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Friday, April 30, 2004

I didn’t need to watch last night’s Frontline presentation on PBS to be scared about whose hands are on the tiller of this republic, but I have to admit I was even more scared after I watched it.

This is a religious country. A majority of Americans believe in the existence of a deity. Probably most Americans. The predominant belief is in Christianity. Millions of people, here and around the world, believe that a Jewish preacher named Jesus, who lived and died approximately two thousand years ago, was the "son of God" and they worship him in religious services.

There are those who believe that "God" controls everything that happens on this earth. That whatever happens, it is "God’s will." There are also those who believe that anyone who does not accept Jesus as his or her personal savior, is doomed to suffer in some hellish eternity after they die.

Some of the believers in the deity of Jesus, spend their lives waiting for his "return." Some are waiting for the moment they call "the rapture," when all who believe in his deity will suddenly be transported to heaven, leaving all non believers to a life of suffering here on earth.

There are also very strong believers in a somewhat different deity, who are convinced that by strapping bombs to their bodies and setting them off in the midst of those they consider enemies, they will immediately be transported to paradise, where they will be attended by 70 virgins. Presumably, since both sexes can be virginal, the rewards of paradise are the same for male and female suicide bombers.

The believers of the deity of the Jewish preacher consider anyone who commits suicide to kill others and thinks they’ll be rewarded by an eternity in paradise being attended by a flock of adoring virgins, to be stark raving mad.

And you wonder why UFO’s always touch down in swamp lands and only communicate with the likes of Billy Joe Bub. Junior!!

But no one can be elected president of the United States without professing a profound belief in God. That’s just the way it is. As far as I know, every president has been a believing Christian of one denomination or another, or at least has professed such a belief. If there have been any atheists or secret Jews or Muslims or Buddhists, they’ve kept it well hidden from the voting public.

Whether or not they were Christian "believers," most of our presidents have borrowed an interpretation of words attributed to Jesus to fashion their administrations. "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God."

There are of course different interpretations of what Jesus supposedly meant by the phrase, but what it meant to American presidents was that this is a democracy, not a theocracy, and government should not be guided or influenced by religious belief.

Remember the scare over the idea of electing a Catholic? Wow. Do we want a president taking orders from the Pope?? The election and all too brief presidency of JFK, put that fear to rest, hopefully for all time.

But now we come to George W Bush.

The present occupant of the White House doesn’t try to hide any part of his religious beliefs from the voting public. He may not go around making speeches about them, but he doesn’t hesitate to tell you what they are if you ask him.

What we know about him is that he believes that "God wanted him to be president." And that he believes most of what I’ve described above - that Jesus is his personal savior, that there will be a second coming - and very likely that there will be a rapture.

If it ended there, there would be no need to worry. But there is every indication that we have a president in the White House who is shaping policy, if not guided, then most certainly influenced by his religious beliefs.

There’s no way to know what was in his mind as he moved us toward the horrendous situation we find ourselves in in Iraq, but I have no doubt that his messianic view of his role as a champion of good over evil, called to the task by God on high, was as much an influence on his decision to go to war as intelligence about a threat to our national security.

It scares me to think that if he manages to fool enough people and get re-elected, he will take it as a sign from God to continue to "do his will."

Domestically, that could mean the nomination to the Federal bench of judges with the same messianic views. Of another four years of John Ashcroft as attorney general. Of an expansion of his faith based initiatives, which so far have poured money only into Christian organizations.

And in international affairs - what? The elimination of the evil rulers of Iran? Syria? North Korea? Aided and abetted by his ally in "God’s work," Tony Blair!!

This morning, I heard 9/11 commission member Jim Thompson talking about the panel’s visit with Bush and Cheney in the Oval Office. He said that the president was calm, collected, in charge, and answered all of their questions. Of course, Thompson is a died-in-the-wool Republican and would say that if Bush had spent three hours reciting nursery rhymes. But he said that it was a unanimous view of the panel.

He - and they - may be right. But after reading about and listening to this man for close to four years, and after watching "The Jesus Factor" last night, I am inclined to believe that this calm, collected and in charge president, is also perilously close to being a madman

Thursday, April 29, 2004

If you listen to the RWRAR , (regular readers know that’s my short-hand for Right Wing Ranters and Ravers), you know that the American press is run by pinko, un-American, Godless LIBERALS who will never tell you the truth about anything.

Surprisingly enough, there is one small scintilla of truth in that ridiculous statement.

The American press is not telling the truths it could tell and should be telling about President Bush. Instead, they have dressed him in the Teflon coat formerly worn by Ronald Reagan. A little like passing on the green jacket of the old Master’s champion to the new champion. The analogy is apt. Both Ron and George are, (in Ron’s case were), masters of obfuscation - in both cases, an accidental skill.

Even when someone in the press tries to draw attention to this sin of omission, it falls short.

Such an effort appears in today’s Chicago Tribune, by
Don Wycliff,
the paper’s Public Editor. I gather that title means that his job is to produce columns on behalf of readers and otherwise act as a sort of ombudsman.

Don wrote about the poor performance of the president while giving a speech before a joint meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Newspaper Association of America, and the fact that the news men and women in attendance, didn’t report it. They gave him a pass.

But even while reporting this sin of omission, Wycliff gave the sinners a pass, by leaving out the most egregious sin of the sorry affair.

This wasn’t a publicized, nationally televised meeting like a White House press conference, yet Mr. Bush wouldn’t answer any questions from an audience of news people, except for three that he chose to answer from those submitted in advance!!

The sin of course, is that these champions of news freedom went along with the same charade that substitutes for those televised Presidential press conferences.

Wycliff didn’t mention it, but you can find the story in Editor & Publisher. Unfortunately, few members of the public read that publication.

If you look for the story in the Internet, you’ll find the Editor & Publisher story and one by Dave Zweifel of The Capital Times, and not much else.

So much for the "Liberal press" out to get the President!!

I was reading extracts from his speech in Editor & Publisher, and there was his usual mantra about the Iraq war . "We’re changing the world for the better," he said. Or as he has said in the past, though not in this particular speech, "a free Iraq will change the world."

Coincidentally, a newsletter that I subscribe to, Mideast On Target, popped into my e-mail while I was writing this piece. It had an interesting take on the future of Iraq that was in stark contrast to Mr. Bush’s dream of changing the world by bringing democracy to that chaotic country.

The authors of the newsletter are analysts Elliot Chodoff and Yisrael Ne’eman, and you can read about them at their web site.

They invite their subscribers to pass their newsletters on to anyone who might be interested - and I think that the subject matter of today’s edition applies to readers of this blog.


American attempts to crush the Falluja uprising and bring democracy to Iraq will fail, but not for lack of trying. The basic flaw in US administration and western thinking is the assumption that Iraqis identify with the same basic values as do the Americans.

Leaving out the Kurdish minority, the average Iraqi identifies as Moslem, Arab and even Iraqi. After some 70 years of partial and then full independence Iraqis do not define their country as democratic. From the early 1930s and until the violent overthrow of the pro-British government led by Nuri el-Said in 1958, London served as a heavy handed patron, often dictating Iraqi policies and banning certain political parties (ex: the communists) from participation in elections. With General Kassem's coup, Iraq gained full independence but lost the thin veneer of a semi-democracy.

The Baath took over in 1963, only to be forcibly removed last year with the American invasion. If nothing else, forty years of Baath rule (24 of them under Saddam) did bring about a sense of regional nationalism, especially among the minority Sunnis, as evidenced by sloganeering of freeing Iraq from the "American occupation". Interestingly, many Shi'ites speak in the same national terms, even if these two Islamic sects are at odds.

When President Bush speaks of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" he does not just mean toppling Saddam Hussein, but rather bringing democracy and individual liberties to the average Iraqi. The new secular Iraqi state is to be responsible for all personal freedoms. For Iraqis, this is a contradiction, since the secular state for the last 45 years has been a dictatorship or more recently, a military occupation. Democracy is seen as a western imposition emphasizing individual rights as opposed to religious or sectarian needs. It is in direct confrontation with the religious, community and tribal leadership who see themselves threatened by giving "power to the people". The average person does not see a state authority as empowering him but rather as destroying the protection he receives from his local non-elected religious and community authorities.

Hence, the Falluja standoff and upcoming battle is not just about removing radicals and insurgents, wherever they might be. The estimated 2000 men under arms represent an Iraq not only opposed to the US occupation, but a demand by the Arab/Moslem world to rule themselves in the manner they see fit. Democracy is not an option. Although most of Falluja's 300,000 citizens are not doing battle, they will certainly support their brethren as opposed to American promises of liberalism and a western lifestyle of democratic freedoms.

America is facing a "no-win" situation in implementing democracy in Iraq. Better the US should pass on the reigns of government to moderate, traditionalist clerics identified as Arab/Moslem loyalists and stop pursuing the objective of a democratic Iraq, which will only backfire, forcing moderate and radical clerics (and Iraqi nationalists) into a unified struggle against Washington.

The Americans won the war, and they may also win the Battle of Falluja. But to be truly victorious, one must also win the "peace", an objective not to be realized through "democratizing" Iraq.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

I was watching someone from the Pew Research Center on television the other day, talking about their latest poll numbers on the President, and the fact that his approval rating had risen slightly in the wake of terrible news out of Iraq.

