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Friday, October 29, 2004

"Funny, isn’t it?"

That’s the opening line of the lead editorial in today’s Chicago Tribune on the subject of the Duefler report. I haven’t checked, but I would be willing to bet that other newspapers around the country that have endorsed Mr. Bush, are echoing the theme of the Tribune editorial.

What the Tribune thinks is "funny" is that, according to their analysis, "many of the same folks who’ve been crowing about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction are now in full swivet over reports about missing Iraq explosives useful for producing missile warheads and detonating nuclear weapons."

And to fertilize cornfields no doubt.

Having endorsed Mr. Bush after pointing out all the reasons not to endorse him - go figure - they are now using the Duefler report to support him in his ever changing justifications for going to war against a country that had not attacked us.

See, they crow, he (Saddam) had such explosives and if sanctions and inspections were containing him, why was he stockpiling them?

I don’t know, but I assume for the same reasons that other countries in the region and around the world do the same thing. We live in a nutty world and everyone seems to be trying to play defense by having a mean offense.

In an effort to influence readers to vote the way they’d like you to vote, the Tribune editorial quotes things it likes from the Duefler report but leaves out interesting bits of information and common sense conclusions.

We already know that the cache of explosives in question was known to the inspectors before the invasion. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that the seal on the bunker door looks like the one left by their inspectors, so the existence of the explosives isn’t any surprise. There is also a videotape made by an embedded reporter on April 18, 2003, showing our troops inside the site with all the explosives in full array. And suddenly, in October, 2004, they’re gone - an embarrassment for Bush which Kerry is trying to use to his advantage. Still, the Tribune echoes the administration line that "it isn’t clear" whether Saddam had removed the weapons before US troops arrived in April, 2003. If the video report is a fake, and the embedded reporter and crew a bunch of fakers, I suppose that’s possible. Wouldn’t that be a story for rival reporters and networks?

But the major thrust of the Tribune editorial is revealed in its headline VOTERS AND THE DUEFLER REPORT. In other words, be influenced by what we’ve picked out from this report to vote for Bush. That Saddam was using oil for food money to prop himself up, (dah!!) and that he wanted to re-create his WMD capability.

Does that last line sound familiar? Wasn’t it about excuse number three or four for why we invaded Iraq? In between trying to tie Hussein to Al Qaida and 9/11 and "bringing freedom to the Iraqi people?"

The bottom line in all of this speculation and searching for reasons to justify the invasion of Iraq is that there is no evidence in the Duefler report or anywhere else that Saddam Hussein was any more a threat to the United States than Iran or South Korea or any other country that has stockpiles of arms or that has a nuclear program or would like to acquire a nuclear program.

Certainly Iraq wasn’t within days or weeks or months of producing weapons of mass destruction, at a time when we were seeking to get the rest of the world to agree to a military action that we had decided upon months - maybe years earlier. And the thought that Saddam Hussein would attempt to launch a direct attack on the United States with any kind of weapons was and is ludicrous.

Remember how we started out pushing to do something about Iraq? It had all to do with the fact that they had defied multiple UN resolutions. We challenged the UN. We said either the UN means something when it passes a resolution or not.. We said resolutions were meaningless unless they carried the threat of enforcement. It was all about the resolutions.

It was only after we began to move on our own that the other justifications began. That somehow Iraq was connected to the 9/11 attack. That Saddam Hussein might provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. And on and on.

Four days before the election, the Chicago Tribune concludes its editorial by quoting a statement by Saddam Hussein that appears at the start of the Duefler report and suggests that "it makes ideal reading for any voter’s election eve."

The statement was one that was found on a recording made during the first Gulf war. That was thirteen years ago. Saddam and his henchmen are talking about chemical weapons and which cities should be targeted. He speaks of Saudi cities and of Israel. And he says "We will never lower our heads as long as we live, even if we have to destroy everybody."

The Tribune tells us that this is significant - a revelation of how evil this dictator and his regime was and his willingness to destroy the world rather than bow down to his enemies. And that was reason enough to invade Iraq!!

Fast forward to 2003. Baghdad Bob is standing in front of cameras telling the world how the American troops are being repulsed and destroyed. " "We will push these crooks, these mercenaries back into the swamp, " he says. "Americans are now in disarray." "The fact is that as soon as they reach Baghdad gates, we will besiege them and slaughter them." "Pay no attention to that tank driving through the studio."

All right, he didn’t say that last thing, but, just as Saddam Hussein blustered in 1991, he was being true to the Arab trait of creating a verbal fantasy world in which death and destruction is being rained down on their enemies. It’s called hyperbole. Bravado. Not unlike the language we’ve been hearing for the last two years from our leader. And months after comical Bob had made his last threat to crush the American infidels, the evil and dangerous dictator who would "never lower his head even if he has to destroy everybody" is found hiding in a hole in the ground. His head was lowered and no weapons of any kind of mass destruction were used against the invading infidels.

Whether or not we were justified in invading Iraq, which has so far cost us over a thousand lives, over eight thousand wounded and, according to The Lancet, 100,000 Iraqi deaths, is something that each American voter has to decide for himself or herself. But the Duefler report doesn’t provide us with the justification and neither does the Tribune’s analysis of what the report says.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

With six days to go - I’m assuming that campaigning will still be in full swing on election day - there seems to be no lengths to which each side will not go to make the other look bad.

When one listens to the incredibly silly things that both Bush and Kerry are saying about each other and each other’s shortcomings, the thought that one of these men will be the leader of the most powerful nation on earth for the next four years, is enough to make you want to move to some sane corner of the world - if you could find such a place.

The only way to hold on to your sanity through all of this, is to tell yourself that it’s just campaign rhetoric. It’s our nutty tradition. It doesn’t really mean anything and it shouldn’t be any part of the criteria by which we should judge these two men.

So how do we judge them and how do we decide which man will do the best job for the next four years?

Let’s face it, only a handful of people know what these two people are made of, what they believe, what their knowledge is, why they make certain decisions, how they reason, who they listen to, whether they’re hands on or delegate authority to others and how they define the office of the Presidency.

The rest of us have to contend with their rhetoric while we try to separate substance from hyperbole, and with that portion of their public record that is available to us to examine and judge.

In this election, we are somewhat helped by a number of books written by Washington insiders and former members of the Bush administration, that give us a personal look at some aspects of the President’s character and thought processes.

There have also been books about Kerry, but they are of little help because they are simply attacks by people with long standing grudges - book length versions of the attack ads that we’ve been subjected to for most of this campaign season.

Four years ago, I voted for Al Gore, believing that the country had been on the right track under the Clinton/Gore administration and that a continuation of the same policies and the same leadership was the best choice. I couldn’t see what it was that persuaded almost half of the electorate to vote for Mr. Bush, but I was willing to wait and see if they were right in their decision. Maybe I was missing something that they could see.

Contrary to what some people who read this blog believe, I am not a member of the Democratic party and I will vote for whoever I think is the better person for every office on the ballot. I’ve done it ever since I was able to vote and I will do it this year too. And if Mr. Bush had conducted his presidency as I would like to have seen him conduct it over the past four years, I might well have voted for his reelection. But I will be voting for Mr. Kerry. Instead of picking the devil I know over the devil I don’t know, I’m ready to pick just about anyone over George W Bush.

My reasons can probably be found among all of the editorials endorsing Kerry - and in some endorsing the President, those that list all of his shortcomings and mistakes and still think he should get another four years. Go figure.

But I’ll list just a handful. The reasons why I will not vote for George Bush.

Divisiveness: He campaigned saying that he was "a uniter, not a divider." Today, we are a divided nation, half of us believing he has been a terrible President and the other half thinking something else. I’m not sure what. It’s hard for me to understand what they see that I can’t see. Elected with the slimmest possible number of electoral college votes and a minority of the popular vote, he has acted from day one as though he had an overwhelming mandate. If he made any conciliatory gestures toward the opposition - an opposition representing the majority of the nation’s voters, I missed them. To me, that smacks of

Arrogance: Not a quality that I want to see in a President. When Bob Woodward asked him if he listened to staff and advisors as he prepared for war, his answer was "Of course not. I’m the commander. See, I don’t have to explain why I say things.. I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation." Richard Reeves calls it "Ovalitis." I call it sheer arrogance.

The arrogance extends into the "never being wrong" syndrome. It goes back to his time as governor of Texas, when he oversaw the executions of hundreds of felons and proclaimed that there was never a doubt in his mind that each and every one of them was guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. This at a time when death row inmates in other parts of the country were being proved innocent through DNA and other evidence. He has continued in the same vein in the White House. He will not admit any doubt about any decision he makes. He calls it having conviction. He calls it being resolute. I call it a dangerous aspect of the man’s character.

Iraq:. If I had no other reason not to vote for Bush, Iraq would be sufficient unto itself. There has been more than enough evidence presented to prove that the push towards invading Iraq began years before 9/11, - the brainchild of Paul Wolfowitz and others.

