What's All This Then?
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
NONSENSICAL POLITICAL RHETORIC FROM BOTH SIDES
The more I hear of the nonsensical political rhetoric coming from both major parties, the more I want to go to the polls next November and vote for "none of the above."
I won’t of course. Nor will I vote for any of the fringe candidates wallowing in their worthless ego trips. The future direction of the nation - and perhaps the world, will be affected by who sits in the White House, so this is not an election to be eschewed, no matter how irritated we become with ridiculous electioneering.
Today, I am disgusted with the Kerry-Edwards campaign - or perhaps just with Edwards if he doesn’t check in with Kerry before shooting from the hip.
Yesterday, during an interview aboard Air Force One, Mr. Bush said that the war on terrorism can’t be won but that we can make it much more difficult for terrorists to function around the world. The President isn’t known for clarity of expression, but there really wasn’t any compelling need for Scott McClellan to explain that what he meant was that this was a war that couldn’t be won in the conventional sense. There would be no surrenders. No signing of peace treaties. And since it is more than likely that there will always be people filled with hate and with messianic complexes, capable of causing death and destruction without the need for conventional weapons of war, we can expect acts of terrorism to be a part of the human experience for decades or maybe centuries to come. Until the human race reaches a higher level of maturity. Or until visitors from outer space come to impose some maturity upon us.
O.K. McClellan didn’t say those last couple of things, but they’re relevant comments anyway. As long as there are people who hate, there will be acts of terrorism. Saying you can "defeat" terrorism is like saying that you can eliminate murder.
The Kerry campaign apparently interpreted the President’s perfectly logical remarks as some sort of blunder and leaped upon them like vultures drawn to rotting carrion.
It fell on John Edwards to lead the attack:
"After months of listening to the Republicans base their campaign on their singular ability to win the war on terror, the president now says we can't win the war on terrorism," he said. And then added "This is no time to declare defeat - it won't be easy and it won't be quick, but we have a comprehensive long-term plan to make America safer. And that's a difference."
How much more nonsensical can the rhetoric get? The President "declared defeat??" "WE have a comprehensive long-term plan to make America safer?"
For Pete’s sake, if you’ve come up with something that you really believe will make America safer, share it with all of us now. Don’t keep it under wraps as a secret campaign weapon.
(And now, I just heard on a newscast that Mr. Bush reversed himself this morning and said that of course we will defeat the terrorists. He’s got his own plan I guess. Just that yesterday he wasn’t too sure that it would work).
Anyone reading this blog knows I’m no fan of George Bush. I want him out of there. I’m no Kerry fan either, but he’s the only alternative so he’ll get my vote.
But as I watch and listen to the nonsense that is being presented to the American people as reasons to vote for either candidate, it’s a wonder they can persuade anyone to believe that they are reasonable choices to lead our nation.
We first had to sit through the nonsense of Senator Kerry suggesting that his brief military service of more than thirty years ago qualified him to be a "commander-in-chief." One has to assume that his brain trust came up with this approach as a brilliant counter to President Bush’s self proclaimed image as a "war president." I too served in the military many years ago and for a lot longer than John Kerry. I suppose my service played some role in shaping the person I am today, but in no way would it have prepared me to be a "commander-in-chief" if some perverse supreme being decided to play a joke on humanity and install me as President of the United States.
What happens to any President of course, is that the mantle of Chief of the nation’s armed services falls upon his shoulders, and one has to hope that he is sufficiently intelligent and well rounded to know how much influence to bring to bear upon military affairs and how much to defer to the professional military commanders with their lifetime of experience.
The thrust of the Bush campaign is that he has demonstrated "leadership" in the wake of 9/11. As though he did something uniquely deserving of the label of a leader - or commander-in-chief. I call that nonsense. I submit that whoever was in the White House on 9/11 would have followed almost exactly the same path with the possible exception of invading Iraq. Any President would of course have declared "war on terrorism" Any President of course would have ordered a military incursion into Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist training camps. And most likely would not have waited as long as Bush did while requests to the Taliban to turn over Bin Laden were being ignored.
It may sound strange to say this, but in my view, 9/11 "saved" Bush’s presidency. Before 9/11, he appeared directionless and devoid of any inspirational qualities. And more than half the voters had voted for Gore and believed they had been robbed. Had 9/11 not occurred, I don’t believe that Bush would have stood any chance of being re-elected. The memory of the Florida election and the Supreme Court intervention would have remained strong in people’s minds and would have dominated all other considerations in 2004.
So both candidates and their supporters are talking nonsense about who they are and what they are qualified to do or be. They need to cut it out and stop addressing voters as though they were mindless morons who can be influenced by slogans and bravado.
They need to stop talking about "turning the corner" and "bringing it on" and who served where and how more than 30 years ago and what that has to do with either one of them being deserving of our vote today.
They won’t of course. This is the way American politics is conducted. This is the way we elect Presidents. Like a real life "Being There." Makes you proud to be an American.
Monday, August 30, 2004
SHOULD "CLASSIFIED" BE RE-CLASSIFIED??
To those who subscribe to the nonsensical theories that (a) Jews run the world and (b) Jews control US foreign policy, the news that the FBI is investigating the possibility that a Pentagon analyst may have passed some classified information to Israel - either directly or indirectly, is proof positive that the theories are correct.
The fact of the holocaust and 2,000 plus years of persecution doesn’t for a minute dissuade those nutty believers that theory "a" is ridiculous. They simply deny that the holocaust ever happened - and any so called persecution is the result of people’s natural reaction to being dominated by all of those world ruling Jews.
Theory "b" has broad support among people on the far right, the far left and several political philosophies in between. That we invaded Iraq because we were manipulated into doing so by Israel, by Israel supporters in the Pentagon and by AIPAC - The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee.
It’s unlikely that any of these people will be placated if - and I hope when - l’affaire Larry Franklin is revealed as a storm in a teacup.
It’s interesting that the press has picked up the story and is running with it as thought it was a serialized version of a John Le Carre mystery. The word "mole" has been used when speculating about Franklin’s possible illegal activities. The last time I read Le Carre or other writers of that genre, a "mole" was someone "planted" by an "enemy," "deep" inside some vital or sensitive portion of an opposing country’s government or industry - often to lie dormant for many years until called upon to perform an act of espionage or sabotage or some other dastardly deed.
That hardly described Larry Franklin who is reported to be a colonel in the air force reserve and a long time employee of the Pentagon and a senior analyst on Iran.
There have been lots of conflicting leaks about what may or may not have happened, and there has been lots of speculation, including a comment that Franklin may have said certain things to certain people without believing that he was doing anything wrong.
I have no more knowledge of the case than what I read in newspapers and hear on broadcast news programs so I am not about to speculate - as countless web sites have already done - about all of the mysterious things that may be going on, including the belief that people like Franklin could have manipulated Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al into attacking Iraq.
I won't speculate, but I will ask a question. Why should there ever be any need for someone at Larry Franklin’s level to look for ways to keep Israel informed on issues that could affect its future security, that for reasons that I don’t understand, are stamped "classified - do not discuss with family and friends?"
Over the years, we know that hundreds of thousands of documents and pieces of information that have been labeled "classified" by various branches of government and government individuals, have been about as important to our national security as the number and size of the olives our presidents have used in their martinis. Those that drank martinis that is. There are probably classified documents on which presidents ate eggs for breakfast and which only ate cereal.
O.K. I’m being facetious, but one has to wonder how so many things fall under the "classified" label and why.
In the current case, the information that Larry Franklin may or may not have discussed or revealed to someone connected to AIPAC or directly to Israel, concerned US discussions about our Iran policy. Iran is Israel’s implacable enemy. Iran is the sponsor of Hezbollah, a terrorist group that attacks Israel from Lebanon. Iran is suspected of developing nuclear weapons. If such weapons were ever used by Iran, it is almost certain that the target would be Israel. President Bush has labeled Iran as part of the "axis of evil" that must be condemned and contained.
If Iran poses a danger to any country, now or in the future, it is to Israel and any action that may be contemplated or may be taken by the United States against Iran, could have a direct affect on Israel.
For that reason alone, it’s surprising that a situation could arise where a Larry Franklin could look at some discussion about US policy towards Iran and say to himself, my goodness, Israel needs to be kept up to date on this - and then be confronted by that great big stamp that says CLASSIFIED - and ask why the hell should that be classified? Why haven’t we told the Israelis about this? What’s going on here?
The United States is as close an ally to Israel as any country has ever been to another. Without us, there would be no modern day Israel. We confer with Israel about where borders should be and what settlements should or shouldn’t be built or retained. We provide weaponry. We share technology. And security information. And when we attacked Iraq during the administration of Bush the elder, we asked Israel to sit quietly and do nothing as Iraq rained rockets upon its cities. And Israel complied.
I just can’t imagine a situation where Ariel Sharon is visiting the White House, sitting in the Oval Office having a cup of coffee, saying to George Bush, "so Mr. President, what do you think we have to do to keep Iran in check" and having Mr. Bush respond, "well you know Ariel, that’s kinda classified."
So what is astonishing to me about this story is that there is a story at all. There is no suggestion that anything that might have been revealed to someone not entitled to hear classified information, in any way compromised any interests of the United States or endangered any United States citizens, military or non-military. So what was the information about our policy toward Israel’s implacable enemy that couldn’t be revealed to Israel and why?