We were used to this sort of thing in the days of the original Teflon President. For some unfathomable reason, the voters of this country thought that the "aw shucks" grin and shrug of the shoulders, was enough to convince a majority of them that Ronald Reagan was doing a fine job no matter what was happening at home or abroad.

I could never understand it, any more than I could understand why media people kept referring to him as "the great communicator." As I said many times during his presidency, I could have opened a local talent book and picked out a half dozen voice over announcers at random and every darn one of them would have been better than Ronnie at "communicating."

Now it seems to be happening again. American kids are dying every day in Iraq - and with not a glimpse of any exit strategy. The President’s stated reasons for getting us into the war are being revealed by one insider after another as lies. And yet his approval ratings hold steady, and, as the Pew guy was telling us on television the other day, have even risen in a recent poll.

I can think of only three possible reason for that kind of a poll result.

  • 1. A majority of American voters are idiots.

    2. Most American voters are intelligent and well informed, but the pollsters only manage to reach those who are idiots.

    3. The pollsters are asking the wrong questions.

  • I am inclined to think reason number three is to blame, and I got to wondering how the results would come out if some straightforward, no frills questions were asked.

    Well, here’s my poll questions. Pew, Roper , Gallup - anyone - feel free to use them. Maybe you’ll get an accurate read on of how we really feel about this president. Just simple yes or no answers please.

  • Do you think Mr. Bush is a highly intelligent man?

    Do you think he got special consideration when he applied to join the National Guard during the Vietnam war, thus avoiding any chance of having to serve in Vietnam?

    Do you think his tax cuts, which give huge breaks to the wealthy, but almost nothing to the average working Joe, are fair?

    Apart from tax cuts, which Mr. Bush seems to regard as the cure for everything including cancer and ingrown toenails, can you think of anything else that he has done to stimulate the economy and create jobs?

    Can you name any other president who has cut taxes during a time of war?

    Do you know the size of the projected budget surplus when Mr. Bush took office and the size of the projected budget deficit today?

    Are you comfortable with a president who says he gets advice from God, and so doesn’t find it necessary or beneficial to ask advice of a former president who happens to be his father?

    Would you be happy with anyone that Mr. Bush would nominate to the Supreme Court?

    Are you happy with a president who demands that reporters submit questions in advance that they want to ask at a press conference, and who then only calls on those reporters whose questions he wants to answer - questions that he’s had time to think about and that his staff has looked over and briefed him on ?

    Do you think our relationships with other countries have improved since Mr. Bush became president?

    Do you think America is more respected around the world than it was before Mr. Bush took office?

    Do you think the world is safer than it was before Mr. Bush became president?

    Do you think that Mr. Bush is running the country?

    Are you familiar with the Carlisle Group?

    Do you think that Paul O’Neill, Richard Clarke and Bob Woodward are liars and anti-American?

    Of course you’d need the proper points assignment to each correct yes or no answer to get the correct approval or disapproval rating. Let’s say five points for each correct yes or no.

    So you figure out what we think of him, based on answers to my short list of poll questions. I’ll give you a hint to get you started. The answers to the first and last questions are NO.

    A few days ago, I took some time to comment on a reader who was more sympathetic to Palestinians than to Israelis. He was somewhat critical of Ariel Sharon - and though I didn’t offer any particular defense of Sharon, I probably left the impression that I approved of his actions more often than I disapproved.

    Well today, I can say that I strongly disapprove of his latest nuttiness - saying that he no longer feels obligated to hold to his promise to President Bush not to harm Arafat.

    Maybe he says these crazy things to placate extreme factions of his Likud party, but these ridiculous statements are heard around the world - and it’s manna from heaven for Israel’s enemies - strengthening their belief that Israel is the bad guy in the Middle East conflict.

    Assassinating Hamas leaders is one thing. They have declared war on Israel and so can be considered legitimate targets. But Arafat is a different kind of leader. No matter what you might think of the Palestinian’s version of democracy, the last time they conducted something that they called an election - Arafat was elected. And assassinating an elected leader of a quasi state-in-waiting, will bring the wrath of the world down upon the Israeli populace.

    Of course, they’re used to it - but they don’t expect their leader to make a bad situation worse.

    Now he seems to be backing away from his threat to shuffle Yasser off this mortal coil.

    He needs to back way off until there’s no room to back off any further. Arafat alive is a goddamned nuisance. I hesitate to imagine what a nuisance a martyred Arafat would be!!

  • Tuesday, April 27, 2004

    Well, it seems that the Federal government has achieved its objective in the case of Matthew Hale, and though I leaned in one direction when I first commented on the case last October, and leaned in another direction just five days ago, I am again conflicted, now that the jury has rendered a verdict.

    I have a feeling that in cases like this, there is, among jurors, a presumption of guilt along with the instructed presumption of innocence.

    The guilt presumption stems from the feeling or belief that the government wouldn’t bring such a case to court unless there was pretty strong evidence that the defendant committed the crime of which he is accused. And more often than not, the burden of proof falls equally or in some cases unequally on the defendant.

    I say all of this without any legal training or court experience or even experience watching trials unfold. It’s just the gut feeling I get from reading about cases and the evidence presented and, on occasion, the comments of jurors after a verdict has been rendered.

    The first thing that bothered me about the Hale case was the feeling and belief that the government was out to nail him following the murderous rampage carried out by his disciple, Ben Smith, in 1999.

    According to news reports, the FBI was able to latch on to Anthony Evola when he went to them with information about hate literature that Hale wanted to distribute in a public school where he worked.

    One would like to believe that the only time the FBI would plant a mole inside an organization, would be when it was suspected of committing crimes. However hateful the activities of Hale and his group may have been, they were protected by the first amendment to the constitution. Preaching hatred of people because of their race or religion should be a crime but it isn’t.

    So one has to ask why the mole was planted in the first place. If the attempt to distribute hate material to young people was a crime in and of itself, Hale or his organization could have been charged with that crime at the time the activity became known. That didn’t happen, so the question of why the mole was planted remains open.

    Another thing that bothered me about this case was who brought the charges.

    Hale’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, said the charges against his client - and the case outcome - "frightened him," asserting that Hale had been prosecuted for his beliefs - a dangerous precedent. U.S Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s response to that was to say that "Tom Durkin is frightened by every case he loses."

    Fitzgerald is supposed to be the incorruptible prosecutor, brought in from out of state by outgoing Illinois Senator, Peter Fitzgerald and owing no allegiance to any local politicians or movers and shakers. He’s the one who has prosecuted and jailed a number of key figures in the administration of former governor George Ryan, finally bringing an indictment against Ryan himself. Surprisingly, he hasn’t found anyone worth going after in Chicago politics, which of course has been known for decades for the squeak of its cleanliness.

    Since he came to town, Fitzgerald has struck me as someone who could step onto a movie set and play the part of Inspector Javert, almost without the need for any rehearsals. Not that any of the people he has investigated or indicted or prosecuted are Jean Valjean types, but there is something about the man when he is announcing an indictment that leaves me with a very uneasy feeling.

    Standing before the television cameras with an expressionless face and a glint in his eye, he impresses me as someone who views what he does for a living, not as a job, but as a mission. A mission to seek out evil doers wherever they are to be found and to crush them with all the might that the law can assemble. Perhaps even re-interpreting law in order to bring charges against evil doers that might not have been brought in the past, or by some other Federal prosecutor. In clinical terms, his approach to the practice of prosecutorial law, might be characterized as obsessive/compulsive.

    I am pretty convinced that Fitzgerald determined to find a way to prosecute Hale a long time ago. That he wanted to find something - anything - that he could present to a jury and put this man away. And my belief is strongly supported by the fact that the best he could come up with was a charge of soliciting murder where all of the soliciting was done by the mole that he and the FBI planted.

    I think the jury was strongly influenced by what Hale is and by the horrifying things they heard him say on the tapes that were played in the courtroom, and they were able to latch on to the fact that he didn’t tell the FBI mole not to commit a crime as sufficient reason to bring in a guilty verdict.

    Hale is a worm. A sub-humanoid who deserves to rot in jail. I don’t know how I would have voted, had I been on the jury. But I would have felt a lot better about voting to convict if I had been convinced that he had been brought to trial on a prosecutable violation of existing law.

    I’m not sure that’s what happened in this case. I am sure that the whole area of hate crime needs to be thoroughly examined and laws enacted that are consistent with common sense as well as the first amendment.

    Monday, April 26, 2004

    Fellow blogger Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune has preempted me. And not only has he preempted me, but he did it for the most part in his column instead of in his blog.

    As I’ve indicated in past blog posts, I’ve been planning to do some more reviewing of the new liberal radio network. Over the week-end, Zorn used his column to analyze what’s wrong with Air America - or at least the Al Franken show, which - and he may be right here - he presumes to be the lead program of the network.

    Since he beat me to the topic, I’m going to devote today’s post to commenting on his comments.

    In my most recent commentary about Air America on April 16, I said that they might fail because of their business plan, which is to buy the total air time of as many two-bit stations as they can, and broadcast from morning to night .