The fact that the Mr. Bush continues to insist that the invasion was to protect the United States against an attack with weapons of mass destruction is enough to disqualify him from continuing in office.

Religion: I have nothing against a praying President. Whoever we elect is going to be someone who believes in God and practices a religious faith. But I am scared stiff of a President who has said that he believes God wanted him to run for office, that "God wants everybody to be free" and that that is "part of his foreign policy," and that God told him to strike Al Qaida and Saddam!!" There’s a name for people who go around saying things like that - and it isn’t President of the United States.

Foreign Relations: Mr. Bush can talk all he likes about "coalitions" and it’s admirable that he can remember and even pronounce Aleksander Kwasniewski's name, but the fact is that the United States is held in low regard in many countries of the world where we once commanded respect. Relations with these countries will not be repaired, nor will we be able to get the cooperation we need from them while Mr. Bush remains in office.

Balance: Assuming that there will be no substantial shift in the House and that the Senate retains a Republican majority, these next four years, which may be as critical as any period in our history, is going to need to have the checks and balances devised by our founding fathers to be in place more firmly than ever. While there have been displays of bi-partisanship in the Senate, the House Republican majority has plunged ahead with one measure after another with zero input from the minority. We need a different voice in the White House so that when we speak as a nation, it will be with the strength of a consensus of divergent political views and philosophies - not of a majority riding roughshod over all dissenting voices.

John Kerry is not someone who has had an outstanding career in the Senate and he is not an acknowledged leader of his party. But that’s the outcome of our system. We’re not like the British, where we know who the next Prime Minister will be should Labor (Labour) lose its majority. George Bush wasn’t a leader of his party when he ran for President either. And as I’ve said several times before on these pages, these are surely not the best two possible candidates for what is generally accepted to be the most important job on the planet. But I have to choose to vote for one of them and I choose Mr. Kerry simply because we need to re-group and find a better direction than Mr. Bush has led us on and would continue to lead us on if he gets another four year term.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

In stump speech after stump speech, one of Mr. Bush’s favorite sound bite accusations against John Kerry is that he doesn’t "understand" the "war on terror."

It goes over big with the partisan crowds that come out to hear the President speak and who accept sound bites as a substitute for substance and meaning.

Mr. Bush doesn’t explain his "understanding" of the "war on terror." He just keeps telling us that he’s fighting to make America safe and that "we’re fighting over "there" so that we don’t have to fight them here" and similar statements. Hyperbole personified. But does it represent an understanding of what the "war" in which we are engaged is really all about? Does it represent an understanding of just who or what the "enemy" is?

It certainly isn’t - or wasn’t - Iraq, where we have expended billions of dollars, where over a thousand American lives have been lost and where many thousands more have suffered horrible injuries that we hear very little about and whose names and injury descriptions we don’t see listed on programs like The PBS News Hour and CNN’s News Night.

Apart for our involvement in overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq is President Bush’s showpiece in his version of fighting a war against terror, and we all see how well that’s working.

The question that I ask and have asked here before - as recently as eight days ago is, do either of the candidates understand the true nature of the real war in which we are engaged ?

I have said that it is a war against a creeping threat of fundamentalist religious principles as a way of life and that Mr. Kerry is more likely to understand this than Mr Bush and his advisors who seem to think they can change the world with selective military action.

Others are more direct in their description of the threat we are facing and among them is a group of people who identify themselves as ex-Muslims.

I haven’t had the time to check into their bona fides, but I learned of them through an organization in which I have confidence. Here’s what they have to say in a letter that can be found on their web site listed below and they ask be forwarded to people we know.

Dear fellow human,

Today humanity is being challenged. Unthinkable atrocities take place on daily basis. There is an evil force at work that aims to destroy us. The agents of this evil respect nothing; not even the lives of children. Every day there are bombings, every day innocent people are targeted and murdered. It seems as if we are helpless. But we are not!

The ancient Chinese sage Sun Zi said, "Know your enemy and you won't be defeated". Do we know our enemy? If we don't, then we are doomed.

Terrorism is not an ideology, it is a tool; but the terrorists kill for an ideology. They call that ideology Islam.

The entire world, both Muslims and non-Muslims claim that the terrorists have hijacked "the religion of peace" and Islam does not condone violence.

Who is right? Do the terrorists understand Islam better, or do those who decry them? The answer to this question is the key to our victory, and failure to find that key will result in our loss and death will be upon us. The key is in the Quran and the history of Islam.

Those of us, who know Islam, know that the understanding of the terrorists of Islam is correct. They are doing nothing that their prophet did not do and did not encourage his followers to do. Murder, rape, assassination, beheading, massacre and sacrilege of the dead "to delight the hearts of the believers" were all practiced by Muhammad, were taught by him and were observed by Muslims throughout their history.

If truth has ever mattered, it matters most now! This is the time that we have to call a spade a spade. This is the time that we have to find the root of the problem and eradicate it. The root of Islamic terrorism is Islam. The proof of that is the Quran.

We are a group of ex-Muslims who have seen the face of the evil and have risen to warn the world. No matter how painful the truth may be, only truth can set us free. Why this much denial? Why so much obstinacy? How many more innocent lives should be lost before YOU open your eyes? A nuclear disaster is upon us. This will happen. It is not a question of "if" but "when". Oblivious of that, the world is digging its head deeper in the sand.

We urge the Muslims to leave Islam. Stop with excuses, justifications and rationalizations. Stop dividing mankind into "us" vs. "them" and Muslims vs. Kafirs. We are One people, One mankind! Muhammad was not a messenger of God. It is time that we end this insanity and face the truth. The terrorists take their moral support and the validation for their actions from you. Your very adherence to their cult of death is a nod of approval for their crimes against humanity.

We also urge the non-Muslims to stop being politically correct lest they hurt the sensitivities of the Muslims. To hell with their sensitivities! Let us save their lives, and the lives of millions of innocent people.

Millions, if not billions of lives will be lost if we do nothing. Time is running out! "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing." Do something! Send this message to everyone in your address book and ask them to do the same. Defeat Islam and stop terrorism. This is your world, save it.

The ex-Muslim Movement
I have tried to read a translation of the Koran - or Quran as the ex-Muslims spell it - and I have to say that I could make very little sense out of it. But I have seen translations of some of the passages at online sites that are in keeping with what this group alleges.

I’m not sure that I can buy into the idea of "defeating" Islam. We’re not about to wipe out a religion practiced by more than a billion people, nor can we expect millions of Muslims to walk away from the religion that they and their ancestors have practiced for centuries. But I think these ex-Muslims are saying what I have said - that our "war" is not just against individual terrorists or terrorists groups, but against fundamentalist religious principles as a way of life.

And while we may have to resort to military action from time to time, that war is a war of ideas.

Neither candidate is going to say that of course. It would be political suicide to say anything that sounds like an attack on a religion - any religion. But if they understand the nature of the threat, they’ll know what kind of war to wage and how to wage it.

Bush says Kerry doesn’t understand the war on terror. I’m more inclined to think that it’s Bush who doesn’t understand the broader nature of the war that needs to be fought - and the last thing we need is someone leading us in a fight without having any idea who or what it is that we are fighting.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

With only a week to go to election day, I guess I’ll have to say something each day about the Presidential contest and perhaps about some other races.

In the Presidential race, I will be voting to remove someone from office that I consider to be unfit, rather than voting for a preferred candidate.

Our system is such that we don’t necessarily end up with the most attractive candidate from either of the two major parties. It bugged the hell out of me when George Bush was virtually anointed by an unprecedented outpouring of Republican money in 2000. There were many Republicans who I think were more qualified and there were plenty of people at the time who made the point that brother Jeb was a lot smarter and would have made a better candidate.

I don’t know that much about Jeb Bush so I can’t agree or disagree with that analysis, but I do know that we get what we get because a whole bunch of better qualified people make the decision not to run. Maybe because they don’t want to expose themselves to the kind of attacks that they know they will have to endure. Maybe because they are fearful of the long term results of the physical and emotional strain of a primary season followed by an election. Specially the kind of election we are witnessing at the moment.

So I am faced with a choice between a sitting President who I think has made disastrous decisions and who makes it clear that his decision making will follow the same path in a second term - and a challenger who has said and done little to make me want to vote for him instead of against the other guy.

My choice of course is to vote against the devil I know, hoping that the devil I don’t know will be an improvement.

The reasons to vote against the President are being expressed in opinion columns and editorials across the country - even around the world, and one that I recommend you read on the question of Iraq, is the most recent op-ed piece by syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts in which he calls the sad state of affairs that Bush has wrought, a "fake war on terror."

I agree with Pitts and share his concern that half of those of us who will go to the polls next week have bought into the idea that what we are doing in Iraq is fighting a "war on terror."

But will any of these anti Bush or pro Kerry columns and editorials make any difference in this election? Perhaps not, but there is one small encouraging sign. In 2000, the major newspaper endorsements for President favored Bush over Gore 138 to 52. As of this morning, the nation’s newspaper endorsements are favoring Kerry over Bush 128 to 105.

