What's All This Then?
Thursday, June 30, 2005
IRAN’S NEW PRESIDENT A ONE TIME HOSTAGE TAKER??
I don’t know whether or not the former hostages of the 1979 Iranian revolution are right about president elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being one of their captors, but if it turns out that they are, what does it say about this country’s intelligence agencies and the Middle East experts in our State and Defense Departments?
Here’s someone who has been a prominent political figure in a country that our President has designated as a member of the infamous "axis of evil" - a country that presumably we are watching closely, monitoring their every move, carefully following the ebb and flow of their "election" process and certainly learning everything possible about their leading candidates for high political office.
Iran’s just concluded election has been called a sham and a "mock election" by the Bush administration, so one would have to conclude that it was watched very carefully by all of our experts concerned with spreading democracy to the Middle East and the rest of the word and curtailing the threat posed by that nation’s nuclear program. Yet, if former hostages Chuck Scott, David Roeder, William J. Daugherty and Don A. Sharer and Kevin Hermening are right, we come pretty close to looking like a nation that shoots its mouth off about other nations without knowing what nations we’re talking about.
One would think that not only would we never forget - but that we would forever keep close tabs on those who were responsible for the 444 day crisis that more than any other issue decided our 1980 election. Yet if the former hostages are right, there was one of the villains of that crisis hiding in plain sight for years - and the reaction of our White House to his possible unmasking is that it’s "taking the allegations seriously and looking into them."
Let’s hope it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity. We have enough problems with that part of the world without having to deal with it hampered by a dose of fresh egg on our national face.
You know you’re right, you’re absolutely right…….
Someone asked me how I could be so pleased with the Supreme Court split decision on the Ten Commandments cases it decided the other day - and how I could rationalize the vote of Stephen Breyer, who seemed to swing both ways - siding with the evil libs in one case and the God fearing, heterosexual, patriotic conservatives on the other.
Well I’m not so much pleased with the decisions as satisfied that their approach was practical - giving a little on one side where it made sense to give - while throwing up roadblocks to religious encroachment on government property where it was relatively easy to do and minimally offensive to religious zealots.
As to the split vote of Justice Breyer, I don’t have any opinion one way or another on his rationalization. I don’t think of him as a latter day Solomon, but I think perhaps he might have taken a leaf from Rabbinical lore in becoming the swing vote in the two different decisions
It seems there were two men embroiled in a business argument who agreed to let their Rabbi hear their case and decide who was right and who was wrong. Each went to see him separately to tell his side of the story. The first man went into the Rabbi’s study, where he sat with his wife looking on, and told his story. The Rabbi listened very carefully and when the man was finished, thought for a moment, stroked his beard and then said - "You know you’re right, you’re absolutely right." And the man left with a triumphant smile on his face. The second man then arrived and told his side of the story, after which the Rabbi thought for a moment, stroked his beard and said "You know you’re right, you’re absolutely right." And the man left with a triumphant smile on his face.
The Rabbi’s wife, who had sat through and listened to all of this in silence, seemed thoroughly perplexed at her husband’s judgments. "I don’t understand," she told her husband. "They both told different stories, yet you told each of them that they were right. Surely they both can’t be right." The Rabbi listened carefully to what his wife had to say, thought about it for a minute, stroked his beard and said, "You know you’re right, you’re absolutely right."
Today, we’d call someone like that a politician. Maybe that’s what Breyer was doing in arriving at his seemingly opposing decisions. Being politic. And Rabbinical.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
THE BUSH SPEECH I DIDN’T HEAR….
With thoughts on some ancient speeches that I did hear
We had friends over for dinner last night, so I wasn’t able to watch the President’s speech. I doubt that I would have watched it anyway - and I have to confess that apart from glancing at the headlines, I haven’t read what he said either. I have reached a point where watching Mr. Bush perform and listening to him talk nonsense has become such a painful experience that I would rather avoid it altogether than risk a neck strain from shaking my head from side to side in utter incredulity. I think I reached a point of no return just a few days ago when I watched him laugh like a drunken idiot while a reporter was asking him a serious question. All through the question. From beginning to end. And when I watched him grin like an imbecile as he said over and over that he "thinks about Iraq every day. Every day." It was really an astonishing performance, almost as though he was recording a skit for John Stewart’s Daily Show, where indeed it made an appearance.
I gather that last night’s speech to the nation was to reassure us that our mission in Iraq was an important one, undertaken for the most important of reasons and that any sacrifice our military is called upon to make is unquestionably worth while. Pretty somber stuff. The kind of stuff that President after President in modern times has talked to us about in somber tones and from a somber setting - behind the Presidential desk in the Oval Office. His father spoke to us in that way on somber occasions. As did Ronald Reagan. And Lyndon Johnson. And Richard Nixon., And John Kennedy. But not George W Bush.
In a manner no different from his staged, Hollywood type appearance on the USS Abraham Lincoln two years ago to announce - with the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner as a backdrop, that major combat operations in Iraq were over, he again decided to use the military as a backdrop in a campaign style appearance to deliver last night’s speech.
This wasn’t a President bringing the citizens of this country up to date on a conflict of his making that has taken over 1700 lives and left thousands of our young men and women seriously injured. This was a campaign rally. This was window dressing for Mr. Bush to repeat the fabrications that were used as the basis for attacking Iraq in the first place - that it was part of our "war on terrorism" - and that there was some connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks on our nation.
You might ask how I could comment in such a fashion if I didn’t watch the speech and haven’t yet read what he said. It’s simple. I’ve watched this President for four and a half years and for over two years I’ve watched and listened to him explain why we had to invade and why we have to " stay the course" in Iraq. It’s the same old song, repeated again and again. The lyrics may change to adjust to changing revelations - from "WMD" to "freeing the Iraqi people" to the most inane line of all - "fighting terrorists there so we don’t have to fight them here." But the music stays the same. He’s predictable. The underlying (no pun intended) theme doesn’t change, whether it’s being told from the Oval Office or from this President’s preferred setting - a staged event, audience by invitation only. I didn’t expect him to say anything new or different last night, and when I do get around to skimming through what he said, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that my appraisal is right on.
One more thought. It’s painful for me to mention the "wartime" speeches of George W Bush in the same sentence as the speeches of another wartime leader, but as I was writing this piece, I couldn’t help thinking of the way Winston Churchill spoke to British citizens as he rallied them for the long struggle against the Axis powers in World War ll. There were no Hollywood style trappings. The British army, navy and R.A.F. weren’t ever used as backdrops. Mostly just the House of Commons. The speeches that were broadcast were on the radio only. No television. And there was no criticism of what Churchill said because he was speaking of a war against real enemies - nations that had engaged the entire world in mortal combat. There was no press secretary the day after, trying to justify and explain some of the things that the Prime Minister had said. Everything was crystal clear and there was never an attempt to tie the legitimate war effort to anything else for political purposes. The nation wouldn’t have stood for it.
I lived through that era just as I am living through this one. But what a difference. I look back at those rallying speeches of World War ll with a sense of pride and gratitude. It’s difficult to look at the so called rallying "wartime" speeches of George W Bush at all, because my vision is either blocked by my forefinger and thumb holding my nose or blurred from shaking my head from side to side in disbelief.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
REACTING TO THE SUPREMES
I must admit that I don’t follow Supreme Court pleadings very closely, but I do keep up by listening to Jan Crawford Greenberg on the PBS News Hour and reading her in the Chicago Tribune. Yesterday was a busy day for Jan, trying to explain the wrap up of the current session, including the "split" decision on the Ten Commandments and the court’s refusal to hear the appeals of Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine. Actually, she didn’t need to explain that last matter. It was self evident. But it does call for commentary as does the Ten Commandments issue.
My initial reaction to the Ten Commandments decisions was much the same as my reaction when the Court accepted the cases. Big deal. Who cares? As long as someone isn’t running around hitting me over the head with the Ten Commandments and insisting that I have to have the same religious beliefs that they do, having them on a plaque on walls in government buildings doesn’t bother me one iota. I’m far from a religious person as readers of this blog know, but I think there are some pretty good rules to be found among all those Biblical commandments.. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t be an adulterer. Don’t envy what other people have. Be respectful of your folks. Who could argue against those kinds of ideas?
But first thoughts often give way to second thoughts and as I sat down to type these comments, those second thoughts kicked in. We do need to care about where on government property it’s O.K. to display the Ten Commandments. I don’t know what the reasoning of each justice was, but here’s why I’m reasonably pleased with their decisions. We are living through a time in history when there is an ongoing effort by people generally referred to as the "religious right" to not just blur the lines of demarcation between church and state but to inject religion and religious belief into all areas of secular life - from our schools to our courtrooms. If we ignore those efforts - if we think that they are not going to affect us in any meaningful way, they will begin to take hold in a significant fashion and we’ll all wake up one morning shocked to find out that "creationism" is being taught as science in our schools, homosexuality has become a Federal crime and abortion is classified as murder in the second degree.