That to me is the question that needs to be discussed, just as importantly as whether or not Larry Franklin did anything wrong. Who is making the decisions about what information that may be vital to our allies, should be shared with them or stamped "CLASSIFIED" - thus making the disclosure of such information an illegal act, perhaps even rising to the level of espionage?
And the last thing we need is another Jonathan Pollard situation, where secret memos are written saying that whatever Pollard did was terrible and hurt the United States - but should be kept secret while the perpetrator is hauled off to jail for life and permanently gagged.
Let’s not stamp "CLASSIFIED" on the outcome of this current situation, no matter what it turns out to be.
Friday, August 27, 2004
DIRTY TRICKS AND A DISINGENUOUS PRESIDENT
I’m sick and tired over the "Swift Boat Veteran’s for Truth" garbage and I truly don’t want to waste any more of my time commenting on it. There are hundreds of thousands of sites on the Internet where opinions on the topic abound, so there’s little that I can say that isn’t already being said or that can shed any light on the nonsense that’s being foisted upon us, masquerading as legitimate political dialogue.
Nonetheless, I have to comment on the latest bit of nonsense - and then maybe I can get away from this subject and talk about really serious things. Like how sheets and towels survive, seemingly intact, when years of washing and drying them produces a volume of lint that exceeds their original material volume. It’s one of nature’s great mysteries. A true "what’s all this then" question.
But today the topic is political nonsense.
In resigning his position with the Bush-Cheney campaign, Benjamin Ginsberg insisted that there was nothing illegal or unethical about him giving legal advice to the Swift Boat attack group while simultaneously advising Bush-Cheney. Lawyers are doing it on the other side, he said, representing various aspects of the Democratic campaign while advising such groups as Move On and ACT (America Coming Together).
He didn’t say that lawyers who were connected to the Kerry-Edwards campaign were doing anything illegal or unethical in advising Democratic "527" groups.
So the question arises. Why did he resign? He says it was because HE didn’t want his work for the Swift Veteran’s group while he was working for Bush-Cheney to become a "distraction" to the "critical issues of the campaign."
Talk about arrogance. He could merit a paragraph in the Guinness Book of Records. HE’s worried about HIM being the distraction?? When the Swift Boat group’s vicious attacks on John Kerry’s military service have been the focus of discussion ever since they were launched? When day after day there are newspaper stories about this manufactured controversy? When it’s mentioned over and over in radio and television newscasts and is almost a daily topic on radio talk shows and a current cornerstone of the rabid right wing radio talk shows?
What a joke.
I think he resigned because reporters are digging into the whole affair and laying out the web of connections between the White House and the group and he needed to remove himself as one of the strands of the web.
That and the fact that there is no comparison between what the Swift Boat Veterans group and the Democratic 527’s are doing. The Democratic groups are hard hitting and highly critical of Mr. Bush and some of the imagery they have used is in bad taste. But no matter what they may think of him in private, they haven’t launched attacks at the very core of the President’s character.
The Democrats don’t have a Karl Rove or any other disciples of Donald Segretti running dirty trick campaigns. They don’t know how to call a war hero who lost two legs and an arm fighting in Vietnam "unpatriotic" or to accuse him of "violating his senate oath." They don’t know how to accuse another war hero of treason while he was being held captive and tortured for five and a half years by the North Vietnamese.
Both of those veteran heroes, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, have condemned the Swift Boat Veteran’s attack ads unequivocally. What does our President say? He says he honors Mr. Kerry’s military service and that ALL 527 groups advertising should be stopped, which is as phony a comment as the day is long because he knows damned well that they can’t be stopped because they’re allowed under Federal campaign election laws. So he sounds noble while he neatly avoids condemning the specific ad which is doing dirty work on his behalf and, if one can believe the polls - helping him.
Could anything be more disingenuous than the position that Mr. Bush has taken? If he truly "honors" Mr. Kerry’s military service and thus disagrees completely with the thrust of the Swift Boat group, it would be a simple thing for him to say so and to ask the group to stop running their attack ads. If he said it strongly enough, they might even pull back. But I doubt it. They’d know he was saying it with a wink and a nod.
If I had any left, I’d give my eye teeth to be on the wall in the Oval Office while a campaign strategy session is being discussed and count the guffaws over the impact the Swift Boat garbage is having.
Mr. Bush wants to go to court to do away with the 527 group attacks. More disingenuousness.
Here’s an alternate solution that I challenge both sides to adopt. Let the 527 groups have free reign. Let them produce whatever kinds of ads they like. But when an attack ad or a series of ads is beyond the pale, let the candidates step up to the plate and condemn them in unmistakable terms and demand that they be withdrawn. This way, neither candidate will be able to hide behind phony calls for curtailing the activities of so called independent groups while benefiting from those self same activities.
That’s not going to happen, but what may well happen is that more and more people will begin to see this whole attack on Kerry’s military career of 30 years ago as the dirty trick that it is and that it’ll come back and bite the Bush-Cheney campaign in the posterior.
It couldn’t happen to two more deserving guys.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
MORE TRAVEL ADVENTURES - CONCLUSION
There we were, victims of my inefficiency or absentmindedness or whatever you’d like to call it. A screw up caused by my befuddled brain and my errant fingers on the computer keyboard. And we were stuck. Unable to attend our nephew’s wedding unless we were willing to fork over an eight hundred dollar ransom. But we were also desperate and desperate people take desperate measures.
I called United Airlines and told them my tale of woe. United Airlines said they couldn’t help me because our flight numbers were US Airways flight numbers and they would be the ones to whom any appeal should be addressed.
I called US Airways. I talked to a lady whose name is Lou. US Airways says it might have to close down because its finances are in such bad shape. I would advise them to put that idea aside for a while and promote Lou to CEO and see what she can do. I guarantee she’ll do better than whoever is occupying that position at the moment..
I told Lou our tale of woe. I told Lou we couldn’t pay another eight hundred bucks. It just wasn’t in the cards. Wasn’t there some other way? Indeed there was. Lou put us on hold and went off to do some investigating and in a lot less time than it took the Travelocity operative to come back and give us the eight hundred dollar solution, Lou came back on the line and said we didn’t have to pay a thin dime more. What we had to do was travel on that day - August 18th - and travel STANDBY. Lou had checked on flights and told us which ones would do the job and even told us what to say when we checked in at the United and US Airways counters.
We had to pack in a hurry and get our dog sitter (my daughter) to come over to the house a day earlier, and Lou’s itinerary worked like a charm. We had no trouble traveling standby - something I’ve never done before - and we got to Garden City a hair after midnight - a day earlier than planned but not $8OO poorer!!
A word about "security." At O’Hare, the lines were long and slow moving to get through the security gates, and before anyone can actually get to a security gate, a picture I.D. has to be produced to be quickly eyed by a security employee. That "precaution" is about as useful as asking passengers if they are terrorists Surely the easiest thing in the world to manufacture is a picture ID. So a terrorist hands an ID to a security agent and the picture sure looks like the person - but he’s a still a terrorist!! What kind of safety is there in someone carrying a picture of him or herself attached to an ID of some sort - whether the ID is legal or illegal??
But the security folks are on the ball. My wife and I were singled out for special attention. Shoes off. Scanned from top to bottom, first seated with legs raised straight out and then standing with arms outstretched. Belts unbuckled. Hats off. The whole ball of wax. Not because we looked or acted suspicious. Because our boarding passes were marked for special attention. As far as we know, randomly. If someone can explain to me how this increases security at O’Hare or any other airport, I’ll listen to ALL of Dubya’s acceptance speech at next week’s Republican convention. That’s how confident I am that randomly selected passengers for extra scrutiny is a waste of time.
To continue - our return trip to Chicago was on the flights originally booked. No standby involved coming back. But it was far more traumatic than the outgoing journey. I can sum up the worst part of it with a one sentence admonition. Never fly on a 19 seat crop duster - O.K. - commuter plane, with NO BATHROOM, for a flight that is more than two hours long. By the time we got to Kansas City, I was ready to float down the steps and into the terminal.
And there was more trauma to come.
When we checked in at United for our final flight back home a couple of hours later, I looked at the paper ticket that had been printed out in Garden City and saw the seat assignment. It didn’t look like the seats I had selected when I made the reservation. I recall that with the seats that were available at the time, I had picked two aisle seats across from each other. I always sit on the aisle. When I asked the gate agent where the seats that had been assigned in Garden City were, he told us a window and middle seat.
When I said we had selected other seats when we made our reservation, his answer was that advance seat selection was a "courtesy" and that "things change" and "equipment changes" and heck, "it was only an hour flight." Can you picture what would happen if hotels operated that way? "Room reservations are only a courtesy. Things change you know." The Saints protect us!! But there wasn’t much I could do except make a mental note of one of the things I would say to United Airlines when I got back home.
The mental notes continued as the United gate agent demonstrated why the airline is in such deep trouble. All boarding passes had been marked with numbers from one to four. "One" for seats toward the front of the plane, "two" behind that group and so on. Ours was marked "four." The agent proceeded to board us from the FRONT to the back. The result was something I’d never seen before. A totally full walkway to the plane, inching forward - literally a step at a time with long pauses between each step. The reason? The people seated in the front of the plane were busy stowing their bags in overhead compartments and blocking the aisle so no one seated behind them could advance. Had the seating been done in the reverse order, from back to front, everyone would have boarded and been seated in less than half the time it actually took.
