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Friday, July 30, 2004

I have to congratulate Mr. Kerry for reading my blog just before he began his acceptance speech. How else would he have known how to explain when to be pro or anti war? Of course his comments were scripted. It’s when he’s without a script and reporters and opponents are playing "gotcha" that he has to be careful.

All kidding aside, I thought he did a good job. If he felt the pressure from the world of punditry saying that it was a "make or break" speech, he didn’t show it.

The reactions of course are predictable. The "all Democrat bad, all Republican good" crowd thought it was terrible, untrue, distorted and the usual string of condemning epithets. Most Democrats thought it was fine.

NY Times columnist David Brooks, who is pretty conservative, acknowledged that he’d done a good job. He had complaints of course - that Kerry didn’t say much about his Senate career or his five homes, but what the heck. He only had 55 minutes. He couldn’t please everybody. He didn’t mention abortion or gay marriage either, and I’m sure that disappointed a bunch of people.

He finished his speech with the obligatory "God bless you and God bless the United States of America." If he’d left that out, he probably could have kissed the election goodbye right at that moment. Which is truly sad, because there are issues far more important than the litany that he laid out in his speech, but that the realities of our society won’t allow him to raise even if he wanted to.

A candidate for the Presidency has to profess his belief in God. He has to profess a "deep and abiding" faith, even if he’s a closet atheist. And there’s no way that he can directly challenge or attack his opponent’s religious beliefs.

There were questions about John F Kennedy’s Catholic faith that he had to answer in order to convince worried voters that he wouldn’t be checking with the Pope before making major decisions and that Rome would have zero influence over his Presidency. But Nixon couldn’t ever say that it would be dangerous to elect a Catholic as President. Just as no one that I’m aware of in the Bush/Cheney camp tried to raise doubts about Joe Lieberman during the 2000 campaign because he is an orthodox Jew.

Nonetheless, as I’ve noted here before, I think the religion of Mr. Bush is as important an issue as the economy or the war on terrorism or Iraq, because, unlike the Catholicism of Kennedy - or of Kerry for that matter, I think it has already played a role in all of those issues and will do so in a more aggressive way in the future if he is elected to another four year term.

The evangelical beliefs of the President have been discussed everywhere, and of course on the Internet where such questions as "Is there a madman in the White House" are posed.

It’s not an easy question to answer. George Bush has religious beliefs that are shared by billions of my fellow humans who firmly believe in a supreme being that knows and personally watches over each and every one of them and fashions their lives from on high. I disagree with them, but I don’t consider them raving lunatics. Their beliefs have been handed down from generation to generation, and are accepted as articles of faith. Believers don’t look for or ask for proof. They simply believe.

Of course that alone can be dangerous, as we have seen with crazed Islamic suicide murderers who believe that their acts of murder/suicide are approved by their God and are passports to an after life in Paradise.

The potential danger is even greater when the rulers of nations are religious fanatics. The ayatollahs of Iran. The Taliban of Afghanistan.

And there seems to be little question that Mr. Bush is as fanatical as any of them.

When asked if he sought advice from his father, George Bush Senior, our President responded that there is a "higher father" that he looks to for guidance. You could consider that that was a possible offhand tongue-in-cheek comment if it were not for the huge number of theological statements he has made over the years. That "freedom is God’s gift to the world" for example. You’ll find a bunch of such statements here and at plenty of other sites around the Internet.

But perhaps the most revealing of his frequent comments about the role of God in his life and in his job as President of the United States was the one he made about God’s role in the invasion of Iraq. He believes that God talks to him and tells him what to do. He believes that God works "through" him to do "God’s work" on earth.

If he is reelected, would he take that as a sign that God wants him to continue to do "his work?" And would that work include taking preemptive military action against other countries that are "evil?" And would that work include appointing supreme court justices who have the same evangelical beliefs that he does and whose decisions would be more guided by those beliefs than by the law of the land?

It’s sad that Kerry dare not ask those kinds of questions out loud. Questioning aspects of Bush’s faith would be tantamount to challenging the faiths of millions of Americans It would surely backfire.

But perhaps during a presidential debate, a gutsy reporter will ask the question that Kerry dare not ask.

"Mr. President, it was reported last summer that you said God had told you to attack Saddam Hussein, and it has also been reported that you believe that God is working through you to do his work on earth. Is that what you believe and do you believe that God wants you to be president?" (All in one in case there’s no chance for a follow up).

The chances are ninety nine to one that he will give a non-answer to the question, but leave no doubt to the viewer and listener that he is a man of deep faith. But there’s just that one in a hundred chance - or maybe it’s one in a thousand, that he will say that he believes God is "working" through him. Then it will be up to the voters of this nation to ask themselves the question that Kerry can’t ask..

Do we want a madman in the White House?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

One of the things that has always puzzled me about Presidential elections is the way opinion polls change for alleged reasons that make little or no sense. The party conventions for example. Kerry is expected to get a "bounce" in the polls because of the Democratic National Convention. This implies that people who told a pollster that they would not vote for Kerry or that they were undecided before the convention began, were now in the Kerry camp because they’d seen bits of the convention on television or read about it.

Heaven save us from such voters.

The way the pollsters churn out their findings in the months leading up to the election, you would think they were covering a rhetorical tour-de-France. Bush is 15 seconds ahead after the sprint but Kerry is favored in the second leg and it’ll all come down to who has the most stamina for the uphill climbs in the mountain states.

After 43 months of observing Mr. Bush and his administration and Democratic primary contests dating back to the Iowa caucuses in January, one would think that most voters would have made up their minds by now and that a national convention and an acceptance speech by the Democratic candidate wouldn’t have any appreciable affect on poll numbers.

But that’s obviously the case, so it has to be addressed.

There are such things as independent voters and some of them may indeed be wavering between the two major candidates. Unfortunately, there is a third candidate who might be on the ballot in enough states to screw up the election and there are pitifully uninformed people who will cast their vote for him, fully believing that they are making some sort of statement that will somehow advance the cause of democracy and make us a better nation.

But that’s a subject for another commentary. The Nader nuts aren’t going to persuaded one way or another by what is said at the Democratic Convention, and what Kerry says tonight, but maybe some people who are still wavering will. But I think it’s more likely they’ll be swayed by the campaign onslaught that will be unleashed after both conventions have folded their tents and left Boston and New York to the clean up crews.

It’s during that period of campaigning between the end of the Republican National Convention on September 2 and the election on November 2, 2004 , that candidates can do or say something that will sway the wavering voter in one direction or another - and it could be a single unscripted word or phrase or action that causes a voter to arrive at a mental thumbs up or thumbs down on a candidate.

I don’t think the gaffes that Michael Dukakis made in 1988 really affected the outcome of that year’s election. Bush senior won by 426 to 111 electoral votes and by seven million popular votes. But had it been a close election, as is this one, it could have been won or lost because of one of those gaffes.

What sticks in my mind is not the picture of Dukakis trying to look soldiery, riding on a tank, but the second Presidential debate when Bernard Shaw ambushed him by asking if he would favor the death penalty for someone who raped and murdered his wife. I seem to remember that there was an attempt to dissuade Shaw from asking that question . Maybe it was by his fellow journalist panelists. But Shaw wanted to grandstand. He knew that Dukakis was strongly opposed to the death penalty and he wanted to play gotcha!!

And Dukakis took the bait. He went off into a measured, scholarly explanation of why he opposed the death penalty under any and all circumstances. He tried to change that answer the next day, but it was too late.

What he should have said was…. "Mr. Shaw, I would not only favor the death penalty for the kind of sub-humanoid that you’ve described, I’d want to kill him with my own bare hands. But that would be my reaction in the heat of passion. If I came across this monster as he was trying to leave my house for example. But five or six or ten years after the event, after this murderer has been tried and convicted and sentenced and has gone through appeal after appeal, as the law allows - and in some cases insists upon - at that time, I would see no purpose in putting him to death other than as an act of revenge. Certainly I can’t imagine it being a deterrent for other potential murderers. There are no statistic to prove that them death penalty works as a deterrent. .And I don’t believe that deadly revenge is something that should be practiced by a civilized society. So locking this monster away for the rest of his natural life would be a punishment that I would favor."

That’s what he should have said.

John Kerry needs to avoid falling into the same trap because there will be multiple Bernard Shaws out there playing "gotcha" and he’s already stumbled on the question of whether or not he’s "anti-war." Someone already asked him that question in a not very controlled set of circumstances - and his answer was a hesitant "yeah." And no doubt the Bush campaign will distort and use that against him again and again.

But what would have be more likely to win over those fence sitting voters and not provide the Bush camp with ammunition, would be another "should have said."

He should have said "Yes, I’m anti-war when there’s no need to go to war and I’m pro-war when war is our only option. No president can be simplistically "anti-war" or "pro-war." A president has to meet challenges to the security of this nation in whatever ways are called for that are determined by the circumstances. Just because a surgeon is trained to operate on the human body, doesn’t mean to say that he will decide on that method to treat your illness when all you need is aspirin and bed rest.. So the answer to your question is that I’m pro what needs to be done and anti what doesn’t need to be done."

That’s what he should have said.

I would imagine that the Kerry people have a pretty good handle on the kind of attacks that the Bush camp will launch against him in the next 100 days and that they will be ready with rebuttals.