Speaking of newspaper endorsements, there is one that is being trumpeted by some e-mailing Republican blinkered political partisans (BPP for short) as being particularly significant.

There are many ways to identify BPP’s and one of them is the glee with which they spread announcements to the world each time they discover the invention of the wheel.

Since more than one such BPP sent me the news of their latest discovery, I will afford it a brief comment. Had it come solely from the right wing BPP who sends comments on virtually everything posted here and which are routinely deleted, I would not have bothered. But this particular "discovery" is making the rounds, like the dirty trick Social Security e-mail I mentioned yesterday.

This one isn’t a dirty trick, but the point that it tries to make is just as ridiculous as making Al Gore the Vice President in 1983.

These e-mailing Republican BPP’s are ecstatic to learn that The Lowell Sun, a newspaper published in Lowell, Massachusetts, has endorsed George Bush for reelection. They are ecstatic because they are told that Lowell, Massachusetts is John Kerry’s "hometown," and I guess they figure that it’s a huge victory for their side when a "hometown" newspapers doesn’t endorse its favorite son.

Republicans who are not ecstatic over this "discovery," understand, as I do - and as was put so succinctly on one web site I visited this morning, that "Lowell is John Kerry’s hometown like Harlem is Bill Clinton’s."

Kerry took an apartment there when he first tried for Congress in 1973. His little old "hometown" Lowell Sun vehemently opposed him and he lost that election. That was the last one he ever lost.

And who did the Lowell Sun endorse for President in 2000? If you answer Al Gore, you need to check yourself into the nearest psychiatric facility as soon as possible. And if you need to have the answer pointed out to you, just click on that list of the 2000 campaign newspaper endorsements above and scroll down to paper number 79 on the left hand side.

It’s spelled L O W E L L S U N.

By the way, if you want to read a hometown newspaper endorsement that IS somewhat significant, you might try reading the Lone Star Iconoclast of CRAWFORD, TEXAS.


Monday, October 25, 2004

According to news reports, a phrase that President Bush is using just about every day in his attacks on John Kerry , is "he can run but he can’t hide."

The phrase has no meaning of course, except to Mr. Bush, and I’m not sure he even knows what it’s supposed to mean other than sounding macho. Like "bring ‘em on."

And I’m sure neither he nor any of his aides have thought about the fact that the phrase could be very aptly applied to him in any discussion of his past service to his country. As in his Texas National Guard service during the Vietnam war, when, according to a multitude of reports, he most successfully ran and hid!!.

Kerry should take him up on it. "The President keeps saying that I can run but I can’t hide. I presume he’s talking about his expertise at doing both, back when he was supposed to be on active duty in the Texas Air National Guard but nobody knew where he was. Or maybe it’s just one of those meaningless shoot from the hip phrases that he likes to throw out - like "bring ‘em on." If that’s what you want in a President, then he’s your man."

I realize that nonsensical hyperbole is part of today’s presidential campaigns - and perhaps it was always thus. But some hyperbole is just so damned disingenuous that its purveyors need to be strung up in the public square so that thoroughly informed - and thus outraged citizens, can throw rotten eggs and tomatoes at their lying mouths.

One of the candidates for president is suggesting that the ever increasing cost of healthcare can be attributed to malpractice insurance costs and malpractice law suit awards. He doesn’t come right out and say it but he most certainly implies that if CAPS could be put on malpractice awards, the cost of the insurance would tumble and so would health care costs.

Yes sir. Just cap those awards and your next doctor’s visit would be ten bucks - and that’s the whole fee, not an insurance co-payment. Hospital stays would be about $100 to $150 a night. There’d be a maximum of $2500 for surgeon’s fees and those pills that are costing you a buck and a quarter each, will be less than a nickel. For a month’s supply!!

Except that there are states where malpractice award caps are already in place and the doctors’ insurance premiums haven’t gone down and neither have medical costs. On the contrary, both have continued to go in the usual direction - UP!!

Facts are a nuisance aren’t they? They interfere with the most red-blooded kind of campaign rhetoric. Of course that doesn’t bother rabid partisans. I guarantee you that dedicated supporters of Mr. Bush will continue to argue that it is the cost of malpractice that makes healthcare out of reach for all but the well to do and the well insured.
The Flu Scandal Continued

Speaking of Bush partisans, they seem to be unhappy that Mr. Kerry and others are "politicizing" the flu vaccine crisis. Well la-di-da!! If it had happened on Clinton’s watch, don’t you think that the right wing wolves, led by chief howler Limbaugh, would have been calling for his decapitated head on a stick? And rightly so. This is a crisis that shouldn’t have occurred. Someone in government should have seen the danger in having only two companies supplying this year’s vaccine - and one of them totally out of US jurisdiction. And someone in government should have had contingency plans in place in case of a supply shortfall.

But perhaps some good will come out of the mess. For more companies to feel confident that producing flu vaccines isn’t more trouble than the meager profits are worth, there needs to be government guarantees in place, maybe something like agricultural price supports. Or maybe this shouldn’t even be something that the private sector supplies. Maybe the CDC should be responsible for producing the flu vaccine.

I heard some discussion of the flu on a radio program the other day and the question was asked of a physician guest - what is there that would prevent the kind of world wide outbreak of flu that occurred in 1918 that killed millions of people? And the answer?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing!!

You’re damned right it should be politicized.
Email Dirty Tricks

There’s a dirty trick e-mail that’s circulating about social security, alleging all kinds of terrible things that DEMOCRATS did to screw it up. Most of what is in this ridiculous e-mail is debunked at this official Social Security site, and if you’ve received this lying Republican e-mail, you’ll recognize the items that are cited.

However, it doesn’t reproduce the entire e-mail, so here is the answer to one accusation it contains:
Q: Which Political Party started taxing Social Security annuities?

A: The Democratic Party, with Al Gore casting the "tie-breaking" deciding vote as President of the Senate, while he was Vice President of the U.S.
If you click on the Social Security myth site, you’ll see that the law authorizing some portion of Social Security to be taxed, was passed in 1983. If Al Gore was Vice President in 1983 and cast a "tie-breaking" vote in the Senate, Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior must have been smoking some bad weed to let that one get past them!!!

Friday, October 22, 2004

I watched a goodly portion of the Obama/Keyes "debate" last night. Not all of it. My wife was watching in another room and I had complete control of the zapper and you know what that means.

I’m sure that there will be people offering serious commentary this morning and indeed the Chicago Tribune reported on some of the so called highlights with a straight face, if newsprint can have a straight face. Certainly there were local TV reporters with straight faces on the late evening news programs, giving summaries of what went on.

Here’s my summary. Any notion that Keyes is running for the senate from the state of Illinois was dispelled by his nonsensical performance. He isn’t running for anything, except perhaps the yet to be created position of national clown. He’s using the opportunity that the Illinois Republican party and compliant television stations and local civic organizations have given him, to preach his particular brand of evangelistic madness to that hopefully small segment of the Illinois voting public that believes that Paul Harvey is a newsman. Probably the same segment of the Illinois voting public that would watch Nicole Sullivan doing her "bigoted lady" skit on MAD-TV re-runs and believe that she’s being serious when she sings "Jesus was never a Jew."

Watching him, I got the same cold shivers down my spine that I got many years ago when I was in a confined space with another nut named Harry Wismer. But it was offset somewhat by moments when all I could do was laugh out loud while shaking my head in disbelief. That’s a little like making circles in opposite directions with your hands. Not an easy thing to do, and liable to make you dizzy.

I’ve met Barack Obama, a thoroughly decent man. It must have been difficult for him to act as though he was engaged in a serious debate with a serious opponent. I imagine he will join with me and a few million others in drawing a deep sigh of relief when the election is over and Keyes packs his bags and his clown outfits and goes back to Maryland.
How The World Sees Bush Continued

I don’t really need any confirmation of the views of my world traveling guest that I wrote about on October 19 - that under the Bush stewardship, we are held in low regard in most other countries of the world. But you might want to read the exact same conclusion in Georgie Ann Geyer’s column in today’s Chicago Tribune.

Again, the Tribune online might want you to register, and if you don’t feel so inclined, here’s the opening paragraphs of her piece.
LONDON -- As the American election draws closer, strains in trans-Atlantic alliances grow more intense--as they do with all the world.

Both newspapers and private conversations are full of worry and concern about the changes in America after Iraq and the "whys" of Tony Blair's odd-couple bond with President Bush. Then there is a third undercurrent: concern among some observers of the American political campaign about whether the Napoleonic American president is temperamentally stable.

Even Londoners seem shocked at the recent poll taken by 10 of the world's leading newspapers, including The Guardian, Japan's Asahi Shimbun, France's Le Monde, Canada's La Presse and Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, to measure opinions of Bush's America.

The survey showed a profound overall disillusionment with the U.S., a vast rejection of the Iraq war, a contempt for the Bush administration, a growing hostility to American democracy and culture and a too-strong endorsement of Sen. John Kerry for president
Blinkered right wingers of course will respond to this with such profound statements as "who cares what the rest of the world thinks" and "see, they want Kerry, ‘cos they know he’ll pull out of Iraq and let them keep doing business there."