And we were in the very last row, window and middle seat with seat backs that couldn’t be moved.
But wonder of wonders, the gate agent announced that we were taking off early and we’d arrive early. And we did. We touched down maybe 20 minutes early. And I called my daughter who was on her way to meet us to tell her we were on the ground. You have to time pick ups at O’Hare. The police don’t like vehicles to wait more than a minute or two for arriving passengers. So I called my daughter. And I called my daughter. And I called my daughter. And the early United flight sat a few yards from the United gates waiting for a United flight to pull away from a United gate so that we could park and disgorge the weary passengers. And we waited and waited and waited. And the "early" United flight arrived in typical United fashion. Late!! Very late!!
Maybe we could get Lou to run both airlines??
Now the final irony. Yesterday, I got an e-mail with the following heading.
From: "Travelocity Member Services"
Subject: Welcome Back - Tell Us About Your Trip
Date: Wednesday, August 25, 2004 11:22 PM
I’ll tell ‘em. Boy will I tell them!!!
Back to less personal topics tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
MORE TRAVEL ADVENTURES
Unlike my fellow blogger Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune, I have no one to fill in for me when I’m out of town and unable to blog myself - hence a gap of several days with not a single word of wisdom from me. I note however that the world has survived, though just barely.
Incidentally, I caught a Zorn column written while I was away in which he celebrates a year of being a blogger and tells us that he spends two to three hours a day writing his blog notes and is SO into the blog concept that he’s giving up his Saturday column so that he’ll have more time to devote to blogging. That’s either devotion or addiction. I sometimes wonder if blogging isn’t becoming as much a habit forming opiate as cocaine or heroin.
Anyway, in my last posting, I said my brief out of town trip was shaping up as a story worthy of serializing on this blog - and I wasn’t far from wrong.
Years ago, when I was working full time for a living, I used to travel quite a lot and for the most part it went smoothly. Very few trips would have merited commentary on a blog - if I’d had one in those days. But something must have happened in recent years to make even the simplest trips a potential adventure, because just about every time I travel nowadays, something worth writing about happens - and this recent trip was no exception.
I’ll start with that online travel convenience Internet site - Travelocity, the moguls of which will be hearing from me shortly in some detail.
I booked our trip through them - a simple trip to Garden City Kansas to attend a wedding and spend some time with my wife’s siblings.
The printout of our itinerary showed that we were booked outbound to Kansas City on a US Airways flight "operated by United Airlines," with a connection to Garden City on a US Airways fight "operated by US Airways Express-Midwest Air Lines," and the reverse coming back. All of the flight numbers were US Air flight numbers, but had we gone to the US Airways counter at O’Hare airport, we would have found no such flight existed. For the first leg of our trip, from Chicago to Kansas City, we were actually booked on a United Airlines flight and we had to call both US Airlines and United Airlines to get the United flight numbers that we were on, coming and going.
Apparently, US Airways and United have a partnership deal where they book people on each others flights, but Travelocity, in its wisdom, didn’t think it was necessary to inform us exactly which flight on which airline we were supposed to take. We had to figure that out for ourselves.
The other legs of our flights - on "US Airways Express-Midwest Airlines" - were simply US Airways flights and the flight numbers shown on our printout were the correct flight numbers. At one point, when we asked someone at Kansas City International Airport where "Midwest Airlines" was, we were told that there was no such airline operating out of that airport.
When I get in touch with the moguls at Travelocity, I will ask them by what rationale they list an itinerary of flights that do not actually exist instead of telling travelers what flights they are actually on. The first leg of our trip was listed as "US Airways Flight 5812/Class T operated by United Airlines." There was no mention of United Airlines Flight 1147, which was the flight on which we had reservations. That information, as I have indicated, we had to discover for ourselves. Sort of like a contest. Guess which plane will get you where you want to go.
But even though we were able to discover the correct flight numbers on the correct airlines, the trip began as a disaster and almost didn’t take place at all. I had made the reservations a couple of weeks in advance and had the printed e-ticket on my refrigerator for that time. The day before we were scheduled to depart, I tried to print out boarding passes on line at the US Airways site, but found that this couldn’t be done when you were booked through their airline but actually traveling on another airline.
Nonetheless, I called US Airways to see if there was some way to print out a boarding pass with the seats that I had selected when making the reservations. To my surprise and shock, they didn’t have us booked at all on US Airways Flight 5812 which was United Airlines Flight 1147. I said, that’s impossible. I have the confirmation. I’m looking at it as we speak. We’re booked on that flight for tomorrow -Thursday the 18th. There was a momentary pause and then the voice at the other end said, Sir, tomorrow is Thursday the 19th . Today is the 18th!! And they confirmed that we were indeed booked on US Airways Flight 5812 which was really United Airlines Flight 1147. But on the 18th. Not the 19th.
For all the time the reservation print out had been on my refrigerator door, I hadn’t noticed that I had inadvertently booked our outbound flights for the wrong day. And the first flight on which we were actually booked had already left!!
I knew there had to be some extra cost to change it to the same flights for the next day, and I was right. After holding for what seemed like an eternity, the Travelocity operative came back on line and said yes, it could all be changed to the next day. There were plenty of seats available on the flights we thought we were on, and the extra coat would be EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS!!
I kid you not.
Because of my inadvertent error, we had been caught up in the madness that functions as airline pricing. Although I had made reservations at least two weeks in advance, because in effect we had "missed" the outbound flights we were booked on, the only solution Travelociity had to offer was to substitute a last minute reservation for those flights at the last minute reservation price. Eight hundred bucks more than the several hundred we had already paid!!
I told them to forget it. I wasn’t about to pay an extra eight hundred bucks. They said that was all they could do. I said, what if we could get there some other way. Would our return reservations be O.K? No. We had booked a round trip at a round trip price, and if we missed the outbound leg, the whole trip was automatically canceled. They said if we didn’t go (after paying $800 more), we’d have a credit for what we’d already paid that we could use any time for the next year. And they were very apologetic, but there was nothing else they could do.
So we told them to cancel everything and give us the credit, and for a while thereafter, we simply weren’t going to go. Not at that cost.
I’ll continue with the rest of the story tomorrow or the next day, but before I move away from this topic, I have to take a moment to repeat comments that I have made before. About airline travel. When you look at the convoluted ways airline companies run their businesses, you wonder why more of them haven’t long since folded. As it is, the two airlines involved in this little travel adventure are struggling for air. United doesn’t seem able to emerge from bankruptcy that it has been in since 2002, and US Airways, which was also in bankruptcy in 2002 and 2003, has said that it might have to close its doors if it can’t straighten out its horrible cash flow problems in the next month or so.. Yet they are perfectly content with the concept of asking outrageous prices of last minute travelers - or any travelers who haven’t been able to book 7 or 14 days in advance - and they are apparently content to have flights leave with empty seats rather than sell them to people for the same price as those who were able to book far enough in advance.
On any given domestic or international flight, one is likely to find that passengers have paid a dozen or more different amounts for their tickets. A passenger with a $200 ticket could be sitting next to someone who paid $500 or $700. Or $150!!
On any given day, you can go on line and check the price of a flight - then come back the next day and find that the price you saw yesterday no longer exists. But don’t give up. Keep checking on a daily basis and you might find an even better price. It’s that crazy.
Can you imagine any other business selling their products or services this way? Wow, look at these great tomatoes I just bought. And only 79 cents a pound. What? You got the same tomatoes and they cost you $3.00?? You paid yesterday’s price!!
There’d be riots.
More on my travel adventures tomorrow or the next day. It gets crazier.
I was going to try to stay away from making any more comments on the ridiculous Swift Boat nonsense. It’s become pretty clear who and what is behind the attacks and sensible people aren’t going to buy the garbage. Unfortunately, there are people who can be swayed by the repetition of outrageous accusations, and we saw the effect this had on John McCain and Max Cleland.
And perhaps those unthinking people can be swayed by the most recent piece of nonsense - the injection of nanananana - your mother wears army boots and my Dad can lick your Dad comments - into the manufactured controversy. This is the contribution of Bob Dole, who is now questioning the awarding of Purple Hearts to John Kerry because his wounds weren’t as bad as a lot of other servicemen who were really injured in combat. With bad wounds. Like Bob Dole himself, left with only one good arm.
I guess Bob missed the good old days when he was the designated hatchet man.
Can this get any sillier or any dirtier? You betcha. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
HATE ABOUNDS - SO I’M GOING OUT OF TOWN TO COOL OFF
I’m going out of town for a few days, so there’ll be no commentary until next week.
When I get back, I may take up the subject of my comments of yesterday in some specific detail. The ultra-conservative respondent to this blog from whom I hear almost daily, is consumed with hate for John Kerry and indeed for just about any Democratic politician.
He will deny that his views are hate filled, but his words speak for themselves and I may include some of them here so readers can judge for themselves and get a chilling example of some of the feelings that abound in the land.
The haters on the right will search out the web sites that abound with rumor, innuendo and accusation against Kerry and others, much of which would have made Joseph Goebbels proud. They get reinforcement from Fox News and from Rush Limbaugh and his ilk and believe everything negative that is said of those they despise.