I think they should head ‘em off at the pass and "answer" the attacks before they are launched - in other worse diffuse them. If he or any other candidate knows that the opposition is going to reveal that, for example , he smoked pot - get up in advance and say, by the way, I used to smoke pot. Barrack Obama wrote a book and admitted to some past bad behavior. It takes it away as a weapon for anyone who runs against him - assuming that Illinois Republicans ever come up with a candidate.

I would like to see Kerry use tonight’s acceptance speech to weave in some of those preemptive parries to forthcoming attacks. They won’t be there of course. Tonight he has another task to fulfill. But if he’s going to win, he needs to start those parries, early and often, remembering the old adage that the best defense is a good offense.

And he needs to avoid having people like me write about what he should have said.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I heard that a number of bloggers have been awarded press credentials and are "covering" the Democratic national convention. I’m not sure whether or not this means that blogging has reached some sort of milestone or whether the Democrats are trying to show that they are "hip" - in touch with all of the latest "happenings," or if it has no meaning at all. Probably the latter. With all of the full time, legitimate media organizations covering the convention, I can’t imagine that there would be any difficulty finding out anything you wanted to know about the goings on in Boston. Somewhere you should be able to find what you’re looking for, whether it’s human interest or scandal or dirt or Republicans masquerading as liberals so they could latch on to free booze.

On the other hand, if it’s commentary you’re looking for, then weblogs are as good as any other place to find it. Particularly if you’re looking for variety. But I don’t know that being in physical attendance at the convention is any great advantage for a blogger wishing to comment on the festivities, unless he or she thinks that "insider stuff" can be gleaned from talking to delegates on the floor. That may have been true in the past, but not with this cut and dried convention.

In the good old days, when all of the major decisions hadn’t been decided weeks before the opening gavel, there used to be some excitement among the delegations, but this one has been about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Except for a few interesting things.

For a while there, I had the feeling that some furtive powers behind the scene were doing their damnedest to put John Kerry on the spot. First we had old twinkle tongue Clinton giving one of his usual sparkling performances that makes some of us wish we were back in the days of FDR and pre-FDR and no two term restrictions. Then Barrack Obama was under the gun. How could he follow Clinton? Well, he answered that question easily. He topped Clinton.

Which leaves John Kerry on the spot. On Thursday, he is supposed to let us know "who he is" and inspire people to believe that he can be a better president than George W Bush. If all voters were rational, that should be - in the alleged words of George Tenet - a slam dunk. But we know that isn’t the case. All voters aren’t rational, otherwise Dubya wouldn’t be there in the first place. So if Kerry doesn’t "top" Clinton and Obama or at least equal their rhetorical heights, folks who need to be persuaded to vote for him are going to look elsewhere for reasons.

I would suggest that one place they could look would be the guy’s name. He’s a John for heaven’s sake. It should be obvious that the time has come for a "John" to become President of the United States.

You may think otherwise, but go look in your history books and you will see that in over 200 years, we have only had THREE Johns as Presidents - the Adams boys and JFK. By scientific and mathematical calculation, it is time for a JOHN (no snickering please) to become president.

Now the argument could be made that there have also only been three GEORGES - George the first and the Bush family of Georges - so if one is to rely on a combination of name and mathematics to guide ones presidential selection, it should be no more than a toss up between Bush and Kerry.

But that’s because you’re not familiar with the whatsallthisthen law of diminishing gravitational gerplunkenshintz, which clearly demonstrates that that the two terms of the original George, when combined with the sum of the years of his two inaugurations (3571 for readers without calculators), have exceeded the permissible presidential Georges for the first four centuries of this republic, rendering the last two Georges ineligible to have assumed office in the first place!!

We can’t undo history of course, but having seen these calculations, your decision for next November can no longer be in doubt. The ineligible George must be removed swiftly and mercilessly, so that the cosmos can be returned to its peaceful progression toward ultimate atrophy. So vote for Kerry.

One of the talking heads on the PBS coverage last night - I believe it was presidential historian Michael Beschloss , was obviously very much impressed with the keynote speech of Barrack Obama, and predicted that the current Democratic candidate for Senator from Illinois would one day be on a national ticket, prompting columnist and commentator Mark Shield to read off a list of past keynote speakers who had similarly impressed but had never appeared on a national ticket. History, said Mr. Shields, was against the prediction of Mr. Beschloss.

Neither of course had taken into consideration the whatsallthisthen second law of cockamamie cognomics which was proven so conclusively in the 1952 and 1956 elections.

That law, as political science professors and late night talk show hosts know, states that a candidate for the presidency with a strange, unpronounceable or laugh provoking first, last or first and last name, can only be elected when running against an opponent with an equally strange, unpronounceable or laugh provoking first, last or first and last name.

There were some close ones over the years. Zachary almost qualified, but it was easy to pronounce and provoked almost no laughter - and his opponent was Lewis, and you couldn’t get more ordinary than that. Rutheford came close. People could mispronounce Mr. Hayes’ given name, but again, it wasn’t very funny. And running against a Samuel, the law didn’t come into play Even though Taylor and Hayes won their races, their wins weren’t affected one way or another by cockamamie congnomics.

But in 1952 and 1956, we had DWIGHT versus ADLAI. The CC Law dictated the outcome and we finished up with a president with at least one strange sounding name. With the law in play, either one of them could have prevailed. Why else do you think Mr. Stevenson ran a second time? You thought it was out of a sense of obligation to his party? Silly, uneducated you.

Despite the gloom and doom comments by Mark Shields about the failure of riveting keynote speakers at national political conventions to become candidates for the presidency, I have a hunch that Michael Beschloss was right. Barack Obama has what it takes to become this country’s first black president.

All we have to do is start looking for strangely named Republican politicians, pick out the most likely possibility and then have Democrats organize to cross over in primaries across the nation to assure his candidacy against Barrack.

Then of course, the whatsallthisthen third law of political piscatology comes into play. Class always prevails.

President Obama. Has a nice ring to it.

By the way, I’ve thought of one collective noun for more than one Bush. How about a Boggle? A Boggle of Bushes. Maybe I’ll submit it to the collective noun site.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

After that "deep stuff" that I closed my comments with yesterday, I thought perhaps it was time for, as John Cleese would say, something completely different.

So today I’m going to talk about dogs.

Every once in a while someone brings up the subject of the vast amount of money that we spend on dog food in this country. It’s the sort of thing that Andy Rooney does when he covers his desk with a raft of packages containing (you pick the product) and proceeds to whine about them. And he actually gets paid for that. Big bucks. But whether it’s Rooney or someone else, it’s usually enough to set off another round in the perpetual war between dog lovers and dog haters.

There are people who fall between these two categories, but I would tend to think that their numbers are too small to worry about.

This love/hate affair with man’s four legged companion has gone on so long that it’s become part of our every day language. We all use dog expressions, whether we’re lovers, haters or in-betweeners.

"Let sleeping dogs lie." "It’s raining cats and dogs." "Sick as a dog." "Working like a dog." "You can’t teach an old dog new tricks." "Every dog has his day."

Those are kind of neutral dogisms that everyone uses, but there’s a whole range of expressions that tend to reveal which side of the dog argument one is on.

When someone says "it’s a dog eat dog world," it’s unlikely that you’ll hear those words in a pet food store. If one wanted to describe a physically unattractive woman - assuming there is such a thing - one might say that she has a pleasing personality, but you know what the canine haters would call her. Or in the case of a male, the reference would be to his female parentage.

W.C. Fields couldn’t stand Philadelphia, for which he might be forgiven, but he also left us the thought that anyone who hates children and dogs can’t be all bad. W.C. would not have been welcome in my home.

The pages of literature are filled with dogisms. In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare says "Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war." Not cats of war or snakes of war or parakeets of war mind you. Just dogs. And his fellow countryman of a later age, Noel Coward, coupled mad dogs with Englishmen as being fond of basking in the midday sun. Still, I might have invited both of those two to dinner to find out how they really felt. After all, neither actually said that they didn’t like dogs. Besides, can you imagine the kind of conversation you could have will Will and Noel at the same dinner table? Oh for a time warp mechanism!!

Still another Englishman wrote these tender lines,

The poor dog,
In life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome,
Foremost to defend
putting Lord Byron squarely in the pro-dog camp.

Sir Walter Scott went even further when he wrote;

Recollect that the Almighty
Who gave the dog
To be companion
Of our pleasures and our toils,
Hath invested him with a noble nature
And incapable of deceit
Of course you could get an argument about that from mail carriers and newspaper delivery people, but you wouldn’t expect them to think of dogs as being noble and above board!!

I’m not too sure just how Lord Tennyson felt. In the same poem that includes the well known line,

In the spring
A young man’s fancy
Lightly turns
To thoughts of love,
he also wrote

He will hold thee
When his passion
Shall have spent
Its novel force,
Something better than a dog,
A little dearer than his horse.
I think that’s more for than against. After all, a dog is supposed to be a friend, not a lover, and Tennyson doesn’t say that a lover is far better than a dog - just something better.

Where do I stand on the dog issue? As you may have gathered from my comment about W.C. Fields, I’m a dog lover. I judge people on the basis of how they feel about dogs. And how they feel about my dog, Cody, the Queen of my house.