    Recently, they lost the Los Angles and Chicago stations in a dispute with their owner, but got back on the air in Chicago after obtaining a court order. But for several hours this morning, they were again off the air in Chicago. If you tuned in 950 a.m. you’d have heard rock music interspersed with announcements about Air America being available on the Internet and a "new Chicago outlet coming soon." They were back on around noon.

    I don’t know what caused the problem in Chicago this morning, but had they approached the building of a liberal radio network through syndication, the loss of one outlet, whether temporary or permanent, wouldn’t be very harmful. I guarantee, if you surf the a.m. dial in the Chicago area or any other major city, you will find more than one station carrying Rush Limbaugh or Paul Harvey.

    But they didn’t go this way, so I have to comment on what exists.

    But for today, I’ll confine myself to comment on Zorn’s advice to Franken.

    Franken is no radio professional and it shows. But he has potential and he could improve if he listens to good advice - and that’s not meant to be an allusion to the relative merits of what Zorn and I suggest.

    Eric’s first point is that Al should use a "shotgun instead or a pea-shooter." In other words, blast "the right wing" and everything it stands for and not just individuals. It won’t work. Franken is Franken. Not only would he sound silly doing something he’s not equipped to do, but he doesn’t believe that everyone on the right is an evil being and he wouldn’t want or be able to fake it.

    Zorn’s second point is that Franken should go after conservative "players" and not waste time criticizing right wing media pundits, and he points to the absence of such attacks by Limbaugh. Eric is wrong here on two counts. Limbaugh may not have made much mention of Air America since it came on the air, but the "liberal media" is a permanent target of his.

    Revealing lies or distortions of the right wing pundits is a good idea and I’ll bet will be a popular segment of the O’Franken factor if the network survives. But he does need to be an equal opportunity revealer. He launches too many attacks on this O’Reilly character. It sound too much like a personal vendetta, so he needs to pick on others with the same degree of enthusiasm and spread the scorn around. But - and this the second count where Zorn misses the point - Al shouldn’t do something just because Rush does it. Franken is Franken. Limbaugh is Limbaugh.

    Zorn’s third item of advice is that Franken shouldn’t debate callers who disagree with him - and again cites "what Limbaugh does." Well, to a certain extent, I agree. I would advise Franken to drop his "ditto head" long time friend to whom he’s given a regular slot. It’s silly. Because he’s a friend, Franken’s disagreements with him are expressed in a mild and friendly manner. There’s no point to it and it doesn’t belong on the program. On the other hand, occasional visits from people like G. Gordon Liddy, who is also a friend of Franken, can be amusing.

    As to not arguing with callers, I agree with Zorn. Franken is bad at it. And he would never use the tactics of afternoon host Randi Rhodes. Randi deals with disagreeing callers by talking over them and then hanging up. I’ll talk about her in a future piece.

    Item four of Zorn’s list of eight, is to cut back on guests. I would say cut back on long sessions with guests who don’t have cutting edge information and opinion to contribute. But do keep booking guests who we’re not going to hear elsewhere in a free wheeling, open-ended discussion. Guests like 9/11 commission member Bob Kerrey and columnist Molly Ivins and former Secretary of State Madeline Allbright, are people who have interesting things to say and add value to the program.

    But - once again - don’t try to be like Limbaugh and rely on your own ability to rant and rave incessantly for three hours a day to fill 98% of your show. You don’t have that ability. Randi Rhodes does and she displays it five days a week. Leave that portion of your programming to her.

    Zorn’s suggestion number five is to dump co-host Katherine Lanpher. A bad suggestion. As I’ve indicated, Franken is no first class, a-one, in demand radio talk show host. He would not be better without a sidekick. Zorn has appeared on radio many times as a guest, but he has never had the experience of coming into a studio every day and sitting alone behind a mike for two or three hours and holding an audience with just the sound of his own voice giving forth with opinion and commentary.

    I guarantee you, it is hard. Damned hard. I did it only once, many years ago, broadcasting from the old Kungsholm restaurant (now Lowry’s) in Chicago. It was a program with guest interviews and musical interludes, but when guests didn’t show, it was just me and the microphone - it wasn’t set up to take phone calls - and I could hear the radios being switched off as I struggled to hold the listeners’ interest.

    Katherine’s a prop. An arm to lean on. Someone you can talk to and bounce off of. Someone who can even take over momentarily when you blank. Someone who’s presence assures you that you’re not alone. It’s not just you and a microphone.

    Pay no attention to that man pictured at the top of the Zorn column. Keep Katherine Lanpher. Just tell her not to giggle so much .

    Advice item six on the list of Zorn, is to avoid nuance and once again to copy the Limbaugh approach of never being wrong, no matter what the issue or your take on it. My original take on why I didn’t think a liberal radio network would make it, posted here last October 15th, was that the sort of thing that Limbaugh does - and that attracts a loyal audience of believers - would not attract a large audience of independent thinkers.

    I think there is plenty of "never being wrong" scattered throughout the Air America broadcast day. It’s just presented differently from the Limbaugh approach - except, once again, for Randi Rhodes. I’ve mentioned her three times now. I’ll just have to write about her program in the next day or two.

    The seventh Zorn suggestion is to "think news" - not issues. When I’ve listened, the conversation seems to take in the most recent news along with "issues." For example, as I’m typing this, I’m listening to Franken on the Internet and he’s playing and commenting on portions of Tim Russet’s Sunday interview with Prince Bandar. Wouldn’t that be "thinking news?"

    Finally, Zorn suggests that Franken "make ‘em laugh" - and for the final time, refers to Limbaugh and his attempt at humor which I have never found to be the least bit humorous. Loyal ditto-heads of course, probably think he’s hilarious. Franken is doing quite a few funny bits and I assume that they will be honed and toyed with and some will be dropped and new ones introduced. I would recommend dropping the "Oy Oy" segment. It’s not that funny. Zorn wants Franken to do exaggerated imitations of the opposition’s leaders that make them sound ignorant. He doesn’t have to. He has the recorded words of George W Bush which are played at some program breaks. They should play much, much more of them. In fact, they should substitute "Oy, it’s the president" for the "Oy Oy" segment.

    More to come. Stay tuned.

    Saturday, April 24, 2004

    It’s always good - and I think healthy, to exchange views with people who disagree with you on important issues - as long as they’re not people who have zero interest in hearing any one else’s views - rabid partisans, religious zealots and the like.

    The other day, I received an e-mail from someone who seemed quite reasonable in his views - the kind of chap I might enjoy having a drink with while we argued good-naturedly.

    I’m including it here, exactly as received, except for a line or two at the end, and I’m identifying the writer only by his first name. Maybe, if we dialogue some more, and he has no objection. I’ll identify his last name as well.

    Here are his comments, followed by my response. Some people like to intersperse comment and reply, point by point, but I think it’s more readable the way I’m laying it out.

    Mr. Smith, being, like you, someone of English origin who is now an American, I was intrigued to read your blogs recently, having found them through Eric Zorn. My political leanings are much like yours except for Israel. It is worth repeating that all Israelis are not Jews, all Jews are not Israelis, and that when severe, and deserved, criticism of Israeli action is written or spoken it is not automatically anti-Semitic. The Israeli government has mostly successfully managed to conflate the words Jewish and Israeli so that in common speech they are used interchangeably - thus sowing much confusion.

    As a young person growing up in post war England I was instinctively sympathetic to the Israeli cause and interested in their success. I now find myself totally unsympathetic to their cause because of the abuse of their position of power over the last forty years. It is clear that, with US support, they are by far the most powerful nation in the middle East, including the possession of nuclear weapons. While it is pointless to try to argue 'who started it' (like trying to stop squabbling between two of your children) the balance of my sympathy lies with the Palestinians. The number of Palestinians killed by Israelis is some four times the number of Israelis killed by the Palestinians. The damage done by Israel to the fabric of Palestine is far greater than that done to Israel.

    It is worth remembering that it was the British, those old colonialists, who were primarily responsible for the creation of Israel, I think the US abstained in the UN on the critical vote, and, amazingly, Stalin did not veto it. However, in creating this new country the occupants of the land at that time were not consulted - it can be seen as one of the last colonial acts of the British Empire. I am not suggesting that we now should argue for the destruction of Israel but I am saying that a great deal more sympathy should be shown for the plight of the Palestinians.

    I also believe that the pro Israel lobby in this country is so powerful that it prevents the US from developing a strategy towards the middle East which properly reflects our self interest. How can it be in our interest to support a country with no oil and enrage all those countries which do have oil thus putting our very economic well being at risk?

    I have enjoyed reading most of your columns and, like you, have no time for religion especially those religious bigots of every stripe who seem intent on making over society to their way of thinking.


    Well John, we may not be far apart in our sympathies for suffering Palestinians, but I think we come to our sympathies via different roads.

    I’m going to take this opportunity to do double duty - to comment on your e-mail and one brief comment on the recent Chicago Tribune column by Dennis Byrne that I mentioned and linked to on my post of April 20.