The lawsuits that are filed against religious encroachment in secular areas and that wend their way up to the Supreme Court, act as speed bumps to slow down and arrest the onrush of these attempts to imbue our democracy with an unhealthy dose of theocracy. The two cases just decided apply a common sense response to the arguments of opposing sides of the church/state separation issue. An edifice that contains the Ten Commandments but that is obviously something more than just a statement of religion, encroaches on nobody’s secular world. We can’t deny that the Judeo/Christian faith is part of this nation’s history and that examples of that history abound in public buildings and monuments. But as long as those examples don’t exist exclusively for religious purposes, I don’t see them violating the 14th amendment. On the other hand, I agree with the majority that the Ten Commandments don’t belong on display in courtrooms. It’s surely enough of a sop to those who believe that religion should play a role in our judicial system to have witnesses swear to tell the truth "so help them God" - and to do it with their hands on a Bible.
So in summary, though I don’t feel personally threatened by those who would weave religious belief into the very fabric of American society, I’m grateful that the Supreme Court sees fit to throw appropriate roadblocks in their path.
I’m not happy that the Supremes declined to hear the appeals of journalists Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper who now face possible jail sentences for refusing to divulge their sources in the Valerie Plame case - not so much because the law was on their side, because it wasn’t. There is no established law protecting journalists who refuse to reveal a source to a grand jury investigation.
But I’m unhappy because while we’ve heard every moment of the pursuit of Miller and Cooper, courtesy of our own Illinois modern day Javert, Patrick Fitzgerald, we have heard nothing of the involvement of the journalist who actually did the initial leaking of Plame’s identity as a CIA operative - Robert Novak. Speculation abounds that he cut a deal with Fitzgerald and revealed his source, which wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
But we don’t know this because Fitzgerald isn’t talking. But one has to wonder - if he has revealed his source, why is so much effort being expended in pursuit of Cooper, who made his reference to Plame after she had been "outed" by Novak - and Miller, who published nothing about her? Why isn’t Fitzgerald pursuing the government "leaker or leakers" who apparently committed a crime when they gave Novak the information that he published.
This case smells to high heaven. Fitzgerald owes it to the American public to tell us what he knows about the Novak involvement in the case and why he isn’t hauling him and/or any known government leaker into court as he is doing with Cooper and Miller.
Judith Miller opened her own - web site today. Maybe we’ll get some answers from her down the road. In letters from jail. Has a familiar ring, don’t you think?
Monday, June 27, 2005
I have to get away from writing about hard core political issues for a day or two or I’ll give myself ulcers. I had an ulcer many years ago - when I was in my twenties - and one night I was attacked by as bad a pain as I’ve ever experienced - the ulcer was bleeding - and I wouldn’t ever want to go through that again.
I started watching the Sunday talking heads yesterday, with Rumsfeld leading off on ABC - but I just couldn’t stay with any of it. I know if I have to sit through just one more session of this arrogant man telling me that war is a tough and dirty business as an answer to questions about his and the administration’s miscalculations and mismanagement, I know that damned ulcer will come back, So I switched off the boob tube and put on some music for a couple of hours. Two musicals. Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. Much more satisfying than Don the dissembler.
Something caught my eye a few days ago that has some political connotations but has more to do with a pet peeve of many people. It’s what is going on in the soon to begin trial of former Illinois Governor George Ryan on racketeering, fraud and conspiracy charges.
Some things always sound better in French, among them the cliché "Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose." The more things change, the more they stay the same. I don’t know when the phrase originated but if you need an example of its longevity, you don’t need to look any further than the 1590’s when, in
Henry VI Part 2 Act iv Sceneii, Shakespeare had the character Dick the Butcher say: THE FIRST THING WE DO - LET’S KILL ALL THE LAWYERS.
There’s no question that those sentiments abound today, sometimes unfairly, but often with very good reason.
Lawyer’s - particularly trial lawyers - are supposed to be advocates for their clients. Their job is to look at the same set of facts as the lawyer on the other side and interpret them to a jury or to a judge in a totally different way. What bugs a lot of people - me included - is how easily these advocates are able to switch sides and argue a set of facts in defense of a client today that they would have presented to a jury yesterday as absolute evidence of guilt when they were on the other side of the issue. I’m talking about former prosecuting attorneys who return to private practice and become defense attorneys.
In the case of George Ryan, his defense attorney is Dan Webb, former U.S. attorney for Northern Illinois, and one of the things that Webb would like to do to defend his client is to show that far from being a criminal, Ryan is really a saintly kind of guy. He is, after all, the man who put a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois after people sitting on death row for years were exonerated when DNA and other evidence surfaced to prove their innocence. The system is broken the ex-Governor declared, putting a stop to all executions and commuting the sentences of those remaining on death row to life imprisonment. Webb says that it’s a wonderful record and he plans to introduce that record at trial as evidence of Ryan’s noble character. For heaven’s sake, the man was nominated for a Nobel Prize for his stand on the death penalty. It didn’t go any further than a nomination, but it looks good on paper.
"Oh yeah." say the prosecutors. We object. We don’t want the judge to allow such testimony, but if it is allowed, then we’ll just argue that his whole death penalty record was just a cynical ploy to divert attention from all of his criminal activities and to use it as character testimony in the trial that he knew was coming.
It sounds like a ridiculous argument but I have no doubt that when Webb was the U.S. prosecutor, he probably would have said something similar in trying to counter defense moves.
Criminal trials - and most civil trials for that matter - are supposed to be a search for the truth but in so many cases it’s a battle of wits and strategic planning between opposing attorneys and the truth is never known. That probably was the outcome of the Michael Jackson trial. One lawyer outmaneuvered another and persuaded twelve people to decide that his was the stronger case. Only Jackson and his accuser know what actually happened and even they might not be able to say whether a criminal act took place or not.
It’s true that there can be different understandings and interpretations of the same sets of facts, but it’s the kinds of machinations that are being displayed in the pre-trial sparring on the Ryan case that make for sympathetic feelings towards the sentiments expressed by Dick the Butcher. A defendant’s character is fair game at a criminal trial. The defense tries to present its client in the best possible light and the prosecution tries to do the opposite. But surely there are limits. If the point is made that a defendant loved his mother, is it any part of the search for the truth for the prosecutor to question that love? To assert for example, that he only loved his mother so that he could say so in his defense at a trial that he knew would take place one day because, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this man is a sniveling, conniving, pot smoking career criminal?
I don’t think Governor Ryan’s death sentence moratorium and commutations has anything to do with whether or not he committed the criminal acts he is charged with, but if they are mentioned at his trial and the prosecutors try to allege that his motivation was simply to look good in the face of charges that he knew were coming, the judge ought to rule that he be acquitted on the grounds of prosecutorial imbecility.
Then again, as I’ve mentioned here before, about 235 members of congress are lawyers - and we all can see how they function from day to day, so maybe I’m being too hard on the lawyers who work in the trenches. Maybe they’re just trying to emulate our leaders. And maybe Dick the Butcher's famous line would resonate even louder today if Shakespeare had made it just a little longer. Maybe by adding six words. Something like ….. "AND LEGISLATORS - STARTING WITH LAWYER LEGISLATORS!!
And darn it, here I am back talking about politics after all. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.
Saturday, June 25, 2005
THE ROVE ANALOGY
Not the name of a movie starring Matt Damon
This has been a month of arguing about analogies and particularly over the use of the word "Nazi" in making analogies. Eleven days ago it was Dick Durbin. Not that long before it was Rick Santorum comparing Democratic filibusters to something Adolph Hitler might have done or said. Both apologized. But there have been others. Nazi Germany, Adolph Hitler, Soviet Gulags and the like, have been used as being analogous to some statement or some position of more than one political opponent. Sometimes the comments go virtually unnoticed. At other times there is an organized outpouring of outrage that makes enough noise to persuade the print and broadcast media to treat them as a news story.
And sometimes there isn’t enough outrage. And sometimes, when presented with a real story about an analogy that is so far beyond the pale as to be damaging to this Republic, the media fall down on the job. It has certainly happened with the words of chief Republican attack dog Karl Rove. Where are the editorials about his remarks about people who didn’t vote for George W Bush giving deliberate aid and comfort to our enemies?
I think I’ve made this analogy before, most likely when I’ve made a comment about the ranting and raving of Rush Limbaugh, but certainly no one has illustrated it more or better than Karl Rove. Without mentioning Nazis or Adolph Hitler, he nonetheless gave us a demonstration of one of the most effective tools of the Third Reich, when he said ;
Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackersAnd in the same speech, bringing up Dick Durbin’s remarks about Guantanamo (of course), he said;
Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year? Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives (emphasis added) of liberalsGo back to the thirties and forties and dig out the speeches of Joseph Goebbels or Julius Streicher or any other Nazi propagandists and see how well the words of Karl Rove would have resonated with the simple substitution of "Jew" for "Liberal." The technique is classic and its aim exactly the same as it was seventy years ago. Demonize a group. Blame all the ills of the nation on that group. Attack any criticism of your mistakes and mismanagement and lying by that group and accuse them and their criticisms of being the real problem that is sucking the life blood out of the nation.