And by the way, I feed my dog the most expensive dog food around and I don’t give a hoot whether Andy Rooney or anyone else thinks that’s foolish or not

To me, particularly in this political season, to which I will undoubtedly return tomorrow or the next day, Alphonse De LaMartine, who left us in 1869, said it all.

"The more I see of the representatives of the people, the more I admire my dogs."

Monday, July 26, 2004

I don’t really have time for random browsing around the Internet, but every once in a while, I type in random words and phrases in the Google search engine to see if something pops up that will teach me something I didn’t know or inspire a comment for this commentary blog. (And even though I type these words and phrases at the Google site, I still think there needs to be other search engines as powerful and as popular as the big G. See my post of June 29, 2004).

Since Bill Clinton is about to give a speech at the Democratic national convention, I thought I would see how the result of my browsing of last October 1st was holding up.

I was looking then for how many "hits" I would get for "Bush lies" and "Clinton lies." Clinton, as we all know, was impeached for telling untruths - some under oath yet. So I fully expected that the combination of his name and the word "lies" would far outnumber the same combination for Bush. I was wrong. Ten months ago, hits for "Bush lies" outnumbered those for "Clinton lies" 1,500,000 to 749,000.

Today, the same query brought 1,980,000 hits for "Bush lies" - an increase of 480,000, and 852,000 for "Clinton lies" - an increase of 103,000. Republicans are still leading in the lie business according to Google.

Of course there’s Bush junior and senior plus the governor of Florida, so maybe Google isn’t being totally fair to George W. On the other hand, there’s Hillary as well as Bill - and in a lot of people’s minds, Hillary would make up for a gaggle of Bushes when it comes to lie production.

I know that "gaggle" is the word for describing a collection of geese, not Bushes, but I couldn’t find any way to describe more than one Bush in a list of collective nouns, though this site is looking for new collective noun suggestions. Maybe someone will come up with an appropriate one for more than one Bush.

Incidentally, apropos of Bill’s return to the national television stage tonight, here’s a way he can get the biggest laugh of the convention and guarantee a sound bite that’ll be used for years. After the usual Ladies and gentlemen, members of Congress, distinguished guests, fellow Democrats and the rest of the usual introductory folderol, just start the speech with the words… "In conclusion."

Back to my browsing. There are 650,000 sites for "Kerry lies," 269,000 for Cheney and a paltry 66,000 for John Edwards.

I’m not sure that it means anything, but even if you add the Kerry and Edwards lie "hits" to the Clinton hits, they still don’t equal Bush’s 1,980,000. Of course the pundits are saying that the nation doesn’t yet "know" Mr. Kerry and maybe after they get to know him better, he’ll be as popular as Mr. Bush in the lie category.

Much more interesting browsing results pop up when you get away from politics and look for something that is a major component of the troubles facing the world today.

Type in "Life After Death."

Google will almost never produce the same results from search to search, but the numbers usually stay in the same ball park I typed in the phrase yesterday and got 10,700,000 hits!!! Today, as I’m typing this post, the hit count for the same phrase is 11,200,000.

It makes President Bush look like a piker in the game of increasing Google search hits.

Of course many of the "hits" won’t refer to the general understanding of what we mean when we speak of "life after death," but most will. There will be lists of millions of discussions or references to beliefs held by millions of people on earth that life does not end with death. That we die but we don’t die. That we continue to live in some other form in some other dimension but still as sentient beings, the self same sentient beings that we were when we were alive.

I’m not sure in what form babies and lunatics are supposed to survive after death. Perhaps, in their particular after life, they are imbued with a sentience they never possessed in their life on earth.

But from my observations of this belief phenomenon, those who accept it as a tenet of faith, don’t ask themselves questions about the details. To do so would require them to attempt a reconciliation between logic and illogic.

My last post of last week asked whether or not "we" - the western world, should be "at war" with Islam - the Islam that wants the world to revert to seventh century beliefs - the Islam that wants to turn the world into one great theocracy.

Now - inspired by the number of Google finds for references to "life after death" - I’d like to suggest that perhaps the greater question is whether or not humankind needs to be "at war" with the kind of irrational beliefs that are the bedrock of this Islamic danger and the fuel that ignites the suicide madmen who believe that they are doing "God’s work" when they slaughter infidels. And to accept the fact that it’s not just the world of Islam where such beliefs can be found. They’re also the bedrock of "western" religions.

We may say that our belief in life after death isn’t as crazy as theirs - that we have no set of beliefs that tell us that slaughtering those who don’t believe as we do is a one way ticket to paradise. (Incidentally, "Muslim Paradise" only brings 188,000 Google hits. Maybe Muslims don’t discuss their faith on the Internet as often as Christians and other religionists).

But we have Christian faiths that absolutely preach that those who don’t believe as they do, are doomed to an after life of hell or maybe no after life at all. Members of those religious flocks may not commit suicide in a manner that will kill some non believers in order to get to their "life after death" earlier than it might otherwise be achieved - but if you stop and think about it, the difference between them and the crazed Muslims is razor thin. The Muslim nut acts out his beliefs violently. But his ultimate belief is no different than the aforementioned Christian beliefs. That you have to be a follower of his religion to get to heaven or paradise or whatever one wants to call the "place" where one celebrates being alive after one is dead. Or you’re doomed to the "other place."

I don’t know what kind of a world it would be if we - Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Tribal religionists and all the other believers didn’t have their various religious beliefs. Maybe we’d find other illogical reasons to hate and kill each other, but maybe not believing that life continues after you’re dead, will give potential suicide murderers pause and at least put a crimp in the terrorism business.

But if it happens at all, it’ll probably be a few thousand years down the pike - assuming we can last long enough to grow up and understand who we are. And we won’t see it.

All of this deep stuff just from typing a few words into a search engine. I told you we have to watch out for Google, ‘cos if we don’t watch out, that behemoth will take over the world.

Friday, July 23, 2004

When I first read about Bobby Fischer being held in Japan for extradition back to the United States to face charges for going to Yugoslavia to play chess in 1993 when there was a travel ban to that country in force, I thought it was a poor use of our law enforcement resources, particularly at a time when we’ve just had the release of the 9/ll commission report, blasting the CIA and FBI for their pre 9/11 inefficiencies.

I was about to write a piece about what a waste of time and energy it was to chase after this guy and put him on trial for a pretty silly 10 year old offense, and to chastise law enforcement authorities for having screwed up priorities.

But that was because I hadn’t realized just who Bobby Fischer really was. Not the chess player, but the virulent anti-Semitic, anti-America, anti everything we stand for hatemonger.

Just as Palestinians and other Arabs danced in the streets and rejoiced after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, so did this sick son-of-a-bitch. Here’s an interview he did with Pablo Mercado of Radio Bombo in the Philippines. It'll turn your stomach. It did mine.

That Fischer is a certified nut case is without question. His mother and biological father were Jewish, but he aligns himself with the most despicable anti-Semitic hate groups to be found anywhere. Just type in phrases with his name included on Google and see the garbage that pops up. If you type in "looking for Bobby Fischer" for example, the first thing that Google displays is this sick site from Japan.

The man belongs in a mental institution, but if there’s no room at Bellevue and the Justice Department finds something in the law that allows him to be charged as a traitor for giving aid and comfort to the enemy, that would be just fine with me.
UN voting and Islam

Here’s a comment from the Simon Wiesenthal Center that I neglected to include in my comments about the UN vote on Israel’s security fence.
"The United Nations General Assembly, a body routinely hijacked to single out Israel for vilification, is at it again. After sending the security fence issue initially to the ICJ, this week it voted 150-6 to demand that Israel immediately remove a fence that has reduced suicide bombings by 90%! No such demand was ever made of Spain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or India - each of which has built barriers against neighbors in contested areas!

Where are the 150 General Assembly members from Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa, when it comes to declaring suicide bombing a "crime against humanity?" Why hasn't the General Assembly sent that question to The Hague for a legal ruling? Could it be because such a resolution would expose to the entire world that the main perpetrators of these heinous acts are Islamist extremists?"

The Wiesenthal Center talks about Islamic extremists as opposed simply to Muslims - followers of the religion of Islam. So do other leaders, all careful to say that our problem is with individuals who have used and distorted the Islamic faith and not with the religion itself.

I wish I could be so sure. I have raised the question here before as to whether or not we are or should be at war with Islam. The idea of the western world actually being at war with one of the worlds major religions - a religion practiced by something close to two billion people, is a scary thing to contemplate.

But I’m not sure that our problem is just with Islamic extremists - and others are certain that the problem is much more basic. Like this view by Jackie Mason and Raoul Feider in the Jewish World Review. It’s a piece that will make you think, if you have time to read it all. If not, here’s a taste of what they have to say on the subject of Islam.
Islam exists as it is taught in the Koran and lived by Muhammad. Muhammad, by the way, was hardly an example that one would wish to emulate. He had affairs with maids and slave girls and was also a pedophile (and before we get outraged e-mails on the latter point, here is chapter and verse: the girl's name was Aisha, she was 9 he was 53. He was also involved in the slave trade, assassinations and genocide. But, what the heck, nobody is perfect.)