Of course what Geyer doesn’t cover in her column is the preference of anti-American terrorists for President of the United States. It’s no contest. The Bush invasion of Iraq is their number one recruiting tool!! They want to keep him in office and leading crusades against Muslim countries

Geyer’s been writing some pretty insightful columns lately. It’s a pity she’s so damned anti - Israel!!!
The Flu Shot Scandals Continued

You think we don’t have a class system in this country? Think again. It may not be like the old British class system, determined by birth and accent, but we have it just the same.

It’s the division between the privileged and the rest of us.

Privileged are members of congress and corporate CEO’s and entertainment stars and sports figures. And this year, the privileged are getting flu shots that aren’t available to ordinary folk.

The other day it was members of congress and anyone working for them or in the federal buildings that house them. And yesterday, it was the CHICAGO BEARS!! Yes sir. That vulnerable collection of infants, seniors, asthmatics and chronically ill inhabitants of the Halas Hall Nursing Home. The excuse that I’ve heard for putting them at the front of the line while the rest of us try to survive by washing our hands a dozen times a day and wearing face masks, is that after their first few games, there was a fear that the odor generated by their performance on the field of battle would drift up into the stands of whatever stadium they were stinking up and that it might be carrying flu germs along with the smell and infect all the fans.

I guess that’s about on a par with the excuse that Denny Hastert offered the other day. Members of Congress meet a lot of people.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

It’s sad when people you once held in high regard, act in ways that make you lose respect for them.

Tony Blair appeared to be a strong and articulate leader of his country, but when he joined Mr. Bush in his Iraq adventure without strong backing from his own party and with a majority of the voting public strongly against Britain’s military involvement, he began to look more and more like the President’s lackey - willing to do almost anything that he was asked to do, whether it was in the UK’s interest or not.

Now he seems to be in a position where he can’t say no to any request and his agreement to send British troops into the hotbeds of Najaf and Hilla is more proof that he has backed himself into the same impossible situation that we are now in. We are stuck in a horrible mess that we have created in Iraq and so is he. The only difference I guess is that Mr. Bush continues to downplay the mess and keeps saying that we are making progress, while Blair at least has apologized for being sucked in by what he terms faulty intelligence. I call it faulty obeisance.

My suggestion to Blair would be to rent a copy of the movie "Love Actually" and watch Hugh Grant in the role of Britain’s Prime Minister, standing next to US President Billy Bob Thornton at a joint press conference and publicly disagreeing with him!!

When was the last time something like that happened??

I feel equally sad at the spectacle of John McCain traveling with George Bush, fawning at his elbow, heaping praise on the man whose "anything goes" political army attacked him with a viciousness worthy of comparison with the tactics of a Joseph McCarthy. I know that opponents in primary races often kiss and make up when the elections are over, but it’s one thing to shrug off vicious, untrue attacks on your character as part of the political game, and another to become a fawning sycophant to the man who attacked you in that way.

Nothing in John McCain’s public persona prior to the election of Mr. Bush would have led me to believe that they shared the same political philosophy or had the same set of core values. Yet here is a man who I think is more in tune with John Kerry, who he openly admits is his friend, allowing himself to be used to attract voters who most likely would not be voting for Bush this time around. He’s certainly not there to attract the core Republican constituency.

If you take a look at some of the stands McCain has taken over the past four years and of the disagreements he has had with members of his own party and with Bush policies and pronouncements, you’d almost think he was a member of the opposition party - or at least an independent. He opposed the major Bush tax cut.. He disagrees with Bush on stem cell research. He disagrees with Bush on importing prescription drugs. He slams him on the environment. On issue after issue, he and Bush are not on the same page.

And he has said that he thinks John Kerry would be a good President.

There are Republican senators who you could quite comfortably think of as soul mates of George Bush, if not creatures from the same cloning factory. Yet it’s John McCain who’s traveling all over the place with the President, praising him at every whistle stop.

It’s a mystery to me, and a sad one at that.

There was a cartoon by Doug Marlette published today. It wasn’t on his web site while I was writing this piece, but it may be there by now. It caught my eye, because it mentioned two of the people that I have held in high regard in the past but to a much lesser degree today. One is John McCain, the other, Colin Powell. The cartoon shows a Presidential ballot listing Bush-Cheney, Kerry-Edwards - and , as a write in choice, McCain-Powell.

There was a time when I might have considered voting for a McCain-Powell or a Powell-McCain ticket, but today I think that Marlette has missed the mark. I could go along with the "none of the above" implication of the cartoon, but not the write in choice offered.

When Powell was selected as Secretary of State, I had high hopes that he would continue and build on the work of his predecessor, and indeed one of the first indications that he would do exactly that was a statement that he was going to resume talks with North Korea. That’s what he thought. He had the gall to think that he was Secretary of State. He was shot down of course. Negotiation wasn’t going to be the Bush/Cheney way and Powell was expected to be the good soldier and do what he was told. After that, little was heard from Powell until 9/11 and it got worse for him after that.

He scored a small victory by persuading Bush to go to the UN instead of plunging into an immediate invasion of Iraq, but then he himself was obliged to engage in a sham performance at the UN to justify the unilateral military action that he opposed. As with McCain, on issue after issue, he disagreed with the views of Cheney and Rumsfeld and of Bush himself.

He should have resigned when it was so apparent that he would continue to be marginalized. If Bush gets elected to a second term, it is a virtual certainty that Powell would not be part of it. Yet he has resigned himself to playing the good soldier to the very end and giving public support to positions he disagrees with.

It didn’t have to be.

There have been others in the Bush administration who refused to be reduced to compliant sycophants. Paul O’Neill wouldn’t and was forced to resign. Even so, the resignation letter he drafted read:
Dear Mr. President; I hereby resign my position as Secretary of the Treasury.
His aides persuaded him to add a couple of conciliatory lines , but he clearly wasn’t about to disappear into the shadows and, like a good soldier, say nothing critical about his former employer. He wrote a book that made that quite clear.

Dick Clarke wrote a more traditional letter of resignation, glowing with praise for the President, but he too minced no words about how he felt in his book.

Maybe Powell’s military background and training prevents him from telling Mr. Bush, in the politest way possible, to stick it, but the fact that he hasn’t walked away from an administration with which he is clearly not comfortable, disqualifies him in my mind as a future presidential candidate.

Then again, maybe he’ll write a tell all book when he returns to civilian life and I’ll change my mind.

I am frequently disgusted at the things that politicians say when they’re trying to get elected or to otherwise curry favor with voters. Bush and Kerry for example are swapping lies about each other and what each other has said and it’s positively sickening. Bush never said that he was going to privatize social security and has stated categorically that he will not bring back the draft. And Kerry never said that he would seek approval from other countries before taking military action against any perceived threat to the US.

But today I’m more disgusted with House Speaker Denny Hastert for his unabashed defense of members of Congress and their staffs and assorted workers getting flu shots while millions of us who are at risk and need them are probably going to have to go without and hope that we can avoid getting sick this winter.

Hastert offered the "justification" that members "see a lot of people" and don’t want to catch or spread the flu. Unbelievable. Unbelievable when one thinks of the millions of Americans whose jobs also require them to be in close proximity to lots of other people from whom they could get the flu and to whom they could give the flu.

It’s even more disgusting that he can defend this practice of privilege at a time when young kids, fighting a far off war that he firmly supports, are having to scrounge around for pieces of metal to shore up the flimsy vehicles we’ve asked them to use that provide virtually no protection from the deadly attacks to which they are subjected every day.

And they probably don’t have any flu shots available for them either.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Someone sent me the following via e-mail. I would imagine one could expand this list to arrive at a better balance, but I think it begins to show a pattern that makes a point on which I will comment. But first the list, which is self explanatory.


* Richard Gephardt: Air National Guard, 1965-71.

* David Bonior: Staff Sgt., Air Force 1968-72.

* Tom Daschle: 1st Lt., Air Force SAC 1969-72.

* Al Gore: enlisted Aug. 1969; sent to Vietnam Jan. 1971 as an army journalist in 20th Engineer Brigade.

* Bob Kerrey: Lt. j.g. Navy 1966-69; Medal of Honor, Vietnam.

* Daniel Inouye: Army 1943-47; Medal of Honor, WWII.

* John Kerry: Lt., Navy 1966-70; Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat V, Purple Hearts.

* Charles Rangel: Staff Sgt., Army 1948-52; Bronze Star, Korea.

* Max Cleland: Captain, Army 1965-68; Silver Star & Bronze Star, Vietnam.

* Ted Kennedy: Army, 1951-53.

* Tom Harkin: Lt., Navy, 1962-67; Naval Reserve, 1968-74.

* Jack Reed: Army Ranger, 1971-1979; Captain, Army Reserve 1979-91.

* Fritz Hollings: Army officer in WWII; Bronze Star and seven
campaign ribbons.