I emphasized the word "motives" because here we have an unequivocal allegation that the motive of "liberals" - and make no mistake, to Rove and his ilk, that word encompasses the millions of Americans who did not vote for Bush and who think he is doing a lousy job - is to give aid and comfort to the enemy. Read the entire comment about Dick Durbin. Can there be any doubt about what this latter day (pardon the analogy) Goebbels is saying?
But that’s not the worst of it. The White House is defending his words. Which means that the President of the United States is perfectly happy with the idea of calling Democrats something pretty close to traitors. I’ve lived through a whole mess of Presidents and their supporters and spokespeople, but I can’t remember anything like this going on - not even during the Nixon years.
On the PBS News Hour last night, National Review Editor Rich Lowry offered a feeble defense of Rove’s remarks, citing MoveOn.org and Michael Moore as possible sources of anti-war comments to which Rove may have been referring. It was truly sad to watch and listen to this bright young man prostitute himself on the altar of partisan loyalty. He knows- as any observer of the contemporary American political scene knows - the Rove approach of slash and burn and that there is no room for truth if it gets in the way of a political goal.
One final thought on this sorry affair. Before September 11, 2001, we had a President who was drifting along in undistinguished fashion. He and his cabinet and his advisors had been alerted to the dangers of possible terrorist attacks and had ignored them - Condoleezza Rice’s disingenuous protests to the contrary notwithstanding - yet when an attack occurred on his watch, he quickly declared himself to be a "wartime President" and one uniquely competent to lead the nation in "war." Little did we know that the war he planned to "lead" us in was against Iraq and it was that "war" that occupied his thinking as terrorists infiltrated and struck at the United States. Yet again and again he has evoked that image of being a "wartime President" to his political advantage, asserting that his political opponents aren’t capable or don’t have the heart to wage the "war on terrorism."
On September 11, 2001, this nation came together as one and rose up in anguish and in anger against the sub-humanoids who had committed a monstrous crime against us. If there was a man or woman who didn’t want to lash out - to crush the nation or the organization that was behind the attack, I don’t know who they were. Yet here we are, close to four years later, bogged down in our occupation of Iraq, with our troops and Iraqis being attacked and killed by terrorists on a daily basis and with Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants still at large - and the wartime President’s political strategist is using the events of that day to mount a political attack against Democrats - no doubt to take the heat off his boss as his poll numbers go down and public support for his war drops precipitously.
Some Democrats have called upon Rove to apologize. A waste of time. This character will never apologize for any piece of dirty political strategy that he dreams up. What they should do is keep him on the front burner that he usually avoids when creating one of his baskets of dirty tricks and publicize every vilifying attack he makes on Democrats along with the appropriate analogy from the demagogues of the past - from the speeches of Goebbels to those of McCarthy - and trust me, the appropriate speeches are there to show just what Karl Rove’s political heritage is - and by reflection, what kind of government we have running this country in June, 2005.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Here’s another excellent commentary on the Durbin affair. Eric Zorn’s column in today’s Chicago Tribune. Really well put.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
A couple of interesting reads on the subject of last night’s post - the Dick Durbin affair. One is from Andrew Sullivan’s blog of June 20. The other, Clarence Page’s column in today’s Chicago Tribune.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
NOW DURBIN NEEDS TO APOLOGIZE FOR APOLOGIZING
I never thought I would say this , but I’m deeply disappointed in Dick Durbin. His tearful apology on the floor of the Senate was called "an act of courage" by John McCain. I call it something closer to an act of cowardice. An act of a man whose principles aren’t strong enough to withstand an onslaught of criticism that wasn’t in the least bit warranted. It’s as though he allowed others to convince him that he had said something that he never said.
I have listened to and re-read his original statement again and again and nowhere do I detect a comparison of the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo with the evils of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or Cambodia - only that the report of the FBI agent that he was reading into the record, could have been describing the sort of thing that we know took place in those kinds of countries. Nowhere is there any hint that our military personnel at Guantanamo are comparable to the butchers of any of those countries or that the handful of detainees whose treatment violated our standards of human rights, are comparable to the millions who suffered at the hands of the those repressive regimes.
I am a Jew. Relatives of mine died in the Holocaust. One survivor, my late cousin Rene Wolfin, a French doctor, wrote about the period and the members of our family who died in a memoir titled Ashes and Remorse. Not for one moment did I believe or get the sense that Senator Durbin was comparing our military personnel with the evil creatures who slaughtered millions of Jews, Poles, Russians, Gypsies and other "sub humans." Anyone who did, particularly Jews, weren’t listening to what Durbin said.
But apart from that - apart from the fact that Durbin apologized for something he didn’t say, the way that members of his own party have acted over the past few days speaks volumes about the differences between the two major political parties and why the Republicans control the White House and both Houses of Congress. They would never do what Durbin has just done. They would never speak of a fellow party member the way Richard Daley, the malapropistic Mayor of Chicago did today, with his face contorted with anger as if he was talking about someone who had just assaulted one of his children! They just don’t apologize. For anything!!
We have a President sitting in the White House who has quite probably committed the kind of acts for which he could be impeached, were it not for a majority in Congress who put party ahead of country. George W Bush not only never apologizes for anything, he never acknowledges that anything he does or says might be wrong. Bill Frist and others committed grievous acts of political cynicism during the Schiavo case debacle - and you can see how fast Frist is rushing to apologize and how his colleagues - specially the enigmatic John McCain are urging him to do so.
For a long time now - at times it seems forever - we’ve heard talk about the Democrats having trouble defining who they are and what they stand for. I don’t have any problem understanding what they stand for and some of the things they most definitely do not stand for - among them kowtowing to the richest among us at the expense of the poor and middle class, blurring the line of separation between church and state to the point where it almost disappears and insisting upon political loyalty as a requirement for appointment to the Federal bench. But there is no question that a substantial number of voters are confused and I don’t imagine that they will become less confused after observing how Durbin handled the full court press of criticism that the Republicans hurled at him - with help from more than one Democrat.
After yesterday’s performance, Howard Dean is looking pretty good. Some people have been calling him a loose cannon. Some people have been calling for him to apologize for some of his criticisms of the Republican party. He may have been a little harsh in defining who the Republicans are and what they stand for, but Republicans have been doing that to Democrats for years and do you ever hear any of them apologize? Dean is taking the right stance. If and when he says something that he didn’t mean to say or says it in such a convoluted way that it could easily be misinterpreted , then I think he wouldn’t hesitate to offer an apology.
What Durbin should have done was to have hurled the criticism back in the face of the Republicans. Immediately. Before some of his fellow Democrats felt the heat and stepped back into protective shadows with comments like "he doesn’t speak for me." He should have said that those who are attacking me know damn well that I wasn’t saying that our military personnel at Guantanamo are as bad as Nazis. He should have said it’s interesting that they jump on my mention of repressive regimes - almost as though it was an act of treason - while ignoring what I was talking about - and you have to wonder why? Are they satisfied with what is being reported about what’s happening at Guantanamo? Are they happy with it? Do they give a damn or are they more interested in trying to smear me for bringing it up?
Instead, I think Durbin made the mistake of his life that will haunt him for the rest of his political career.
If Democrats are ever going to recapture Congress or the White House, they’re going to have say what they think and believe in no uncertain terms and not back down when they are criticized for saying it. If they follow the Durbin example and wince every time Howard Dean gives an impassioned speech, they’ll be doomed to the land of the minority for many elections to come.