Let's, as the sportscasters say, go to the record, which, in this case is the Koran.
· Kill the disbelievers wherever we find them. (2:191)
· Fight and slay the pagans (translation: that's us) seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem. (9:5)
· Slay or crucify or cut the hands and feet of the unbelievers...(5:34)
· ...strike off the heads of the disbelievers...[make a] wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives [for ransom] (947:4)
· [treatment of disbelievers]...garments of fire shall be cut and there shall be poured over their heads boiling water whereby whatever is in their bowels and skin shall be dissolved and they will be punished with hooked iron rods (22:19).
· The Koran also instructs Muslims to slay or crucify or cut the hands and the feet of the unbelievers (5:34), fight unbelievers until no other religion except Islam remains. (3:85)

Given these basic teachings of Islam there is little reason to be surprised at the beheading of Americans Nick Berg and Paul Johnson.

And I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised when hostages who are taken in Iraq and subsequently released without any demands being met, turn out to be of the Islamic faith.

So the question may not be whether or not we should be or already are at war with Islam. Despite the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion that "Islam is not our enemy," it begins to look more and more like the world of Islam is at war with us. Perhaps not armed conflict in every part of the globe where Islamic and western values and cultures meet and clash, but nonetheless a war-like struggle between those values and cultures that could determine the future direction of civilization on this planet.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I have heard that Barack Obama, Illinois Democratic Senatorial candidate and designated keynote speaker at the Democratic National convention, is interested in hearing what ordinary folk would like to hear him talk about in that keynote address.

I think he’d only want to hear from Democrats and Independents. Republicans would likely have a raft of ideas, and I think it would be fun if they sent them in and he picked a few to pick apart in his speech. But Barack is a straight shooter. He wouldn’t do that.

I guess I qualify as someone he’d like to hear from. I think of myself as an independent. My conservative friends and correspondents probably think of me as a Democrat and indeed I vote more often for Democrats than I do for Republicans. But can you be a Democrat if you also vote for Republican candidates, which I do when I think he or she is the better choice?

In any event, Barack is sure to want to hear the wisdom of the whatsallthisthen blogger.

I think he needs to talk about the word "liberal."

I don’t know at what point in time folks from the political right co-opted that word, attached it to any and all Democratic politicians and turned it into a synonym for something anti-American, anti-God, anti-family values, anti-business, pro heavy taxes, reckless spending of taxpayer’s money, stealing from the rich to give to lazy bums who don’t work,"soft" on crime, "soft" on defense, "soft" on communism, "soft" on terrorism, pro-gay marriage and generally out of step with "mainstream America."

Probably about the same time that homosexuals co-opted the word "Gay."

The use of the word as a synonym for all that is evil in America also extends to anything said, pictured or written in the broadcast, electronic and print media that conflicts with the views of those to the right of the political spectrum. The well known "liberal media."

And in that context, the word is used sneeringly, dripping with venom. You don’t just say liberal - you snarl it!!

Obama should talk about the confusion of Republicans who keep saying that this Senator or that Congressman is an "ultra liberal" or someone with a "liberal voting record." They’re supposed to be opposed to Democrats, yet they keep paying them the highest possible compliment that can be paid to American politicians.

That they are liberal.

If you look up the word "liberal" in this on-line dictionary, or any other dictionary, you’ll find a variety of definitions, but the most prominent and generally accepted definition of the word is:
Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.


Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others, broadminded.

So how could this be bad? Free thinking. Not bigoted. Tolerant of others and their ideas, even if they’re Republicans. And in most dictionaries, you’ll also find: "Of democratic or republican forms of government as distinguished from monarchies, aristocracies etc."

Obviously, the haters of Democrats have gone beyond the normal, accepted definitions of a word that they want to use for the personification of all that is evil. They’ve delved into the twists and turns of derivation and interpretation and found such things as "tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor" (with taxpayer’s money) and "Obsolete. Morally unrestrained; licentious." (Those Godless bastards)

That’s a little like going through all of the disclosure material in a pharmaceutical ad and picking out reports of deaths. THIS PRODUCT WILL KILL YOU. So what if it’s aspirin? Call it KILLER and do it often enough and long enough and some people will start equating aspirin with sudden death. Specially if Rush Limbaugh says it.

But the fact that some people to the far right are taking a word that has clear meaning to most English speaking people and are using it to describe something that it doesn’t describe, is a Republican problem, not a Democratic one.

Obama should thank the folks from the other side of the aisle for acknowledging - no, publicizing what Democrats stand for. Fairness. Tolerance. Generosity. Not slaves to any rigid dogma or philosophy. Willing to listen to others. And free from bigotry. Political liberalism.

Obama should say that those are the values that Democrats proclaim with pride and that will be practiced in the White House when John Kerry takes office.

So, he should say, while the Republicans are wrong about a lot of things, they’re right about who we are.

We are Democrats. Conservative Democrats. Middle of the road Democrats. Socialistic Democrats. Black and white Democrats. Hispanic Democrats. Christian and Jewish and Muslim Democrats. Old and young. Male and Female All Democrats. And none of us limited by rigid orthodox or authoritarian views. All of us open to new ideas for progress. All of us tolerant of the views of others and willing to listen to them. All of us in favor of reforms. All of us for fairness for all of our citizens and against bigotry.

And all of us liberals. And we thank our Republican friends for acknowledging who we are and helping to clarify the choice that Americans will be making next November.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

It isn’t often I find myself laughing out loud about a serious matter - and the argument raging over Israel’s security fence is certainly a serious matter.

But yesterday, that argument was unfolding in the halls of the United Nations. It was of course an overwhelmingly one sided argument, as are just about all UN discussions concerning Israel.

Yesterday’s resolution demanded that Israel "obey" the ruling of the International Court of Justice and - in Reaganesque terms - "tear down that wall." Regardless of the fact that it isn’t a wall. Or that the ICJ opinion carries zero legal weight.

Since the subject matter was Israel, one truly wonders why there was any discussion at all, but there was, because everyone had to decide just how to word the resolution. After all, we all know how important it is to use exactly the right phrasing when you’re issuing the words of wisdom by which the whole world is directed toward civilized behavior and the rule of law. Without the right words, where would the world be?

So there was discussion, much of it brought about by the concerns of the civilized nations of the European Union. Some of those nations wanted the resolution to say that that it "welcomed" the ICJ decision. Jolly old England and some others, just wanted to "take note" of the decision. The argument raged. How to reach a compromise between the two extremes so that the resolution could take its rightful place, along with all other UN resolutions concerning Israel, as a vital contribution to humankind’s historic march toward an ultimate world wide civilized society.

Finally a compromise was reached. The ICJ opinion wouldn’t be "welcomed." It wouldn’t be "noted." It would be "accepted." And so the nations of the European Union joined the Arabs and the Muslims and the Communists and the dictatorships and the slaughterers in condemning Israel’s security fence.

Isn’t that special?

It’s a serious matter, but as I read about it yesterday, I just had to laugh.

A great many people in this country think that the UN is a joke. It does some good things, but it also carries on like a theater of the absurd. How else would you describe an organization that could make Libya the chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights?

While I was laughing, I thought I would see what the Internet’s premier search engine had to say about how the United Nations treats Israel and its enemies - the nations of the Arab world and their assorted supporters.

Here are Google’s answers. Obviously, I don’t need to say what the questions were. They’re contained in the answers.

Results 1 - 50 of about 561 for "UN resolutions against Israel (0.27 seconds)

Your search - "UN resolutions against Arab states" - did not match any documents.
Here’s a two year old article that sheds a little light on those two search results. Obviously nothing has changed since July of 2002, and if we were to come back to this topic two years or five years hence, I am pretty sure that the same results would surface.

Zero condemnations of Arab states. Zero condemnations of wars launched against Israel. Zero condemnations of state sponsored terrorist attacks against Israel or Israeli citizens anywhere or just Jews anywhere. Zero condemnations of economic boycotts against Israel. Zero condemnation of anything anti-Israel.

Since the UN voted to partition what was left of Palestine after Jordan had been severed from the territory and thus enabled Israel to declare its independence, it’s as though the organization suddenly awoke from a coma like state and said to itself - "My God - what have we done? We’ve voted in favor of those historic troublemakers. Well we’ll just have to keep an eye on them and make damned sure they don’t get away with anything"

And that’s the way it’s been ever since.

As anyone who has read the comments posted on this blog over the past year or so knows, I am sympathetic to the suffering of Palestinians and I am not a knee jerk supporter of Israel and all Israel’s policies.

But whatever one might think about the security fence and why and whether it is needed - the last place to try to sort it all out with fairness and honesty, is the United Nations.

Here’s two words of advice that I’ve been meaning to give to beleaguered United Airlines for weeks but keep getting sidetracked. Listen up carefully, UAL. This could be the answer to your loan guarantee problems.


A personal note if you will. This is a blog of personal observation and commentary, but it’s also a public place where I can honor the memory of a good friend.

Fred Weituschat was an old poker playing buddy, and a sometime professional colleague who was one of the guys standing up for me at my wedding 25 years ago.

He died suddenly on July 5th and the world is a sadder place.

I was glad to see that some stories about Fred could be found by typing his name on Google, including his bio and a link to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune.

Since the latter is now probably archived at the Trib and would cost money to retrieve, here it is.
TV producer Fred H. Weituschat changed the way police officers get the information they need to fight crime.