* Leonard Boswell: Lt. Col., Army 1956-76; Vietnam, DFCs, Bronze Stars, and Soldier's Medal .

* Pete Peterson: Air Force Captain, POW. Purple Heart, Silver Star and Legion of Merit.

* Mike Thompson: Staff sergeant, 173rd Airborne, Purple Heart.

* Bill McBride: Candidate for Fla. Governor. Marine in Vietnam; Bronze Star with Combat V.

* Gray Davis: Army Captain in Vietnam, Bronze Star.

* Pete Stark: Air Force 1955-57

* Chuck Robb: Vietnam

* Howell Heflin: Silver Star

* George McGovern: Silver Star & DFC during WWII.

* Bill Clinton: Did not serve. Student deferments. Entered draft but received #311.

* Jimmy Carter: Seven years in the Navy.

* Walter Mondale: Army 1951-1953

* John Glenn: WWII and Korea; six DFCs and Air Medal with 18 Clusters.

* Tom Lantos: Served in Hungarian underground in WWII. Saved by Raoul Wallenberg.


* Dick Cheney: did not serve. Several deferments, the last by marriage.

* Dennis Hastert: did not serve.

* Tom Delay: did not serve.

* Roy Blunt: did not serve.

* Bill Frist: did not serve.

* Mitch McConnell: did not serve.

* Rick Santorum: did not serve.

* Trent Lott: did not serve.

* John Ashcroft: did not serve. Seven deferments to teach business.

* Jeb Bush: did not serve.

* Karl Rove: did not serve.

* Saxby Chambliss: did not serve. "Bad knee." The man who attacked Max Cleland's patriotism.

* Paul Wolfowitz: did not serve.

* Vin Weber: did not serve.

* Richard Perle: did not serve.

* Douglas Feith: did not serve.

* Eliot Abrams: did not serve.

* Richard Shelby: did not serve.

* Jon! Kyl: did not serve.

* Tim Hutchison: did not serve.

* Christopher Cox: did not serve.

* Newt Gingrich: did not serve.

* Don Rumsfeld: served in Navy (1954-57) as flight instructor.

* George W. Bush: failed to complete his six-year National Guard; got assigned to Alabama so he could campaign for family friend running for U.S. Senate; failed to show up for required medical exam, disappeared from duty.

* Ronald Reagan: due to poor eyesight, served in a non-combat role making movies.

* B-1 Bob Dornan: Consciously enlisted after fighting was over in Korea.

* Phil Gramm: did not serve.

* John McCain: Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.

* Dana Rohrabacher: did not serve.

* John M. McHugh: did not serve.

* JC Watts: did not serve.

* Jack Kemp: did not serve. "Knee problem," although continued
in NFL for 8 years.

* Dan Quayle: Journalism unit of the Indiana National Guard.

* Rudy Giuliani: did not serve.

* George Pataki: did not serve.

* Spencer Abraham: did not serve.

* John Engler: did not serve.

* Lindsey Graham: National Guard lawyer.

* Arnold Schwarzenegger: AWOL from Austrian army base.


* Sean Hannity: did not serve.

* Rush Limbaugh: did not serve (4-F with a pilonidal cyst.)

* Bill O'Reilly: did not serve.

* Michael Savage: did not serve.

* George Will: did not serve.

* Chris Matthews: did not serve.

* Paul Gigot: did not serve.

* Bill Bennett: did not serve.

* Pat Buchanan: did not serve.

* John Wayne: did not serve.

* Bill Kristol: did not serve.

* Kenneth Starr: did not serve.

* Antonin Scalia: did not serve.

* Clarence Thomas: did not serve.

* Ralph Reed: did not serve.

* Michael Medved: did not serve.

* Charlie Daniels: did not serve.

* Ted Nugent: did not serve. (He only shoots at things that don't shoot).

If you look over the list , you find some revealing patterns. Not that there are so many prominent Republicans who never served in the military or who avoided being in harms way by serving in the reserves or in noncombatant roles. But you find among these men a prominence of hawks - men who devise and support grand military strategies that send other men - young men - often mere children, to act out those strategies as sacrificial pawns in a real life and death chess game.

The biggest hawks - the loudest drum beaters - the super patriots - are so often men who have never served in the military of their country and in many cases have gone to great lengths to avoid serving.

On the other side of the coin, you will find among these men, the strongest supporters of the death penalty and the biggest objectors to abortion rights and stem cell research.

To my mind, this provides an opportunity for us to apply a litmus test to these people, when they ask us to elect them to office or to give credence to their opinions.

Just two sets of questions. On the left (no pun intended) - did you serve in the armed forces of the United States and if not, why not? And if you were eligible at a time when men of your age were required to serve, how did you avoid serving?

And on the right hand side - appropriately - do you support the death penalty, abortion rights and stem cell research?

Need I say more?

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I haven’t been writing commentaries every weekday for the past week or two. The reason for the reduction in frequency is twofold. I’ve had some work around the house that needed doing - not by me, but needing my presence while it was being done. And after it was finished, we had a house guest for a few days, a distant cousin from New Zealand who has lived in many parts of the world and is currently on a world trip through Canada and the US, the UK and Europe, Israel and Singapore.

Her visit and the conversations we had while she was here, provided an inspiration for today’s comments.

Yesterday, I referred to the low regard in which the United States is held in the rest of the world. It’s not something that I’m aware of through personal experience but from reading reports from other countries and watching news programs such as the BBC World News. My house guest was able to comment on this topic from personal experience. Her own opinion was that we have lost our way and she couldn’t understand how American voters could even consider returning Mr. Bush to office. And she confirmed that this was the prevailing public opinion in every country she has visited on this and other trips she has taken.

I found myself in the odd position of playing defense - not necessarily defending Mr. Bush who I do not want to see returned to office - but some of the ways we do things and some aspects of our political system that seem strange to people from other countries.

But I was impressed with her first hand reports that confirmed all that I have been reading and hearing. Coincidentally, this morning’s Chicago Tribune carried an op-ed piece by an expert on Poland, pointing out that Mr. Bush’s claims to the contrary in the Presidential debates, a majority of the Polish people are not fans of his or supporters of the war in Iraq. You may have to register if you want to read this article on line, but the basic thrust is as I’ve described.

A similar article could have been written about our staunchest ally - the United Kingdom - where Tony Blair falls lock step behind Mr. Bush in virtually anything that he does, but a majority of British voters disapprove of their country’s involvement in Iraq and are not supporters of Mr. Bush.

The President, as we know, has said that he knows that some of his decisions are "not popular in certain capitals of the world." In the second debate, he said "People love America. Sometimes they don't like the decisions made by America, but I don't think you want a president who tries to become popular and does the wrong thing."

That is the Bush reaction to our loss of prestige and trust in many countries of the world. He’s "not trying to be popular." He’s making the "right decisions" and if that’s not "popular" with the rest of the world, that’s just too bad.

Mr. Kerry has said that if elected, one of his priorities would be to repair our traditional alliances, restore American prestige and believability and build the coalitions necessary to stabilize Iraq and to wage war against Al Qaida and associated terrorist groups.

Bush supporters scoff at this notion and speak derisively of the idea of France and Germany helping in Iraq - or anywhere else or with anything else for that matter. France and Germany have almost become a derisive catch phrase of the American right wing - almost on a par with its favorite expression of derision -LIBERAL!!

It’s an attitude that is truly astonishing and frankly frightening, particularly in view of something else that our world traveling house guest had to say. She told us that many years ago, she had a conversation with a Muslim cleric in London who told her that his religion, which he said had been "asleep" for centuries, was on the rise and spreading around the world like wildfire. In a few decades, he predicted, Islam would be the world’s only religion.

He may have been engaging in flights of fancy, but when we see the growth of Islam taking place today, the increase in fundamental teaching and belief, the existing Islamic theocracies and the nations where fundamental Islamic government could come to power, all at a time when Islamic terrorists threaten world order, it is irrational to think that we can face and defeat what is a two pronged threat with our military might, backed by token military help from one or two other nations.

If we are engaged in a war, it is not just a war against identified and unidentified terrorists and nations that may give them aid and comfort, but against the creeping threat of fundamentalist religious principles as a way of life. It might be a little difficult for a President who is also dedicated to fundamentalist religious principles to recognize the nature of the multi faceted threats that we may face in the future, but if we are to engage it and de-fang it - I won’t use the word "defeat" because the implications of the word are too ominous to contemplate - this country will need to work with our traditional allies and with any country willing to join with us in battling terrorists and the fundamentalist roots from which they grow.

That doesn’t mean trying to be "popular" in any of the capitals of the world. It does mean listening to what these other countries may have to say and not just to our own voices. It means understanding that we can’t win the type of war that we may be engaged in for decades to come without the cooperation of the western world and the sane governments in the rest of the world. And we’ll probably never be able to win this war until we realize that any kind of fundamentalist religious belief, if allowed to grow and gain governmental power, is the real threat to the future of civilization.