Monday, June 20, 2005
A SUNDAY TALE OF TWO SENATORS
Every time I get to thinking that John McCain is a sincere fellow and a straight shooter who speaks his mind without concern for political consequences, he says something that puts him shoulder to shoulder with his party’s partisans and makes him sound like a pure politician who will say what needs to be said to toe the party line. He was on Meet The Press on Sunday and inevitably, as I predicted, the name of Dick Durbin came up - as it will likely keep coming up until the administration and its backers find something else to distract voters from the real issues that it’s trying to spin and obscure. Russet said:
Your Democratic colleague Dick Durbin of Illinois set off a firestorm when he compared the actions of Americans at Guantanamo to Nazis, Soviet Gulags and Pol Pot. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that Senator Durbin should be censured by the Senate for those comments.And McCain said:
Well, I think that Senator Durbin owes not only the Senate an apology—I don't know if censure would be in order--but an apology because it does a great disservice to men and women who suffered in the gulag and in Pol Pot's killing fields. Dick Durbin should be required to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" and I think that he would--may have a better understanding that there's no comparison whatsoever. And it does a great disservice to the majority of men and women who are serving in Guantanamo who are doing the job that they're told to do and they're doing it in a humane fashion. To tar the American servicemen and women with a brush that applies to the gulag or the killing fields is a great disservice to the men and women in the military who are serving honorably down there.Of course he didn’t "tar American servicemen and women" with anything. He didn’t compare the FBI agent’s report of with what he saw at Guantanamo with the activities of the Nazis and the Soviets in their gulags. He simply said if you didn’t know what the FBI agent was talking about, you’d think it was a description of what might have occurred in one such country. But McCain predicted that by the time of next week’s Meet The Press, Durbin will have apologized
That was his take on his colleague Dick Durbin. But what about his colleague Bill Frist and Terri Schiavo, now that the autopsy results have been revealed? He made a diagnosis from the Senate floor and now he says he didn’t. Well, said McCain;
I don't want to criticize Bill Frist. He obviously had very sincere feelings about this issue. All of us were very emotional. Terri Schiavo had a loving parents and siblings that wanted to care for her for the rest of her life. I think our hearts went out to her in that situation and her family. Maybe we didn't use our brains as well as we should have. So I can't--I know that Bill Frist has denied that he "diagnosed" Terri Schiavo. I think we ought to get this issue behind us and move forward. It's an American tragedy and I hope that the next time we're presented with one of these situations we'll perhaps approach it in a more measured and reasoned fashion."Dick Durbin, apologize you tarrer of American servicemen and women. Bill Frist, you sincere guy, let’s put any issue that makes you look like an insincere, incompetent fool behind us, because my occasional, "use it when I feel the need" partisanship, just won’t let me see that insincerity and incompetence."
Over on CBS’s Face the Nation, the guest was Senator Joe Biden. Bob Schieffer asked him if he ever met the incoming flights at the Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, bringing back the bodies of service personnel killed in Iraq. This is the exchange that followed:
Sen. BIDEN: I've tried to and they will not allow me to. As a matter of fact...It makes you wonder if any Republican Senator has ever tried to meet an incoming flight of coffins and whether a Republican Senator would be allowed to do so - or what repercussions a Republican Senator might face if he tried to see what the administration has so successfully kept from public view. And it makes you wonder why. No it doesn’t. We know why - and its shameful.
And of course, the Durbin Dilemma made its obligatory appearance as follows:
Senator, your colleague, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, this last week generated a fair amount of controversy by comparing the interrogation techniques that are being used in Guantanamo to those used by the Nazis, the--genocide essentially. He said these are techniques you might associate with Pol Pot, with the Gulags. At this point, a number of people, including the majority leader, have called upon Senator Durbin to apologize. He has not. Were those wise comments and should he apologize?A slightly different take from that of straight shooter John McCain. Durbin and Frist as a trade off. Even Steven. Makes sense to me.
Biden said that unless he runs into insurmountable barriers down the pike, he’s a Presidential candidate. To which I say right on - and I think he should kick off his campaign by acknowledging everything he’s learned from British Labour politician Neil Kinnock , with the comment - "As I was saying in 1987."
Friday, June 17, 2005
NOTE TO SENATOR DURBIN - RIGHT ON!!
It’s truly amazing. The RWRAR’s - and to anyone new to this blog, that stands for Right Wing Ranters and Ravers - not only haven’t been critical of Bill Frists’s involvement with the Terri Schiavo case, they supported his cynical political use of her condition when he stood up on the Senate floor and spouted the garbage that I referred to yesterday - and now I hear that they’re supporting his current position while looking for ways to discredit the autopsy report.
Yet, as we might expect, they have gone bananas in unison over what Dick Durbin said on the Senate floor the other day. He was talking about the controversy that is raging over the status and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and read one FBI report into the record as follows;
" When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here -- I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report: On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold....On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor."There’s little argument that what the report describes is torture. Some blowhards who have never had to face the business end of a gun or a bayonet might argue that electric shock to the genitals or near drowning is real torture and that what the report describes is just mild persuasion. Well, I challenge those people to subject themselves to exactly what the FBI agent described for just a day or two and see how they would describe it then. I guarantee you they would be screaming "torture" from about the first half hour of the "mild persuasion" on.
Having said that, I have to acknowledge that there are times when "persuasive" methods need to be used on prisoners who might have information about an impending attack. The Israelis have used those methods and have been roundly criticized for them. But they justify them by saying that when they know that a terrorist attack is imminent and they know that a prisoner in their custody has knowledge of when and where that attack is planned to be carried out - or are pretty damned sure that he has that knowledge - their job is to get that information any way that they can, in time to prevent loss of life. Under those kinds of conditions, they say, they don’t have the luxury of conforming to the restrictions of the Geneva Convention or any other generally accepted rules of behavior towards detainees taken prisoner during a period of conflict.
There isn’t a great deal of public knowledge about the people being held at Guantanamo, but it doesn’t seem likely that there’s anyone there who has knowledge of any imminent attack on the United States. Or that there is any other pressing need to extract information from prisoners with such methods - particularly prisoners who have been held there as long as three years!! So I don’t feel shocked at what Durbin said next;
"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisonersDurbin is a pretty good politician, so I’m a little surprised that he made the mistake of giving those who support what is going on at Guantanamo and elsewhere, or who don’t give a damn one way or another, an opportunity to divert attention away from the real issue and replace it with the phony issue of him "giving aid and comfort to the enemy."
They would still have lambasted him if he’d left out the names of regimes and just said "you would certainly believe this must have been done by a regime that had no concern for human beings." But he gave them ammunition to divert attention from the issue that troubles many members of Congress and millions of Americans - and made him the story of the day - very likely of a few days. And to their shame, the American Fourth Estate has fallen meekly in line in reporting Durbin’s comments as though they were the issue and not the subject of what he was talking about, while at the same time soft pedaling the growing evidence coming out of Ten Downing Street and elsewhere about what may be a true crime - taking this country to war on the basis of lies and deceit. You read this stuff and you cry out for a modern day Woodward and Bernstein and a twenty first century Deep Throat!!
I can’t remember a time in recent history where political partisanship has pushed rationality - and America’s true interests aside, in order to defend the policies of an American administration, no matter how cockeyed they have become. Whenever any policy or action is challenged nowadays as being opposed to American traditions and values, the answer that we get is, "well, we’re at war, aren’t we?"
To which I answer NO - we’re not at war. Except maybe in Iraq, where military resistance was supposed to have ended two years ago. There are terrorists in the world - individuals and groups who threaten many countries and we are one of their prime targets if not the prime target - and we have learned that we must be eternally vigilant and aware that we could be attacked at any time in the same manner as the 9/11 attack or in some other way. But these terrorists don’t comprise a sovereign nation and neither are they gathered in one country. There is no way we can be "at war" in the traditional sense where the outcome is determined by the defeat and/or the surrender of the nation or nations opposed to us in battle. A "war" against "terrorism" will never end - or at least not until the human race has matured to the point where violence itself is considered a sickness - an aberrant form of human behavior. And that nirvana, if it could ever be achieved, is centuries, maybe hundreds of centuries in the future.
So to conduct the business of this nation as though we are engaged in a war that can be won - with the idea that we’ll revert to a state of "normalcy" once "victory" had been achieved, is to ask us to accept a fundamental and open ended change in how we view individual rights - ours and those we consider to be our enemies.
That's a scary thing - and that, in my view, is what Senator Durbin’s comments were about - facing those who would harm us without descending to their valueless level - not the cacophonous, jingoistic smoke screen reaction coming from the far right. I’m glad to see him refuse to back away from what he said and I hope he’ll keep on saying it.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
FRIST ON SCHIAVO - ADVANTAGE DEMOCRATS
From the doctor who would be President. From the leader of the Senate who would create new rules so that judges can be appointed for life who share his and his President’s wisdom and vision. From a leader of the political party that purports to believe in a limited, non-intrusive government. Fifty eight words from a speech of two thousand, nine hundred and forty words, delivered on the floor of the United States Senate on March 17, 2004.
"Persistent vegetative state , which is what the court has ruled - I say that I question it. I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office here in the capitol, and that footage, to me, depicts something very different than persistent vegetative state."On December 5, 2002, another Republican party bigwig, incoming Senate Majority leader Trent Lott , gave a speech honoring eight term Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina on the occasion of his 100th birthday. As part of his laudatory remarks, Lott said the following;
"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."Fifteen days later, Lott announced that he was resigning as Senate leader - and three days later, Bill Frist was elected by his peers to that lofty post.
When Senator Frist got up to speak on March 17, 2004, he made it clear in his opening statement that he was speaking not only as a Senator and as the leader of the Senate, but as a doctor of medicine - and made it clear that he was in a unique position to address the subject at hand - that of the life of Terri Schiavo - not just as a politician but as a medical expert.
Now the autopsy results on Terri Schiavo have been released , confirming that she was indeed in the vegetative state that Senator/Doctor Frist questioned, based on his one hour review of a home video fifteen months ago - and guess what folks? Frist didn’t say he guessed he was wrong. He says he stands by the statement he made. It wasn’t a diagnosis, he says. Of course not. It was just a little old medical opinion that he used as a prop for launching as cynical an act of political chicanery as the Senate has seen in many a year.