In the late 1990s, Mr. Weituschat and now-retired city official Bill Corbett developed Digital Integrated Video Aid, which efficiently sends communication from various city sources directly to the Chicago Police Department's roll-call rooms.

The devices are in six police districts on the North and South Sides of Chicago. Mr. Weituschat's son, Robert, said there are plans to install the devices throughout the department.

Mr. Weituschat also touched the lives of children, developing more than 90 "show-and-tell" programs, which featured cartoon characters and fairy tales with a message.

Mr. Weituschat, 74, died of heart failure Monday, July 5, in his Glenview home.

He was born in Detroit. Soon after, his parents moved to Chicago's South Side. Mr. Weituschat graduated from Lane Technical High School in 1947, said his daughter, Lisa Anastasia. After high school, he attended Illinois State University before transferring to Northwestern University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in radio and television in the early 1950s.

Mr. Weituschat's wife, Edith, said he worked as a cabdriver and a radio disc jockey to make money during his college years.

During the Korean War, he served in the Army as a photographer, his daughter said. He enlisted in the reserves in 1956 and served six additional years.

In 1954, Mr. Weituschat began working at Wilding Studios, where he worked for 15 years before establishing his own company. He and his wife got married in 1956, and they made their home in Rogers Park.

In 1969 he founded Weituschat & Associates Inc. Eight years later, he established Audio Visual Systems Inc., a service group for the larger company.

Mr. Weituschat's son said his father loved to play with the newest equipment while designing conference and screening rooms for companies.

"He worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week," his son said. "We never really got an understanding why. It was just something he did."

Mr. Weituschat's daughter said she remembered thinking her dad and his job were so cool. It was so cool that she followed in his footsteps and became an independent producer.

"I learned everything I know from my dad," she said.

Mr. Weituschat also is survived by a stepbrother, Walter Kierstein, and a grandson.
And also by friends who will miss him, but were grateful to have known him and to have been able to call him friend.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The other day I said that I had opinions about the International Court of Justice decision regarding the security fence/wall being erected to keep suicide bombers and other terrorists from entering Israel from the west bank, but rather than comment myself, I posted a commentary from the "Mideast On Target" newsletter and included a link to Northwestern law professor Steven Lubet’s op-ed analysis of the decision in the Chicago Tribune.

As might be expected, there were letters to the editor explaining how professor Lubet had it all wrong - and I have heard from those who disagreed with the author of the "Mideast on Target" piece.

The general thrust of these disagreements is that the barrier is a "land grab" and that if it is to be built at all, it should be on Israel’s "borders." And one letter writer called the fence an "offense against human rights."

Let me begin by observing that the names of these letter writers are never found beneath a letter condemning suicide murders as an offense of any kind. You also very often find such people treating pronouncements of the UN and other international bodies with contempt, not to be listened to - except when they condemn Israel.

Let me further direct readers to my post of July 31, 2003, titled "Selective Protesters."

I would also recommend reading Charles Krauthammer’s current syndicated column on the ICJ opinion.

I frequently disagree with Krauthammer, and very often with his support of Israeli policies that I consider to be wrong and counter productive. But Krauthammer makes a point that Lubet didn’t cover. The International Court of Justice had no jurisdiction over the "case" that it "decided."

Let me also suggest that readers take a good look at the map of Israel within it’s pre 1967 borders, and pay special attention to the distances between those borders and the Mediterranean. How far do you commute to work or drive to a restaurant or the theater?

Israel has faced belligerency from the Arab world since the UN vote re-establishing it as a sovereign state. There was little question that after the 1976 war, its borders would not remain the same as before those hostilities began. Ideally, they would have been negotiated with those belligerent parties, but it was not to be.

There are people who seem to think that if Israel had just withdrawn to its pre1967 borders after it was victorious in that conflict, all would be peace and light in the Middle East. Egypt and Syria wouldn’t have launched their 1973 surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish faith. And all of the disparate terrorist groups would have disbanded and their members joined monasteries.

There are people who believe the same thing today, only now they add the dismantling of settlements as the key to peace and light in the Middle East.

They don’t seem to see the irony in the fact that while there are a couple of hundred thousand Jewish settlers on the west bank and Gaza, there are over a million Israeli Arab citizens. "Settlers" if you will, in the land of Israel. What Arab country welcomes Jews as citizens? As resident aliens? As visitors?

There is no point in revisiting the various arguments that have raged over the decades. That the settlements are on disputed territories. That they were needed for security purposes. That the area that is now Israel is a fraction of what was originally described in the Balfour declaration. That most of Palestine was cut off to create Jordan. That there already is a Palestinian state - Jordan. That there is little chance of viability for another Palestinian state squeezed between Israel and Jordan plus a strip of land squeezed in between Israel and Egypt.

There is no point because the peoples involved have to deal with what exists now and what is possible for the future.

There are plenty of voices being raised within Israel against the security fence. But not building a security fence and dismantling settlements on the west bank and Gaza is not going to bring peace. There was no peace before the fence building began. There was no peace before there was a single settlement on the west bank and in Gaza.

Peace can only come from genuine negotiations between the warring parties and by agreements honestly reached and kept, not by unilateral action.

How to defend a nation’s citizens however, is not a matter for negotiation by warring parties. Israel, I think out of a sense of total exasperation , has decided that physical separation is needed to stop the terrorist attacks.

Unlike the pontificators at The Hague , which, as Krauthammer points out, included such defenders of human rights as the chief judge from China, (isn’t that where Tiananmen Square is located?) I cannot condemn the building of the fence as being illegal or as "an offense against human rights," even though I know it disrupts the lives of thousands of Palestinians.

I also don’t accept that it’s a "land grab" and that the fence will never come down. If peace never comes, it would indeed become a de facto border. But to accept that kind of an outcome would be to surrender civilization to madness.

When a peace is finally reached - when - not if, the fence will be removed. There will be no need for any kind of a fence. In fact, it would get in the way of normal relations, normal commerce - all of the norms that come with civilized people living side by side.

Take a look at my post of October 10, 2003. Somewhat tongue in cheek, but when you think it through, really the only solution.

I have great sympathy for innocent Palestinians who are suffering because of the fence and because of the occupation and I know that many innocent Palestinians have died as the Israeli military wages its ongoing war against leaders of the various terrorist groups.

But the International Court of Justice opinion does nothing to help them or to move the two opposing sides towards any kind of a solution to their conflict.

And my opinion is that they should have stayed out of it

Monday, July 19, 2004

For a while there, I had sympathy for both Martha Stewart and Judge Cedarbaum.

The judge was under just as powerful a microscope as Martha and no matter what kind of sentence she handed down, there would be criticisms. I think she was very fair, handing down the smallest sentence she could. Pundits are calling it a "light sentence" but I think Martha got screwed.

I guess judges have to have some restrictions placed on them in terms of what kind of punishment they can hand out, otherwise you might have some crazy nuts sentencing people to life in the cooler for jaywalking. And believe me, there are some judges who are that incompetent and only have their jobs through political connections. I speak from personal experience. So there are guidelines and the judges have to work within those guidelines.

Still, the people sitting on the bench are called judges, and one would think that they could use their discretion in certain instances to go outside the guidelines and render a judgment that was appropriate to the case at hand and the particular defendant in question.

I don’t think it makes much sense to send Martha to the hoosegow for five months. Her stupidity has already cost her big time - and I don’t just mean financially. The judge should have had the discretion to sentence her to just home confinement and probation and a fine. But she couldn’t and now Martha’s looking around for a copy of Butch or Bitch - Jailhouse Life for Dummies..

I still have sympathy for Martha. She may be the hard nosed bitch portrayed in the television movie about her life, but last Friday’s sentencing put a healthy dent in the protective coat of denial she’s been wearing since she was first indicted, and whatever she says about being unafraid, deep down she’s got to be scared shitless.

But her post sentencing instant press conference and her follow up interview with Barbara Walters, show that she’s still in denial and her lawyers aren’t looking out for her best interests and giving her the best advice if they are urging her to appeal and appeal and appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Maybe it’ll put a bunch more money in their pockets, but if her chances of overturning the verdict and the sentence and getting a new trial are, as all the experts are saying, slim and none, the best advice they could give her would be to make a deal about which Federal pen can find space for her, take her limo to the front gate and start getting those five months out of the way. If she could check in this week, she could be home for Christmas.

It makes no difference whether or not it was a "small personal matter that got blown out of all proportion," as Martha proclaimed on the courthouse steps. The guilty verdict is just as valid for small matters as it is for major crime. And without question, she brought the "out of proportion blow up" on herself by being stupid or arrogant or both.

I’m not sure just what Martha was guilty of other than lying about why she sold her Imclone stock, and I’ve written about that kind of behavior before. It’s an illness that seems to befall successful and high profile people, thinking they can "lie away" a problem instead of simply telling the truth..

But there was nothing that needed lying about. Martha’s broker told his assistant to call and tell her that Sam Waksal, Imclone’s boss, was trying to dump Imclone shares and maybe she should too.

Apparently, this was "insider information." Telling one client what another client was doing is insider information and illegal!!

So is jaywalking.

