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Monday, October 31, 2005

I probably have a different take on the Libby indictment and on Patrick Fitzgerald and his press conference than most other commentary bloggers. No, let me re-phrase that. Not most other bloggers All other commentary bloggers.

In the first place, I didn’t feel the need to rush to my computer and dash off comments while the prosecutor was still conducting his press conference. I really don’t see the point in that kind of activity. Do such bloggers really think that people will be rushing to view their web sites while the news is still unfolding - before an announcement has even been completed? To me, Monday morning is an appropriate time to comment on anything that took place on Friday or over the week end. O.K. Enough about what other bloggers do or think. If you’re here, you’re interested in my comments.

My initial gut reaction to Fitzgerald’s indictment announcement was the same as it was to Harriet Miers’ withdrawal from her Supreme Court nomination. Anger - that here was someone else saying things to make me look like something less than a perfect prognosticator.

First it was Harriet Miers ruining my prediction that she would get more Senate votes than John Roberts and that Chuck Schumer would ask the most penetrating questions. There is still hope that my initial caveat on this prediction will kick in and she will be found to be a serial ax murderer - keeping my record of infallibility intact. But then came Friday’s indictment, blasting my prediction in February that the only people who would suffer from the Fitzgerald investigation would be journalists Cooper and Miller.

Again a caveat. I did use the word "suffer" and "suffering" is unquestionably subjective. One man’s pain is another man’s pleasure, so we won’t know if I was right or wrong about who will endure suffering in this case until Libby - and for that matter Miller and Cooper - tell the world how this matter has affected their psyche and their soma.

I watched a good part of Fitzgerald’s press conference on Friday and had a couple of reactions that I guess most people would think of as odd. The first was a feeling of gratitude that this guy hadn’t been nominated for a Federal judgeship. Not that he doesn’t have the legal skills. He seems to have those in abundance. But I felt grateful that the nation had been spared the agony of watching a Senate confirmation hearing for this guy as Senator after Senator broke down in fits of hysterical sobbing at their inability to get Mr. Fitzgerald to give his opinion on anything beyond the spelling of his name.

It seemed to me that there were a lot of reasonably simple questions that could have been answered with something as innocuous as "yes" or "no" - but instead we got homilies about reading tea leaves or warnings that if he actually did give a direct answer, it would be misinterpreted. So we came away not knowing if there was a possibility that more indictments would be announced or why the wrong dot on the wrong letter meant that you couldn’t prosecute anyone for the illegal act that started this whole affair.

The second was a feeling that I’ve had ever since he came to my neck of the woods as former Senator Peter Fitzgerald’s pick to be the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois - that there was something not quite normal about him. As though he was an alien from another planet. That you could picture him as less of a human than as someone created in a laboratory by a mad scientist obsessed with the story of Les Miserables but with Inspector Javert as the hero instead of the villain and that his sole purpose in life was to labor night and day, 365 days a year, to discover if anyone anywhere had broken the letter of any law, no matter who and no matter what the circumstances. I’ve written of these feelings about Fitzgerald several times in this blog and his performance throughout Friday’s press conference only served to confirm my past impressions.

Now to the meat of what didn’t happen and what is unlikely to happen. Fitzgerald has the reputation of being a straight arrow and a prosecutor’s prosecutor, guided only by the law and no other considerations. But back in June of this year, I said that I thought the case smelled to high heaven.

There was no way it should have taken two years. Bush could have ended it in a week. All he needed to do was gather Cheney, Rove, Libby and a few others in the Oval Office - maybe even Novak - ask who did what - and reveal it to Fitzgerald and to the American people. In fact, if he had done something like that, there would never have been the need for Fitzgerald and a grand jury. But that could only happen in a world and a White House that doesn’t exist. It took two years because no one wanted to tell the truth - and for my money that includes the President. And now no one can be charged with the crime that was revealed to the world in Novak’s despicable column - that two senior government officials, acting no better than foreign spies - revealed the covert status of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Jonathan Polllard is in jail forever for trying to help our ally Israel with information that he couldn’t believe we were withholding from that country - information helpful only to Israel’s defense - despite claims that his acts were harmful to our interests - claims that can never be proved because the powers that be manipulated him into jail without a trial that might have revealed that they were far short of being Simon pure in their activities. But because the laws that cover the crime of outing a covert CIA agent - a crime that could result in the imprisonment or death of people known to have dealt with that agent - do not have the "i’s" appropriately dotted and the "t’s" appropriately crossed, prosecutorial automaton Fitzgerald tells us that no one can be charged with that crime.

No wonder that Mr. Bush had words of praise for Fitzgerald. A prosecutor less obsessed with every fine point of the way a law reads might have found a way to use it to bring the charges which amount to acts of treason. Cheney and Rove and some others in and around the White House may have dodged a bullet. I only wish we could say the same thing for all the people who dealt with Valerie Plame while she was performing her duties as an undercover agent - but we’ll never know - and how’s that for a wrap up of this sordid affair?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Yesterday I made tongue-in-cheek comments about how President Bush should respond to the maniacal ravings of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Speaking at a "The World Without Zionism" conference - (how’s that for a conference theme?) - he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Today’s comments are on the same subject - but without tongue-in-cheek coloration..

Most of the world’s leaders "condemned" the remark without much specificity, but French President Jacques Chirac said that Iran is in danger of being made an outlaw state and England’s Tony Blair, sounding a lot like George Bush before we invaded Iraq, called the statement "totally unacceptable" and added, "If they carry on like this, the question people are going to be asking us is , when are you going to do something about this? Because you imagine a state like that, with an attitude like that, having a nuclear weapon."

Which you can freely interpret as a warning that a preemptive military strike against Iran is an option clearly on the table.

As one might expect, there were no condemnations coming from Arab countries, even though the statement was widely reported in the Arab press. No condemnation from our friends the Egyptians. No condemnation from our friends the Jordanians. But where, I am wondering, is the response from President Bush? So far, we’ve heard from Scott McClellan, who told reporters that "It just reconfirms what we have been saying about the regime in Iran. It underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear operations." But from the President himself?

I know that the crazed comments represent nothing new in terms of Iran’s attitude towards Israel and the United States that have been firmly in place since the 1979 revolution. I know that it’s no different from what Iranians hear in their mosques week in and week out. But this time it’s being said publicly by the newly elected nutty leader of this nutty country - and this time, it has presented the world with the perfect opportunity to clamp down on this crazed regime and to agree that it cannot be allowed to continue on its present course.