And this guy wants to be President?
Can’t you just see him sitting in the Oval Office watching a satellite video of some ground structures in Tanzania that his morning briefing report identified as a dairy farm with a cheese factory but that looks just like an X-Ray of one of his heart patients a few years ago that had everyone in the O.R. laughing because it looked like a nuclear warhead sitting on a ready to launch missile. "My God" yells President Frist in a flash of divine revelation. "That’s what it is. They’re about to attack us. Nuke ‘em!!"
And after the dust settles on what turns out to be an atomic cheese cloud - our atoms, their cheese - President Frist stands by his initial revelation and attack order. "I don’t care what the CIA report said and I don’t care about the fact that they have been observing Tanzania for fifteen years and that dozens of experts have submitted reports about the inner workings of that nation’s government and their military capabilities and concluded that they are a peaceful bunch and no danger to anyone, least of all the United States of America. I looked at that satellite video for an hour over some wine and cheese - and to me, the footage depicted something very different than a persistent vegetative state - I mean a dairy farm and cheese factory."
I would expect Schiavo’s parents to reject the autopsy findings. They were in denial throughout all the years of their daughter’s ordeal. I can understand it. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have reacted in the same way if it had been a child of mine. And though I haven’t listened to any of the broadcast RWRAR’s react to the results, I would expect them to find some way to question it. After all, how can an autopsy disprove what people who were with Terri day after day for years, saw and knew?
You’d think that one could expect a different reaction from the leader of the United States Senate, but after Senator Frist’s initial, cynical intervention into a private matter for obvious political gain, I’m not at all surprised at his disingenuous response to the autopsy results - a response that reveals him as either medically incompetent or a doctor who would willingly violate his Hippocratic oath to further his other profession. In my view, he has shown himself to be someone lacking the integrity and the competence to be a member of either profession.
In a rational world, one would think that his involvement in the Schiavo case and his insistence that he did or said nothing wrong in the face of revealed evidence to the contrary, would be embarrassing enough to remove him as a possible candidate for the Presidency or at the very least persuade him to emulate his predecessor and quietly step aside to save his party further embarrassment. But with a majority of Republicans in the Senate blinded by their own arrogance, he’ll not only hold on to his leadership position but probably will be the favorite to head their ticket going in to 2008.
How should the Democrats react to all of this? My advice would be for them to join with the Republicans in praise of their leader and pray that he indeed will become their candidate for the Presidency.
Or to put it another way - not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
SOME AFTERTHOUGHTS ON THE JACKSON CASE
Maybe this will be my last word on the Michael Jackson trial and maybe not. It seems that Nancy Grace has plenty of company in believing that his "celebrity" was the reason for his acquittal. I can’t imagine a bigger insult to the twelve people on his jury. I don’t necessarily buy the idea that the jury system is the best possible system - that twelve ordinary folk listening to all of the evidence and discussing it among themselves until they all agree are going to get it right every time. But it’s the system that we have - and if we don’t have enough faith in it, or if we have only selective faith, we’re no better off than totalitarian regimes where justice is administered by whim.
It’s true that people with deep pockets have a better chance of being acquitted when charged with a criminal offense than someone with limited resources. That was evident in the Jackson trial when investigators hired by his lawyers were able to dredge up the unsavory history of the accuser’s mother. But Martha Stewart had deep pockets that didn’t help her because her financial resources couldn’t alter the facts in her case and there was no dirt to dig up on people testifying for the prosecution.
The people who so casually assert that of course Jackson got off because he’s a celebrity, seem to be hung up on the stories of his weirdness and in particular on his admitted nutty preference to hang out with kids rather than adults - and his even nuttier idea that it’s perfectly O.K. to let young boys hop into his bed or for him to hop into theirs!! The implication is that the guy’s a raging pedophile and that he induces parents of young boys to whom he’s attracted to become pimps and deliver their offspring to his homosexual desires in return for a few pecuniary goodies.
If that is true, then Jackson is the world’s first self proclaimed celebrity pedophile, advertising and practicing his pedophelia in public and praising it as a loving and desirable way of life. Which of course is nuts.
Those of us who are not personally acquainted with Michael Jackson - who have not spent blocks of time staying at his Neverland Ranch or traveling with him on tour, don’t know the man or what really goes on in his life. We get a tabloid view of him which is probably about as real as the Maltese Falcon. And talking head psychiatrists and psychologists who make solemn pronouncements on television programs about who he is and what he does - and why - based on their observation of the same tabloid images available to the rest of us, need to go back and take some refresher courses at the Bill Frist School of Instant Medical Diagnosis via Video Viewing.
Nor do we know or can we assume that any of the offenses alleged in his case were true or had any merit whatsoever. I don’t know whether or not Tom Sneddon was out to "get" Jackson. Interviewed by Larry King last night, Jackson’s attorney Tom Mesereau didn’t rule out the possibility of filing a malicious prosecution case against Sneddon and the DA’s Office of Santa Barbara. That’s how strongly he feels that there was no merit to the case to begin with. That it was only filed because Sneddon thought he could use it to bring Jackson down.
It does happen folks, Despite everything we think we know about Michael Jackson - and that includes me - and despite all of the allegations in the lengthy indictment and witnesses who "testified" that crimes were committed by Michael, it is possible that none of it was true and that the case had no merit.
That may sound like a way out thing to suggest and something that I probably would never think of suggesting, had not something of this nature - as regular readers of this blog nay recall - happened to me many years ago. I mentioned it in December 2003 while writing about the indictment of Illinois ex- Governor George Ryan. As with the Ryan case and the Jackson case, there were pages of allegations against me that sounded ominous. There were "witnesses" ready to testify. If you read about it in your newspaper, it sounded like the Feds had caught a crook. But it was all smoke and mirrors. Not one scintilla of truth in any of the allegations. It was a trumped up bunch of garbage. But though the case never made it to trial, it cost me a piece of my life that I’ve never been able to get back.
I have a feeling that we haven’t heard the last word about the Jackson trial or about what goes on inside the world of the pop music icon - whether there’s anything illegal going on or just plain wackiness. Michael probably wouldn’t want to go through another trial within a trial, which would probably be what would happen if he agrees with Mesereau and decides to file a malicious prosecution case. But it would be worth it to let people get an unshielded look at the power of their government to inflict great harm on citizens who, for whatever reason, they wish to destroy. And I guarantee you - that would be one eye opener.
NOT the last word on Howard Dean - but a word nonetheless on how silly the flap over his loose lips has become.
Can anyone remember the last time a chairman of either the Democratic or Republican party had a substantial influence on the outcome of a national election because of what he or she said in a couple of speeches? Can anyone remember when the press considered the content of speeches by national party chairpersons front page news?
Maybe the three "P’s" - the press, some politicians and way too many pundits - are having fun playing "Denouncing Dean" - but when the dust settles, will it have had any influence on how anyone votes in the next election? When you consider the candidates vying to be your next Congressman or Senator, will anything Dean said influence your choice? Or anything Ken Mehlman said? I can’t imagine any way that it would.
So while I may from time to time join with others in reacting to a current "Deanism" - I’d have fun analyzing the symbolism of "Most Republican Mudders Wear Army Boots" - I’ll do it because it’s an amusing distraction, not because it has any real place in the discussion of important national and international issues. Any more than are the nutty things that Republicans say from time to time
But if it turns out that anyone is influenced to change their political bias because of anything they heard Governor Dean say, I’d be first in line to advocate enacting IQ test legislation, requiring all citizens to prove their sanity before being allowed to vote.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
NASTY NANCY FALLS FROM GRACE
I’m glad that the Michael Jackson jury arrived at their not guilty verdict across the board. I don’t think Jackson could have survived a jail sentence, even if they kept him in isolation for his own safety. He looks and sounds like he’s teetering on the brink as a free man, so I can imagine what 23 hours a day in a seven by ten foot cell year after year would do to him.
My post trial interest was not so much in the verdict as in the reaction to it by media people who had pronounced him guilty from day one and had sneered at every cross examination of prosecution witnesses and dismissed the testimony of defense witness after defense witness as irrelevant. The most egregious of these sneering media judges was Nancy Grace on CNN and frankly I couldn’t wait to see how she would handle this (in her eyes) gross miscarriage of justice. I wrote about Nancy Grace and others of her ilk on May 5, 2005 - and her performance yesterday validated my conclusions about her that you’ll find in that day’s posting.
The look on her face as she began her show last night said it all. Utter disgust. Utter disbelief. As though she personally had been rebuffed. But as much as I’ve come to expect totally biased, vitriolic "coverage" of the Jackson trial from this person, the first words out of her mouth almost blew me away. "It was a 13 year old Hispanic boy who took on Michael Jackson in court and tonight it’s not guilty by reason of celebrity."