    There’s little point in engaging in any kind of dialogue with Mr. Byrne because, as he says in his column, he is "uncomfortable" with the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East and his reasoning flows from that position.. So does that of the Arabs. That’s the company Mr. Byrne is keeping.

    Apparently, Byrne would be happy with the idea of Israel becoming a 23rd Arab state - and no longer the sole democracy in the Middle East, which of course it would become if it agreed with the "right of return."

    Now to your e-mail John.

    Ariel Sharon wasn’t or isn’t needed to make Israel synonymous with Jews around the world. That’s done by the world’s anti-Semites who attack and vilify Jews every time there is some major incident between Israel and Palestinians. Even when there’s a minor incident.

    Pro-Palestinian sentiment on university campuses in the United States often translates into acts of anti-Semitism - including acts of violence. - and they will frequently coincide with events in Israel or in the so called "territories."

    And don’t get me started on France.

    I agree absolutely that criticism of Israel and Israeli policies, though sometimes voiced by anti-Semites, isn’t and shouldn’t be considered synonymous with anti-Semitism. I doubt that there are more severe critics of Israeli policies than some of Israel’s own journalists. They can be devastating in their criticism - and it’s healthy. It’s called democracy. Anathema to the Arab nations.

    I agree that little is to be gained by going over ancient history, but I have to disagree as well as agree with some of your points..

    Your memory of the vote on resolution 181 is slightly off. You may have been confusing the UK. and the US. It was the UK that abstained. The US voted yes. As did the Soviet Union. The vote was 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions. You can imagine where the "no" votes came from!!. The "occupants of the land" may not have been consulted in terms of having a vote at the U.N., but they were certainly very aware of the process and supportive of the outcome they desired. And contrary to the implication of your comment, though Arabs were in the majority, the occupants were Arabs and Jews - not just Arabs. And Jews had lived there uninterrupted for centuries.

    I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to speak of Israel "destroying the fabric of Palestine."

    If such a thing did occur, it was when the British decided that they would carve out 75% of Palestine as a gift to the Hashemite tribe. To this day, the majority population of Jordan is Palestinian, but they’re not the ones in power.

    For all of the years leading up to 1967, Jordan, Egypt - the rest of the Arab world, could have helped to create a viable and peaceful, second Palestinian state, but instead devoted their energies to fermenting hatred of Israel. And after 1967, their devotion was to the "three no’s" of the Khartoum conference. no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

    I don’t know of any war in history where the victors sued for peace and were rejected by the vanquished, but that’s what happened after the 1967 war and that’s what has led to the years of occupation and the suffering of the Palestinians living west of the Jordan river and in the Gaza strip.

    I have great sympathy for ordinary Palestinians who are not members or supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa brigades and the rest of the terrorists and who are suffering and dying because of the continuing conflict.

    Much of the suffering could have been avoided if the so called leaders of the Palestinians had stuck to negotiations instead of resorting to violence, and a peaceful resolution can still be achieved if the two sides would get back to the negotiating table - and keep negotiating, even after a state of Palestine has been established in whatever form. I still hope for such a resolution and I think that hope is reflected in many of my commentaries about the conflict. Here are a handful from last year that you can click on if you feel so inclined. 6/5/03, 7/23/03, 8/8/03, 8/12/03, 8/23/03, 10/9/03, 10/10/03, 10/28/03.

    Finally, your views on the power of the "pro Israel lobby" are shared by a lot of people, but I doubt that it has the power to persuade the most powerful country on earth to act in a manner that is not in its own best interest.

    True - the US needs to have good relations with the oil producing countries, but there is no need to abandon Israel to placate them. The economics of oil cuts two ways. The producers must sell their oil - and we are the biggest buyers.

    Support of Israel is in our best interest because it is a sister democracy in a sea of dictatorships, theocracies and monarchies.

    If we were to withdraw our support and throw it to her enemies, we would be abandoning our own best principles - and there’s no way that that would be in our best interest.

    Sometimes, principle is more important than principal in relations between nations.


    Thursday, April 22, 2004

    It’s purely a coincidence, if you see a connection between the last line of yesterday’s post and the subject of today’s comments.

    A Jury is considering the fate of Matthew Hale, the disgusting weasel who considers himself a latter day Hitler.

    He’s been on trial for soliciting the murder of a Federal judge, and by the time I finish writing this post, a verdict may be in.

    I wrote about his case last October, and at the time, I expressed doubts about the validity of the evidence against him. I thought the government was trying to railroad him and I made the point that government has the power to do this and has likely done it more times than we might imagine.

    Today, writing in the Chicago Tribune, columnist Eric Zorn expressed a similar opinion- absent my views on the power of the government to railroad. That commentary of mine last October was titled "WE’RE NOT AS FREE AS WE THINK WE ARE."

    Now that the case has gone to the jury and I’ve had a chance to read transcripts of conversations between Hale and Anthony Evola, an FBI informant who wore a wire for two years while pretending to be a member of the hate group, I’m having second thoughts.

    The murder of the judge was discussed, albeit in code language, but in all of the recordings of conversations between the two, it was Evola who brought up the subject - not Hale - and Hale never says, " go out and kill the judge." Quite the contrary. He says he has to operate within the law and can’t be involved with what Evola is talking about.

    But what is giving me second thoughts about what I first thought was a trumped up case, is that any of Hale’s devoted followers listening to his responses, would very likely respond as did followers of Henry II when they heard him say "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" Henry didn’t deny that it was his plea that resulted in the murder of Thomas Beckett, but he insisted that he neither ordered nor desired his death

    The four knights who hacked Beckett to death however, believed otherwise.

    In Hale’s case, when the subject of murdering the judge is being discussed, he tells Evola that he can’t be involved personally, but gives his blessing to him, saying that if he wants to "do anything yourself" - you can!!. Evola understands it and says "consider it done" and Hale says "O.K." Nowhere in any of the conversations does Hale say, I forbid it. Don’t harm this judge. He simply says, I can’t do it myself, but if you feel inclined, by all means go ahead.

    The history of Hale and his hate group, is that his words and beliefs strongly influence his followers - the most egregious example being the murder rampage carried out by acolyte Ben Smith a few years ago, before he took his own life. The jury heard a recording of Hale eulogizing Smith as a fallen hero.

    If I’m sitting in that jury room, the verdict isn’t going to be a slam dunk for me in either direction. I still believe that the government set out to set up Hale. I don’t think there’s any evidence that Hale was trying to suggest that one of his followers commit murder, but when it was suggested to him, he appears to give tacit approval. "Just don’t involve me" seems to have been his only caveat.

    This guy is an evil excuse for a sub-humanoid and deserves to rot in jail. In other countries, in many ways more sophisticated than our own, just the spouting of his crazed beliefs would be against the law and might result in a jail sentence.

    Our slavish devotion to the first amendment of the constitution allows almost any kind of hate speech to be spoken or printed without fear of penalty, but there is no question that sick minds can and do respond to such speech in ways that can and do result in bodily harm - and as we have seen, in some cases, murder.

    Even though no murder was committed in the current case, the Hale jury has to decide if his apparent approval of the suggestion, constitutes a solicitation of an act of murder.

    As I said, if I was on that jury, I wouldn’t consider the verdict a slam dunk for guilt or innocence based on what I’ve read about the evidence, and I don’t envy the jurors who are there, trying to decide whether or not a crime has been committed.

    I’m inclined to think that perhaps it has, only because there is no indication that Hale ever said, "Do not commit murder. It’s madness. It’s against the law. I forbid it." I would equate the absence of such a reaction to King Henry’s complaint about Becket. A signal to his followers to do what he really wanted done.

    If the jurors feel the same way, I won’t shed any tears for the sick bastard. If they want to lock him in a cell and hand me the key, I’d be glad to take a boat a couple of miles out into Lake Michigan and get rid of it for them.

    Wednesday, April 21, 2004

    There’s an old song lyric that goes "it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it."

    It came to mind a few days ago when Tony Blair was visiting President Bush and both were re-presenting their convoluted reasoning about why it was a good and noble cause for which hundreds of young men from both our countries - kids most of them - are dying in Iraq.

    Blair is an articulate man, who speaks with the kind of upper class English accent that seems to impress certain kinds of Americans. To a great many people, the upper class British accent conveys probity and authority. Surely, no one speaking like that would be trying to feed us a bunch of malarkey.

    A lot of people actually believe that - just as some people think that certain accents are "sexy" or "romantic." It’s certainly true of opera. Would opera sound as dramatic or romantic if sung in English? Of course not. What is romantic or dramatic about some bearded, pot bellied tenor, complaining that he didn’t have time to shave this morning because he overslept?

    Ah - but in Italian….. I’m sure you get the point.

    Back to Bush and Blair.

    I’m not sure what it is with the two of them. The British prime minister was close to Bill Clinton - I guess you could call them friends. But it seemed like a natural friendship. Blair, after all, is the head of the British Labor - excuse me, Labour Party - which is a lot closer in philosophy to the Democratic party than it is to anything that Bush represents.

    And yet, he allowed himself to be dragged into this Iraqi disaster and when he defends the decision, he makes it sound like it was the noble and proper thing to do.