Israel has so far responded by saying that it will embark on a major diplomatic offensive and has already called for Iran’s expulsion from the United Nations. That isn’t going to happen - not with the UN’s record of votes on any matter concerning Israel. But the UN can be used legitimately by western nations to advance the case, step by step, that this member of the "axis of evil" must be brought to heel. And that case needs to be led by President Bush.

I know the President has a lot on his mind. His Republican base has just kicked his butt unceremoniously - Dick Cheney’s chief of staff has been indicted by the grand jury for perjury and obstruction of justice and Karl Rove is still under investigation - and he has photo ops to perform in the latest part of the country to be devastated by hurricanes. But as he himself said just days ago - he can’t let "background chatter" interfere with his Presidential duties - and surely one of then is to recognize that what has just happened in Iran, isn’t something that can be tossed to Scott McClellan for some offhand comment at a routine press Q and A.

Maybe this time the United Kingdom yes man of the Iraqi adventure will be taking the lead role and Dubya will follow Tony Blair’s lead. But for him to say virtually nothing while the rest of the western world’s leaders are expressing shock and horror is, to use Blair’s words - totally unacceptable.

Maybe he doesn’t recognize what has happened. Maybe he doesn’t understand that the justification for doing to Iran what he did to Iraq - if that becomes the last remaining alternative - has just been handed to him and to the rest of the civilized world on a silver platter. If he doesn’t, someone needs to explain it to him before less nutty Iranians "explain" what their leader really meant to say - and other countries back away from grasping the moment to bring non-stop pressure to bear on this craziest of crazy Islamic regimes until it collapses internally or provokes external military intervention backed by unambiguous UN resolutions.

I am not eager to see American or British or any other country’s youngsters sacrifice their lives in military action against Iran, but the more the crazed "leaders" of that nation reveal themselves to the rest of the world, the more I am convinced that if regime change isn’t accomplished by the internal collapse of the mullahs and their political figureheads before they’re able to produce atomic weapons, we won’t be able to avoid military intervention.

In the meantime, they’re saying that Israel should be wiped off the map. So what do you say Mr. President?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I’m mad at Harriet Miers. I’m mad at President Bush. I’m mad at the right wingers who thought she wasn’t "right" enough. I’m mad at Arlen Specter for grading her written exam a C minus. I’m mad at everybody who had anything to do with the failed nomination of Ms Miers to replace Sandra Day O’Connor. I’m mad because they combined to spoil the impeccable record of this blog’s predictions.

I’ve been right (as in correct) about every prediction I’ve ever made here since I began writing this blog thirty one months ago, but now, a crowd of DC insiders, crazed by their confinement inside that insidious "beltway," have plotted and schemed and finally managed to cast a blot on my immaculate record.

But unlike those who have injured me, I am not afraid to accept defeat. I do it publicly and proudly - my head held high. The date was October 3, 2005. My prediction was that Miers would be confirmed by the Senate with a higher majority than John Roberts and that Charles Schumer of New York would ask the most probing questions.

I did include a caveat though. I said that she would be confirmed unless she’s a secret serial ax murderer - and that’s an issue that’s yet to be resolved. Maybe my record is still intact!
1 p.m.

Here’s another thought. Kind of a happy one. If they had to try to screw up my record - and as I say above, if there’s an arrest for a Lizzy Borden type of crime somewhere along the way , it may not have been screwed at all - I’m glad that they did it today. On a day when Patrick Fitzgerald will not be announcing any indictments of senior administration officials - or anyone else. So there’ll be no competition for headlines. Indictments won’t be relegated to a lower spot on the front page. Ms Miers will have it all to herself. Just as television news producers won’t have to wrestle with which story to select as their lead. Tonight, it’s Ms Miers all the way.

So if there was some kind of insidious plot beyond trying to assuage their feelings of prediction inferiority compared to the prediction perfection exhibited in this blog - such as trying to blunt the impact of those expected indictments - it backfired!!

As they say in show biz - timing is everything kid.

4.20 p.m.
On the other hand… speaking of serendipitous timing, perhaps one of those crazies from the Middle East has handed Mr. Bush a diversionary weapon - something that could parallel the interest that will be generated by whatever indictments prosecutor Fitzgerald is expected to announce - and match it headline for headline and newscast for newscast in the days ahead.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - yeah, I know, I had the same reaction when I read the name - has announced to the world that Israel should be wiped off the map!!!

Now I know it isn’t the United States that this nut is talking about and I know a lot of nuts say a lot of crazy things - particularly when it’s a Middle East nut and it has something to do with Israel. But this guy is not any ordinary nut. He’s the leader of one of those countries that make up our President’s "axis of evil." This guy is the President of Iran.

Sure, he’s talking about Israel - but we all know that what he’s really doing is throwing down the gauntlet to Mr. Bush. Dubya has been calling him and his country bad names for months and months and telling them that there’s no way we’re going to let them develop nuclear weapons. Mahmoud figures that sooner or later we’re going to go after him and that maybe the only thing holding us up is that we’re kind of bogged down in Iraq.

So he’s thrown out a preemptive insult, calling for the elimination of our friend Israel and knowing full well that it will bring a response from his real arch enemy.

I can imagine the planning that’s going on in the White House as I type - assuming that Karl Rove doesn’t already have a "dear defendant" letter from Fitzgerald and is otherwise preoccupied. What should the response be? "Bring ‘em on Mahmoud." "In your dreams evil one." "Over my Christian dead body slimeball." And what kind of setting? He’s done the aircraft carrier bit and he’s probably overdone the rah rah speeches at military bases. My vote would be for something really dramatic - something guaranteed to at least match the coverage that the indictments will get - unless they include Cheney of course.

In front of the wailing wall in Jerusalem!!

And wearing a yalmulke yet!!

Hey, I can’t write serious stuff every day!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I suppose it’s being noted in schools across the country as well as on the editorial and op-ed pages of the nation’s newspapers - as it was during last night’s world series game when the public address announcer asked for a moment of silence in memory of Rosa Parks - a little ironic considering that the Astros don’t have a single black player on their roster!!.