Kerry has his faults. Other Democratic politicians have their faults. Surprisingly, so do Republican politicians. So do Jews, but believe it or not, Jews don’t have horns growing out of their heads and don’t run the world. But if you’d like to believe that they do, there’s a mountain of "evidence" to reinforce your preconceived beliefs. That’s what’s going on on the hate filled fringes of political philosophy and discourse today.
Whoever gets elected in November needs to step back and take a look at the situation and start asking why and what can be done to change it. It’s a little hard to be the leader of nations and a light unto other nations if we are one nation divided by hatred for each other. And let’s face it folks, when it comes to politics, that’s what we are.
Incidentally, my out of town trip is starting off like the kind of serialized travel adventure I wrote about on May 24th. 27th and 31st. Stay tuned………
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
THE POLITICS OF HATRED - TODAY’S "UN"- CIVIL WAR
The American Civil War officially ended in 1865, but unofficial civil wars of all kinds keep ripping through - or perhaps are a permanent part of - the fabric of this nation.
I don’t have any memories going back to the civil war, jokes about my advanced years by my children and others notwithstanding - but my memory goes back a good many years and I can’t remember a time when we were more divided politically than we are at this moment in time. Not just by numbers - though we seem to be divided almost on a 50/50 basis between Democrats and Republicans - but by the intensity of our disagreement and our completely opposite interpretations of people and ideas and events.
It’s not just a question of seeing glasses half empty and half full. It’s more a question of what’s in the glass - milk or scotch or crude oil or water. And whether the glass is actually a glass to begin with!!
That’s how far apart we seem to be. We are unable to convince each other about things that are incontrovertible to us.
During the Clinton years, we had half the country hating him and the other half ready to re-elect him as many times as the constitution would allow. Those feeling still remain, though now some of the Bill hatred has shifted over to Hillary.
Now we have half the country hating George W Bush - maybe even more intensely than Clinton was hated - and the other half thinking he’s some kind of hero.
I don’t think the divisions have ever been this intense in modern times.
I could pick out countless examples of the black and white differences that abound in this political season, but I’ll comment again today on one that I’ve commented about a few times recently and that demonstrates these differences in such a stark manner. The Illinois Senatorial "race" between Barack Obama and Alan Keyes.
I have to put the word "race" in quotes because I don’t believe for a moment that there will be anything approaching a legitimate contest between two candidates seeking to represent the state of Illinois in the United States Senate. Keyes has already made that clear with the outrageous things he has been saying to get television news time and newspaper headlines. Obama isn’t "black" enough to appreciate the "black experience" because his father was a Kenyan and his mother was white. That’s his latest salvo. And shame on those branches of the news media for going along with his "reality show" nonsense.
Our sharp differences can perhaps be demonstrated by Republicans actually finding a way to rationalize the appropriateness of such statements, while the rest of us know it’s hyperbolic nonsense. And nasty nonsense at that.
But our stark difference in the way we view the glass container with fifty percent of it’s capacity sans liquid, is more clearly revealed over the business of who is the carpetbagger - Keyes or Hillary Clinton??
The other day, I made the perfectly logical and to me irrefutable argument that the big difference between the two candidacies was that unlike Keyes’ last minute appearance on the Illinois scene, the Clintons decided to move to and live in New York State after they left the White House. They bought property there in 1999 . Hillary entered the Democratic primary for Senator as a resident and won in September of 2000, making her the more legitimate candidate.
Keyes came to Illinois as a "gimmick" play when the local Republicans couldn’t find anyone to run against Obama after their primary winner quit the race. He has rented a couple of rooms in a run down neighborhood on a month to month basis to "establish" residency.
Surely a visitor from Mars, being presented with the facts of the two candidacies, and having no knowledge of our political systems, would be able to decide which one had more legitimacy.
Yet over the week-end, there was a "letter to the editor" in my local paper that reads as follows:
A lot of people seem anxious to jump on the use of the word "carpetbagger" to describe Alan Keyes. They are quick to remind us that Keyes used the same word to describe Hillary Clinton when she ran for senator in New York.This letter writer and I look at exactly the same set of facts and interpret them differently. The letter writer as a Republican trying to rationalize the irrational - and me as a rational being seeing the glass and its contents for what they are.
She - the letter is signed with a female name - sees Mrs. Clinton’s perfectly legal move to New York as "inserting" herself in that state. She would probably see it that way if Hillary and Bill had moved to Illinois where she had roots. And that would be an interpretation born of hatred, not just of partisanship and certainly not of logic.
If there was an established tradition in this country of state political party central committees conducting nationwide searches for potential candidates to run for national office from their state, and inviting them to come to their state and be their candidate for a national office, and for this to occur within three months of a general election, then I would concede that Mr. Keyes’ candidacy has as much legitimacy as Hillary Clinton’s did in 2000.
But there is no such tradition, so we are left with the facts as they are, and the only way to conclude that Mr. Keyes’ candidacy is more legitimate than that of Mrs. Clinton’s run in 2000, is to substitute partisanship for rational thought.
But beyond partisanship, there seems to be abroad in the land, as I have indicated, an underlying hatred of each others political philosophies and candidates. We have heard politicians call opponents un-American and worse. And this is not something that is confined to the election season. It’s going on all the time - on talk radio and talking head television programs, in op-ed attacks in the nation’s newspapers and in the halls and chambers of Congress where the concept of bi-partisanship has become little more than a joke.
It may die down some after the election, but I see no sign of the hatred disappearing and any move toward the idea of agreeable disagreement between people with differing political views. We are that divided as a nation.
And we wonder why the Israelis and Palestinians can’t resolve their differences in a civilized manner.
Monday, August 16, 2004
I got the announcement of my reassessed property value in the mail today. Up just about fifty percent!!! Not a good way to start the week. My property taxes are based on a percentage of the assessed value of my home, so unless that percentage is reduced, my tax bill could sky rocket.
Kind of makes me wish that property assessments and property tax bills were controlled by the kind of people who run for office - or run to retain office - boasting that they never vote to create taxes or never vote to raise taxes.
The only trouble with that kind of wish is that if it ever came true, we’d be living in a nightmare, not in a wonderland.
It’s absolutely astonishing to think that there are people who buy into this kind of crap. The other day, I was listening to a young talk show host on the radio who was saying how much he admired Barack Obama, but because he had become successful, and was now earning big bucks, differed from him politically. Why? Because Obama "wanted to spend his money." I kid you not. The guy didn’t like the idea of having to pay taxes that politicians would decide how and where to spend. He’d prefer to vote for someone who would promise NOT to collect any tax money from a poor struggling talk show host earning up to a million bucks a year.
What a wonderful society that would be. Nothing that we take for granted in society would be funded or would be severely under-funded, but as Ronald Reagan used to tell us, we’d all be better off. We know how to spend our own money better than the government does, so why should government take it?
Wouldn’t that make for some interesting changes in society?
Can you imagine calling 911 and getting a recording? "Hello. You have reached the police emergency service. Our office hours are 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. We are closed on Sundays. If you are calling to report a break in, press 1. If you are calling to report an attempted murder, press 2. If you are calling to report an actual homicide, press 3." And on and on. You get the drift. Not enough tax money to fund full service.
Of course if you subscribed to one of the many private police forces that were formed in the wake of the no tax society, there would be no problem at all. And even if you couldn’t afford their fees, you might be lucky enough to live in an area where a certain amount of charity police work was being done. Pro Bono.
In a national emergency, we might have a town crier galloping through the streets - all right, wheeling through the streets in a Jeep with a loudspeaker, calling for volunteers to defend the land from an invasion of Iraqi warriors armed with cutlasses and super charged slingshots. No standing army of course. No taxes to pay for one. Only people with working automatic weapons would be asked to volunteer, and preference would be given to anyone owning a tank or a jet fighter.
The malpractice insurance crisis could be solved in a no tax society. There are those who say it could be solved by capping the amount that anyone could recover from harm caused by a doctor or hospital. But in a no tax society, there wouldn’t need to be a cap. With no tax money or little tax money to run the courts, people wanting to sue would have to take a number - just like at a super market deli counter - and wait their turn. Your surgeon cut off the wrong leg? Shame. You can expect that case to be heard in December of 2122, weather permitting. Since no case would ever come to trial, there’d be no need for any kind of malpractice insurance.
Just think of all the things that we take for granted that are paid for out of the various taxes that we pay. I could fill pages of this blog with a list of them and still not likely scratch the surface. And yet there are politicians who use the same kind of "no tax" demagoguery year after year to get themselves elected or re-elected.
Of course even the "never vote to create or raise a tax" crowd, do manage to make sure that there’s enough money to pay their salaries and fund their exorbitant pensions.
Nobody likes to pay taxes. I know I don’t, even though I know they are necessary. And I absolutely hate the Federal Income Tax code. Not the taxes so much as the infernal convoluted code. The rules and regulations laid out in hundreds of pages in a book that gets larger and larger every year. It’s a code that cries out for simplification. Ideas about how to simplify it are always being trotted out but they never seem to get anywhere. Some make sense. Others are nonsensical.
Currently, some Republicans are "seriously" considering the idea of abolishing Federal income taxes altogether (yeah, whoopee, cheers, right on brother) and replacing it with a national sales tax!! Mr. Bush thinks it’s an "idea" worth looking at.