    Blair might be articulate, but what he says about why he joined with Bush to attack Iraq and why it’s such a great thing, is a bunch of bull. Even though he says it beautifully.

    In contrast to Blair and his immaculate presentation, there have been a couple of statements from less "immaculate" speakers in the past couple of weeks that also stuck in my mind, both because of the way that they said them and what they said.

    Jackie Mason was in Chicago for a few days with his new one man show which is headed for Broadway. Mason talks about all kinds of contemporary things - and not unexpectedly, he has a lot to say about Iraq.

    A lot of people have a lot of different ideas about what is wrong with what we’ve done in Iraq. Here’s more or less what Mason had to say about what he thinks is wrong with the whole Iraq adventure. I can’t reproduce that wonderful New York/Yiddish accent here, but I can try to convey the substance of his thinking.

    "So Saddam is a lousy dictator and he kills his own people and he throws them in jails and he beats them and tortures them. Does that mean that we should go over there and get ourselves killed just so that he’ll stop killing his own people? We didn’t find any weapons there, so why should we get our young people killed to save them from being killed. Do you think, if we had an evil dictator here, they would come over here and lose their lives just to save us? What, are you crazy? And we shouldn’t do it for them. We wouldn’t do that for a neighbor. We wouldn’t do it for our own mother. Maybe our mother would do it for us, but we wouldn’t do it for her."

    And on and on in the same vein. In stark contrast to those who believe that we are sacrificing our young people in defense of our country!!

    As Mason would say, "what, are you crazy?"

    Someone else who impressed me recently, both with what he said and how he said it, was the newly signed old boy Cub pitcher, Greg Maddux. I call him "old boy," because he spent the first seven years of his career with the Cubs, went to Atlanta for eleven years, and came back "home" this year.

    After the great "almost there" year that the Cubs had last year, they figured that with the addition of Maddux, they’d stand an even greater chance of making it all the way this year.

    But Maddux has had a rough start. He’s been bombed in a couple of outings and after one of them, he was asked for a comment.

    If there’s one thing about sports that has bugged me for years, it's the obligatory microphone in the face of whoever the TV sportscaster has picked to be the spokesman for a team’s win or loss or unusual event or whatever. And it’s not so much the microphone in the face as the words that come out of the lower aperture on the face that can drive me to distraction. It’s almost as bad as the nonsense that politicians spout in answer to simple questions. The trite phrases hit my ear like a fork on a plate. So bad that I don’t want to repeat any of them here.

    But I’m happy to repeat what Maddux said when asked why he got clobbered.

    He said that he had trouble getting the ball over the plate, and when he was able to get it there, guys were hitting it.

    Bush and Blair - the two "B" boys, could take lessons in how to explain what’s going on from Mason and Maddux, the two "M" men.

    I hear that there’s no way to get the anti-Semitic "jewwatch" site off of Google. Apparently, the good Jewish sites don’t often use the word "Jew," so when someone goes into Google and types that word, the first site that will come up will be one that does use the word. A lot.

    The way to stop that - to get "jewwatch" off of its number one or highly placed position when someone is doing a search having to do with Jews or Judaism, is to have legitimate sites use the word. A lot.

    I consider myself legitimate, so here’s my initial contribution, and if I find out that this sort of thing works, I’ll contribute further.


    Tuesday, April 20, 2004

    The negative reaction to the newly stated US position on settlements and the right of return issue, is gaining momentum among our "friends" in the Arab world.

    Hosni Mubarak says that the US has never been more hated by Arabs than we are today. That’s Mubarak, the president of Egypt since 1981. Twenty three years and counting. So loved that our Egyptian friends and allies keep "re-electing" him as their president.

    King Abdulla II, who was in California this week and had a meeting scheduled with President Bush, called it off and went home. He wants to see the American position on the "peace process" "clarified" before getting together with Dubya.

    That’s Abdulla of Jordan, son of King Hussein of Jordan, grandson of Abdulla I of Jordan. That’s the Jordan described as "an important US ally in the region." That’s the Jordan under Husein that supported Iraq during Desert Storm - not their important ally, the United States.

    Our "friends" in the Arab world have reacted in the same old way to matters Palestinian. They have thrown their support to continuing conflict and extended misery for their Palestinian "brethren."

    In all of the years since the re-birth of Israel as a nation state, the neighboring Arab nations have done virtually nothing to help Palestinian Arabs.

    Instead of helping them to settle and thrive in the territories they controlled prior to 1967 and in any of their own countries - and there are 22 of them - they have supported the mythology that millions of Palestinians are "refugees" awaiting repatriation to their "homes." And being refugees of course, it is perfectly natural for many of them to live in crowded "refugee camps" while their mythology is perpetuated.

    Much as I am opposed to the re-election of Mr. Bush, I believe he may have helped to change the dynamics of this crazy Middle East situation. The Arabs may scream that "no one has the right to take away their land" or their "right of return," but of course, that’s not what Mr. Bush has done. He’s simply acknowledged the reality that it’s time to stop following the Arab line of perpetuating mythology.

    Continuing to say that settlements on the so called west bank are "not helpful" and continuing an American position of opposing them, hasn’t helped any "peace process." Neither has the idea of putting off such questions as the "right of return" until "final negotiations." If mythology is allowed to be included as a negotiating partner, there will never be any "final negotiations."

    I’m not a great fan of George Will, but on the question of "settlements," which is also a question of borders, he did a good job of summing up the reality that the Palestinians need to deal with and that Bush appears to have acknowledged in announcing the new American policy, in his April 18, 2004 column.

    Most Israelis, I think, realize that there cannot be an Israel that approximates the ancient Kingdom of Israel. "Facts on the ground" dictate that this is a myth that can never translate into reality.

    Now the Palestinians have been told that the most powerful nation on earth supports the reality that other "facts on the ground" dictate that their myth of inviolable Palestinian territories can also never translate into reality.

    The Arab "rage" may continue for a while, but Kerry has endorsed the new American policy, so no matter who is president for the next four years, the dynamic of the conflict has been changed. I hope for the better, but having observed this conflict from the beginning, I’m not holding my breath.

    Of course it’s not just the Arabs and non-Arab anti-Israel nations that are upset over the new position. There have been plenty of negative reactions at home - and from people who are Bush supporters on most other issues.

    The one that really disgusted me was that of Pat Buchanan on last week-end’s telecast of The McLaughlin Group. When the panelists were asked for their capsule opinions on the Bush pronouncement, Buchanan thought it was terrible, but then went on a 30 or 40 second rampage about the "China Lobby," and how it exercised an icy grip on the policies of the United States for years. He didn’t mention Israel at all, but the clear implication was that the "Israeli Lobby" had the same kind of icy grip on the United States and could and did dictate US policy on Israel. And this nut is supposed to be a respected journalist and has held important posts in government.

    Another kind of argument against the President’s decision was articulated yesterday by Dennis Byrne , a conservative columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and a rabid Bush supporter -that is, on everything but support for Israel. I’ll save comment on the subject matter of his opinion for a later date, except to say that for all of the understanding of the conflict and the issues that he and others advancing this particular kind of argument shows, it could have been adapted from the pages of the Electronic Intifada!!

    Monday, April 19, 2004

    On March 22, I asked how many books about what really went on in the White House leading up to the Iraq invasion would need to be published before Mr. Bush’s poll numbers would plunge dramatically.

    In a logical world, certainly no more beyond Bob Woodward’s "Plan of Attack," portions of which were published in the Washington Post yesterday - the same day the author appeared on "60 minutes."

    I imagine it will be a while before there’s a poll that could reflect the impact of this book, but if his numbers don’t turn out to be going through the basement when that poll is taken, we’re in really big trouble.

    The denials are already pouring out of the White House, but they are all related to the portions of the book based on interviews with people who did not wish to be and were not identified.

    But Woodward has tapes of those interviews and the "60 Minutes" folks listened to some of them to satisfy their journalistic integrity in giving Woodward a platform to voice his startling revelations. And they are startling beyond belief.

    But the interviews with Mr. Bush were on the record and while "interpretations" about some of the things he said are being put out, it is his words that should make us all scared out of our wits.

    The man that Woodward describes - and quotes verbatim - is someone with a messianic complex, who believes that he consults with and gets advice from God and that he is here to do God’s work and part of that work is to make the world over in some Godly democratic image!!

    On February 9, 2004, following his interview with Tim Russet, I asked on this blog if Mr. Bush believes that he was put on this earth - and elected to the presidency - to "do God’s work."

    My speculation then was that this was his belief, and what he told Woodward, and what appears in his book, seems to confirm exactly that.

    And I repeat, we’re in serious trouble. Think about it folks. In the eyes of our leader, we’re not just engaged in a war on terror or in a war against a rogue state. We’re in a religious war against the forces of Beelzebub himself!!

    There will be a lot of reaction to Woodward’s book, and very likely more of it here.

    But here’s an interesting local postscript on "the story so far."

    Last week, the Chicago Tribune had a front page story about the "winner" in the "Apprentice" television series. The FRONT PAGE. It was something that I was going to write about as an issue all by itself and what it implied - and maybe I will at some point.