What many of the discussions and commentaries and retrospectives will be focusing on - or have already focused on - is what her life and her single act of defiance on December 1, 1955 symbolizes - for black Americans - for White Americans and for Americans of every other hue and color and origin.

I asked that question of Internet search engines - an easier way than trying to read dozens of newspapers or checking with school principals and teachers. The answers were more or less what you might expect them to be. "What Freedom is About." "Resistance to oppression." "Endurance and Dignity." "What a difference one person can make." All noble thoughts and ideas. And well deserved fore this courageous woman.

But for me, what happened on a bus on a winter’s day in Montgomery, Alabama fifty years ago, symbolizes something dark and shameful - and to this day, frightening. Frightening that it ever could have happened.

In 1955, I had only been back in the United States a short time. I had lived in New York as a child, but after my mother died there, my father took me and my brother back to England where we had all been born - and I spent most of my formative years there. In 1955, I had yet to have any first hand experience with any laws of racial discrimination. That came a year later when I drove from Chicago to Miami for a vacation and found myself both embarrassed and frightened by the conduct of black people that we met as we traveled through the south - black people who acted in a subservient manner towards me and my wife, as though it was their duty and our right for them to act in this manner.

And that came after Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and the success of the Montgomery Bus boycott. It took a long time before her act of courage resulted in any substantial change to the despicable laws of racial discrimination that were in effect throughout the south. For someone who had been brought up in an ancient democracy, it was inconceivable to me that there could be laws of this nature in a sister democracy. Laws that said that some citizens were inferior to other for genetic reasons and should be treated accordingly.

This was a scant ten years from the end of World War ll. - and the horrors unleashed by a madman who also enacted laws labeling some citizens inferior to others because of their ethnicity and stripping them of all their rights - including the right to remain alive.

Our discriminatory laws were not as harsh as Nazi Germany’s - but they were bad enough. Because of them, black citizens could be put to death with little fear that their killers would ever have to face trial for the crime of murder - let alone be fearful of punishment. And this was just fifty years ago - not in ancient times. It was almost yesterday. It was in the middle of the 20th century. It was in one of the world’s leading democracies - a democracy on the way to becoming the world’s greatest super power and the world’s leading champion of the concept of freedom.

How could we have lived in modern times and in the dark ages at the same time? The same word keeps coming back to me when I think about what used to be. Inconceivable! Inconceivable that we allowed a hangover from that despicable period of our history when slavery was legal - and continued to treat human beings in our midst as little more than slaves almost a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

And even though we like to think of the time of legal racial discrimination as something that has gone away and can never return - and people like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks as national heroes - to be revered and even celebrated with a national holiday - the residual effects of those "bygone" days are still with us and the memory of how we once were - not that long ago - burns deeply in our national psyche.

Now here we are in the early years of the twenty first century, preaching the concept of freedom being "Gods’ gift" to all the people of the world, lecturing other countries about freedom and human rights and even launching our military might to impose our concept of freedom on another country.

Nothing wrong with trying to spread freedom and democracy to the far corners of the earth. I support the concept wholeheartedly. All people should be free. All people should have the right to elect their leaders in free elections. Nothing wrong with the United States preaching those concepts. But I’m not sure that we’re far enough away from that December day in 1955 to expect other countries of the world to take us that seriously when we tell them how they ought to be conducting themselves - particularly when we do it with bullets and missiles.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Talk about looking gift horses in the mouth. There was Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas telling Tim Russert that things like perjury and obstruction of justice were "technicalities" and something not to be taken too seriously if that’s all that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald comes up with this week when he announces expected indictments against people involved in the Valeri Plame outing affair - and maybe a great deal more!! A total reversal from her position when Clinton was in trouble with the same kind of "technicalities."

A gift horse for the Democrats. "See," they could say or should have said, "when it comes to a choice between what’s best for the country and what’s best for their party, Republicans choose politics all the time." They’re disingenuous. They lie. And lots more.

But there was Chuck Schumer of New York on the same Sunday morning talking heads program canceling out the soft ball that Kay had tossed his party. "Based on what you know today," Mr. Russert asked him , "do you regret having voted for war? " "Well gosh, golly, no Tim. It was a fine thing to do" No, he didn’t say that but he might just as well have said that as what he did say - that he didn’t regret his vote - that knowing everything we now know about the lies and misinformation, he still would have voted to authorize war if Mr. Bush thought it was necessary. The Kerry suicide answer.

The Democrats have been disconnected from power too long and their mental batteries have run down. If they can’t get together and get their positions straight on a major issue like the Iraq war and how they would have voted had they known what they now know - they can kiss the mid term elections goodbye. "See," the voter sitting on the fence will say, "there’s really no difference between the two parties."

Yeah there is. One is being disingenuous. The other is being stupid. What a choice for voters. Liars or lummoxes.

Today’s Stock Market Gobbledygook

According to the business section of my paper this morning, "INVESTORS LIKE LOOK OF CHANGE AT THE FED" - and because "they" liked it so much - the appointment of Ben Bernanke to succeed Alan Greenspan - they "drove" the Dow up 170 points yesterday. I didn’t se anything in the story below the headline about what drove the same Dow up three figures one day last week and drove it down three figures on another day last week. I can only assume that "they" liked the look of something one day and didn’t like something on another. After all, those are perfectly logical reasons for the market moving up and down. They sure were for me. Still, I have to call my broker to see how my Brooklyn Bridge preferred are doing. I can never find them listed, but he tells me not to worry. His computer can get the Chimerical Stock Exchange that I’m unable to access without a special broker’s password.

New Breast Cancer Drug - The Good and Bad News

It’s a rare day when you find the medical profession gushing over something published in the rarefied pages of the New England Journal of Medicine - or that the NEJM itself would use language that could be so described - but that seems to be a fair description of both the report and the professional reaction to Herceptin - the new drug for breast cancer.

Like millions of others, I sat before my television just a couple of weeks ago, watching and listening to distinguished looking and sounding doctors from distinguished sounding medical institutions, praising the strikingly positive results that have been achieved with this drug and what it will mean for thousand upon thousands of women who are stricken with breast cancer.

Having lost my first wife to breast cancer many years ago, I was particularly glad to hear of this break through that would be there if any other member of my family should ever become a victim of this dreaded disease.