Whenever it’s reported, it’s described as something like the "value added" taxes that are used in European countries. I know about value added taxes in England. I’ve paid them often enough when I’ve been there. But the last time I looked, people were still paying income taxes in England - and at a pretty hefty rate thank you.
Substituting a national sales tax for income tax is one step ahead of the flat income tax idea that has been around for years and is just as insidious. They both would accomplish exactly the same thing. Leaving the rich laughing all the way to their yachts or their mansions in the country and leaving the rest of us wondering what hit us.
A national sales tax to replace Federal income taxes means that all the taxes that are now imposed on goods and services would have to go up. A lot. People who don’t have to worry about money, whether they’re paying income taxes or not, would be much better off. But people who live from paycheck to paycheck and who need to spend all of their income just to get by, would be devastated. A great many of those people pay little or no federal income taxes because the graduated tax tables give them something of a break just as the ways around paying buried in those hundreds of pages of the code give rich people a break.
But think of the people who didn’t earn enough to pay Federal income taxes now being faced with huge increases in just about everything they need to buy or spend money on.
Then think about the rest of us. Not the rich but the middle class. We’ll have more discretionary income, that’s true. But when faced with the kind of increases in goods and services that will have to be imposed, will we spend enough to make up for the lost income tax revenue, or will we hold back and spend less and so slow down the economy?
Of course the plan would include some kind of convoluted method to exempt a certain amount of income from the national sales tax. I have no idea how that could be done, but can you imagine the number of pages that would be needed to describe it in the NEW tax code?
Taxing us with crazy tax ideas. Only in America.
Friday, August 13, 2004
TWO KINDS OF DIRT
I haven’t written about Israel for a while, but there’s no question that it’s a country and a topic that I’ll be coming back to again and again as long as I am writing commentary on this blog.
But even when my thoughts are elsewhere, it doesn’t take much to remind me why Israel must remain what it is, a Jewish state, where for the most part, Jewish citizens have no need to be afraid of their surroundings just because they are Jewish, the Palestinian conflict notwithstanding. That’s something apart from the anti-Semitism that threatens Jews around the world - and in countries where you wouldn't think it would be tolerated.
Today, I’m reminded of that need by the content of a newsletter from the Simon Wiesenthal Center which reads in part:
As the world's athletes converge on the site of the original Olympics, the Simon Wiesenthal Center calls on Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis to take vigorous steps to contain anti-Semitism and other expressions of hate and xenophobia, beginning with the condemnation and active prosecution of those who have perpetrated hate crimes.I don’t know about you, but this sort of thing makes me sick. And it goes on to this day in the most "civilized" places in the world.
A few days ago, I expressed disappointment that John McCain would serve as the Bush campaign chairman in Arizona and that he would allow himself to be used in commercials promoting a second term for George Bush.
Now I really don’t know what to think of his "travels with Bush," all smiles, arms around each other - with Bush at one point planting a KISS on McCain’s forehead.
I feel sorry for the man because even though he condemned the smears being launched at Kerry, the only explanation I can come up with for his slavish support of Bush is that he has lost his moral compass. Maybe the Bush crowd accomplished what they set out to do in 2000 - destroy him!!
I am reminded of the Bush/McCain history by the persistent rantings of a right wing respondent to my blog comments on the political scene, who accepts as gospel every smear that is put out, nurtured and manipulated against John Kerry by the same crowd that did it to McCain.
By this correspondent’s reasoning, it is true that McCain committed treason while a prisoner of war, had fathered a child by a black prostitute, was gay and cheated on his wife Cindy, who incidentally was a drug addict.
Those were some of the dirty trick smears used against McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries. After McCain dropped out, there was no need to keep up the attacks, but had his race against Bush gone down to the wire, I have absolutely no doubt that the "stories" would have grown more and more elaborate and that "witnesses" would have made supportive statements. These people - the disciples and graduate students of Donald Segretti - are that good.
I suppose it’s possible that one could find a rabid, left wing, pinko communist sympathizer who eats aborted late term fetuses for breakfast who would actually believe that kind of garbage about McCain and would keep repeating it in e-mail messages to the world as proof that McCain was and did all of these things. But I doubt it.
As misguided as someone from the extreme left of the political spectrum might be, I think he would recognize the limits of "dirty tricks" and not pass on a whole mess of them that were too far over the limit to measure.
I see a lot of biting humor from the left about George Bush, but nothing like the stuff that was spread about McCain by those Segretti disciples and like the garbage now being circulated about John Kerry.
If Karl Rove switched sides however, I am absolutely sure that we would soon hear of the traitorous activities of Mr. Bush while he was supposedly "serving" (ha ha) in the Air National Guard and that a group of ex guardsmen would surface who "served" with Mr. Bush and who "remembered" him very well and would describe those traitorous activities.
Anti-Semitism and political dirty tricks - not so strange bedfellows.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
KERRY AND BUSH ON IRAQ. THERE NEEDS TO BE A DIFFERENCE
John Kerry may have done himself some damage by allowing Mr. Bush to manipulate him into saying whether or not he would have voted to give the President authority to use military force against Iraq, if he knew then what he knows now.
His answer was disappointing, saying that yes, he thought it was appropriate for the President to have that authority, but that "he would have done it differently."
The people who have decided to vote for ABB, anybody but Bush, are not going to be affected too much by anything that Kerry says. He’s the ABB alternative and he’s going to get their vote.
But for those few who have been sitting on the fence and for Nader supporters who were reaching the conclusion that a vote for Nader might help swing the election to Bush and were getting ready to hold their noses and vote for Kerry, his "Bush Lite" statement may make him look no different from Mr. Bush on one of the key issues - if not THE key issue of the election, and that may have cost him some potential votes.
I frankly don’t understand it. "Knowing then" what he "knows now" means that we knew that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, that they were not involved in the 9/11 attack and that they represented no threat to the security of the United States. Saddam was a vicious dictator who had dome horrible things to his own people, but that was no reason for us to invade Iraq. Indeed, if that kind thing could be considered a valid excuse for the US to go to war, we would be engaged in a half a dozen wars around the globe right now.
I have a theory about Kerry’s initial "yes" vote. I think that he and many other senators were intimidated by the full court press of the President and his cabinet members. In the post 9/11 era, no elected official wanted to be seen as being reluctant to let the world know that we were ready and determined to hunt down the enemies of the United States wherever they were to be found - and by the time the issue came up for a vote, the atmosphere was one in which Iraq did indeed appear to be an enemy of the United States, if not an imminent threat to our security. And as others have pointed out, Kerry voted no on Desert Storm and didn’t want to be in the position of being on the wrong side again.
But in Kerry’s defense - and in defense of other senators who reluctantly voted to grant Bush authority to use force, the vote was to use force as a last resort, which Bush totally ignored.
Now Bush is attacking Kerry for criticizing him for months on the issue of Iraq, while his position all along but unknown until now, was that he was for a military attack against Saddam Hussein, weapons or no weapons of mass destruction.
Kerry will need to muster all of his persuasive skills to fend off this one. I think he has a problem. I think he has a problem appreciating that the average citizen is not going to understand the nuanced positions that he takes on certain issues - that often a simplistic approach, even if it doesn’t reflect his views precisely, is the best way to get a point across.
Mr. Bush has been doing it all over the country. In defending the Iraq disaster, he talks about not wanting to "take the word of a madman when the safety of our country is at stake". If he has to choose between the word of a madman and taking military action, he says, he’d opt for the preemptive military strike every time. It goes over big. He sets up a false premise to which the answer is obvious and the audiences lap it up, not stopping to think that the premise is wrong.
All Kerry needed to say was that had he known that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and had no connection to 9/11, he would not have voted to give the President authority to take military action - instead of what I believe he was trying to do with the answer he gave - protect the idea of a future president - and in this case him - being able to get the same congressional support to handle future crises that might call for swift military action.
If I were advising Kerry, I would tell him to take advantage of the attack launched on him by Dick Cheney yesterday, an attack that I imagine will be repeated again and again now that Kerry has owned up to being a "Bush Lite" on the question of Iraq.
Cheney says that Kerry lacks strong beliefs - that he doesn’t have deeply held convictions about right and wrong.
Kerry’s response to that attack, through a spokesman, was that "Cheney spends his time on the campaign trail launching vitriolic attacks because this White House has no record to run on."
In other words, one of the usual, nonsensical barbs that political opponents hurl at each other at campaign time. . Between Bush and Kerry and Cheney and Edwards, they could generate enough hot air to solve half of this country’s energy problems.
What Kerry himself - not a spokesman - should have said, and what needs to be said over and over throughout this campaign, is that his opponents are confusing "deeply held convictions" with "rigid ideology." We want, we need a president with deeply held convictions, but that’s a far cry from what we’ve had for the past four years - a president who is a prisoner of an ideology that he can’t seem to shake off. When it comes to decision making and there is a conflict between what seems to be the sensible action and the ideological action, ideology wins the day every time.
Deeply held convictions can be tempered to accommodate circumstances. and can see the shades of gray in those circumstances. An ideologue is someone who sees everything in black and white . Or as Cheney put it - right and wrong.
But that’s not the way the world is, divided along the simplistic lines of right and wrong, and we need a President who understands that.