Here is a woman who is or was an officer of the court - a former prosecutor sworn to uphold the law and sworn to abide by the protocols of her profession, foremost among which I would assume to be respect for the findings of any jury - whether she agreed with them or not. Obviously, when she was prosecuting alleged lawbreakers, she would only agree with guilty decisions, but I doubt very much if any judge would let her get away with calling jurors a bunch of nitwits in open court if they came back with a not guilty verdict. But here she was on national television declaring that 12 jurors who sat through 16 weeks of testimony and deliberated for five days - considered only Jackson’s celebrity and acquitted him on that basis alone! Even prosecutor Tom Sneddon, who many people believe has been out to "get" Jackson for years, didn’t try to blame his failure to secure a conviction on the pop star’s "celebrity."
Some people have been comparing the Jackson acquittal with the O.J. Simpson case, but the two are nothing alike. The Simpson case was over the moment the jury was seated. The verdict was all about race - not the evidence - and that was pretty much validated by the opposite reaction to the verdict by blacks and non-blacks. Others have cited the acquittal of Robert Blake as an example of "not guilty by reason of celebrity" - but that was a case where there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict a John or Jane Doe. If anything, Blake’s celebrity was a detriment. Without it, he may never have had to face trial at all.
But Nancy Grace’s intemperate opening comment was nothing compared to what came later in her "interview" with the jury foreman. The 63 year old retired school counselor was interviewed all over the dial following the not guilty verdict and was asked the sort of questions one might expect . What were the factors that influenced your decision? What did you think of various witnesses? And so on. But not Nancy Grace. She wanted to try the case with foreman Paul Rodriguez as her opposing counsel!! She wasn’t satisfied with any of the reasons he offered for how and why the jury came to its conclusion - and with a look of incredulity on her face and disbelief in her voice, she insisted that he answer the question of what he thought about a man in his forties sleeping with young boys. "What do you think he was doing with those little boys all those nights in bed alone" she asked, again and again. And when he said that he and other jurors had personal thoughts on that but "it wasn’t what they had to work with," she interpreted that as meaning that he and other jurors didn’t think that it mattered!! Rodriguez said yes, it did matter but "I’m not going to go any further than that." To which Grace responded with a curled lip sneer - "Yes sir. I think you’ve gone far enough. With me!!" And ended the "interview."
I wanted to scream at the television scream. I wanted to tell Rodriguez to tell her that he’d be glad to answer her questions, but if she wanted to play a combination of prosecutor and grand inquisitor, to go do it on her own time and to someone else. That he wasn’t there to be bullied by someone who didn’t like the jury’s verdict.
But he was polite. He put up with her nonsense, while explaining, for anyone who wanted to listen, which of course didn’t include Grace, that Jackson wasn’t on trial for being a weirdo - for having adult magazines in his home, for sleeping in the same bed with young boys not related to him, for dressing in stage clothes and make up or for the rest of the strangeness that is the pop star’s life - but for the specific acts for which had had been charged and which the state had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
It was refreshing to hear comments from the jurors that matched some of my thinking about Jackson. That he probably has done some things with young boys that were at the very least inappropriate - though probably not harmful. And that Jackson probably doesn’t think that he has ever done anything wrong - that whatever he did, his intentions were always good. And that whoever has influence over him should take him aside - as in an "intervention" - and tell him that if he doesn’t want to risk losing his freedom again, he must completely stop having any relationships of any kind with young boys not related to him.
I hope he’ll listen to that advice. I’m sure it’s been given many times before - and ignored many times before. But maybe this time, having sat through weeks of what must have been agonizing tension while his freedom was on the line - he’ll come to the realization that he has to change at least one part of his life.
This case can never be brought to trial again. That would be double jeopardy. But as long as Nancy Grace is on the air, I imagine it’ll be re-tried until she’s sick of it and finds a fresh victim to find guilty night after night while his or her trial unfolds in the real world. I suppose we should be grateful that Ms Grace is where she is and not back in the courtroom prosecuting all those villains who she has pre-judged, found guilty and, in her warped prosecutorial mind, sentenced to the harshest possible punishment. At least in her present incarnation, we can turn her off.
Monday, June 13, 2005
RANDOM MONDAY THOUGHTS
As Pogo might say, Friday the 13th falls on a Monday this month, so I’ll be watching for black cats and ladders all day.
A few random thoughts.
I was happy to see the G8 countries forgive all those billions in debt owed by poor countries the other day. I just wish they could have seen their way to expand it to include the few grand I owe. I guess the road to forgiveness is to be poor, owe one hell of a lot and not make any payments on moneys owed. Of course if you try that as an individual in this generous member of the G8, you’ll find your wages attached, your car repossessed and your house sold out from under you. And you can’t get rid of your debt by filing bankruptcy any more. Not under the new laws passed by our generous and compassionate Congress. But not if you’re a big company of course. Then you can file for bankruptcy, cut everyone’s wages, dump any pension plan obligations and take pride in announcing that you’ll only lose three quarters of a billion this quarter instead of the usual billion. I’m going to have to see if the same rules would be in effect for a small company. I think I might resign from the ranks of lowly individuals, incorporate myself as WHATSALLTHISTHEN Airlines and get on a level playing field with United Airlines and Enron. Wouldn’t that be living up to those highly touted "values" of the party in power?
Since this is a random thought Monday - I’m just not in the mood to write an editorial - I suppose I should make a few comments about Howard Dean. I like Howard Dean. I think it’s refreshing to have someone in national politics who doesn’t hold a finger up to the wind before he opens his mouth to say something. In a sense that could describe President Bush - but he and Dean are as different as chalk and cheese in their shoot from the hip remarks. Dean’s mouth may sometimes be working before his bran is in full gear, but what he says isn’t going to send ripples of fear around the world and make strong men cry. What disturbs me most about some of Dean’s semi nutty statements - I know several Republican who have actually done more than a single honest day’s work in their lives - is the reaction from his fellow Democrats. One after another, they’re distancing themselves from their party chairman, saying that "he doesn’t speak for them." No, he speaks for what a lot of them may think - but wouldn’t dare verbalize for fear of being castigated the way they and their gleeful Republican opponents are tearing into the good Doctor. Even Ed Schultz, who fancies himself as the premier liberal radio talk show host, has devoted several segments of recent broadcasts to taking Dean to task.
What’s almost laughable about all of this is that the Democrats are going through one of those periods - sometimes it seems almost like a permanent period - of trying to come to grips with who they are and what they stand for. They have a President from the opposition party who has the lowest ratings of his Presidency to date, with mid-term elections looming on the horizon and a chance to change the numbers in Washington, and they’re allowing themselves to be distracted by a "gotcha" group of reporters who are in seventh heaven with this sort of thing - and of course Republican politicians, led by that paragon of virtuous proclamations and patriotic public servant , Dick, "I had other priorities" Cheney.
What Dean’s fellow Democrats need to do, if his attack mode bothers them, is to tell him so in private - not to sound like starving Republicans who have been thrown a healthy chunk of red meat. And they need to respond to those "gotcha" reporters the same way that Bush has turned his misstatements and mispronunciations to his advantage by making jokes about them - by being self deprecating. Dean should do it too - maybe saying that he throws these statements out to get people’s attention - and it seems to be working.
And maybe they need to counter Dean’s statements by calling attention to his Republican counterpart . Some of his critics say that Dean should be like Ken Mehlman - a person almost nobody knows - operating under the radar. But maybe they should defend Dean by saying, yes, he sometimes makes me wince when he says things that are a little over the top - but who would you rather have - a man of passion who has strong ideas about what his party stands for - or someone who tries to re-write current history in defense of his boss? As he did just eight days ago on Meet The Press.
I can’t resist this. I usually ignore responses to my postings from people who don’t seem to understand what it is I’m talking about and take off on tangents of their own, but once in a while someone says something not unexpected but nutty enough to make me roar with laughter. Last Friday, talking about Guantanamo and the Amnesty International report, I said, within the body of my comments;
"Unfortunately there are numskulls among us who think it’s just fine to ignore the rest of the world - to puff out their pseudo patriotic chests and declare in ignorant clamor that they don’t care what the rest of the world thinks."Sure enough, one of my regular RWRAR critics came right back with this gem in the body of his comments;
"As far as "world opinion" is concerned, most of them can go to hell"What would you call that? Confirmation of my cogent observation about numskulls among us and what they believe? An expression of self awareness? The motto of the numskull society of America? The central theme of American foreign policy?
Good for a good guffaw anyway if one doesn’t spend too much time wondering how many of them there are out there.
And finally, always good for a laugh or a perplexed shake of the head on a Monday morning, is the latest view of events through the cockamamie conservative viewfinder of Charles Krauthammer - and he didn’t disappoint on this Monday, talking about the Supreme Court decision on the medical use of marijuana and particularly on the dissenting views of Clarence Thomas, which he believed interpreted the law as the founders intended with regard to the commerce clause. Apparently he was so impressed with the Thomas dissent that he said "I hope Bush nominates Thomas to succeed Renquist as Chief Justice."
At first read, my shocked reaction was that Krauthammer had really lost it. Clarence Thomas as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court???