And then - in a casual conversation a few days ago with my brother who lives in England, the subject of this new drug came up. It came up because we were comparing ailments and treatments available to us - a frequent topic of conversation among members of the geezer generation. He asked me if I’d heard of it and I said yes, I had. It was a big news story hear. And then he told me a story that he had heard. That there was a woman in his general area who was a cancer victim and had been battling with the National Health Service to get Herceptin. And the reason that the NHS had at first resisted providing this potentially curative treatment was something that wasn’t included in all the reports I had heard about the drug. Its cost!! The NHS finally relented, but when my brother told me the numbers that he had heard bandied about, I understood the problem - one that will be an even greater problem here. The cost of this patient’s course of treatment that the British National Health Service will be picking up was around forty thousand. That’s POUNDS
- not dollars. Multiply that by around $1.76 - the exchange rate varies from day to day - and you have a cost of $70,000!! For one course of treatment. Try getting your insurance company to cover that for you. Try persuading Medicare to pay to keep you alive.

I went to a few web pages to see if I could find anything about the cost of Herceptin including this one, which seems to be an official web site for the drug. Nothing. Zero. As though cost doesn’t even exist in connection with the miracles that the drug may be able to perform.

Herceptin may be a miracle drug, but it will be a true miracle if any breast cancer patients who aren’t members of the filthy rich ever get to enjoy its benefits.

Monday, October 24, 2005

What is it about this habit of Republican leaders to present the world with facial expressions that are totally inappropriate for the moment? We’ve come to expect it from President Bush, though it’s painful to watch every time it happens - which is every time he’s speaking in front of a camera. "They'll (the bad guys) kill innocent people to try to shake our will." (Broad grin or grimace). "That's what they want to do. They'll never shake the will of the United States. We understand the stakes." ( More grins.)

And now we have Tom DeLay playing follow the leader! I don’t know how you’d feel if you’d been indicted and you had to show up to be finger printed and photographed and to post bond. Pretty somber I would imagine. I was indicted on some phony Federal charges decades ago, as readers of this blog may know. It wasn’t a happy day. Even on the day when the charges were thrown by an angry judge who wanted to know why the Federal government was wasting time and money indicting someone for activities that weren’t illegal, I felt pretty somber about the whole affair.

But not Tom DeLay apparently. Judging by the pose he adopted for his mug shot, he thinks his indictment is a great big joke. I must say that I have never approved of the business of making a sideshow out of booking a well known person who has been indicted for some alleged criminal offense. Surely there’s no need to fingerprint and photograph someone as well known as the House Majority Leader. Or to ask for a $10,000 bond. What’s he going to do - leave the country in the dead of night and forfeit the ten grand? At least there wasn’t a "purp walk" with arms handcuffed behind him. Or at least I didn’t see one.

Having said all that, DeLay’s attitude - which I read as one of disdain for the rule of law, particularly from one who’s job it is to make laws - deserved the humiliation of being fingerprinted and photographed.

But the most interesting thing about his court appearance was his lawyer’s request to have the case heard by another judge! It’s not uncommon for anyone appearing in court for any kind of case - criminal or civil - to ask for a substitution of judge if they think that they can’t get a fair and impartial trial in front of the judge assigned to their case. They have to present a good reason of course - and it can be denied You can’t just reject one judge after another until you hit upon one that you like. DeLay of course, has claimed from the moment his indictment was announced, that it was a political attack against him - part of a political vendetta by Texas District Attorney Ronnie Earle - a Democrat!! And at what was to have been his arraignment, his lawyer complained that the judge in the case was also a (gulp) Democrat - or at the very least a contributor to Democratic causes. So attorney Dick DeGuerin and his client don’t want this guy. They’d prefer to go hunting for someone who will guarantee them a "fair" trial - a good old boy Texas judge. A Republican!!!

From what I’ve read about the indictment, this shouldn’t be the most complicated case to adjudicate. The Texas law is pretty clear. The money that DeLay’s group collected from corporations couldn’t be spent to support candidates directly, so it got sent to the RNC and was subsequently paid out by them. There’s little doubt that some form of money laundering took place. The only question to be decided is who put the quarters in the washing machine - Tom DeLay and his Texas cohorts or members of the RNC gang?

This is a case that a judge - and perhaps a jury - should be able to decide on its legal merits - and the facts in the case shouldn’t be any different if the judge is a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or a Green Party member. But Tom DeLay is telling us that there’s no way he can get a fair trial if the judge in the case isn’t someone who agrees with him politically!! Note that he doesn’t say anything about wanting a judge with a certain kind of "judicial philosophy." No code words here. He just doesn’t want to be tried by a judge who happens to be a Democrat.

What is interesting here is that Mr. DeLay has given us an unvarnished look at how some powerful members of the Republican legislative majority - and by obvious inference the executive branch of government - look upon the judiciary. I think most of us know that all of the gobbledygook that a President - particularly this President uses when proffering names of judicial candidates for the high courts of the land - up to the Supreme court - is code language for something else. It sounds a lot better to say that you’re nominating a judge for a lifetime term on the bench because you agree with or are impressed by his or her "judicial philosophy" than because they are loyal and outstanding Republicans or political conservatives or - in the current bit of ongoing gobbledygook - a born again Christian!!

I’m not sure exactly what "judicial philosophy" means, but I don’t think it should necessarily mean political philosophy. There’s no reason why a registered Democrat who has voted for Democratic candidates for his or her entire life and has contributed to their campaign funds and to organizations such as moveon.org couldn’t be close in judicial philosophy to that of Antonin Scalia - but there’s no way in the world that a Republican President would appoint an avowed Democrat to the Supreme Court.

Mr. DeLay, in his attacks on Prosecutor Earle - and now on the politics of a judge that as far as I can determine he doesn’t know from Adam - has shown us the unbridled disdain that he and others like him have for the concept of separation of powers. We saw it during the Terri Schiavo debacle when DeLay referred contemptuously to Judge George Greer as "a little judge sitting in a state district court in Florida" and threatened to hold him in contempt of Congress.