If Kerry does, and he seems to, then he’s the better choice for the uncertain and dangerous future that we face.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
AMBER FREY MAY NOT "FRY" SCOTT PETERSON
I haven’t been following the Scott Peterson trial and for the life of me, I don’t know why it’s a major national news story. But that’s what it is, and because I watch national television news programs, I was exposed last night to the latest "update" about his trial - testimony by an ex-girlfriend that is allegedly "damaging" because he lied to her about his marital status and hinted that he would soon be free to pursue a serious long term relationship with her.
The ex-girlfriend, Amber Frey, went to the police when she learned that Peterson was married and his wife was missing and thereafter recorded their telephone conversations under the direction of law enforcement authorities.
Legal pundits are saying that her testimony could be damaging to Peterson because his conversations with her present a picture of a man about to be free of any existing personal relationships. He’s practically telling her that he’s done away with his wife.
But I would suggest that before the prosecutors decide that they’ve nailed their man, they step back and take another look at what the Frey testimony amounts to.
No one has presented any evidence to indicate that Peterson is non compos mentis, so one has to assume that if he had indeed murdered his wife, he knew he wouldn’t be able to hide her death from Ms Frey. So why would he be practically telling her that he had done the dirty deed? "I "lost" my wife". "I’ll be "free" after such and such a date."
It makes no sense. So let’s look at it another way that does make sense. There’s a big clue. Something that happened the day they met. Their first date. They had sex!! Or to put it more crudely, he got her into bed.
Now as far as I know, there has been no evidence presented to indicate that Peterson was a "sexaholic fantasist" - SF for short.. But as I said, I haven’t been following the case, so there may well have been. But even if there hasn’t been any such evidence, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that he was a SF, if only a closet one.
I should explain what I mean by "sexaholic fantasist." I apply that term to someone who not only has an insatiable desire to have sex as often as possible, but also has a compulsion to become intricately involved with his or her sex partners
If Peterson was a murderer, just about everything he said to Amber Frey could add up to a confession of the evil deed - and that would make him incredibly stupid as well as criminal. But if he was just a sexaholic fantasist, everything he told her made perfect sense - and it was his bad luck that his wife was murdered while his affair with her was proceeding hot and heavy - and, from a SF’s point of view, successfully.
In my experience, a SF will do or say anything to get what he wants - which is not only to have sex but to have an affair with the object of his lust. He will take enormous risks. He will tell the most convoluted tales imaginable. And he will back himself into entanglements from which there would seem to be absolutely no escape. And he can’t help himself. He can’t stop doing what he’s doing. The compulsion takes over his reason.
How do I know all this? Am I a sexaholic fantasist? No, but I know one. Or at least I knew one. I think he’s retired from active SF activities now. But he’s married and was throughout his SF career - and his wife is still alive.
This guy used to travel a great deal and most of his affairs were with out of town women. In that way, he differed from Scott Peterson. Peterson was playing it too close to home to be able to keep it going and still keep it secret. It almost had to be discovered eventually. But in other ways, my friend was exactly like Peterson in that he didn’t just have an approach of "Me Tarzan, You Jane. Let’s have sex." With each of his conquests, from the very first moment of meeting them, he would begin to build an elaborate story of who he was and what his status was regarding his availability for serious and long term relationships. And he had them, serious and long term - sometimes more than one at the same time.
His extra-marital relationships became so complicated that on one occasion he became engaged to one of his girlfriends and a wedding date was set. He got out of it of course. He had to. But the "engagement" lasted quite a while and the woman never did find out that her "fiance" was already married. That’s not far removed from the fantasies Peterson was feeding Amber Frey.
There’s probably at least one man on the Peterson jury that will be able to understand this syndrome, and if it’s explained carefully, he’ll explain it to the other jurors and Ms Frey’s testimony won’t look so damaging when they’re considering their verdict.
I have no opinion on the guilt or innocence of Mr. Peterson. If he did it, I hope the jury is smart enough to come to that conclusion. If he didn’t, I hope they’re smart enough to figure that out too. As I said at the beginning, it’s not something that I’ve paid any attention to, but I guess it is part of the "passing parade" and thus a matter on which it is not inappropriate for me to comment.
Besides, it gives me a much needed break from politics.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
THE KEYES RECRUITMENT - COULD THIS BE THE FUTURE OF CANDIDATE SELECTION?
I’ve been trying to get away from politics for days on end, but events just keep on unfolding that cry out for comment and some of them are just too delicious to pass up.
The reverend Alan Keyes came to town the other day to do battle on behalf of the Lord against the evil Illinois pretender to the senatorial throne, Barack of Obama.
O.K. I know Keyes isn’t an ordained minister but if you didn’t know it, you would swear, from his opening salvo in the Illinois Senate race, that he was indeed a disciple of the Lord, come to convert the non believers of this state.
His stated reason for accepting the challenge to run against Obama? Abortion. In hushed tones, his voice quivering with emotion, he spoke of Obama’s vote against a bill to outlaw late term abortions. He asked the fawning audience of Illinois Republican bigwigs to imagine a little baby being born - alive - breathing on its own and crying as it is crushed to death by the evil abortionist licensed and sanctioned by Obama’s vote.
The audience gave an obligatory gasp at this heart wrenching revelation, none questioning the miracle of a fetus being able to breathe and cry.
It promises to be a fun filled couple of months with Keyes giving these kinds of performances whenever camera crews can be persuaded to record them. It’s unlikely that he will have money to run television commercials - and if Obama is smart, he won’t offer his carpetbagger opponent free publicity by debating him more than perhaps a single obligatory time. But Barack is a straight shooter, so he’ll probably give Keyes more than one chance to spout his eighteenth century nonsense.
Republicans of course would object strongly to calling Keyes a carpetbagger. As he himself explained, someone like Hillary Clinton was an example of a true carpetbagger. She (according to Keyes) looked around to see which state was best for her to run in before choosing New York in true carpetbagger style, while he responded to a request from the party of another state to become their standard bearer.
Keyes may have something there. In fact, he may be the leading edge of a new wave of political candidacy in this country - the hired candidate. Have pitch, will travel.
There are those among us who pine for the good old days when candidates were picked by a handful of party hacks chomping on cigars in smoke filled rooms instead of by way of messy primaries. We may never get back to those days, but I can envision an entirely new political candidacy structure patterned along the lines of the NFL.
There would be an annual draft for both senatorial and congressional candidates, limited of course to seats that are up for election in that year.
The order of selection for senatorial candidates would be based on the percentage by which a party’s candidate lost or won a race, the highest pick obviously going to the state having the biggest loser and the lowest to the state having the biggest winner. The order would be based on percentages rather than numbers, thus making the draft an even playing field for large and small population states.
The congressional draft would be a little more complicated because of the number of candidates running in any given year, so the process there would likely be a combination of losing and winning percentages and a lottery.
In addition to the draft, both states and congressional districts would have walk ons available for consideration.
Unlike political party conventions - which would be retained to support the manufacturers of balloons and confetti and the liquor industry, the Republican and Democratic candidate drafts would be held on the same day. Television stations would have to decide which would attract the biggest audience and if all opted for the same party’s draft, there would be legislation to compel PBS to cover the ignored party.
Trading between states and congressional districts would be allowed , with a set trading deadline each year - and of course on the basis of a one for one trade. There would be no "extra candidates" to be named later. Any candidate winning an election would be compelled to serve out his or her term and would not be available to be traded while serving in an elected post.
Over time, draft selectors would develop skills in latching on to the most desirable candidate. For example, if a party has a senatorial candidate that they are certain will lose, they could encourage their party members to vote for the opposing candidate so that they would lose by the biggest possible percentage and thus be able to draft high - maybe even number one - the next time around.
Signing bonuses would be permitted . They most likely would be necessary to persuade a desired candidate to run in a less desirable state - a Floridian for example, used to basking in the sun during all congressional recesses and whenever possible between recesses, drafted to run in Minnesota.
There would need to be a constitutional amendment to allow foreign candidates to be drafted or to be signed as free agents. Tony Blair for example, would probably be drafted high in the first round, so that provision would need to be in place before the new system got underway.
The public would have some say in the new system. Although traditional primaries would be eliminated, compulsory surveys would be conducted in states and congressional districts to get a sense of voter preferences for different kinds of candidates. California and Florida would be exempted from having to conduct surveys or any other rules of candidate selection. All California candidates would be over the hill actors and all Florida candidates would be chosen by the Florida Supreme Court. And any candidate for any office in Illinois would be required to kiss the mistletoe of whoever is serving as mayor of Chicago, even if his name isn’t Daley.
And finally, a drafted candidate losing the race for which he is drafted, will no longer be eligible to be drafted or to sign with a state or congressional district as a free agent.
That’ll be one way to stop reverend Keyes from jumping from state to state and emulating either the record of Harold Stassen or (for Chicagoans only), Lar America First Daly.
Monday, August 09, 2004
SMEAR SEASON IN FULL GEAR
It’s the sort of thing you expect in the sports world.
A couple of boxers go at each other with a ferocity that you would think is born of pure hatred, but after the bout is over they shake hands or embrace and maybe even go out for a drink together. The fierce battle is what’s expected of them - and as long as one doesn’t play dirty, there’s no reason why they can’t be friends outside of the ring.