For reasons that I find it hard to understand, polls taken of American voters seem to indicate that a majority believe that President Bush is better equipped than John Kerry to lead us in what he and others have so casually termed "the war on terror." I find it hard to understand because I’m not sure that Bush has an understanding of the full nature of the war that needs to be fought or how to fight it. I’m not sure that Kerry does either, but at least he has indicated an understanding that we can’t be successful fighting that war alone.

If it’s a choice between that much understanding and "bring ‘em on," my choice is to assign the cowboy to permanent guard duty in Crawford, Texas.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Since the third Presidential debate, news and political pundits have taken note of both candidates remarks about religion, and particularly the stated belief of Mr. Bush that "God wants everybody to be free" being a part of his foreign policy.

Mr. Bush’s evangelical beliefs have been discussed many times in editorials and commentaries over the past four years, and there have been healthy doses of skepticism expressed about the role his religion may play in his decision making processes. But that’s as far as it has gone. I haven’t seen anything in the mainstream media that could be considered an outright attack on the influence that his personal religious beliefs have on policy.

And in discussing the comments he made in the third debate, most pundits that I have heard have downplayed his remarks, pointing to statements by past presidents about their faith and how it influenced and sustained them. And of course, if we elect John Kerry, he has also told us that religion affects everything that he does - so either way, we’re going to get a President whose religion will play a large role in influencing his decisions - right?

Wrong!! Absolutely not.

Just about every President who has ascended to that high office has professed a belief in a deity. Some have expressed a profound belief. Some have said that they were "guided" by their faith. Others have been less forceful in describing their religious beliefs. But whatever the nature of their beliefs, they have had to assert that they were men of faith to some degree. Without doing so, they could never get elected. We have had Presidents who were not members of any particular church, but they did not deny a belief in God. We may not have a state religion, but this is a Christian nation and if a candidate expects to be elected, he has to do his best to acknowledge and appear to approve of that fact without singling out any specific religious belief for special praise or criticism.

But that’s the public candidate and President - the one who is trying to get himself elected or to stay in office. If he’s the knowledgeable, intelligent, rational being that we hope describes all who we elect to the highest office of the land, he knows, in his private moments, that while the ritual of religion and religious belief may be beneficial to individuals or to societies, it has no role to play in making life and death decisions on behalf of the nation. He may continue to profess that he is guided and strengthened by his religious beliefs and that he prays to a God, but he is not about to ask the networks for a half hour of prime time to announce to the nation that he was visited by that God the night before and that God had instructed him to devise a single payer national health plan. I wouldn’t object to the proposal, but if any President wanted to couch it in the terms I’ve described, I would hope that his wife, his doctors, his Vice President and trusted staff members would make sure that it never saw the light of day.

When murderers proclaim that God "spoke" to them and told them to kill evil people, we know that they’re either faking to avoid the death penalty, or they’re paranoid schizophrenics - real madmen who believe that they hear the voice of "God."

Some well known evangelists get away with it because their positions protect them from being arrested for fraud or from being labeled as paranoid schizophrenics. More than one television evangelist has professed that God has visited them, usually to tell them to ask their audiences for money. You wouldn’t think that a God would need money or that he could easily provide an evangelist with any needed money, but that’s a whole other topic for another commentary..

Right now, we have a President who has told us in no uncertain terms that his religion plays an important role in shaping his foreign policy. He believes that he is doing "God’s work." He has said on more than one occasion, that God "wants" him to do certain things.

This is not in any way comparable to anything that previous Presidents have said about the role of their faith in their decision making processes. Abraham Lincoln regularly quoted scripture, but didn’t announce that any of his decisions were the outcome of instructions from God. "Born again" Jimmy Carter, who was open about his deep religious faith, avoided using Christian expressions in his official public statements.

George Bush is now our second "born again" President, but the first to see the Presidency as a mission to "do God’s work" and to speak in evangelical terms of "good and evil." If he is re-elected, I don’t imagine for one moment that he would ever speak to the American public in terms of a decision being the outcome of his faith - certainly not that he was following instructions received from God. But he’s already said that he "believes" that "God wants everybody to be free" and that that belief influences his foreign policy.

Translation: We can invade a country whose people are not free because God wants us to bring them the gift of freedom.

When he was first elected by the slimmest of electoral votes and with a minority of the popular vote, Mr. Bush began and continued his presidency as though he had an overwhelming mandate. He may have believed that "God" wanted him to be President and the vote numbers didn’t really mean anything. He certainly has said that he believed that God wanted him to run for President.

If he is re-elected, I have no doubt that he will attribute it to the will of God as much as the electorate and will conduct his Presidency for the next four years accordingly. That could mean that despite his statements to the contrary in the third debate, he would nominate judges for the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, who believe as he does. Judges like Alabama’s Roy Moore for example.

It most definitely would mean that we would continue on the same course in Iraq and with the same foreign policies elsewhere that have earned us the low regard in which the United States is held in much of the world.

Supporters of Mr. Bush dismiss fears about his religious beliefs supplanting rational and practical thought as being unfounded. I hope they are right and I am wrong in believing that it could happen. But having seen the influence of irrational religion in other countries, I don’t believe it is a possibility to be taken lightly.

At the very least, it’s an issue that should be carefully considered by voters when making their decision next month - even deeply religious voters. Regrettably, it’s an issue that Mr. Kerry can’t openly broach and if any of his prominent backers were to broach it, it would probably backfire.

And doesn’t that scare you about the times and the country we’re living in??

Thursday, October 14, 2004

If I was a news director at a radio or television station, no doubt I would have had to spend yesterday evening and early this morning selecting the sound bites from the third Presidential debate to use in newscasts. And if I leaned one way or another politically, it might affect which bites I would use.

For example, if I was an ABB (anyone but Bush) advocate, I would use the glaring error he made when answering a question about the shortage of flu vaccine. The shortage was because only two companies were providing this year’s vaccine, and British regulators suspended the manufacturing license of one of them - the Chiron Company, because problems were discovered at their factory in Oxford, England. Mr. Bush claimed that he had stopped the importation of the vaccine to protect the public.

If I was a Bush supporter, I might choose Kerry’s reference to Dick Cheney’s daughter when answering a question about homosexuality. Although she herself has spoken publicly about her sexual orientation and Cheney has differed with the President on the question of a constitutional amendment to declare marriage as only between a man and a woman, Mrs Cheney assailed Kerry after the debate for invoking her daughter’s name - and his comments followed by her condemnation would make a powerful sound bite for dedicated Kerry haters.

But if indeed I was a broadcast news director, my inclination would be to pick something entirely different and attach comment to it that would most assuredly get me fired. But I’m just a humble blogger and nobody can fire me for commenting on what I found to be the most significant part of the debate - and to me, the most disturbing.

It was the efforts of both candidates to make sure that we all understood that they were "men of faith."

Kerry got in the first licks during an answer to a question about his support of abortion rights and stem cell research.
Now, with respect to religion, you know, as I said, I grew up a Catholic. I was an altar boy. I know that throughout my life this has made a difference to me. And as President Kennedy said when he ran for president, he said, "I'm not running to be a Catholic president. I'm running to be a president who happens to be Catholic. "

My faith affects everything that I do, in truth. There's a great passage of the Bible that says, "What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead. " And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people.

That's why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.

But I know this, that President Kennedy in his inaugural address told all of us that here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own. And that's what we have to -- I think that's the test of public service.
Surprisingly, Bush didn’t get in any faith licks of his own until he was asked a question.
(SCHIEFFER) Mr. President, let's go to a new question.

You were asked before the invasion, or after the invasion of Iraq, if you'd checked with your dad. And I believe, I don't remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority. I would like to ask you, what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?

(BUSH) First, my faith plays a lot -- a big part in my life. And that's, when I was answering that question, what I was really saying to the person was that I pray a lot. And I do. And my faith is a very -- it's very personal. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for our troops in harm's way. I pray for my family. I pray for my little girls.

But I'm mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You're equally an American if you choose to worship an almighty and if you choose not to.

If you're a Christian, Jew or Muslim, you're equally an American. That's the great thing about America, is the right to worship the way you see fit.

Prayer and religion sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, "Well, how do you know? "I said, "I just feel it. "

Religion is an important part. I never want to impose my religion on anybody else. But when I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am.

I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself, as manifested in public policy through the faith-based initiative where we've unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt.

I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That's what I believe.

And that's been part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan, I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. And I can't tell you how encouraged I am to see freedom on the march.

And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me, and religion is a part of me.
Kerry had a response of course, but he wasn’t about to attack the President on matters of faith. He just indicated that they saw things somewhat differently.

I sure hope so.

Schieffer might have pressed both of them a little more on the matter of faith - particularly Bush on what he meant by his belief that "God wants everybody to be free" being part of his foreign policy!!. But Schieffer was in the same boat as Kerry and Bush. He had to walk on eggshells in any discussion of religion or belief in a deity if he wanted to hold on to his job and not become a target for the worst kinds of bigots - the religious nuts of America who would be happy to see this country turned into a theocracy.

It’s already been widely reported that Bush believes that "God wanted him to be President." It’s been widely reported that Bush told former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen, that God told him to attack Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein.