Ronnie Earle is contesting the substitution of judge request - but I think he should let DeLay have his wish and have another judge picked by random assignment. He can’t keep asking to change judges until he gets one that he likes - and with any luck - if there’s any justice to be found in Texas - he’ll finish up with a judge who’ll do something that could scare the Hammer straight. The sort of thing that Judge George Greer did in the Schiavo case. Ignore politics and apply the law!!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

It’s a good thing that Patrick Fitzgerald doesn’t have the job currently held by Kenneth Wainstein. Wainstein is the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. As such, he has the authority to investigate possible criminal activity in the district and to bring evidence before a grand jury. Technically, I guess that would give him the authority to bring indictments against anyone in DC, up to and including the President of the United States.

When I say it’s a good thing that Patrick Fitzgerald doesn’t have Wainstein’s job, I mean that it’s a good thing for the President, because based on what’s going on in Illinois, where Fitzgerald is the United States Attorney for the Northern District, we might already be a week or two into the trial of George Walker Bush for all kinds of criminal activities. I’m sure part of the indictment against him would have implied - or stated unequivocally - that while Mr. Bush was President "The United States of America was for sale."

That’s one of the accusations against the former Governor of the State of Illinois, Goerge Ryan, currently on trial for criminal a activities while he was Governor - and before that Secretary of State. That while he was in office "the state of Illinois was for sale!!" There’s a remarkable similarity between actions of Governor Bush which Fitzgerald says are criminal - and those of the Bush administration, for which Bush, as CEO of his administration, could be held responsible.

Fitzgerald says that Ryan awarded state contracts to friends and was "paid off" by those friends with gifts and free vacations. His deputy handling the trial hasn’t been able to persuade the state’s key witness to testify that contracts were awarded because of such gifts - but somehow they’re making it sound like it’s a criminal offense to do business with anyone you know or are friendly with once you’re elected to office. Using that as a yardstick, President Bush would be facing several life sentences for the friends he’s done business with or hired since he was elected. And there wouldn’t enough years available to punish Dick Cheney if they ever indicted and convicted him for those kind of offenses. One of his "friends" was getting government contracts in the billions while he was still on their payroll!!

Patrick Collins, Fitzgerald’s deputy in charge of the trial, has been making a big deal out of another of Ryan’s "criminal" activities - that of giving out low license plate numbers to friends and financial supporters. When they reach down to the bottom of their barrel of legal tricks for this kind of "evidence" of criminality, you can tell that they really want to nail this guy, Imagine. A politician doing favors for supporters. Giving them low license plate numbers!! Lock the jailhouse door and throw away the key.

But what really compels me to write about this case as I close out the work week, is something I’ve written about before - a continuing effort by the State and others to assign personal blame to Ryan for the death of six children in a horrible accident that occurred while he was Secretary of State. The details are described in my post of December 18, 2003. The children were killed by something falling of a truck being driven by someone who had obtained a commercial driving license by bribing an examiner.

There’s no question that Ryan, as Secretary of State at the time when some examiners at testing stations were taking bribes to pass out drivers licenses to less than qualified applicants, has to accept responsibility for that or any other illegal activity that took place on his watch.. The old "buck stops here" adage. But there was never any indication that he knew about or condoned these activities. And to my mind, there is no way that the deaths of six children in a traffic accident can be attributed to the issuance of a drivers license that was approved by an examiner who accepted a bribe.

Lawyers for the parents of the dead children and at least one local columnist, have tried to make a direct connection between the tragedy and George Ryan, as though such an accident could never have happened if the driver of the truck from which materials spilled into the path of the car in which the children were traveling had not bribed a driving examiner - and as though Ryan was personally responsible for this driver being on the road at all. Note that the accident had nothing to do with the way then truck was being driven, but was attributed to the driver’s failure to notice that something was loose and in danger of falling off his truck.

And now the State of Illinois is trying to persuade the judge in Mr. Ryan’s case to allow the story of this tragic accident to be used as evidence against him. Ryan may be guilty of committing illegal acts while he was Governor or Secretary of State and if the United States Attorney for Northern Illinois believes that to be the case, he has the right and responsibility to present evidence in court to prove the commission of those illegal acts. But he also has the responsibility to play fair and not try to influence the jury with emotional issues having nothing to do with the charges listed in the indictment.

It’s like trying a defendant for burglary and asking the judge to allow evidence of his poor grades in school and the number of times he forgot his mother’s birthday and his parents’ anniversary. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel to try getting a conviction.

This is Patrick Fitzgerald’s ultimate responsibility. Let’s hope he comes up with something less dubious when he announces his conclusions in the Valeri Plame outing case.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I have nothing against people who believe in God. As long as they don’t try to convert me to their way of thinking or impose their religious values on me in some restrictive or harmful way, I am perfectly content to associate with, be friends with or even marry one of their kind. Well perhaps not that last item. I don’t think that my wife would approve of becoming part of a polygamous situation. But apart from that, I have no problems getting along with religious people. Even very religious people. To tell the truth, I sometimes envy people who are content to know that there is a God and that when they die they’ll be going to heaven to continue living forever. While I wrestle with the mysteries of life and try not to be fearful of the oblivion that I know comes when that life ends - they are content to smile and relax while they wait patiently for their heavenly reward.

As if it wasn’t enough that they are able to live their lives in such contentment while the rest of us struggle with our knowledge that there is no God and no retirement home for dead people called heaven and that through centuries s of acquiring scientific knowledge, we have been able to gradually compartmentalize religion and not have it be the basic element around which all other aspects of life revolves, some of them never give up trying to bring back ancient times and substitute belief for knowledge. Or at least to put them on a co-equal status.

And now here we go again. After 80 years, another "monkey trial." Or something close to it. Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District is an effort to stop the school district from suggesting that "intelligent design" could be studied with a view to considering it to be an alternative to evolution. A bunch of parents thought this was a sneaky way to teach religion and belief in a deity in school and sued to put a stop to it.

And now the defense - the school district - has summoned a biologist as a witness to claim that "intelligent design" is science!! This guy, Michael Behe, who teaches at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., is what you might call a "professional" intelligent design proponent. He’s the author of "Darwin’s Black Box" - in which he challenges the idea that evolution alone can account for human existence. Apparently, he makes a good impression on the witness stand. He doesn’t insist that the earth is only a few thousand years old. He accepts much of the evidence of evolution. But he insists that an intelligent designer must have been involved. He doesn’t say that it is God - though he personally believes it is. But he says it could be some unknown entity. Aliens maybe. Or fairies.