    But I mention it now in the context of the total absence of any story on the publication of "Plan of Attack" and what Woodward said on "60 Minutes" last night, in today’s Chicago Tribune. Not a single word.

    About Rantisi

    One can understand the reaction coming out of Gaza over the elimination of Hamas chief Abdel Aziz Rantisi. To the crazy people who see permanent war with Israel as a way of life and martyrdom as a cultural imperative, Rantisi was a hero.

    But it’s disappointing, though not unexpected, to see the condemnations from "the usual suspects" - our "friends," the British - and of course, Kofi Annan.

    I am not a big supporter of targeted assassinations. As I’ve said here before, I don’t think they do any good - and I doubt that this one will have any positive effect. But Hamas is at war with Israel. Israel’s destruction is its stated purpose. Rantisi has stated that purpose again and again. It is logical to assume that most if not all of the suicide attacks that Hamas has launched against Israel were sanctioned and/or planned by him.

    Under that set of circumstances, his elimination is a perfectly legal act, and not an "extrajudicial" killing that is a "violation of international law," as claimed by Kofi Annan.

    Friday, April 16, 2004

    Last October 15, I ventured the opinion that the forthcoming Liberal Radio Network wouldn’t make it.

    My reasoning was that it wouldn’t include the ingredients that have attracted so many people to right wing radio talk shows. And I listed those as: Rabidity. Unreasonableness. Unrelenting, vicious, blind partisanship. And freely expressed contempt and loathing for those with opposing political or philosophical views.

    Well I was partially wrong.

    There’s plenty of unrelenting, blind partisanship. And while there may not be freely expressed loathing, there’s plenty of contempt for a great many people with opposing political or philosophical views.

    Not all. Al Franken in particular, has friends who are staunch conservatives, and he talks to them on his show.

    But on other programs, that of Randi Rhodes in particular, there’s as much vitriol as that dished out by Rush Limbaugh.

    But all in all, the Liberal Radio Network is quite listenable. It would benefit from a technical upgrade, some changes in on the air personnel and in some programming approaches, and if it survives, I’ll be making some comments in these areas and sending them to Air America through their feedback mechanism.

    But today I’m going to comment on the Liberal Radio Network’s business plan, about which I know absolutely nothing. This being blog country, that isn’t going to stop me from pontificating as though I did. And from what I’ve observed in the two weeks the network’s been functioning - and particularly over the past couple of days - it’s the business plan that may bring the effort crashing down like a house of cards.

    Two days ago, the Chicago and Los Angeles stations were cut off from the network in what we are being told is a payment dispute. The owner of the two stations involved, one Arthur Liu, says that Air America owes him money - he claims around a million dollars - and that’s why he pulled the plug.

    Air America said the guy is a thief and posted a silly "explanation" on their web site.

    I call it "silly" because they seem to think it proper to inform their listeners about a very serious matter with juvenile humor, written with horribly incorrect punctuation.

    They later went into court and got a temporary restraining order against Mr. Liu, but as I write this, the Chicago outlet is still broadcasting foreign language programs. And even if this and the Los Angeles station resume carrying Air America programming because of a court decision, what kind of a relationship will the two parties have in the future? A tenuous one at best I would think.

    What’s revealed through this dispute - and what was obvious before but not questioned by me here because I didn’t want to be critical of a venture that I wanted to succeed - is that the people behind Air America have gone about this in the wrong way and have taken on a burden that they may not be able to bear.

    The conservative, ultra right wing talk shows, for which Air America is supposed to be the liberal antidote, are not aligned together as a network, broadcasting from morning to night.

    All of their shows are syndicated and are heard across the country at different times on all kinds of radio stations - but mostly on stations with powerful signals. I don’t know the exact financial relationships between the syndicated programs and the stations that carry them, but for sure it doesn’t involve them having to buy air time.

    The only kinds of stations where you can go in and buy blocks of time to program anything you want to program, are two-bit, low wattage stations, usually those that broadcast a pot-pourri of foreign language programs.

    That’s what Air America appears to have done. The station from which they have been bounced in the Chicago market, has had one set of call letters after another over the years, and has to be tuned very finely to be heard during the day and even finer at night, when other voices and assorted sounds can be heard in the background. In other words, a two-bit station.

    And they have contracted to buy its, and the other network stations entire air time, which I presume they hope to be able to pay for by selling national commercials.

    If Mr. Liu is to be believed and he’s owed a million bucks for two weeks air time on two, two-bit a.m. outlets, Air America is in serious trouble. They have nine stations now and say that seven more will be added soon.

    You do the math. MILLIONS per week???

    In my view, the smart way to have launched the "liberal radio network" would have been to develop the program packages they have now and to try to syndicate them in every market where right wing radio is heard, preferably with some built in national sponsorship but with or without any pre-sold national sponsors, to just get on the air without taking on the huge financial burden of buying all day, night and now week-end air time!

    They could have offered the programming free for a while, just to get it on the air while their sales staff went out to beat the bushes for sponsors.

    They probably couldn’t syndicate all of the programs they are now airing. The early morning stuff for example. That’s prime time in radio and any local station worth its call letters, has local talent and programming that they would be unlikely to swap for syndicated liberal chit chat.

    Of the twelve people listed on the "about us" page of airamericaradio.com - the "suits" - nine have had radio and other broadcasting experience - some of it extensive - so maybe they know exactly what they are doing and I am full of beans.

    I sure hope that’s the case. I want to see the venture succeed. I really do.

    I’m going to try to think positive thoughts and bring a better attitude back to this subject when I visit it again.

    Meanwhile, the sun is shining, the Cubs and Sox are winning and I’m going to stop blogging and try to enjoy today’s first taste of summer in Chicago.

    Thursday, April 15, 2004

    This may be age revealing, but the 9/11 commission hearings are beginning to remind me of the Army/McCarthy hearings.

    Television wasn’t as sophisticated or widespread in 1954 as it is today, but those hearings dominated the screen for weeks in the spring and summer of that year.

    We all know how they came out and who the villain was, but what struck me at the time was that officials of our government stood (or sat) before the cameras and told totally conflicting stories.

    I sat there shaking my head at the understanding that one of the stories was a total fabrication. I guess it was naive of me to be shocked that a government official would tell bald faced lies, but I was a young pup 50 years ago and still green around the gills.

    Now when it happens, I’m just annoyed. Not just that someone is lying, but that no one seems to want to really find out who it is and impose some kind of punishment.

    Tom Pickard, who became interim director of the FBI in June of 2001, following the resignation of Louis Freeh, testified to the 9/11 commission that he brought up the threat of terrorist acts to Attorney General Ashcroft and that Ashcroft told him he didn’t want to hear about it.

    When Ashcroft testified - and incidentally blamed all of the failings of the FBI, the CIA and the warts on his nose on the Clinton administration - he denied ever saying any such thing to Pickard. He would never say anything like that, he protested indignantly.

    Well folks, you’ve had an opportunity to observe Mr. Ashcroft in action for quite some time now and hear some of his ideas. Who do you believe? Pickard or Ashcroft?

    Ooops. I just took a second look. Those aren’t warts at all. It’s… wait a minute.. yes, that’s what it is. The nose is GROWING!!

    But don’t look for the same kind of outlook that the Army/McCarthy hearings produced. There’s no Joseph Welch sitting on the nine eleven commission.


    Well, here’s a turn of events. Right after I’ve blasted President Bush in some way - and that could refer to almost any day’s posting on this blog - he does something to surprise me and just about everyone else, except maybe Ariel Sharon.

    What to make of his pronouncement about Israeli settlements and Palestinian "refugees?"

    I put the word "refugees" in quotes because it is absolutely astonishing to me that people can continue to regard themselves this way for more than half a century, rather than do what Jewish refugees have done - settle the land and make new lives for themselves.

    The Palestinians of course, reject everything Mr, Bush said yesterday, and none of it sits well with the rest of the Arab world either.

    And to the believers in the "Jews rule the world" myth, it is simply proof of their crazed beliefs.

    But the most predictable and the most ludicrous reaction coming from the Palestinians and others is that it derails the "peace process." To which the obvious response from those who have not lost their sanity is - what peace process?

    I don’t know what brought Mr. Bush to the position he adopted yesterday, but one of the things he said has needed saying by a United States President for a long time.

    The Palestinians have been clinging to a myth for more than 50 years - and that is that people who were displaced during Israel’s 1948 defensive war against five invading Arab armies, together with their children and their children’s children - are "refugees," with the right to return "home" after the cessation of hostilities.

    The Palestinians are crying foul, saying that Bush has pre-empted an issue that was supposed to be "settled" when the "final status" is resolved.

    Bull. Nonsense.

    If there were an ongoing peace process - and one has to hope that conditions will one day come about that will allow such a thing to occur - it would not be well served if either party approached negotiations clinging to a mythical "right" that they know they can never exercise.

    The diplomats of the world will say that Bush has left some "wiggle room" in his pronouncements and in his letter to Sharon, but what he has done is effectively taken the "right of return" nonsense off the table.

    Everyone involved knows that Israel can never accede to such a demand, which would be tantamount to dissolving the Jewish state. He didn’t exactly put it in those terms, but nonetheless, an American president has, for the first time, publicly endorsed that non negotiable position.