The same applies to football, baseball, basketball and players of other sports. During the game, the opposing team is the enemy and is treated accordingly. After the game, rivals can be friends. Sometimes you have brothers playing on opposing teams. For sure, they wouldn’t let their rivalry on the field of play disrupt their brotherly love.
And it’s become pretty much the expected thing in politics. A fierce campaign with two candidates attacking the heck out of each other gets resolved - the loser concedes graciously and the winner says what a fine fellow the loser is. Yesterday he was a bum, not worthy of election as assistant dog catcher. Today, he is the honorable opponent.
And that’s between opponents from different parties. Usually. 2000 was an aberration.
With candidates from the same party running in a primary, it gets a little more complicated, but it can still finish up with no lasting enmity once a winner emerges - as long as the candidates attack each other on the basis of ideas and their respective public records and make modest claims, such as "I’m smarter than him" or "I’m more experienced than him" or "I can do a better job than him."
But I wouldn’t expect there to be a lasting friendship between candidates who accuse each other of criminal activity or moral reprehensibility.
And I wouldn’t expect a losing candidate to ever want to be in the same room with an opponent who hires tricksters to engage in the kind of scurrilous smear tactics that were used against John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries.
Now the same sort of dirty, underhanded smear campaign is going on against John Kerrry, with a carefully organized campaign attacking his service in Vietnam.
McCain has described an ad which tried to dismiss Kerrry’s military record as a pack of lies, as "dishonest and dishonorable" and says that it is "the same kind of deal that was pulled on me." He has asked Mr. Bush to condemn the ad, but I haven’t heard any condemnation coming out of the White House and I don’t expect to. I suspect that Mr. Bush is chuckling away at the play the ad and the efforts of "Swift Boats Veterans for Truth" is getting. After all, the people behind it are using the same tactics that knocked off McCain after he had upset Bush in the New Hampshire primary. The same kind of smear campaign that knocked Max Cleland out of the Senate.. These are the most vicious bunch of political operatives to have come along in many a decade.
I expect the blinkered right wing columnists and broadcasters to go along with the smear campaign. They would go along with anything that smears Kerry. Truth isn’t important to them. As long as somebody throws a smear out there, they can just keep repeating it as though it was true. One right wing columnist in today’s Chicago Tribune insisted that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth "have every right to go public with their views" so that "the public can judge who is lying." In other words, they have every right to present their version of the "truth." So do the holocaust deniers!!
I wasn’t in Vietnam on either of John Kerry’s boats, so I can’t attest to what is or isn’t "true" about his military service. One can use common sense and balance the words of his crew mates who were on the boats with him, and the official record that was established - and those records aren’t just recorded casually - against accusations by people who considered him a traitor for condemning the war when he got home, who are Republican supporters of Bush and who are financed by big time Bush supporters.
But though I can’t attest to what happened in Kerry’s military career, I can attest to the power of the big lie and how it can just be asserted without an iota of proof and how it can then develop a life of its own as though it really was true.
It happened to me. I may have written about it before. I’ve done over 300 pieces on this blog, so it’s entirely possible. I was annoying some powerful people with my activities decades ago. They pulled some strings, applied some pressures and a grand jury was impaneled. I and some associates were subsequently indicted for mail fraud and other charges. There were even witnesses that the government cited in its indictment in which there was not a scintilla of truth. It was a pack of lies from start to finish. But the indictment and its so called "details" were published in newspapers. My name was mentioned. I wasn’t running for any office, so it didn’t harm me the way that John McCain and Max Cleland were harmed and how John Kerry may be harmed, but it was a huge embarrassment, it destroyed the business I was in, which was the source of the embarrassment to the aforementioned powerful people, and probably aged me a couple of years. And if I had been running for some office at the time, those who opposed me would have pointed to these unsubstantiated allegations as "proof" that I was a bum and unfit for office.
I’m not sure that we could have convinced a jury that the indictment was a pack of lies. The government was prepared to call "witnesses" who would tell their "version" of the "truth." We might have been able to discredit their carefully coached testimony, but there was no guarantee. After all, the government wouldn’t bring charges unless there was some truth to them, would they?
Fortunately, before a trial could take place, a Federal Judge ruled that even if all of the allegations in the phony indictment were true, they didn’t add up to a violation of any law and the case was dismissed.
But I know the power of the big lie. I know how a "version" of the truth can be a lie that is hard to get rid of when it gets repeated and repeated and talked about.
John Kerry knows if people are telling lies about him. I wouldn’t expect him to ever want to be in the same room with such people, let alone "forgive" them for their attacks.
John McCain knew who was telling lies about him when he had the gall to enter a primary against the anointed candidate of the right wing of the Republican party. As a loyal Republican himself, I don’t expect him to bad mouth President Bush. But I’m dismayed that he would agree to serve as chairman of the Bush campaign in Arizona and allow himself to be used in commercials for the same team that tried to destroy him.
There comes a time in politics when embracing an opponent after a vicious, name calling smear campaign, is not the most appropriate thing to do. Shake hands maybe. You can always wash them afterwards. But embrace? Campaign for the vilifier?
Maybe by the time this campaign is over, John McCain will have had enough, and loyal Republican or not, will reach a point where he will feel compelled to borrow a phrase from a potential future first lady and tell those who are using his good name for no good purposes, to shove it!!
Friday, August 06, 2004
FRIDAY BITS AND PIECES
One more thing about the Illinois Senatorial race before the announcement By Alan Keyes on Sunday that he accepts the call to mount his steed, ride here from Maryland and do battle with the Barack of Obama.
Illinois Republicans who plan to vote for Mr. Keyes - the kind that would vote for any name listed on the ballot as Republican (think David Duke for example), are calling radio talk shows and arguing that if Hillary Clinton could do it, Alan Keyes can do it - even though he condemned Hillary’s effort and kept doing so day after day back in the fall of 2000.
I’m sure Keyes will offer some kind of convoluted rationale that those dyed-in-the-wool Republicans will accept as though it was some kind of quotation from the gospels, but there’s no way he can claim that what he is doing is no different than what Hillary did.
There’s a world of difference.
Hillary announced that she wanted to live in New York after the Clinton term was up. Hillary announced that she wanted to run for the Senate from New York. Hillary moved to New York state before the 2000 Democratic primary. Hillary ran in the New York Democratic primary and won!!!
She was a legitimate candidate elected by voters in that primary. Mr. Keyes is - to once again quote the estimable John Cleese - something completely different.
As readers of this blog know, I do not expect to experience an "after life" once I am through with this one, so it would take a forest full of evidence to make me consider the possibility of something as esoteric as reincarnation.
But the more I hear our President speak, the more my resistance to believing in the possibility of something that I consider to be nonsensical fantasy, weakens.
From what inner devil spring the malapropisms that Mr. Bush regales us with in speech after speech? We have elected this man to the highest office in the land - or at least the United States Supreme Court says we have. Surely we would not expect a President of the United States to be so inarticulate that he would fracture the English language almost every time he opens his mouth? That would be something we might expect from a grade school dropout selling uppers and downers on a street corner. But not from the leader of the fee world. Not from an American politician with powers almost equal to that of an Eastern potentate.
I think I know the answer. It isn’t him.
Whenever Mr. Bush begins to speak, I hear an echo of a voice that is his but not his. The accent is not the same - nor the cadence, but the syntax - it’s just haunting. It’s been a mystery from the moment he first appeared on the national scene..
Until yesterday, when it all became suddenly and frighteningly clear.
He was speaking of the war on terrorism. He frequently speaks of the war on terrorism. He is a war President. He has told us so on many an occasion. We shouldn’t change Presidents in the middle of a war. He’s implied that on many an occasion also. And yesterday, he wanted to assure us that he had a firm grip on this war against the terrorists who would destroy us.
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we," he said. "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we!!! (Emphasis added).
That’s what the newspapers report that he said. That’s what the recordings of his comments allege that he said. But that’s not what I heard. I heard that eerie echo that I have heard again and again, ever since he assumed office. And I was transformed to another time and another place.
Chicago - 1968.
And what I heard was - "The police aren’t here to create disorder. They are here to preserve disorder."
Intellectually, I still don’t believe it, but what other explanation can there be? George W Bush is the reincarnation of Richard J Daley, the former mayor of Chicago who must have committed horrible sins while he was alive. Either that or there is a Supreme Being with an incredibly twisted sense of humor.
Why else would he bring back "da Mayor" as a Republican??
So Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta wants airlines to cut back on their flights in and out of O’Hare.
O’Hare has been a mess for years because the airlines insist upon asking the flying public to accept an illogical premise - that twelve people can travel comfortably in a two seat sports car.
I wrote about the nonsense of airline "scheduling" on April 26, 2003.
It surely didn’t take any genius to realize that airlines couldn’t honestly claim in their advertising that you could take off from Chicago at their advertised times. But airlines kept scheduling their flights to compete with each other - and at peak times that resulted in a huge back up of planes on the taxiways, all scheduled to take off at the same time or within minutes of each other, but having to wait and wait until there was a runway available.
There is resistance to what would amount to at least partial re-regulation of the industry, if the FAA forces airlines to cut back on their schedules, but most sane people would welcome the reintroduction of any regulation that would reduce the number of take offs and landings per hour at the nation’s major airports and get rid of those ridiculous delays that disrupt the entire system.