However much I’ve disagreed with most of his opinions in the past, I never thought that he had lost touch with reality - and after reading today’s column, I thought that perhaps he had indeed gone over the deep end. But on further review - as a judge might say - the concept of a Chief Justice Thomas makes perfect sense for anyone committed to a Bush era Republican type of governance - and that certainly would describe Krauthammer. With Thomas practicing his habitual vow of silence from the bench, - (some believe because he confused the justice’s robes with that of a monk’s habit) - no one will be able to analyze his questions to gauge his thinking during oral arguments, because he never asks any.!! We’ll never know which way he’s leaning or which other justice he’ll side with.
It would be a perfect judicial complement to the wall of secrecy that Cheney, Rove et al have built around the White House. So don’t be surprised folks. It may indeed be coming. Chief Justice Clarence Thomas.
Friday, June 10, 2005
DIPLOMACY NEEDED IN RESPONSE TO AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Jimmy Carter has called for the Guantanamo detention center to be closed. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has said the same thing. And even President Bush says that closing it down is a possibility.
I have no objection to closing the place, but to do it now would be a huge mistake, because it could easily be interpreted as a plea of guilty to the charges leveled by Amnesty International. It’s not that dissimilar a problem from the one facing Israel in its efforts to withdraw from Gaza. Hamas would like to be able to claim that Israel is being driven out by their attacks against Israeli settlements - and the Israelis, who want to withdraw from the albatross that Gaza has become, are having to walk a very fine line to avoid that erroneous perception from taking hold. As comedians will tell you of their craft - timing is everything.
On the other hand, our reaction to the Amnesty International charges has been the stuff of which the international image of the Ugly American is fashioned. Admittedly, AI made an unfortunate choice of language when they described Guantanamo as "The Gulag of our time," and that description should have been roundly criticized as part of our response. But to dismiss the AI report out of hand - for Bush to call it "absurd," Cheney to say that AI is "not to be taken seriously" and General Richard Myers to call it "absolutely irresponsible" is to bolster the belief of many around the world that we are just bullies who tell other countries how they should conduct themselves while telling those same countries that how we conduct ourselves is none of their business.
How dare anyone criticize our code of human rights, we say to the world. We who are the premier champions of human rights. We who live by the highest principles of law. Well of course we can’t that easily claim to be paragons of virtue. The world is aware of our history of decades of racial discrimination -of denying some of our own citizens the basic rights of citizenship - of beatings and lynchings of black citizens. The world knows of our legal enforcement practice of the "third degree." And if they didn’t know about these things from personal observation, they knew about them because we showed them how it all worked in our movies.
Well that’s all in the past you might say - and you’d be right. But it shows that we are capable of the kind of acts that AI says we have been committing at Guantanamo and elsewhere - and to react to the findings of AI in the arrogant manner in which we have dismissed their charges - as though they were part of an international conspiracy to discredit the United States with false accusations, is just about the worst thing we could have done. The word that comes to mind when you read these dismissive statements is stupid. And the description of our representatives who uttered them is idiocy. As though our leaders are a bunch of thick headed dolts who shouldn’t be leading anything more complicated than a game of Simon Says.
We already have enough problems with the way much of the world sees us. Unfortunately there are numskulls among us who think it’s just fine to ignore the rest of the world - to puff out their pseudo patriotic chests and declare in ignorant clamor that they don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. Or doesfor that matter. And they’re probably happy with the way the President and others have reacted to the AI report. The rest of us know that we’ve goofed. Big time.
I don’t have any personal knowledge of how bad things are at Guantanamo. I know that we’ve created our own set of rules that allow us to grab people, throw them into the Gitmo hoosegow and keep them there indefinitely. They’re not "prisoners of war" so we don’t have to abide by the rules of the Geneva Convention - yet we say that we are at war and that we are entitled to hold these people until hostilities end - which could be never. A Catch 22 situation doubled and tripled. And we’ve certainly heard stories of prisoners being abused. We didn’t need the AI report for those kinds of allegations to surface.
But now that we have the Amnesty International report, the question is, how should we deal with it? How should we have dealt with it? For sure not the way we’ve dealt with it so far. That accomplishes nothing other than to confirm the belief of many that we are bullies who talk a good game when it comes to the rule of law but have nothing but disdain for international organizations that have the temerity to be critical of anything we do.
We know that as a matter of principle, Americans are against everything that Amnesty International says we have done. Instead of condemning and dismissing their report, what would be wrong in saying just that - and then adding that while we think they’re wrong in their interpretation, we respect the organization and we will thoroughly investigate their allegations? We will appoint a totally non-partisan civilian panel with sweeping powers to look into every nook and cranny of Guantanamo and other detention centers where prisoners are being held, and if we find evidence of abuse, those responsible will be held accountable.
Wouldn’t that accomplish more than reacting with name calling? We still admit nothing, but we show respect for the opinions of those who criticize us even if we don’t agree with them - just as we look for our criticisms of other countries, peoples and organizations to be respected when those we are criticizing don’t agree with us.
We can still carry a needed big stick while speaking softly to and of our critics, and everyone will recognize it for what it is. But no one will lose face and the waters of the world will be less muddied. It’s called diplomacy. This administration needs to learn how and when to use it.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
THE NEVER ENDING TRANSATLANTIC IRAQI SPIN
After watching Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman’s appearance on Meet The Press last Sunday, I wondered how long it took the stage hand crew to mop up all the slickness that must have covered the floor of the studio by the time he had finished slipping and sliding away from the questions put to him by Tim Russet. It was really a remarkable performance. Party chairmen are supposed to put the best possible spin on their party’s policies and proposals, but Mehlman, much like the RWRAR (right wing ranters and ravers for those who are new to this blog or who have forgotten the acronym) who are to this day trying to re-write the history of the early seventies, found a whole new approach to partisan spinning. He simply refused to accept current history.
Again and again when Russet asked him to comment on things that didn’t reflect too favorably on his President, such as polls showing a lack of public support for the President’s Social Security proposals, Mehlman "respectfully disagreed." He didn’t agree with the polls. He knew of some other polls that no one else knew about but "respectfully disagreed" with all of the polls that everyone knows about.
But the most egregious use of what I presume will become Mehlman’s Sunday morning news shows catch phrase, concerned the infamous Downing Street memo. He didn’t start off "respectfully disagreeing" with the memo. He just said it had been discredited. He cited the 9/11 commission and the Senate as among those who have examined this memo and condemned its inaccuracies, but didn’t provide any information about when they looked at the memo and when they publicly issued a statement saying that the memo was full of beans. Maybe that’s because such statements haven’t been issued by the Senate or the 9/11 Commission. But that’s the way it goes when you’re in the full spin mode.
He did "respectfully disagree" with that portion of the memo that said that there had been no discussion in Washington to plan for the aftermath of military action. Mehlman said that there had indeed been such discussion - and of course the truth of that statement is born out by the unfolding of the post military action plan that we see taking place across the Iraqi landscape day after day.
It’s a tough job having to defend any and all of your bosses actions - and as far as I know, most insurance plans don’t cover corrective surgery for Pinocchiotis Expandosis.
But as disingenuous as spinning may be, the spinning of a political party chairman is a little easier to take than the same sort of thing coming from heads of state.
Tony Blair isn’t quite as bad as George W Bush. He will, when pressed, own up to having made mistakes in his position as Prime Minister. The day we hear that kind of confession from Dubya, I expect gold to peak at a thousand dollars an ounce and the Cubs to win the World Series. But what Blair can’t admit - and what I wouldn’t expect him to admit, is that he made a mistake in agreeing to join in the invasion of Iraq. It would of course be suicide for him to do so, but to my mind he is slowly committing "legacycide" - casting shadows on his own legacy - by continuing to lie about what led up to the invasion.
It was truly pathetic to listen yesterday to this highly intelligent and articulate leader of the United Kingdom insist that he and the United States acted honorably and honestly because they "went to the United Nations" after the meeting that the Downing Street memo describes. In other words, he is asking us to put credence in the charade that we conducted at the UN and in other public arenas to try to legitimize the action that he and the President had already decided would take place.
It is an insult to the intelligence of fair minded citizens of this country and the United Kingdom to keep insisting that we only invaded Iraq as a "last resort" and that we would have preferred to have resolved the conflict peacefully. You would have to be a blithering idiot to believe that anything that Saddam would have done short of producing weapons of mass destruction that he didn’t have, committing suicide or submitting himself to arrest and trial by some international body, could have stopped us from invading.
Even though Labour retained power in the recent UK elections, a majority of British citizens believe that Blair made a big mistake in supporting the Iraqi invasion. They, like us, don’t expect that he will publicly agree with them and admit that he made a mistake. It’s next to impossible for a leader to say he was wrong after sending dozens of his country’s soldiers to their deaths. I can understand that. Most reasonable people can. But I’ll never be able to understand nor forgive a leader who continues to insult their memory and the rest of us by continuing to lie about why he sent them into harms way in the first place.