    His announcement on settlements was an even greater surprise, but perhaps was a lost opportunity.

    His reference to "facts on the ground" made perfect sense, but the huge bone of contention with the Palestinians is the sovereignty of what they consider their land and a future Palestinian state.

    To imply that the settlements that Israel plans to retain will become part of Israel and the land lost to Palestinian sovereignty, is to state something that the Palestinians think of as non-negotiable, and in this instance, unlike the right of return demand, the concept is far from mythical.

    As long time readers of this blog know, I proposed my own "mythical" solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict back on October 10th of last year, and earlier, on June 5, 2003, I had a comment about settlements that looked at the "problem" logically.

    Perhaps if Mr. Bush had read my blogs, he might have been more subtle in his mention of settlements, perhaps by hinting that an agreement could be reached wherein the settlements could stay without annexing land from a future Palestinian state. Perhaps, as I said in my "Ideal Two State" blog posting, remaining under Palestinian sovereignty or as part of a joint sovereignty zone.

    I don’t know whether the statements made yesterday stemmed from Mr. Bush’s deeply held beliefs to which I have made past reference, or from some other influence.

    Either way, I won’t criticize him for his remarks. He’ll get more than enough criticism from the Arab world. But that’s been par for the course lately, so he probably won’t feel any more heat than he’s already experiencing.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2004

    I hope readers of this blog weren’t disappointed when they visited yesterday and found no post to read.

    I think I explained it before, but it’s worth repeating. This is a commentary blog. My efforts are similar to those of newspaper columnists. Newspaper columnists write anywhere from one to three columns a week. I consider the fact that I usually manage to write a commentary column five days a week, something of an accomplishment. So if I miss a day, I don’t want to hear any complaints. You’ve got all those highly paid newspaper columnists to read. I do this as a non money making hobby.

    And I heard the person who said it’s worth about what you get paid. I know who you are and where you live and all of the misstatements on your 2003 tax return. So watch it.

    O.K. Down to business.

    I didn’t get to watch or listen to the Bush press conference last night. I was attending a political "thank you" celebration at a very fancy home in Evanston. The "thank you" was from the guest of honor, the Democratic candidate from Illinois for the United States Senate, Barack Obama.

    It was a big crowd of intelligent and well informed people and they were treated to an intelligent appraisal of the issues on which the November elections should be fought. Whether or not "issues" will be a major factor in deciding the election remains to be seen. I hope so but somehow I doubt it.

    Obama didn’t give a long speech. (Incidentally, he’s a most impressive speaker. Standing in the middle of a crowd, he "connects" almost immediately. No one was yawning. No one was looking at his or her watch.)

    The one thing that stuck with me after he was finished speaking and after I had left the gathering and when I woke up this morning, was his appraisal that Bush believed in what he was doing - domestically and internationally. That he was sincere in his beliefs.

    I suppose to some people, that would be a good thing. But we all knew the thrust of what Obama was saying, even without him explaining it.

    This morning, I heard people calling in to a radio program to comment on last night’s press conference. The program host was asking for appraisals in baseball terms and a Bush supporter said that he’d scored a triple with the bases loaded. He went on to say that Bush was a president who said what he believed and acted accordingly and didn’t hold up a finger to see which way the public sentiment wind was blowing before making a decision - which of course is a favorite accusation the right wing likes to hurl at President Clinton.

    Note I said is and likes - not "liked." They’re going to reach back years to try to blame Clinton for any of their current problems.

    Here was a Bush supporter calling a radio station and agreeing with Barack Obama.

    The only thing wrong with his reasoning - and of course where he differed from Obama’s appraisal - was that he didn’t seem to be too concerned about what Bush believed and what motivates him to act. What seemed to be important to him was that Bush was a man of convictions and beliefs - whether or not those convictions and beliefs made sense or were six degrees of separation from the sanity scale.

    Deeply held convictions and beliefs are fine if tempered with healthy applications of logic.

    Osama bin Laden has deeply held convictions and beliefs. He believes that we’re a bunch of devils and that we should be eliminated from the earth.

    Suicide murderers have deeply held convictions and beliefs. They believe they’re going to paradise as a reward for murdering "infidels."

    Bush isn’t that nutty of course, but when he acts on his deeply held beliefs, he can and does land us in a whole mess of trouble.

    There may have been a multitude of reasons why we ended up invading Iraq and there may have been more people in the administration than we know about, pulling strings and pressuring Mr. Bush to act, but I am convinced that the deciding factor was his messianic belief in the struggle between good and evil and what he sees as his appointed role to re-shape the world.

    Having said that, I have to hope that he doesn’t really believe the things he continues to say about Iraq. The other day, he said that things are improving in Iraq!!. Oh, we had a bad week, he said, with gangs and thugs trying to take the law into their own hands, (what law??) - but things are improving!! This at a moment when more than 80 American military have been killed since the beginning of the month. That’s what he said. And with grins flashing on and off his countenance. Like Morse code.

    If he really thinks that "things" are improving as the American death toll rises, then we have to question his competence to continue to make presidential decisions.

    Back in 1988, Democratic Presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis declared that the election should be about competence - not ideology.

    Not enough of us listened and we elected Bush the father. He wasn’t an idiot, but I have a hard time believing that he got elected because people thought of him as being more competent than Dukakis. Ideology won the day.

    I’m not sure how many of us were listening or remembering twelve years later, when the Supreme Court decided the election. More people voted for the competence of Gore, but we finished up with the ideology of Bush and this is the challenge facing us today, tomorrow and in November.

    Do we want a future driven and dictated by a messianic ideology or by competence and practicality?

    We’d better make the right decision or, after the father and the son, we might all end up being ghosts. And full of holes at that.

    Monday, April 12, 2004

    You might think it’s a bit of a stretch to compare Ralph Nader to Condoleezza Rice, but as I read and listened to more of her testimony of last Thursday, and to all of the commentary about her testimony, a comparison of sorts did begin to form.

    My comments of April 7 about the Nader candidacy were all about his ego. My conclusion was that there was no way anyone could persuade Nader that he was wrong - about running for president or anything else.

    I’m not sure of the size of Condoleezza Rice’s ego, but nowhere in her testimony was there the slightest hint that her conduct as National Security adviser has been less than perfect. No matter what the question, she had answers and embellishments, the latter not necessarily having to do with the subject matter of the question. As she went on and on about whether a memo was historical or hysterical and whether something was strategic or simplistic, it became obvious that she had nothing to say other than she and Bush were on the ball and did everything they should have done and no one could have prevented nine eleven. And all of it in language designed to obfuscate and confuse.

    She was there to protect her boss and she did it with great verbal skill. A tour de force demonstration of the game of antics with semantics.

    It was impressive. Someone wrote to the Chicago Tribune praising her performance and advocating "Condoleezza Rice for president" And of course the Tribune would print a letter like that. They have long ago lost any sense of reason in their selection of reader’s letters to publish. I wonder if they would publish a suggestion that Martin Sheen should run for president. After all, he is obviously a brilliant and articulate man who has a firm grasp on the problems of the nation and the world. He demonstrates it in his television performance week after week.

    Among all the chit chat last week, someone suggested that while Condoleezza Rice might be brilliant, she might also be incompetent in her position as a national security adviser. There is certainly evidence to support that idea - and that’s another place where the ego thing comes into the picture.

    I heard Joe Lockhart on the radio talking about the transition. Joe of course was press secretary in the Clinton administration from 1998 to 2000. He said that Sandy Berger told Condoleezza that the biggest problem she would have to deal with was the kind of terrorist act that we witnessed on 9/11/2001, and that her response to Berger was "I don’t think so!!".

    Gary Hart warned her about imminent terrorist attacks just before 9/11 and he has said that she appeared disinterested. "I’ll talk to the Vice President about it," was her response. That’s the Vice President in charge of the task force on terrorism that never met and had no known members!

    And as long as I’m linking to the Guardian about the Hart warning to Condoleezza Rice, how about the report in the Observer/Guardian on April 4, 2004, which confirmed from a source at the highest level, that President Bush was planning to invade Iraq?. Nine days after 9/11, he was looking to Tony Blair to support his vision of regime change in Iraq.

    How many more insiders will need to make public statements or write books about why we really went to war in Iraq, before the noses of the apologists become long enough to be declared weapons of fact distraction?

    Charles Osgood was back in his bow tie yesterday. I don’t know why. I don’t know why he was in an ordinary tie the Sunday before.

    Something’s going on but I don’t know what. It must mean something. Things like this don’t just happen. There must be a meaning.

    What would be really scary would be if Osgood doesn’t have a clue as to the meaning of his strange behavior. Even scarier would be if he doesn’t even realize what it was that he did that has me - and I’m sure millions of others, worried stiff.

    As if we didn’t have enough to worry about in this crazy, mixed up world.

    Friday, April 09, 2004

    It’s been such a serious week that I thought it would be a good idea to end it on a lighter note and take advantage of an opportunity presented by a fellow blogger to post a few comments about my favorite city in all the world.