In my view, this has to be as ridiculous a prosecution as a government could undertake. It would most certainly be insider information if Waksal had called Martha and told her that his big time drug wasn’t going to be approved and that Imclone stock would likely drop when the news broke and maybe she should sell her shares before that happened.

But nothing like this was alleged at the trial. It was all about her broker alerting her that the shares were being dumped by Waksal and maybe she should dump hers.

"Insider" transactions - shares bought and sold by company executives, are published in newspapers all the time, and can be tracked in other places too. The information is released after the fact of course - not at the moment that the transactions are taking place. But how could it be illegal for a broker to tell client "A" that client "B" is selling his stock if that’s all that the broker knows and passes on? Not that there’s some non public information that’s going to cause a stock to go down, just that someone who could have that kind of information, is selling.

I used to trade stocks and stock options. My former broker is retired now, but in my trading days, he wouldn’t have hesitated to tell me if one of his other clients was doing some heavy buying or selling of a particular stock or option and whether he thought it was a good idea for me to follow suit. There was no "insider information" involved, just a possible early warning based on his observation of trading patterns and who was doing the trading.

If that’s supposed to be illegal, then I have to quote the words of Mr. Bumble, the Charles Dickens character from Oliver Twist - "If the law supposed that, the law is a ass, a idiot."

At least they didn’t lead her into the courthouse with her hands manacled behind her back.

Which was really a surprise. I would have thought that they’d be a hell of a lot more scared of being attacked by Martha than by the likes of Michael Jackson or Ken Lay.

But then, who can figure the inscrutable minds of Federal prosecutors?

Friday, July 16, 2004

So now the round of excuses is complete.

Lord Butler and his commission have let Tony Blair off the hook. Tony didn’t make up all those stories about how Saddam Hussein and his mighty armies, air forces, navies and stockpiles of horrendous weapons threatened the peace of the world and the very freedom of the United Kingdom. It was all the fault of British Intelligence.

Just as George Bush didn’t make up any of his stories about how the United States needed to be defended against the evil Saddam - and as we have heard Mr. Bush proclaim again and again to wildly cheering partisan audiences, he doesn’t mess around when it comes to defending the United States of America.

So the obsession of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al to re-shape the face of the Middle East, beginning with an invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Hussein regime gets swept aside as though it never existed, and all the blame for the launching of this grand plan is placed at the door of faulty intelligence.

That’s the same faulty intelligence which the leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom have been looking at for more than a decade without perceiving it as an imminent threat to the security of either country and certainly not one that called for a military invasion. At least not until the Supreme Court gave its nod to Bush.

Sitting in a suburb of Chicago and having no political connections nor lines of communication to the White House or to 10 Downing Street, I can’t write of any personal knowledge of the inner workings of the US or UK governments.

But I can read, I can hear, and with my glasses on, I have twenty twenty vision. At least in one eye. I have read the words of Paul O’Neil. I’ve read Clarke’s book. I’ve read Woodward’s book. I have read the letter that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of the pro-war crowd wrote to Clinton in 1998

And I wonder who the Bush administration thinks it’s fooling. Boobus Americanus? And whatever the British equivalent would be? Perhaps the proverbial "Twit."

As more than one Bush administration insider has said, it (the invasion of Iraq) was going to happen anyway. No matter what unfolded at the UN. No matter what UN inspectors said. No matter what the so called "intelligence" was on weapons of mass destruction.

(Incidentally, there are many nations that have weapons of mass destruction and there are enough of them that aren’t friends of the United States to provide Mr. Bush with plenty of opportunities for future wars if we’re dumb enough to re-elect him. Take a look at the list you can find here.)

To a certain extent, one can let Tony Blair off the hook. His obsession was less with invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein than it was being a faithful lackey to whoever was sitting in the White House. He was best buddies with Bill Clinton. He is now best buddies with George Bush, whose political philosophy has to be 180 degrees removed from that of his predecessor. Yet Blair, leader of the British Labour party, which is about as far left of the US Republican party as it can be without bumping into Lenin’s tomb, finds a way to agree with everything that Bush says.

Many are calling the Butler commission a whitewash. I haven’t read it so I can’t comment, but he has made it very clear that he’s blaming Britain’s intelligence services for leading poor Tony astray. The issue of whether or not Mr. Blair was obsessed with toppling the Saddam Hussein regime and whether or not he was surrounded by ministers and advisers who had the same obsession, most likely wasn’t considered.

And it would seem from the scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report, that the same issue was deftly sidestepped here. And so the question not only remains unanswered, but it seems pretty clear that no Senate or House committee or any other official body is going to investigate the question that really needs to be investigated. Did President Bush come into office with plans already afoot to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein and was all of the oratory and the wrangling over UN resolutions just a charade? Just cover for what was about to happen no matter what?

How fortunate for Mr. Bush that the Senate Committee report puts all the blame on the intelligence community and so allows him and his supporters to say that any untruths he spoke about the threat to our democracy by those weapons of mass destruction under the control of madman Saddam, weren’t really lies because it’s what George Tenet told him and he believed George.

So I guess now Mr. Bush can go around making speeches about all of the reasons why the invasion of Iraq was a good thing, perfectly legal and perfectly moral - and there will never be a chance for an angry congress to vote a bill of impeachment for taking us to war based on a pack of lies.

Now he can enjoy the cheers of his partisan audiences on the campaign trail as he says such things as, "even if we didn’t find any WMD’s, Iraq had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction." And "you can’t negotiate with terrorists" (clearly implying that Iraq was somehow tied in with Al Qaida and the 9/11 attack). And "he killed his own people. He gassed them. He attacked them with chemical weapons." And "we’ve brought freedom to the Iraqi people." And "we’re fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we don’t have to fight them outside your house." Or words to that effect. And "the world is a safer place."

And the most persistent thing that he says, and that I’m sure he really believes - weapons or no weapons, 9/11 connection or no 9/11 connection, Al Qaida connection or no Al Qaida connection - "it was the right thing to do."

Now how do you argue with logic like that?

Or as a well known modern day philosopher might say - isn’t that special??? 

Thursday, July 15, 2004

"What’s all this then" isn’t just the title of this blog. It’s a question that I ask myself just about every day - and much of the time I don’t have an answer, though I almost always have an opinion.

I most certainly have an opinion on the recent ruling against Israel by the International Court of Justice, which sent Palestinians cheering into the streets of the west bank and Gaza and had Arafat declaring that it was a triumph. But today I offer the opinion of others who are assuredly more qualified than I to comment on this topic.

Steven Lubet is a Northwestern University law professor who appears to have actually read the opinion and wrote a scathing analysis of it in last Tuesday’s Chicago Tribune.

Elliott Chodoff is one of the authors of the Mideast On Target e-mail newsletter. Here’s his angry and emotional take on the decision.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on the security barrier last week serves as a stark reminder that Jews are considered to have different rights than "regular" human beings.

Given its mandate from the UN General Assembly, the ICJ’s ruling did not come as a surprise. The UN asked the court:

"What are the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, as described in the report of the Secretary-General, considering the rules and principles of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions?"

Since Palestinian terrorism, or for that matter any aggression against Israel was not to be considered in the court’s ruling, any Israeli defensive action that strayed from Israeli sovereign territory could only be seen as an act of aggression and a violation of international law.

In this article we will not consider the many biased legal manipulations and maneuvers of the court beyond its one-sided ruling (negating Jordan’s role as occupier of the West Bank in the 1949-1967 period; considering Palestine a sovereign state in respect to territory but not in respect to attacks on Israel and Israelis; selected application of the Fourth Geneva Convention; extending the General Assembly mandate to include a ruling on the legality of Israeli settlements but not on Palestinian terrorism; etc) but rather consider the underlying message of the ruling to Israel and the world: the murder of Jews is outside the scope of the ICJ, but Jews who act to defend themselves are criminals.

In effect, the court has ruled, by a margin of 14-1, that the human rights of the Palestinians supersede the right to life of Israelis. If human rights are considered to have a higher value than the Jewish right to live, Jews must, by necessity, be deemed subhuman.

Those who kill Jews are somehow exempt from legal consideration, but Jews who defend themselves are criminals. This logic mimics the terminology of the report submitted by SS Brigadefuhrer Jurgen Stroop, who commanded the Nazi forces against the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, in which Jews who had the chutzpa to resist deportation to the gas chambers at Treblinka were termed "bandits."

This attitude toward Jews resisting their own murders is not only a modern phenomenon. In the Biblical book of Esther (in which the story of Purim is presented) the miraculous turning point occurs when a royal edict permits the Jews to defend their lives against their would-be murderers. Prior to this edict, Jewish resistance would have been illegal. It seems that not much has changed in 2500 years except for the absence of the miracle.

Under the circumstances, we recommend that the ICJ remove itself from The Hague and move to a more appropriate setting: Nuremberg. Its legal reasoning is certainly reminiscent of laws that emanated from that city in the 1930’s.
I don’t necessarily agree that the decision is nothing less than blatant anti-Semitism, but I can understand the emotional reaction of someone who lives in Israel and perhaps has had first hand experience with the murderous attacks that made the building of the fence necessary.

It isn’t permanent. If there is ever peace, if there are no more suicide murders and other terrorist attacks, the fence can come down. As a number of people have said, inconveniences caused by the fence are reversible. Death is irreversible.