He offers up a few "scientific" examples of what he considers to be "evidence" that an intelligent designer was involved in our creation - and I’m not going to take issue with any of them because I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. "Clotting" for example. That’s supposed to be evidence of intelligent design. But my beef with the professor and all who believe as he does, is with the word "intelligent."

If indeed we were ‘designed’ in some fashion, there is no way in hyperspace that it could be considered "intelligent." For example - if the professor accepts much of evolutionary evidence, what does he think is "intelligent" about getting to where we are today by way of all that came before - single cell creatures to sponges and trilobites to dinosaurs and Neanderthals and the rest? You would think that a designer with intelligence would cut to the chase - and even if he (she or it) wanted to see how his creation might develop on its own - you’d think he’d at least start with something like homo erectus.

But I won’t even argue with professor Behe about evolution being a strange way for an intelligent designer to do his handiwork and get to his desired end result. I’ll just take issue with him on the suggestion that the design of the human animal as we know it today is an "intelligent" one. What is intelligent about a design that is virtually guaranteed to break down and be in need of constant repair? Perhaps it would be too much to expect a pefect design. That might come too close to creating the designee in the designer’s image. But surely, unless the designer is some kind of cosmic Rube Goldberg, he wouldn’t have made the way we are on purpose!!

As a male for example, I would have to question why an "intelligent" designer would include a prostate gland in his design, one of those parts that, as I’ve already indicated, is virtually guaranteed to break down, cause great trouble and more often than not, require surgical intervention. And why would an intelligent designer allow such a condition to exist for centuries in his design before his human creations learned how to perform surgery? Is the designer a sadist?

I could go on and on through human anatomy, male and female, selecting those things about us , that if created, could only have been created by a Rube Goldberg mentality. And in case you’re not familiar with his work, the first line of the web site reached by the link above reads:
Through his wacky cartoons which depict the most elaborate and ridiculous devices to accomplish the most mundane tasks, RUBE GOLDBERG'S "INVENTIONS" have become synonymous with any maximum effort to achieve minimal results.
Think of the length of the human alimentary canal for example - about 30 feet to process food and get rid of poop. It’s about as complicated a process as you could imagine. But if you are an omnipotent being, capable of creating any design possible, surely the most intelligent thing to do is to make it as un-complicated as possible.

I would argue that the very things that professor Behe (do you think his parents considered "Blessed" for a first name before settling on Michael?) says are indications of intelligent design - the complicated way in which things work in the human body - is evidence of precisely the opposite. That through the evolutionary process and the adaptation of evolving beings to different states and different surroundings, a hodge podge of involuntary but necessary anatomical changes took place, ultimately resulting in the incredibly complicated structure of today’s humans. A designer would have done a better, less complicated job, but evolving beings struggling to survive, did what their inner sense of survival told them to do - and they did it, having no sense of how or what they did!!

Think about it - particularly if you’re a doctor or have knowledge of human anatomy. If you were able to design a human being from scratch, would you create the fragile, vulnerable, internally complicated creature that you are - or something more like an android with human values and emotions? Think carefully now. You’re sitting down at your cosmic designer’s table and you’re starting without any prior model to guide or influence you. Is there any point at which you might say… "Let me see. I think we’ll put a 30 foot alimentary canal from here to here?"

I rest my case.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Although I have a link on this page to the web site of a commodity brokerage company , it’s not because I have any particular knowledge or experience in commodity trading , but because I have total confidence in the knowledge, skill and honesty of that company’s owner. Having said that - I hope he won’t be mad at me for trying to talk about a subject that I admittedly know very little about.

I am both intrigued and mystified at the sudden collapse of Refco. And even though I’ve provided a link to their web site, you won’t find any mention there of their troubles. They’re all over the news but they don’t seem to want to say anything directly to members of the public who click on their web site looking for information. You will find some assurances at the Refco Canada web site and perhaps at other Refco sites that are probably out there. This is an international company as you can see here.

So how and why does a company this large and this big a player in global trading fall apart in a matter of days?

What we know is the original story of a hidden debt owed to some part of Refco by a company controlled by Refco’s CEO, Phillip Bennett. I say "some part" because there are so many different parts of Refco and so many companies that have Refco in their name. The debt became public knowledge suddenly - as far as I can tell by way of an announcement from the company itself - and was immediately paid with interest. But since Refco is a publicly traded company and this debt existed but was hidden when Refco went public a couple of months ago, Bennett is being accused of securities fraud. He’s been pushed out of his job - at least temporarily - and has only been able to keep out of jail pending trial for whatever crime he is being accused of by posting a fifty million dollar bond. And now the company is imploding, falling apart by the hour. Which is a mystery to me.

I suppose one of the bedrock s of the commodity trading industry is trust and the fact that not all of Refco’s financial condition was known when it went public might make some people question its overall trustworthiness - but has anything really happened that would make the company unable to carry on its core businesses and fulfill all of its business obligations? Indeed, all of the hidden millions owed to the company by it’s CEO could have been carried on the books as an asset rather than a liability, since he obviously had the resources to pay the debt - so I don’t know why it wasn’t on the company balance sheet when it went public.

But even if hiding this debt amounted to securities fraud, nothing else has been revealed to show that Refco isn’t a solid company - in the same condition the day after Mr. Bennett’s debt was revealed as it was the day before. In better condition really, since it had a few hundred million more bucks in its coffers from Bennett’s personal assets.

It’s collapse, it would seem, is being caused by perception rather than substance. The news reports and commentaries and predictions about the significance of the hidden debt, created the image of a sinking ship - and Refco’s clients and business associates and employees began stumbling over each other in a panicked rush to disembark before it vanished beneath the swirling waves of an angry ocean. Perception quickly became reality. Perception created a new reality. In a matter of days, Refco’s stock has become worthless and yesterday, the company filed what is being termed the fourth largest bankruptcy in US history.

Unlike the collapse of Enron which was revealed as a house of cards before it went under, the collapse of Refco reminds me more of the reporting that we hear every business days about "why" certain things happened in markets. When there is substantial movement - say in the Dow 30 - there is usually some kind of reason suggested for the movement and it’s usually ascribed to "perceptions" of "investors" that most likely don’t exist. "Investors" were "worried" about something - maybe "inflation fears" Or were "encouraged" by something equally fictitious - something, as I believe I’ve pointed out here in the distant past - that someone in the bowels of the New York Stock Exchange likely punches out on a 1950’s manual typewriter and distributes to newspapers and radio stations around the country so that just about everyone who provides the public with business "news" is saying the same thing. Sort of like today’s Republican administration’s "talking points."