    It’s unusual for me to make reference to a fellow blogger twice in the space of a few days, but Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune, who I recently defended against the anti-Blogger, one Mary Scmich, also of the Chicago Tribune, has just returned from a first time, one week trip to London and has written about it in his blog and in his Tribune column.

    I thought it would be instructive for Eric and a fun exercise for me, to comment on what he thought were the five best and five worst things about London.

    He’s a little bit right and a little bit wrong in his conclusions about London, but that’s about what you’d expect from a first time visitor to the capital of the civilized world.

    People can live there a lifetime, and still not see everything or understand everything or know all there is to know.

    Anyway, here are his and my comments.


    The public transportation system. The London Underground is as well planned and as useful a light rail network as I've ever been on. I mean, look at all the transfer points on this map and the way the lines weave over the city. Throughout most of the day, trains arrive every minute or two in most stations, and they're very clean and not particularly noisy. Many of the newer stations are gorgeous. The fare structure is such that those who take longer rides pay more, which seems only right.

    I agree that it’s a great system, but it’s also old and crumbling in many places.

    Zorn was there in cool April. He might have a different view if he was there in the summer and got stuck on a crowded, non-air conditioned train, stopped in a tunnel for 10 or 15 or 30 minutes, as occurs frequently along the system. Or when the London Transport personnel go on strike, another frequent occurrence. As to the fare structure, see my comments on "The Prices." That’s one of Zorn’s "worst" things.
    The language. Brits seem to enjoy words more than Americans, and it shows up everywhere. "We regret that glass bottles are not allowed to be taken out of the cafe," for instance, is a sign in the New Armouries Cafe within the grounds of the Tower of London. You have to love the style and the tone of such a sign, as you do the ubiquitous warning signs telling you to "Mind your head," "Mind that child," "Mind the gap" and so on. No hysteria. No dire overstatements or overwrought disclaimers. I also find many of their everyday terms are either more exact or to the point than our terms: Lift for elevator. Crisps for potato chips. Tube for subway. Holiday for vacation. Queue for a line of people. Give way for yield (on traffic signs). And toilet for public restroom.

    I’m glad that he likes the language and it’s directness. He should, It’s the original. As Henry Higgins says in My Fair Lady, speaking of the English language, "In America, they haven’t spoken it for years."
    The history. London is so rich with sites of great world importance covering the last 1,000 years or so that a week wasn't even close to enough time to see them all. Everywhere we went, from the Tower to Hampton Court to St. Paul's Cathedral to the replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theater to the Royal Observatory, I regretted not having done my homework in advance, and with great eagerness and awe soaked in whatever the guidebooks, docents and placards had to say. Adding to this richness was a seemingly limitless supply of excellent and very funny tour guides.

    It’s hard to add anything to that. Except that having been there once, you’ve actually begun your homework. Now you need to go again and again, each time losing yourself in and absorbing slices of the city’s ancient history. After your first half dozen visits, you’ll come to appreciate one of the joys of London. That you can live a lifetime and never see or know it all. As Samuel Johnson said, "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London, all that life can afford."
    The sense of safety. Violent crime is very, very low in London and surveillance cameras are damn near everywhere. I was skeptical when Chicago introduced 30 lightpole cameras in high-crime areas last year, but I have to say that a week spent under the eye of the cameras that are said to capture the average Briton 300 times a day was surprisingly comforting. The announcement this week that Chicago plans to install 50 more such cameras soon now strikes me as good news.
    I’m not sure that London is any less violent than other large cities of the world, certainly not in certain neighborhoods that I’m sure he didn’t visit, but gun ownership is illegal, and that holds the murder rate down.
    The Diet Coke tastes like Classic Coke. It's actually "Coke Light" they serve over there (and in many other countries, according to this news story and the formula is somewhat different than the formula for our Diet Coke. To me, Coke Light much better captures that distinctive and fabulous Coca-Cola taste than does Diet Coke, which is its own and rather banal flavor. I mean flavour.

    Well, he was probably suffering from jet lag. Why else would you come back from a week in London and list the taste of any kind of Coke as one of the best things about the world’s greatest city?? Get some rest Eric.

    I guess Zorn wasn’t sufficiently impressed with some other things to put them on his top five list, but if you’re off to London for the first time, here are a few that you absolutely should put on your top whatever number list.

    London theater. The greatest in the world. And you can usually see what you want to see at reasonable prices. Try checking the theater for cancellations on the day you want to go or check out the discount ticket booth in Leicester Square. If they haven’t moved it. Even in great historical cities, changes are always taking place.

    The British Museum. You could spend a week in just that one building and still not see everything that’s there to be seen. The greatest museum in the world.

    The street markets. Petticoat Lane, Portobello Road, many others, where you can buy a vast array of merchandise from rare antiques to pots and pans and experience a human version of life in a beehive or on an anthill.

    Speakers Corner in Hyde Park on Sunday mornings. Soapbox orators on everything from cock fighting to Communism. Democracy in the raw!!


    In no particular order....
    The prices. Virtually everything in London is staggeringly expensive by American standards, something you don't quite realize at first because the listed prices -- 1.80 for a cup of Starbucks coffee-- look fairly ordinary. Then you remember that the prices are listed in British pounds and that, with the cost of exchanging your money, each pound is worth roughly two dollars. So that £1.80 cup of plain old drip coffee is really a $3.60 cup of plain old drip coffee. The breakfast buffet at one hotel near the airport was £16.00 per person.

    No question, London is an expensive city. But you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg if you’re careful, and there are some bargains to be had. A London Transportation day or week pass for example. Allows you go anywhere in the City and ride hundreds of miles for a one time, reasonable cost. Right now, the pound is trading at a ridiculously inflated amount. Not the two dollars that Zorn cites, but pretty close. It’s been hovering in the low buck eighties for a while now. I find that you often get the best exchange rate using a London ATM to get your cash. I used to use the American Express office there, until I discovered than you could get a better rate with a Visa or Master Card.

    Zorn was unhappy about the cost of a cup of coffee and I don’t blame him. Eating out can be expensive. Restaurants usually charge each menu item separately, as do many restaurants here, but it can come as a bit of a shock when they charge separately for bread.

    There are reasonably priced places to eat in London. You just have to know where they are. He should check with me before he takes his next trip and I’ll give him a few recommendations.

    The service. We routinely encountered clerks and waiters and shopkeepers who were indifferent, inattentive, unhelpful or surly. I'm betting there's an excellent cultural study out there that explains just why this is so, but my theory is that it's some combination of the diminished importance of tipping (service charges are routinely added to most bills), a greater sense of egalitarianism than in the U.S. and, maybe, a resentment of (particularly) American tourists.

    I suppose bad service can happen anytime and anywhere. In my experience, bad service is not typical of London establishments and you shouldn’t go there expecting it based on one man’s one week experience. But don’t try to use the bathrooms in Harrod’s unless you’re willing to fork over some money. If you haven’t bought something there and can show the receipt, there’s a charge to answer a call of nature.

    He might have added one of my pet peeves about London - pay toilets, which are everywhere - and particularly annoying at train stations, where you know you can "go" for free once you get on your train - if you can hold out long enough!!

    The child-unfriendly amenities. Most restaurants have non-existent or very paltry children's menus and it's rare to find smoke-free non-smoking sections. Most tourist attractions offer little in the way of basic activities, information and other opportunities to help the kids enjoy the setting. At one hotel, the pool was open until 11 p.m., but children were ordered out at 8 p.m.. On the plus side, most attractions and the public transportation system offer family rates.

    I haven’t ever hauled young kids around London, so I have no particular expertise on the subject of child friendly facilities. But millions of people with kids live there and as far as I know, they get along O.K. In a week, how many restaurants and hotels could one visit to come to such a conclusion? I’m sure the locals know where to go with their kids and if Eric takes my advice and goes there again and again, he’ll get to know also - and he’ll probably remove this item from his five "worst."

    The smoke. Despite large and very vivid warnings on cigarette packs--"SMOKING KILLS" and so on-- Londoners light up with great enthusiasm and little seeming regret. The vaunted pubs are totally noxious.

    They also talk on cell phones far too much. But anyone who knows the London of yesteryear, wouldn’t complain too much about the kind of smoke that bothered Zorn. Before they put in controls, London used to suffer the worst kind of fogs imaginable. How bad could a fog be, you may ask? I’ll tell you. So bad that you could extend your arm in front of your face and not be able to see your hand!! I kid you not. I lived through them.

    The lack of convenience stores. To attempt to address the aforementioned hacking cough we went on several odysseys during our travels looking for something equivalent to an Osco or a 7-11 where we might score some cough syrup. These stores do exist, we were assured, but not in the corridors and avenues routinely walked by tourists.

    Zorn must have been asking the wrong people where to find things. True, there aren’t the same kind of convenience stores that we have - but hey - it’s another country. You have to expect that some things will be different from the way they are at home. But if you’re running around in the West End, which is the kind of tourist area that Zorn is talking about, Boots in Piccadilly Circus is open all kinds of hours. And there are Boots Chemists all over the city. And in many of the Tube stations that he enjoyed, you can find stores selling what you need. You just have to know where to look. Trust me Eric. It all begins to fall into place on your third or fourth visit. God Save The Queen!!