengths to let me know who she is.

None of the public sector people who provide me with services on a regular basis sent me a Christmas card last year. Neither did most of the people who provide services from the private sector.

But I did get one from my paper delivery person. It was enclosed with my newspaper a few weeks before Christmas and it was pretty obvious that its purpose was to let me know the delivery person’s name and address should I care to reward her for being my delivery person.

I did not care to and did not do so. Call me an old grump, but though I do send out some obligatory greeting cards at Christmas, that’s the extent of my involvement in holiday ritual There are no more little kids to whom I feel obligated to send gifts, and happily, no one feels the need to send any to me.

I wasn’t in any way put out by the fairly obvious pitch for some kind of Christmas gift. I can’t say the same about what ensued after Christmas.

Again, tucked in the pages of my morning newspaper, was a printed message from my delivery person. Here it is, verbatim, with comments from me interspersed.

It begins with a headline. THANK YOU, three times, in block letters and in red, blue and faint outline.

The message, all in bold caps, which I haven’t bothered to reproduce here, says:

"I would just like to express gratitude to all of my subscribers ( I thought I was subscribing to a major metropolitan newspaper. Maybe I’ve been paying the wrong organization)who appreciate the services of delivery. Thank you for your generous gifts. It is nice to feel appreciated. Sometimes paper delivery is not an easy task. ( Sometimes paper manufacturing isn’t an easy task either. So what’s your point?) It involves commitment to come in seven days a week. (Or you’d be shot at dawn, right? There couldn’t be any other reason to make such a commitment.) It also involves double bagging, extra parts and trying to catch up on your route because of the late Tribune truck from down town. ( Aha!! Battling on my behalf against the evil and mighty Tribune). It also involves working in the elements; esspecially (sic) this time of the year. (Wow, the elements…from actinium to zirconium - now that MUST be hard). I have been deliverying (sic) this route for four years and have had the pleasure of meeting some of you in person. Thank you and God bless you. May you have a happy and healthy 2004."

If my memory serves me right, home newspaper delivery used to be a way for kids to earn pocket money. They delivered your paper, (seven days a week in all kinds of weather), usually to your doorstep and not out near the curb, and sometimes, they collected the subscriptions. Once a week or once a month. It varied. And if you felt generous, if the kid was really doing a good job and coming on time and being respectful and not landing the paper on your prize roses, you might occasionally give him a little extra for himself.

If the delivery kid left me a Christmas card, I might have thought it was cute, though I would have been concerned if I thought that he was eating up his meager pay buying cards for everyone on his route.

But if I’d received the kind of post Christmas communication that was delivered by my newspaper carrier, I might have called up his parents to ask what on earth was Jimmy up to and did they know about it!!

Newspaper delivery isn’t a kid’s game any more. It’s a business, carried on by adults, with appropriate facilities and delivery vehicles. No one is walking or cycling the route.

I would imagine that most newspaper delivery people do more than just deliver papers for a living. They have other jobs or sources of income. But the reason they do deliver newspapers is to make money. Most of them are independent contractors. And they do it voluntarily, knowing full well what’s involved. They get paid by the newspaper. I don’t know how well, but I assume it must be worth their while financially, or they wouldn’t do it.

No other service people from the private or public sector have ever taken the trouble to fill me in on the difficulty of their work or on how much dedication the work requires. And how much they like to be appreciated. Only my newspaper delivery person.

I’m a pretty generous tipper when I’m eating in a restaurant, but I’m not sure how generous I would be if the waiter or waitress handed me a note along with the bill that described the difficulties of waiting and the dedication it required.

I’m not unhappy that some home delivery subscribers on my route rewarded our delivery person with a Christmas gift.

Having read her thank you note, I’m also not unhappy that I decided not to be one of them.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Apropos my tentative return to posting yesterday, I have a diagnosis from blood tests taken last week.

Walking pneumonia!!

It’s something that usually hits younger folk - kids and adults under forty. Maybe those bugs gave me a quick check and mistook the youthfulness of my heart for chronological age.

Anyway, I’m told that I will recover and I am now permitted to resume a light schedule of blogwork.

I think the following qualifies as "light."

This blog is now nine months old. It began in April, 2003, the March "archives" notwithstanding. If you click on that "archive," you’ll see that it’s a list of post titles from April 2, 2003 to recent times. As soon as I have the time, I’ll be manipulating that "archive" so that it will show up simply as a list of post titles, and I’ll also be going back to my early posts to insert headline titles that I didn’t start using until some time in June of 2003. I've already made a start on my April 2003 posts, but there's a long way to go.

Anyway…my very first real comment was on April 3, 2003 when I told Rush Limbaugh to shut up. He didn’t listen to me and so we are still burdened with the mouth that bores. I wrote about him on and off during the year and then, on November 18, I asked if Limbaugh was "losing it."

Subsequent events seem to answer that question in the affirmative. Here’s just a couple of recent Rushisms, and you be the judge. The Limbaugh explanation for Al Gore’s endorsement of Howard Dean is that "Al always wanted to be like Dean." I guess that’s along the lines of wanting to "be like Mike." Except that the last time I looked, Al Gore was a grown up person.

Rush also insists that the prosecutor’s request to have his medical records unsealed is an attack upon him by liberals who can’t get to him any other way. Need I say more?

Not the most uplifting way to start the year, but I’ll get back in the swing. Look at all the juicy things happening in the world. Rumors that Charles wanted Diana confined to the Tower before chopping off her head. Or something like that. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict will always be there for me to write about. If I take a week or two off. Or a month. Or a year. And Iraq, Iran., Democratic wannabes, Bush, Rose, Schwarzenegger.

Yes, I’ll be back.

Monday, January 05, 2004

It’s truly amazing how much power nature has vested in forms of life that are undetectable other than through the application of sophisticated scientific equipment.

I’m sure that every form of life has some grand and noble purpose and is there to contribute to some perfect sense of balance - but one of those goddamned forms sure knocked me off balance a couple of days before the end of the year and has been kicking me while I’ve been down ever since.

No sense of Marquis of Queensbury rules, those invisible fellow travelers.

But their worst isn’t enough to keep a good blogger down. Nothing in nature is that powerful.

I will be back.