My favorite among the reasons for substantial changes in a stock price is the ridiculous assertion that investors were "punishing" a company for its bad news or poor performance or whatever. As if selling their stock for a lesser price that it could have sold for the day before wasn’t inflicting a dose of self punishment. What is actually going on in such situations is what has happened with Refco. It’s the mythological lemming syndrome. Lemmings don’t actually follow each other in suicide leaps off of cliffs, but undoubtedly people are racing to get as far away as they can from a company that they perceive other people are abandoning like rats leaving a sinking ship. It obviously doesn’t take too much to start a panic of this nature - and once it starts, it feeds on itself like a raging fire backdraft.

If Refco had not been a public company, the panic might never have taken hold. Mr. Bennett’s debt might never have become known outside of the company. But even as a publicly traded company - if the story had been handled differently in the press - if it hadn’t been reported in such ominous tones - if Refco itself hadn’t stated in "corporate accounting speak" that it couldn’t guarantee the reliability of some prior years’ accounting statements and if prosecutors hadn’t rushed to arrest Bennett and file charges which may never amount to a conviction, Refco could still have been functioning today - the money that it handles for clients perfectly safe and its stock at more or less the same price as it was a week or two ago.

That’s the power of perception - often stronger by far than reality. It’s why we often get the kind of governments we get. It’s sometimes why we become embroiled in armed conflicts. And it’s probably why a perfectly good American business will follow in the steps of Arthur Anderson - and it won’t be any solace to anyone who suffers losses because of its collapse if, months or years down the road, a court - maybe the Supreme Court, says "oops" - it was all a big mistake. There was nothing really wrong here. That’s what the Supreme Court said about Arthur Anderson. Unfortunately, just a little too late to stop another tragic victory of perception over reality.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Supporters of the Iraq adventure who complain that the "liberal press" doesn’t report enough of the good news coming out of that country should be happy this morning. Not that there’s any front page reporting about how well - we hope - the voting went for their new constitution. But there are signs that the media - liberal or otherwise - can sometimes get their reportorial priorities in the right - no pun intended - perspective.

For example, in my newspaper this morning, I find headlines on page three telling me that Disputes erupt over Iraq voting and that Kashmir rain worsens quake toll - on page four that Cellblock blaze kills 32 as convicts fight in Argentine prison - and on page six that West Bank attack kills 3 Israelis. All "bad news items." And all on the inside pages.

But on page one, there is one, super sized, good news headline Party like it’s 1959! it says. 1959 of course being the last time the Chicago White Sox were in the world series. I don’t know on what page similar headlines are appearing in newspapers in other American cities, but at least in Chicago, we have front page headlines that can be approved by people from the outer fringes of the political left to the extreme edge of the political right - and that’s a rare day in the annals of the American Fourth Estate. The Chicago White Sox are in the World Series.

And now, having applauded the Chicago press for putting the bad and good news stories of the day where they belong, I’m going to say something negative about the Chicago White Sox - or maybe it’s about baseball in general. I’m happy for the Sox and for their fans. I don’t really follow the game myself, but I’m always happy to see local teams doing well - so in that limited sense, I too am a fan of both the White Sox and the Cubs. But amid the celebration, it sounded a little strange to hear someone on the radio this morning point out that one of the heroes of the series so far is a free agent -and to follow that up with the comment "kching kching" - indicating of course that to retain this player’s services, the Sox will need to be able to come up with bigger bucks than he’s currently being paid. Otherwise, next year he could be the hero of a different team that plays against and defeats you!! And then I read in the paper that not a single member of the American League 2005 championship team, is a Chicago native!! Not one. Ouch!!

I understand that baseball is a business as much as it is a sport - and in order to be successful and fill the seats of a stadium, a team has to gather together the best players that it can assemble - no matter what city, state or country they may be from. (Except for the Cubs of course. They could field a team of sword swallowing sumo wrestlers and they’d still sell out the house). But for many professional sports teams, locally born and raised players are the exceptions - not the rule. So who or what is it that the fans root for?

The answer of course is the franchise. The team name. And that’s the case whether the franchise has been there forever or moved from another city just last year. As a fan, your relationship with the players is based on the fact that they play for the franchise and wear the team franchise colors. They may be from Japan or Venezuela or Fiji and some may not speak a word of English - but as long as they play for the "home team" - they are the ones who are representing your home town and so they are the ones you cheer and support as your team.

Most of the time, you don’t dwell on such things, but when you read something that stark - not one player was born or grew up here, it gives you a funny feeling .

I’m sure it would be a lot more satisfactory if the heart of any "home" team was made up of home grown players, so that occasionally fans could look out onto the field and see someone they went to grade school or high school with. Or who attended the same church when you all were kids. It does happen of course with some teams even if it’s rare. . It probably happens with the White Sox too. People sitting in the stand and cheering someone they went to school or church with

As long as the people doing the cheering for the current Chicago White Sox aren’t from Chicago!


Some people who are at opposite poles of the political spectrum in this country have a hard time understanding why anyone would vote for the "other party" or the "other guy." Sometimes their disagreement and their lack of understanding of the other person’s politics takes on pretty harsh tones.

Sometimes we find ourselves agreeing with the kind of harsh conclusion reflected in the UK Daily Mirror ‘s reaction to last year’s US election. How could 59,054,087 people be so dumb? How indeed?

But our conclusions and our analyses often depend on our pre-conceived ideas and beliefs - and arguments about glasses being half full are countered with arguments about them being half empty. And vice versa.

But sometimes there is evidence that I think speaks for itself and isn’t dependent on the half full/half empty analogy. That number cited by the Daily Mirror represents a majority of the American voting public. The Daily Mirror - and perhaps a good many of the better than 50 million that voted the other way, might think of people who didn’t vote the way they did as being gullible. As being among the kind of persons that David Hannum (not P.T. Barnum) said was "born every minute" Suckers that is.