You can see a summary of the court’s opinion here and maybe arrive at your own conclusions.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about homosexuality one way or another.

I accept the assertion that homosexuals do not choose that particular sexual orientation, that it is the result of a mistake of nature, though I am sure most gay people would not agree that they are the way they are because of a mistake.

I am not offended by the fact of people being homosexual. I know homosexual people and they do not offend me.

On the other hand, when I see two males out in public, smooching all over the place, kissing and caressing each other as though they were behind locked doors with the blinds drawn, I am overcome with revulsion. I saw exactly that kind of behavior just a few days ago while I was at a party watching a professional fireworks display. There was a large crowd. There were small children running around. I wanted to go over to the two smoochers and tell them to cut it out but I didn’t. Nor did anyone else. It was an awkward situation.

I don’t think I have the same kind of reaction when I witness two homosexual females engaged in smooching in public, as long as they look female. I may be uncomfortable. I might avert my gaze. But I’m not overcome with revulsion. I think that has something to do with the fact that I am heterosexual and I can identify with an image and a vision of a woman being kissed and caressed, no matter who is doing the kissing and caressing.

Having said all of that, what is going on in the United States Senate right now is a hell of a lot more revolting to me than public displays of smooching by male homosexuals.

The conservative senators who are pushing for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union only between a man and a woman are as cynical a bunch of politicians as I have ever seen in my lifetime.

They know damned well that they don’t have the votes to win in the senate, but by bringing it up less than four months before the election, they hope to energize their base - what I like to call the GG’s - the guns and God crowd - by pointing to all those evil Democrats who show by their "no" votes that they care nothing for the "sanctity" of marriage.

Could there be anything more ridiculous?

The proponents of a constitutional amendment, from the president on down, say that they are "defending" marriage. They say that if we change the "meaning" of marriage in this country, the sky will fall, bringing the sun, moon and stars with it.

Maybe marriage does need defending considering the divorce rate, but surely it is not in danger because of same sex marriage. Homosexuals have been living together for years in domestic situations that are not unlike marriage, and as far as I have been able to find out from diligent research, (looking up and down my block) it has not placed any barrier in the way of heterosexual marriage or diminished in any way the esteem in which heterosexuals regard the marriage ceremony and the meaning of the marriage vows.

What are we talking about anyway? Mostly about semantics. About what we call the relationships of gay people who live together.

A couple of homosexual males who have been living together for twenty years and are suddenly allowed by state law to legalize the relationship and call it marriage, presents about as much danger to the institution of marriage as the danger that existed of us being attacked by the legions of Saddam Hussein before we outwitted him by attacking and destroying all his weapons of mass destruction.

Apart from out and out cultural and religious bigotry and narrow mindedness, I think a lot of the objection to the idea of homosexuals getting "married" is that it will be an unwelcome encroachment on a privilege that "we" - heterosexuals - think of as ours.

It makes you think of the south of not that many years ago. My God, if we let them drink from our fountains and swim in our pools and eat in our restaurants and go to our schools, what will they want next? To vote? It’ll destroy our way of life.

Thank goodness!!!

Look, I’m not any big supporter of gay marriage. As I said up front, I have no strong opinions one way or another.

But if we can accept the fact that these folks are born the way they are and are entitled to try to find some way to deal with it that provides them with a measure of happiness, and if we agree that it’s not illegal for them to live together, what possible harm could come from them going through a ritual similar to that of heterosexuals to legalize their commitment to each other and to enjoy the same legal privileges accorded to heterosexual married couples?

And wouldn’t those who fear and condemn promiscuity in the gay community prefer to see that kind of stability permeate that community?

We have serious issues facing us in this country. We need to spend our energies dealing with them and not waste time on political shenanigans masquerading as serious debate.

But if those who think gay marriage is evil and will bring about the end of civilized society, I have a solution that should please everyone - heterosexual, homosexual, far right, far left and all directions in between.

Leave the ritual of uniting two gay people in place, but just change what we call it and adjust the ritual words to match. We could have a national contest to find the right word. With a cash prize for the winner. Maybe do it as a reality television show. A hetero versus a homo team. The ratings would rival that of C-span watching Senator Ditka arm wrestling Ted Kennedy.

I’ll kick off with an initial suggestion. How about GUNION - short for GAY UNION?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Somehow it seems appropriate that the 25th anniversary of the infamous "disco demolition" at Comiskey Park in Chicago, should coincide with the news that Mike Ditka - "da coach" - is thinking about becoming the Republican candidate for the United States senate to replace retiring Illinois Senator Peter Fitzgerald.

Following the withdrawal of the former husband of Seven of Nine from the race - Jack Ryan to non Star Trek fans - one prominent Republican after another has politely declined to take on Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Now the Republicans are salivating over the possibility of a high profile, instantly recognizable candidate throwing his hat into the ring.

The disco demolition started out as a promotional stunt for the Chicago White Sox but turned into a riot, with hundreds of attendees rushing onto the field and causing the second half of a double header to be canceled.

Note that I called the rioters "attendees" rather than "fans," because as veteran sports writers and broadcasters have been saying in recent discussions of the event - the majority of the people that crowded into Sox Park on that memorable day were very likely there for the first and last times. They were not baseball fans. They were there for the disco demolition - and they almost demolished the park.

A couple of days ago, when the rumors about Mike Ditka began circulating, there was an item on one of the evening newscasts emanating from what I believe was a sports bar. A reporter asked a group of twenty or thirty somethings sitting around a beer laden table to raise their hands if they would vote for "da coach." All raised their hands - and when the reporter asked them to elaborate, one, who had obviously been able to master his ABC’s, proudly said - "He’s da coach. We love da coach." Or words to that effect.

I can’t speak with the certainty of the veteran writers and broadcasters who were sure that the Comiskey Park rioters of 25 years ago were not baseball fans, but I would wager a few bucks on the proposition that more than half of those young beer guzzlers who said they would vote for Ditka, have probably never voted before and most likely have no idea who is running for what office in Illinois.

I almost hope that Mike does decide to run and that the Illinois Central Republican Committee accepts and endorses him. It would confirm my assertion yesterday that the silly season is now full upon us.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with any citizen from any kind of background running for any political office for which they are legally qualified. Having a background as a football player and a football coach and television sportscaster and a commercial spokesman , certainly doesn’t disqualify Mike Ditka from running for political office.

But if he was to become the Republican candidate for Senator from Illinois, I would equate the effort with a little piece of trickery that opponents of Congressman Jesse Jackson Junior tried to pull a while back - getting another candidate on the ballot with the same name. It would be a gimmick candidacy, unworthy of serious consideration by serious voters.

Ditka has been quoted as saying that he’s excited about the possibility and that one reason he may run is that "people get elected to the senate and forget about the people back home." Now isn’t that a profound piece of political philosophy? Isn’t that a reason to brave a raging blizzard just to get to the polls and vote.

People calling in to radio talk shows are divided on the issue of "da coach" as a candidate, but some of the "pro" calls cited such compelling reasons as "he won a super bowl" and "he knows how to handle people" and "he knows how to organize" and "he’d make a better Senator than Ted Kennedy" and "there are too many "professional politicians" in Congress." I love that last one. There are too may people who have devoted their lives to public service and are thus "professional politicians." We need more rank amateurs.

But there’s no question that a Ditka can pick up votes of people who probably would not have voted for any candidate and of some people who have never voted before. Obama would still prevail but it could make the race closer.

I don’t know where Ditka stands on any issue, but I know that if elected, he would have one thing going for him. He could easily identify and hang out with Dick Cheney, and emulate the example set by the Vice President with his suggestion that the senior senator from Vermont perform an act of sexual contortion. I can just see Iron Mike tossing a wad of chewed gum at Tom Daschle or glaring at Hillary Clinton while he makes a circle with his thumb and forefinger and says " You see that lady. That’s your IQ."

C-Span viewership would go through the roof.

A Ditka candidacy of course would pull in some voters who would vote strictly on the basis of their love of "da coach," and perhaps persuade a few other voters who think that it would be "refreshing" to have a plain talker elected to the senate - a man who says what he thinks and shoots from the hip and damn the consequences. Of course we have a man in the White House like that right now and the nation is split over whether that kind of approach is a vice or a virtue and whether or not his tenure has been a triumph or a disaster.

But maybe, if Ditka runs, historians will see him as part of a trend that started with the election of former song and dance man George Murphy as US Senator from California in 1964, followed by Ronald Reagan and continued in recent times with Governor Jesse Ventura in Minnesota and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California.

They might also record the distinguished careers of Secretary of State Michael Jordan, Secretary of Defense Bobby Bonds, Treasury Secretary Tiger Woods and Attorney General Brett Favre.

You can read all about it in the 2022 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 20, Sc to Sp, under the title SILLY SEASON.

Monday, July 12, 2004

The silly season is now full upon us.

We have an upcoming election for the presidency of the only super power in the world, at a moment in history when the concept of being a super power is meaningless. War has been declared upon us - and indeed on modern civilization -by a swarm of human gnats. We can’t crush them because we don’t know where they are. They don’t have their own country, so we can’t send a conquering army to wipe them out. And they can’t invade and subjugate us. They have no traditional army or navy or air force. But they can infiltrate and do us great harm with their ability to sting and their willingness to die in the act of inflicting that harm.