If the brains at the nation’s airlines can’t figure out that saying that it’s safe and comfortable for twelve people to ride in a two seat sports car doesn’t make it so, then - forgive the evil word - government will just have to figure it out for them.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
CLOWNS ACROSS THE WATER - with apologies to Paul McCartney
If ever I needed confirmation that we are indeed in the midst of a silly season extrodinaire , it has arrived from that most reliable and believable of all sources - the Times of London.
As I said yesterday, perhaps in seeking to import a challenger to Democratic Senatorial candidate Barack Obama, the movers and shakers of the Illinois Republican party were expressing a subconscious longing for days gone by when our bounteous land was ruled by a King and representatives of the people did not have to live or know or associate with the people that they represented. Just the way that today’s British Members of Parliament do not have to be from or live in the district that they represent. They just have to be elected by those people - a not too difficult task if they are members of the "right" party for the district.
But the actions of today’s Illinois Republican party, also evokes other visions of bygone days, when no one in the land could challenge the Black Knight who roamed freely, raping and pillaging to his hearts content. And so they sought far and wide in foreign lands for a White Knight to come to their rescue and do battle with the evil Black Knight. And indeed they found a champion living in a far off land and implored him to come to their rescue. Except that in their haste and anxiety, they neglected to notice that their potential champion was himself a Black Knight. And one who was a chronic loser!!! He’s never won any election race that he entered. Didn’t even come close.
Surely it couldn’t be total coincidence that at the moment when Illinois Republican movers and shakers are seeking their White Knight, an organization known as English Heritage is advertising in the London Times for a national court jester!! A transatlantic contribution to the silly season.
English Heritage, to quote from its web site, is "a public body with responsibility for all aspects of protecting and promoting the historic environment. Officially known as the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, English Heritage is an Executive Non-departmental Public Body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport."
They want someone with all of the proper qualifications for a court jester including owning his own jester’s outfit with bells and having a mirthful disposition. The organization would be able to provide a bladder on a stick if the successful applicant didn’t own one of his own.
Are you beginning to grasp the possibilities here? It’s the "Media and Sport" sponsorship of the jester seeking organization that really grabbed my attention. That and the fact that the court jester job only calls for week-end work for the summer of 2005, leaving all weekdays free for next year and, if you can take the ad’s requirements literally, free weekdays and week-ends for the years after that. In other words, the only commitment they’re looking for is for part time work for one summer!! The rest of the next four years is wide open.
What if we were to organize a merger of effort between English Heritage and the Republican Party of Illinois?
Both are looking for clowns of one kind or another. The Times ad doesn’t say anything about citizenship requirements, so an American clown could easily fulfill their needs, and since the Illinois Republicans seem to have no restrictions on the origin of the champion they are seeking, I am sure they could find the appropriate law, precedent or inventive about face to allow a British Jester Knight to lead them into battle.
Yep, that’s about as crazy as it has gotten so far.
Illinois Republican bigwigs picked Alan Keyes as their rent-a-candidate and he’s thinking it over!! He’ll let us know Sunday. Shades of Jack Benny taking his time to answer "your money or your life." The whole thing is a goddamned comedy. Though Jack Benny was a lot funnier and he was from Illinois.
I can just imagine what Mr. Keyes is "thinking over." Can he figure a way to explain how it would be O.K. for him to parachute into Illinois as a recruited candidate a little better than two months before the election, when he was all over Hillary Clinton when she moved to New York for the express purpose of running for Senator in that state? Can he find a way to convince a majority of Illinois voters that someone to the right of Attila the Hun is the appropriate person to represent them in the Senate? Does he have his own jester outfit with bells? How would he look wielding a bladder on a stick?
But perhaps on reflection we shouldn’t be so surprised or so hard on the Illinois Republican movers and shakers. Maybe there wasn’t any foreign influence on their decision making processes, conscious or subconscious. Maybe the influence came from subconscious efforts to emulate their leader in the White House.
What kind of influence you may ask? What kind of emulation? Well, I’m not going to say anything derogatory about the President of the United States. Just let me suggest that you look through this piece for key words and make up your own mind. Maybe words beginning with the letter J or the letter C.
I don’t know about you but I just can’t wait for Sunday to get here.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
POLITICAL SHENANIGANS IN ILLINOIS
The leaders of the Illinois Republican party should be ashamed of themselves.
Only days after Democratic Senatorial candidate Barack Obama stood before a national television audience, and with his words and presence gave us a riveting example of the promise of this nation, the movers and shakers of the Illinois Republican party are about to make a mockery of the upcoming election.
Ever since the withdrawal from the Senatorial race by the disgraced ex-husband of Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan to the Star Trek deficient), the Illinois Republican central committee has been looking for a substitute candidate to take on Obama. The guy who came in second in the Republican primary was ready to run, but the movers and shakers didn’t want him. They approached others, some legitimate and some nonsensical, such as ex-football player and coach and current pitchman and sports commentator Mike Ditka , and one by one they declined.
Having imposed a deadline of yesterday to select their candidate, the central committee delighted us last night with the wonderful news that they had whittled down the potential candidate to a final two.
Great. Wonderful. Finally, Mr. Obama would have an opponent and a discussion of the issues could begin.
Still, as I write this, the decision of which of the two finalists will be the candidate has yet to be announced. All we know is that it will be one of those two well known and respected Illinois Republicans, Andrea Grubb Barthwell or Alan Keyes.
Andrea Grubb Barthwell or Alan Keyes????
I heard the announcement yesterday and the person doing the announcing did it without a hint of laughter in her voice. But it is a joke of course. A cruel joke on Illinois Republicans. A cruel joke on Illinois voters of all political philosophies. And a cruel joke on the political process.
Barthwell is a doctor who was a deputy director in the federal Office of National Drug Control policy. In a discussion of her qualifications on a PBS news program last night, a reporter noted that she had requested a Republican ballot in this year’s primary, but not in past primaries. And she is black. A newly minted, black, female Republican. Someone ninety nine and nine tenths of Republican voters have never heard of before.
Alan Keyes is well on his way to becoming the Harold Stassen of African American ultra conservatives. He’s about as far to the right as Rush Limbaugh - maybe even farther. He’s made two unsuccessful runs for the Republican Presidential nomination and he’s run for the Senate and lost twice in Maryland.
Oh yes, this glib radio talk show host, public speaker and former Reagan appointee, first to the UN and then to the State Department, is a resident of Maryland! If he were to be selected as the "rent-a-candidate" representative to take on Obama, he couldn’t even vote for himself!!!
Republican apologists were quick to use one of their favorite weapons to defend the potential candidacy of Mr. Keyes - Hillary Clinton. Hey she did the same thing, they’re proclaiming. Not quite. Hillary became a resident of New York with the announced intention of running for the Senate, after residing in Washington for eight years. She didn’t just fly in from some other part of the country 90 days before a general election to challenge for the Senate. But Republicans still called her a carpetbagger at the time and continue to do so at every opportunity.
I haven’t heard any of the apologists bring up Frank Lautenberg as an example of "what’s good for the goose is good for the gander." At least not yet. But that comparison wouldn’t fly either. Former Senator Lautenberg jumped into the 2002 New Jersey race very late in the game, when incumbent Senator Robert Torricelli, beset with accusations of ethical misconduct, withdrew his bid for re-election. But Lautenberg was a resident of the state and could vote for himself.
Republicans complained at the time and went to court, but they lost there as well as in the general election.
This whole thing is hard to figure out unless perhaps it’s an expression of longing by Republican Blue Bloods for the form of government favored by our former rulers across the pond. But even that wouldn’t make much sense. In England, a member of parliament from a particular district doesn’t have to be a resident of that district to run for parliament. Party leaders can "assign" a "safe" district to a candidate that they want to be sure will be elected. Right now, Illinois isn’t "safe" for a Republican to run for dog catcher!!
Of course over in England, whether M.P.s have safe seats or not, unlike our Senators and Representatives, most of them have no official role in shaping policy, and so, if they like, they can do absolutely nothing from one election to another and still get re-elected. I imagine there are equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats who wouldn’t mind serving under those conditions.
It has nothing to do with the subject of this commentary, but if you have any interest in how government works in other countries, this discussion of the trials and tribulations of British M.P.s is worth reading.
The one thing that the Republicans vehemently deny is that they narrowed their choice down to two African Americans because Obama is a black man and they want to make some kind of point or embarrass Obama or for some other nefarious reason. Why, they didn’t even notice the color of the two finalists. I swear I heard someone say something like that.
As I said at the beginning of these comments, the leaders of the Illinois Republican party should be ashamed of themselves.
A small afterthought, since I’ve been writing about "black" or "African American" candidates.
I’m never sure when which description of a candidate is appropriate. We all hope that one day there would be no point or reason to mention a candidate’s ethnicity or race or religion, but that day’s a long way off I’m afraid.
But there’s another problem looming. If John Kerry is elected to the White House, Theresa Heinz Kerry, having been born in Africa, will become this nation’s first "African American" first lady. But she isn’t black and we normally associate "black" with African American."
So what will become the accepted and recognizable way to refer to a candidate for political office - or anyone else for that matter - whose skin is black and whose ancestry is African?
Maybe Theresa can solve the problem by simply referring to herself as "Mozambiqeuan-American."
And if you don’t like that, you know what she’ll tell you, whether you’re black or white or green with blue polka dots.
That’s right. Shove it!!
I like that woman