He didn’t quite repeat that claim during the debate, but how much closer did he need to reveal what guides his actions than to say I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That’s what I believe. And that’s been part of my foreign policy?

Mr. Bush made the obligatory statement about people being free to worship as they please and being equal no matter what their beliefs and that he wouldn’t impose his beliefs on anybody else. . But he is an evangelical. A born again Christian. I don’t know what he personally believes about people who do not share his religious vision, but evangelicals that he identifies with believe that those of us who don’t accept Jesus as our savior are bound for hell. As nonsensical as this might be, it’s what a lot of them believe, and it’s hardly consistent with the concept of us all being equal, no matter what our religious beliefs or lack of religious belief.

I’m sure most people paid little attention to the comments on religion made by Bush and Kerry. They probably nodded in approval. But some of what Bush said left me with a scary thought after the TV tube had faded to black.

That we might well be in Iraq because Bush believes that God wants us there.

And if that doesn’t scare the pants off of you, I don’t know what will.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Time to get away from politics and presidential elections for a while. At least for a day. I’ve been letting too many news items go by without so much as a verbalized raised eyebrow from me, which is not up to "what’s all this then" standards.

There was a television program that I did not watch the other night on CBS, called "While I Was Gone" with Kirstie Alley. I didn’t watch it because I had other things to do and nothing about the advertising for the show piqued my interest. And if I had thought about watching the show, I probably would have passed up the opportunity because of the advertising.

The program was based on a book by Sue Miller, but it wasn’t advertised that way. Not in the on-air promotions. Not in the TV Guide headline. No sir. The ads said that it was based on an OPRAH BOOK CLUB SELECTION!! The TV Guide added the name of the book and the author somewhere in the middle of their review. I don’t believe there was any such mention in the on-air promotions.

I’ve written about this sort of thing before. You can see what I wrote in the second item of my blog posting of May 3, 2004.

Then as now, a television production based on a book was not advertised as being based on the book, with the title and author’s name mentioned. It was advertised as based on an Oprah Book Club Selection.

Who cares about the book? That’s not the attraction or the value. That Oprah selected it for her club is what’s important.

Talk about values turned upside down.

Can you imagine that kind of criteria being used to advertise products and services other than made for TV movies? "On sale this week, Julia Roberts favorite kind of cheese." "The antibiotic prescribed for Michael Jackson." "The car that Britney Spears thinks is cool."

I’m waiting for Oprah to tell her vast audience who she "likes" for President, so that we can get all this annoying campaigning over with and get back to the important things in life. And you know what they are. ‘Cos Oprah tells you what they are.

I’m pleased to see that Merck decided to remove Vioxx from the market place before it caused too many more heart attacks, but I’m wondering why it took them so long to take this action. The problems with the drug have been well known for quite some time. Not just to Merck but to the FDA.

Aren’t these - the pharmaceutical companies and the Federal Drug Administration - the people who are so concerned about the quality of drugs that ordinary folks want to buy from other countries because they’re much cheaper than in the United States?

Bad idea they say. They could be drugs of inferior quality. They could be dangerous drugs - even though some of them would be drugs that were manufactured here!! They want to protect the public from these potential dangers.

But apparently it’s O.K. to let a blockbuster drug reap in some big time profits before the potential danger becomes so blatant that it has to be taken off of the market.

If I sound a little cynical, it’s because I’ve had some personal experience with a drug company that resisted investigation or re-examination of a potential side effect of one of their drugs. The drug’s name is Biaxin, originally a Japanese drug, undoubtedly marketed under a different name in Japan, but manufactured and distributed here and in other countries by Abbott Laboratories.

I won’t go into all of the details of the story. I may have written about it before. The drug was/is notorious for adversely affecting patients’ sense of taste while they’re on the medication, but it’s an effect that is supposed to fade quickly once they finish taking it.

I had an experience that pointed to the possibility of there being a permanent taste problem caused by Biaxin. Some others had the same experience. I approached Abbott. They weren’t interested in investigating the possibility that their drug could do this - only in making every effort to prove that it didn’t. I thought of suing them, but it was an unprovable case. They offered me $10,000. I declined and asked them to join me in supporting an investigation. There were some studies going on in Sweden that might have provided an answer. Abbott wasn’t interested. There wasn’t much I could do, but I presented what evidence I could pull together to the FDA. To my surprise, they agreed that at least Abbott should change it’s labeling of the drug to state that it might have a permanent adverse effect on the sense of taste.

It was some kind of victory I guess. A lone citizen able to compel a major pharmaceutical company to change the labeling of a drug. But it wasn’t much of a victory. If a drug company can continue to sell a drug with some pretty mean side effects as long as those side effects are mentioned in the drug labeling information, they’re happy to do it and keep raking in the bucks.

Doctors are supposed to be the gatekeepers that prevent you from taking drugs that may do you more harm than good, but they don’t know everything about these drugs. They’re as vulnerable to the sales pitch as you and I.

As I said, I’m glad that Vioxx is off the market. My wife was on it for a short time and she was having some side effects that weren’t expected. Certainly nothing that she was told to expect. Who knows what might have happened had she stayed on it for a year or eighteen months. So no kudos to Merck. I doubt that there was anything philanthropic about their decision.

When I started this blog in April of last year, it had a different name. It was "If I Were King" and I issued a few royal proclamations. You can see some of them in this post from 4/24/03.

I’m no longer speculating about how things would be if I were king, but there are still things that I’d like to see eliminated and from time to time I’ll suggest them here and see who agrees or disagrees with me.

One thing that I’d like to see eliminated or vastly curtailed, is the obligatory post game (any game) television or radio interview with one or more of the athlete participants. Let’s face it, most of these people are not English majors, public speakers or deep thinkers. Do we really need to hear any of them mumbling their inanities about why they won or lost or what they have to do next week or in the next game. If sports reporters feel that they must include player comments in their post game reports, they can do it like newspaper reporters do it. Either find the rare athlete participant who can speak the language and can say something other than one of the basis 101 post game sports clichés - or go get the comments from the mumbling players, translate them into standard, grammatical English, and verbalize them themselves in the wrap ups.

There. I feel much better having said that.

Monday, October 11, 2004

I watched most of the second presidential debate and decided not to engage in instant punditry, though my opinion of what I watched and heard hasn’t changed in any way by not writing about it until today. A lot of people might have found it interesting. I found it mostly annoying.

The Bush approach to most issues was as usual, simplistic. The world in black and white. No shades of gray.

Kerry was overly cerebral and overly convoluted in his attacks and analyses and missed several opportunities to deliver a knockout punch.

I’ll comment on just two or three things that stuck with me after I turned off the tube.

First, the arguments about Iraq, which I think might be the deciding issue in this election.

Mr. Bush performed like a man possessed, alternating between anger and derision as substitutes for substance. As he offered his time worn and ever changing reasons for the Iraq invasion and why it was the right thing to do, one could almost see, hovering in the background, the cabal of Dr. Strangeloves who have indoctrinated him with their vision of bringing peace and democracy to the Middle East through preemptive military action. I’m surprised that he didn’t actually say that "the road to Jerusalem is through Baghdad."

Once again he offered up the ridiculous argument that we must invade countries to prevent them from developing weapons of mass destruction that they might hand over to freelance terrorists who would then use them against us. Why Kerry didn’t absolutely crush him with a response to that nonsense is beyond me.

What weapons? Atomic weapons? Saddam Hussein had none and had no programs to develop one, but there are plenty of atomic weapons in existence that might be available for sale to terrorists for the right price. And if they were, how would they be delivered? How would terrorists deliver a conventional atomic weapon to a US target? These are legitimate issues for discussion, but of course they were not discussed because that would move the argument away from Iraq as the number one threat to us and to the peace of the world. Bush just threw out the usual assertion that he was "protecting" the United States by invading a country that he says could provide weapons to terrorists.

The same applies to chemical weapons. The possibility that Iraq might develop such weapons and provide them to terrorists simply doesn’t hold up as an excuse for the invasion and Kerry should have made that point with emphasis. Japanese terrorists had no trouble acquiring a supply of sarin nerve gas for their 1995 attack on Tokyo’s subway system. And the post 9/11 anthrax attacks have never been solved nor the source of the anthrax uncovered. Terrorists don’t need Iraq to acquire weapons that could destroy masses of people.

But while the Bush arguments didn’t hold water for me, neither did the Kerry rejoinders of how all the decisions on Iraq were wrong. Having voted for the resolution authorizing military action, he has a hard time articulating how his position differs from that of the President other than "he did it all wrong." When he criticizes Bush for not having a plan to win the peace, he is not saying categorically that he was against the war - which is what millions of anti-Bush voters, including potential Nader voters, want to hear him say. And if there are any undecided voters whose major concern is Iraq, I doubt if Kerry is offering them any reason to prefer him over Bush.