So what are our presidential and vice presidential candidates talking about?


And they are talking about "values" because polls indicate that what is most important to many voters as they ponder who to vote for in November - assuming there are any voters left who have not yet made up their mind - is "faith and family." Whatever the hell that is supposed to mean.

Last night, I watched the two Johns, Kerry and Edwards, being interviewed on "60 Minutes," and both were described as they describe themselves - men of "deep faith."

And of course we know that President Bush is a man of "deep faith." Remember, during the primaries for the 2000 election, he said that the philosopher he most admired was Jesus Christ. And he’s said a lot more about "faith" since.

I imagine if you were to ask any of the aforementioned gnats about "values," they too would describe themselves as men and women of "deep faith."

It’s always seemed strange to me that this business of "values" takes on such a measure of importance with the American electorate. Take the "family" aspect of "values" for example. The decision making process of a president isn’t going to be particularly enhanced by the structure of his family. Indeed, the opposite is often the case. Some of our recent presidents have had rather strange brothers who I doubt made any positive contributions to the mindset of their president siblings. And who can forgot the recently deceased and greatly revered Ronald Reagan and the advice that he received from astral interpretation courtesy of Nancy Reagan and her astrologers? Wouldn’t a bachelor president, free of family encumbrances make a better chief executive? Think about it. The idea has merit.

We all know that no one can be elected president of the United States without professing a profound belief in God. No president or presidential candidate will make a major speech - or for that matter a minor speech, without invoking "God" to bless his audience and the United States of America.

But in what way does this make him or her more qualified to be president of the United States? I assume that voters who believe in God and practice some sort of religion, want to vote for someone who has similar beliefs - in other words, someone like themselves. That sort of judgment has worked well for the world of rock and roll, where the audience could identify with and wasn’t that much different from the entertainers. Young kids could watch and listen to other young kids making cacophonous sounds with their vocal chords and guitars and say - " I could do that." And indeed many of them could and did.

But is that the kind of judgment we want to make of a presidential candidate? That he’s worth voting for because he more or less believes what you believe about the nature of a deity? That he’s "like" the folks in your church or synagogue or mosque. Or the guy next door?

What is disturbing about having an issue such as "values" in a presidential election, is that the candidates and their strategic teams, are pandering to what they know is a basically unsophisticated segment of the electorate. They believe, cynically, that if they can concentrate the attention of those voters on matters that have nothing to do with governance, they can divert attention from things that they should be considering - the ideas, the demonstrated abilities and the record of the candidates.

For example, the question of whether or not we should amend our constitution to define what we mean by "marriage," has been thrust into the forefront of public discussion by our sitting president, coincidentally at a time when we are approaching an election that will decide whether or not he can retain his job. He is for such an amendment. Is that a reason to vote for him to stay in office and continue at the helm of this nation at one of the most critical times in the history of the modern world? I don’t think so. But it’s going to be an issue and there will be people who will vote for one candidate or another based on their views on that one subject.

There is no question that this business of "values" will be used by both sides. The Republicans will launch the attacks - they’ve already begun - and the Democrats will defend and hurl their own accusations.

I will pay no attention to such nonsense and I hope enough people - even if they think that "values" is a legitimate issue to consider, will give it the weight it deserves when making their presidential choice - which, in my view, is somewhere between very little and none.

I want a to be able to vote for a president who I think best understands the nature of the world we live in; who understands that he can’t suddenly decide to ignore the opinions of other countries and the treaties we have with them; who knows how to cultivate relationships with leaders of other countries and not insult them; who understands that the human "gnats" who have declared war on us have not done so because we love freedom - and that the problem is far more complicated than "they are evil - we are good."

I want to be able to vote for a president who will surround himself with the best brains in all of the disciplines under his command and who will listen to diverse opinions on every important domestic and international issue before making executive decisions, not just to a tightly knit cabal of ideologues.

And I want to be sure that the president I vote for does not believe that "God" speaks to him and tells him what to do. Although I don’t subscribe to any particular religious belief myself, I have no objection to a president who is a person of "deep faith." I just don’t want him to think he has been chosen by God to be president and to head a democratic theocracy guided by voices that he hears in his head.

But it is the silly season, so we’re going to be subjected to a lot of nonsense masquerading as campaigning for office for a while yet. But election day is less than four months away. Just do what I do. Take at least two glasses of wine at dinner and you’ll make it through to November.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Last August, I commented on what was pretty clearly a double standard in prosecuting crime. The story was about a plea of guilty to a crime committed by Abbott Laboratories, for which the "punishment" was 600 million dollars in fines. No individual paid any fines. Nobody went to jail and nobody got led away in handcuffs. My conclusion then was that if you have a grand idea for some criminal activity, have a corporation do the dirty deed.

Obviously, the crime was committed by people at Abbott. As I said in my comments, a corporation isn’t a sentient being. But it was the corporation that got clobbered, not the people running the show. The same thing happened with Arthur Anderson. And there are many other similar cases.

In New York, States Attorney Eliot Spitzer has been going after criminal activity in the securities industry with success. He nailed a couple of big fish recently. Bank of America and Fleet Boston. Criminal activity in trading mutual funds. He squeezed them for a 675 million buck settlement for their evil deeds. But no individual paid any fines. No individual was led away in handcuffs. Nobody went to jail. Some Bank of America board members will be leaving the board under the settlement agreement, but they didn’t agree to swap their limousines for second hand Kias.

But there are plenty of cases where prosecutors go after the individuals who run corporations and engage in criminal activities. How and why the prosecutors make their decision to pursue individuals instead of the corporate entities is not something I know anything about, and it isn’t the subject of this commentary.

The subject of this commentary is the hoopla that inevitably takes place when prosecutors do go after those individuals and not just the corporations they manage.

Yesterday, Ken Lay was indicted for criminal offenses relating to the collapse of Enron. A lot of people said "about time." I don’t know what he may or may not have done of a criminal nature. All I know is what I read in the papers. Some lawyers are saying that it will be hard to convict him, hard to prove that he knowingly engaged in criminal activity.

But he has to face the music and after the indictment was handed down, he "surrendered" to the authorities and was hauled off to court where bail was set. Hauled off to court with his hands handcuffed behind his back!!!

What is going on here? The man hasn’t been convicted of any crime - yet. He isn’t an obviously violent individual arrested in the street for assaulting a passer by or caught running from a store that was just robbed. He isn’t a drug addict or a drunk, strung out from his addiction and liable to act in a crazed manner at any moment without warning.

The idea of handcuffs or leg irons and all of the other paraphernalia that is used to shackle prisoners when they are being moved from one confinement facility to another, is to restrain that prisoner. To make sure that he doesn’t have an opportunity to escape from custody. To make sure that he suddenly doesn’t try to attack his guards and other law enforcement personnel and officers of the court.

At least that’s what I think is the reason for using this kind of gear. Or that’s what I used to think. Obviously there are other reasons, and one of them seems to be "police theater" - or maybe simply "law enforcement theater."

What happened to Ken Lay yesterday has nothing to do with restraint. Indeed, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with law enforcement. What it seems to have a lot do with is humiliation, which I can’t imagine is any part of police protocol , or is in any chapter of "the book" that prosecutors are wont to throw at accused arch criminals.

When Michael Jackson flew into Santa Barbara to surrender after he was indicted on child molestation charges, the police there put on the same theatrical act - handcuffing Jackson’s hands behind his back as they drove him off to the court room. And I asked at that time what the hell was going on - and the answer seemed to be the same as it is currently with Ken Lay.

The police and the prosecutors are putting on a show for the public that involves no law enforcement value or necessity. It’s on a par with a flamboyant defense attorney pulling some kind of circus stunt in a court room - for which he would very likely be admonished or even punished by a judge.

They wouldn’t do this sort of thing if the defendant in a criminal case was a zero flight risk, as are Jackson and Lay - but aren’t known to anyone outside of their family and friends and aren’t involved in a high profile case. I know whereof I speak. I think I’ve mentioned it before. I was once indicted by the Federal Government. I wasn’t a flight risk. I walked into the court house, signed a piece of paper and walked out. There wasn’t even any bail. Neither was there television cameras or reporters. (The case was thrown out. It never went to trial)

The media are reporting the Lay affair as "a carefully arranged "perp walk" to ensure that Enron’s many victims would see him in handcuffs." I’m not sure what "victims" were supposed to see Michael Jackson’s arranged "perp walk" or for what purpose he was handcuffed after voluntarily arriving to be arraigned.

I know it’s not the same thing, but we wince and shudder and condemn when we see shackled and hooded prisoners being paraded in front of crowds and television cameras in foreign countries, particularly if those prisoners are Americans caught up in local turmoil.

One would think that we could do better than them.

I know police and prosecutors in these high profile cases are anxious to show that no one, no matter how wealthy or important, is above the law in the United States - and I applaud them for their dedication to equal justice for all..

But if there is something to be gained for the cause of justice, and for the image of our nation around the world by slapping the cuffs on Martha Stewart next week if Judge Miriam Cedarbaum decides on a jail term, and then parading her in front of television cameras as she is whisked away to the hoosegow, I wish someone would explain it to me.

So that I don’t wince and shudder and condemn the scene when I see it on television.