In Bush’s case, believing that he has been appointed by God to export democracy to the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has actually convinced himself that he is being open and truthful about why we attacked Iraq. Blair I am sure is laboring under no such delusion, yet he continues to parrot the same spin in the face of mounting evidence of their joint untruthfulness.
There’s really nothing that President Bush can do or say that would be a disappointment to me. But to this expatriate Englishman, Tony Blair is one big disappointment.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
NIXON FELT BUSH !!
(Actually just some thoughts on all three - but I couldn’t resist the temptation)
A few days ago my wife asked me if I was going to say anything on my blog about "Deep Throat" and I said probably not. I found the revelation of his identity interesting but I’m not particularly inspired to comment on it other than to say that I’m glad that Mark Felt did what he did and helped to kick start the Watergate hearings, without which we may never have heard from Alex Butterfield and the existence of the White House tapes which finally brought Nixon down. But after reading the reactions of some of the ultra conservative pundits - among them that master of invective and Israel bashing Patrick J Buchannan, I thought it was worth taking the time for a comment or two about the crooked President who some still think of as a hero - and about how easily history could repeat itself and may indeed be repeating itself..
Buchannan, who was joined to Nixon at the hip from the late sixties to the early seventies, sees the "Deep Throat" story backwards. To him, Felt was the villain who violated his oath and Nixon was brought down by a vast conspiracy of the left that was out to get him. And that theme has been echoed by other conservatives.
It’s astonishing really. Here was a man elected to the highest office of the land who had zero respect for the laws he had sworn to uphold and who surrounded himself with like thinking aides - and to this day there are people who insist that he was brought down, not by his criminal acts, but by those who hated him.
What struck me about the Nixon case those many years ago and indeed to this day, is how little we really know about the people that we elect to lead us and how easily we are tricked into thinking they are something that they are not. Think of yourself as a candidate for example. How many people in the world know you intimately? How many people know your innermost thoughts? How many know whether or not you are anti-Semitic or anti-Black or anti-Gay? I’m sure you are none of those things, but you could be all of them. If so, there are people who know, but unless those people are your sworn enemies and want to stop you in your tracks, it’s unlikely that the general public is going to find out what kind of a bigot you are. And even if your enemies who know about you try to expose you, they may not be successful. Your spin doctors might be able to deflect the accusations as sour grapes by those who are your political opponents - and unless there’s a "smoking gun," they’ll probably be successful.
In Nixon’s case, we thought we knew something about him when he was first elected to Congress, beating his opponent Jerry Voorhis with such tactics as alleging that a PAC that endorsed Voorhis was communist dominated! We thought we’d learned more when he defeated Helen Gahagen Douglas for the Senate calling her the "pink lady" and the race a choice between "freedom and state socialism." But it turned out that we learned very little about his inner core from these very public events. Not from his famous "checkers" television appeal for public support of his VP candidacy, the response to which won him his place on the Eisenhower ticket in 1952. And not from his reaction to losing a bid for Governor of California in 1962. "You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more."
What we thought was that he was an ambitious, no holds barred - even dirty campaigner - and a sore loser. But we didn’t know the half of it.
Without the White House tapes, Nixon may have never been forced to resign and we may never have seen anything of the man other than the face he presented to the public - even if we didn’t think it was a very pleasant face. But with the small amount of the recordings that have been revealed, it is clear that the Nixon we heard talking in the Oval Office was a man who had either forgotten that he was being recorded or was convinced that the recordings would never be heard outside of the Oval Office and so had no need to put on his "public face." And what we heard was a conniving, narrow minded, bigoted, paranoid individual - the last kind of person that you would think American citizens would want as their leader.
The taping system is no longer in existence at the White House and for that we should be simultaneously grateful and disappointed. Grateful that we’ll never again hear conversations that reveal a malignant inner core of a person we have elected to be our leader. And disappointed that the opportunity to document such a revelation for history no longer exists.
With President Bush, there’s a general acceptance of "what you see is what you get." He and his spin doctors would have us believe that there is no difference between his public face and his private face. But we have also been told that this may be the most secretive White House in history. That we have very little knowledge of what is going on or what is being said behind closed doors.
Some of the disparity between the public and private faces of this President have been revealed by some who worked with him and have written books about their experiences. Richard Clarke. Paul O’Neil. And now we have the Downing Street memo that also reveals the differences in the public and private faces of both the President and his closest ally, Tony Blair. Both lied publicly about why we went to war against Iraq. A liar in Ten Downing Street and a liar in the White House. But without the voices being recorded - without there being a tape of Dubya telling his aides to manipulate intelligence to provide cover for invading Iraq to get rid of that son-of-a-bitch Saddam Hussein, his supporters can dismiss the allegations of the book authors as sour grapes and the Downing Street memo as being a misinterpretation of what actually happened and we’ll never be able to prove it either way.
I don’t know about you - but I miss the good old days when determined reporters, armed with some inside information, could actually push aside the layers of secrecy that surround a President and let us see what he’s really like when he doesn’t think anyone’s looking. On the other hand, maybe we’re lucky that it doesn’t happen today. I have a feeling that Dubya uncensored - up close and personal - could be damaging to the public psyche.
Monday, June 06, 2005
MEMORIES OF AN OLD COLLEAGUE
There are many ways that nature lets you know that you’re on the downhill slope of life, but one of the ways that I get confirmation that my days are dwindling down to a precious few is to open my morning paper and read of the death of a friend or a former colleague, but in either event someone I think of as a contemporary even if they are a few years older or younger than I am.
It happened again over the weekend. It was someone who I haven’t seen or spoken to in over 40 years, but whose death shocked and saddened me as though we'd been together just a few days ago.
This is personal. It’s still a comment - albeit a very personal one - on the "Passing Parade" which is the major theme of this blog, but it won’t mean anything to those of you who didn’t know me in my television days, and/or never worked in TV broadcasting in Chicago. Still, you’re welcome to share these few thoughts about my old colleague Richy Victor.
Richy was a director at WBKB-TV (now WLS) in Chicago when I first went to work at the station. I wouldn’t say that we ever became personal friends, but we were friendly and in some ways kindred spirits. Richy could see humor in almost any situation and had little patience with those who couldn’t. In that way, we were very much alike.
The late fifties and the sixties were exciting times at channel 7 in Chicago. Bob Newhart, not yet "discovered" was running around the station with tape recordings of some of his now famous routines, asking what we thought of them. William Friedkin was honing skills that the world later applauded with his direction of The Exorcist and The French Connection and Hugh Hefner was recording the Playboy show in studio "B" - a fun show that I loved to work.
A few months after I started at the station, I became the creator, editor, chief editorial writer, gossip columnist, op-ed maven and general assignment reporter for a company newspaper, named The Pioneer. I have mentioned it briefly in the past when I published a short work of fiction that I once used to fill the back page of the paper for three issues.
I have four issues of that ancient paper that I managed to preserve all these years. Copies of other issues may be around somewhere but I’ve never been able to track any down - and I doubt if there’s anyone left at WLS-TV who would remember the paper or who would know where any copies could be found. But as soon as I read of Richy’s demise, I went looking for my four old copies, because he was a character whose comments and activities were frequently mentioned and I was pretty sure I would find some memories of Richy there. I wasn’t disappointed. He was in all four issues.
There in the December 1960 issue was this comment in a gossip column titled "10 to 12" - referring to the days when Channel 7 occupied only three floors of the State/Lake building:
"Richy Victor thinks the producers of "The Apartment" are doing him wrong. In the first place they didn’t get permission to use the name and so far he hasn’t received one royalty check…"If you remember the theme of the 1960 movie "The Apartment" starring Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurray and Shirley McClaine, you can get a hint of how wonderfully offbeat Richy was. No, he didn’t loan out his apartment for sexual dalliances by the ABC bosses, but it was just easy and natural to associate him with such a nutty idea. As for his "Direction" of World War Three, I don’t think it ever made it to print. Not that it matters. It wouldn’t have been the same without Richy playing himself.
I was a smoker in those days and so was Richy, but I guess at least one of his favorite brands was "OP’s" - "Other People’s" - and I guess I must have ribbed him about it in print because in May, 1961, Richie wrote to me about it:
To which I appended the following:
And in that section of "The Pioneer" I noted:
"And we wish to take this opportunity to tender our sincere apologies to Richard Victor for belittling his efforts on behalf of scientific research. There are those who are headline seekers and then there are the "back room boys," dedicated men of science who go about unobtrusively, doing their bit for the good of all mankind without any thought of reward or recognition. Such a man is Richard Victor and it shall be our undying shame that we failed to recognize the true nobility of this fine humanitarian and cigarette mooch."Knowing Richy, it would be hard to think of him growing old and gradually wasting away and he didn’t disappoint. Hit by a train while on vacation in Portugal at the age of 80!!! That sounds like the Richy I knew those many years ago. I’m sure it was accidental, but I’ll bet Richy would have approved of the nuttiness of his demise.