There were two questions that I think showed the differences between the two candidates more than any other. On the question of supreme court appointments - "who would be your next choice for the supreme court" - Bush, while insisting that there would be no litmus test for judges, made it clear that he wouldn’t appoint anyone who would use "personal opinion" to decide a case - and as one example said he wouldn’t appoint anyone who would rule that the pledge of allegiance couldn’t be recited in school because it has the words "under God" in it. That he said, would be personal opinion. And then he displayed a glaring ignorance of the Constitution of the United States by saying that the decision in the Dred Scott case was based on "personal opinion" rather than on what the Constitution said at that time about slavery and property rights. And of course he said that he would appoint judges who are strict constructionists - a code word for ultra conservatives, preferably from the Christian right.

Kerry made it clear that his choices would be judges interested in preserving such things as women’s rights, not necessarily a code word but an obvious reference to the need to uphold Roe v Wade. But he passed up the opportunity to deal Mr. Bush a body blow by pointing out that we have a President of the United States who misquotes historical provisions of the Constitution. If he didn't know what was in it in 1857, can we be sure that he knows what's in it today? The Constitution that he is sworn to uphold?

Surprisingly, this major issue of the 2004 Presidential election, to my mind as important as Iraq , evoked no discussion beyond the brief responses of the candidates to the question

Candidates can use all the euphemisms they like to describe the qualities that they would seek in a potential supreme court justice, but it doesn’t hide the fact that Bush would nominate a conservative - probably one devoted to rescinding Roe v Wade - and Kerry would appoint a liberal with opposite views - and it’s an insult to the intelligence to suggest that their nominees would be people who would follow only the written law in making their decisions. If that were the case, anything other than unanimous opinions would be rarities rather than the reverse.

On the issue of abortion, I thought that Kerry’s nuanced response to the question of a voter who believes that it is murder and wouldn’t want her tax dollars used to support abortion, showed compassion and understanding, while the Bush response was a black and white "we’re not going to spend tax money on abortion." The Bush reference to "the culture of life" I am sure resonated with a majority in the Bush base, but it’s the kind of utterance coming from this man that send shivers down my spine. I know that his code words aren’t aimed at me, but I understand them and am worried by them nonetheless.

A number of post debate instant pundits had Kerry "twisting like a pretzel" with his answer to the question, some saying that he missed the point. I don’t think he did. I think he displayed the difficulty he has in balancing his personal beliefs against the public good and the right of individuals to make choices which he would not or might not make and that there was a question to be answered beyond that of whether or not tax money should be used to "support" abortion.

Both candidates blew the final question - the one that asked Bush to name three instances in which he made a wrong decision. Bush of course can never admit that he’s made any mistake and looked ridiculous maintaining that position. Kerry had the opportunity to show a small amount of wit by prefacing his response with something like - "Well, there you are. The answer from the perfect President, who can’t think of even one instance where he’s made the wrong decision. And he’s asking you for four more years of the same perfection." But he acted as if he had no idea that he had been presented with an opportunity to score a severe body blow by failing to chuckle or even crack the hint of a smile.

Bush overdoes the grin and quip bit. Kerry doesn’t do it at all. Both could use a move toward the center when it comes to the humor component of debating style.

One final comment about name calling. The Republicans have been very successful in pinning the "liberal" label on opponents and creating the impression that this is something evil - the antithesis of all that America stands for. They have been so successful at creating this image that liberal Democrats hasten to run away from the appellation. I was a bit surprised to see the President of the United States use the "label pinning" tactic in a national debate and I was disappointed in Kerry’s response that "labels don’t mean anything."

How a liberal politician should respond when an opponent uses his political philosophy as an expression of derision, will be the subject of a future commentary.

Friday, October 08, 2004
Random thoughts….on,

Oil and the Stock Market

Some days ago, when oil was pushing to break through the $50 a barrel mark, the stock market dropped more than a hundred points and it was attributed, by business broadcasters and writers, to the record high price that had been reached for oil. Some days later, when oil was pushing even higher, the "market" didn’t seem to be affected at all and so different convoluted reasons were trotted out for why the market had not dropped precipitously.

It doesn’t take any special financial knowledge to come to the realization that more often than not, the reasons offered for market movements aren’t reasons at all. They’re snippets of conventional wisdom pumped out by I know not who, but very likely someone buried deep in the bowels of the New York Stock Exchange, and filtered to all possible media outlets where they are broadcast or printed virtually verbatim. If you don’t think so, try getting the market reports from several radio stations in your area on the same day and see if they differ substantially from "the market was up or down today because"….. followed by one of the standard reasons. You know that these radio stations aren’t employing individual analysts who write the business portion of newscasts. They’re reading whatever is fed to them about why the market is moving one way or another and reporting it as fact.

If you want to believe in something about the stock market, my suggestion would be to believe in the Random Walk Theory. That and/or the contention of market guru Richard Ney (is he still alive??) that specialists control the up and down movements of stock prices and all the other "reasons" fed to a gullible public are little more than flim flam.

And if you want to know who’s raking in the big bucks while gas starts to climb up into the two dollar a gallon and up price range, go take a look at who’s setting the price. It ain’t the producers.

By the way, in case you didn’t know, a barrel of oil measures 42 US gallons which makes less than 20 gallons of gas after refining plus a quantity of heating oil and other products. So you can see where the pump price might be heading!!!

Sammy’s Salary

I’ve always considered any day that I could make $400 as a pretty good day. That’s a rate of $2,000 a week for a five day week and better than a hundred grand a year. And if I was working steady at that rate, I guess it wouldn’t hurt too much if I didn’t get paid on days that I took off. And I guess I could apply that same attitude to multiples of $400 a day. If I’m making $800 a day and I lose $800 for being off one day, I’m still collecting over two hundred grand a year and I’m fearful of a Kerry victory because he wants to roll back the tax break my good friend Dubya gave me.

I’m not sure if Sammy Sosa takes losing one days pay so casually. It comes to $87,400. That’s a weekly rate that adds up to more than a lot of people make in a lifetime. . That’s a monthly rate that adds up to more than most people make in a lifetime. And it’s sickening.

We know that some sports figures - lots of sports figures make huge amounts of money, but it isn’t flaunted in our face every day, and while we know about it and maybe think it’s more than a little cockeyed, it’s not something we think about when we read of their exploits on and off their fields of activity. But when something like Sammy Sosa’s display of petulance and arrogance and the subsequent "punishment" for his behavior is revealed, I’m reminded of how out of whack our society is in so many ways.

And Sammy is complaining!! Says the fine is excessive!! Compared to what???

I’ve heard all the arguments about the free market system and how great it is and about the value of performers in terms of their ability to attract paying audiences, but when the ratio of compensation to attraction ability loses all sense of proportion, the argument falls flat on its face.

Athletes who bring joy to lots of people and line the pockets of team owners,
be well paid, but what do you call seventeen million dollars - that’s $17,000,000, which Sosa is scheduled to make next year for one baseball season - about 24 weeks???

I call it ridiculous.

Let me see. How many Presidents of the United States for how many years could we pay with $17,000,000?

How many teachers could we pay for how long with $17,000,000???

What research could we fund with $17,000,000 that could produce a cure for a killer disease?

Sammy needs to accept the fine and shut up. If he keeps complaining - the latest news is that he "filed a grievance" - people might start paying attention to the ridiculous amounts of money he and others like him are making, and maybe the owners might start re-thinking the crazy quilt pay scales that they’ve helped to create. And wouldn’t that be nice. A little sanity creeping into this often insane society.

Who’s the flip-flop champ??

Another moment in the Cheney/Edwards non-debate that stuck with me after I’d turned off the tube, was the exchange about "records," with Cheney accusing Edwards of missing all kinds of votes. That was the bit that I took note of the other day when Cheney said he’d never met Edwards before that moment. But Edwards struck back with a litany of Cheney’s indefensible ultra conservative votes while he was a congressmen, and Cheney didn’t attempt a response.

I’m reminded of the exchange because while Bush and Cheney have been accusing Kerry almost daily of "flip-flopping," particularly on Iraq, Bush has been flip-flopping all over the place about the very same subject - the subject of why we invaded Iraq.

First, WMD. Then - regime change. Then to liberate Iraq. Then to give them democracy. Then to bring democracy to the Middle East. It’s hard to keep up with it all.

I don’t know whether or not he’s reached his final flip or flop after the report by our chief weapons inspector that there just weren’t all these weapons of mass destruction lying around, but now he’s down to saying that Saddam Hussein could have done all kinds of bad things in the future. Maybe. If he got the chance. He sure wanted to. And that’s why we invaded. And we did the right thing. (Repeat three times).

And by the way, he was bribing people with oil for food money to keep his regime afloat and to try to get the sanctions lifted. And that was a good reason to invade him too. Imagine that. A leader of a country on which sanctions have been imposed, trying to wriggle out of them. I’m shocked, shocked, that he would do such a terrible thing.

If all of that isn’t the height of flip-floppery, I don’t know what is.

And if ever a President has disqualified himself from being re-elected , Mr. Bush, with his constantly changing justifications for taking this country to war for which it becomes increasingly evident to reasonable people that there was no justification, is that President.