The evidence that I think tells us something about the electorate in general - and in my view about the majority of that electorate - is to be found in the New York Times Best Seller List. I wrote about the phenomenon of a phony who had written a piece of nonsense about "natural cures that "they" - pharmaceutical companies - don’t want you to know about" on August 24, 2005. The book - if you can call it that - had found it’s way to the top of the best seller list. Nor surprising. If you announce that you have found a way to turn pennies into solid gold by soaking them in some common household substances and that you are selling the secret for $19.95 - as long as you make the announcement with enough of a flourish, you’ll get enough of a response to bring in a modest retirement fund. There are enough suckers out there to make almost any kind of scam profitable in the short run. And that I am sure is what Kevin Trudeau had in mind when he came up with his "Natural Cures" scam.

But here it is November 17, 2005 - almost three months after I wrote about it here - and in last Sunday’s paper, Natural Cures was still at the top of the best seller list!! There apparently is no end in sight to the available suckers who will buy into this scam - those who can be conned into believing that there are simple ways to cure major diseases and that the pharmaceutical industry knows all about these cures but is keeping them hidden from the public so that they can go on selling their expensive drugs .

I know that there is no requirement for those enriching this conn artist’s coffers to declare their political affiliation or preferences, but still I think the numbers tell us something about ourselves and about last year’s elections. I think they tell us how it is that 59,054,087 people could indeed be "so dumb" Enough of us are suckers who can be conned into just about anything. Into believing that there is a "natural" cure for cancer that the pharmaceutical industry is " hiding" from us. And that George W Bush deserved to be elected for a second term!!

Friday, October 14, 2005

I don’t know why there’s all this fuss about how A.J. Pierzynski got on base and how the White Sox evened the playoff series with the L.A. Angels. The ball looked like it was aimed at his shoes for heaven’s sake. It was about as obvious a BALL FOUR call as you could wish for. AJ’s mind must have been somewhere else for a split second when he swung - and naturally missed - at the gift that was being offered up to him and his fellow Sox. He would have needed a cricket bat and a cricket stance to have been able to hit such a ball and everyone in Comiskey Park (I just can’t bring myself to calling it US Cellular Field) knew it.

It was Ball Four. Take your base. That’s what should have happened. And when AJ regained his senses - I’m not sure that the Angels hadn’t somehow caused him to be in that momentary state of somnambulance - did anyone check to see if Josh Paul was hiding a syringe in his mitt ? - he instinctively knew that he should be on first and dutifully trotted down there, clearly oblivious to the fact that he had swung and missed the unhittable ball.

And you have to give the guy credit. In the brouhaha that followed, he went along with the notion that the ball had bounced into the catcher’s mitt and that he wasn’t out if he hadn’t been tagged or the ball thrown to first base. The guy’s an actor. HE could have been drafted to be the next James Bond instead of this Daniel Craig person. A blonde Bond?? What’s next? Green Hot Dogs at the ball park?

The game ended at it should have.. The Gods of baseball had determined how the home team was to win - and when the annoyance of human free will temporarily disrupted that which had been ordained, they simply improvised and made their desires known through the voice of the rookie umpire behind the plate.

The dudes of La La Land need to get over it and accept the inevitable The White Sox are destined to go to and win the World Series. So Na Na Na Na , Hey Hey and Goodbye and quit complaining. Go suck on an orange.

Our Relaxed, Confident, Honest and Open President - Master of the Art of Rehearsed Spontaneity

I’m as surprised as anyone else over the 39% approval rating that the President was able to garner in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll. But maybe that was because the poll was released on Wednesday and was obviously taken before the entire nation was exposed to the latest example of the bullshit, smoke and mirrors through which this administration and this President has conducted itself for the last five years. If Mr. Bush has any credibility left after the nature of his "spontaneous" exchange with troops in Iraq was revealed, it would have to be confined to the visually, hearing and mentally impaired . And blinkered Republicans of course.

Members of the latter group are the ones who write to newspapers to protest that Mr. Bush is being unfairly blamed for everything that goes wrong and that those on the left - and in particular liberals- are simply filled with hatred for the man. And they would probably classify these remarks as a prime example.

But there’s no hatred involved in this expression of sadness that we are burdened with the kind of leadership that we have and that there are still people in this country who look upon that "leadership" as decisive and genuine and honest when he and one member after another of his entourage are being exposed as cheats and liars and manipulators.

Even as the utter phoniness of this "spontaneous" exchange between troops in Iraq and their Commanding Officer was being exposed, his henchmen were insisting that it wasn’t so. How Scott McClellan can live with himself is beyond me. That he didn’t resign with expressions of public indignation when the involvement of Karl Rove and Lewis Libby with the Valerie Plame leak was confirmed after he had stood on the White House podium to say that both had assured him of their total non-involvement speaks volumes all by itself. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when he keeps insisting that the truth is a lie with all kinds of silly excuses about what was being rehearsed for this "spontaneous" exchange - and why. These people have no shame.

Before you Bush defenders descend upon me like a horde of locusts - I know that all Presidents have many "staged" events, but I don’t know that any have used the military as backdrops for speeches and appearances the way this President has - and for sure I’ve never heard of a Presidential "town meeting" - which I guess is what you could call this meeting between Mr. Bush and the troops in Iraq - being rehearsed in advance with the questions and answers all carefully scripted and the participants pre-selected.

The far right is fond of criticizing Hollywood as a hotbed of anti-war, virtually anti-American liberals churning out anti- main stream America propaganda. They could take lessons from the Bush production company.

Can Blogging be Dangerous For Your Career?

Well certainly not for mine!! I’m forcibly retired and have no further career - unless some major corporation offers to pay me big bucks to record a commercial or anything else on their behalf. At a local studio so I don’t have travel and mess with parking hassles. Among other things, I am still a professional narrator if you stick a mike in front of me. But otherwise, I’m not trying to pursue a career, so I don’t much care what anyone might think about what I write in this blog.

But it’s possible that some people might have had some negative thoughts about the writings of a fellow blogger that might have hurt his career. Daniel Drezner, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, and a known blogger - a full fledged member of the blogosphere - has been denied tenure at the U of C. No one is saying that it was because of his blogging - but no other good reason has been put forth either. And looking over his self congratulatory blog, I think I can understand why it might have left a negative taste with some of his colleagues.

I have a small passing interest in the news item only because I once sent Drezner an e-mail as a fellow blogger in which I made some comments about something he had written and asked him a question. It was a very courteous, very polite e-mail calling for little more than a one sentence reply. He never responded and I felt somewhat slighted. He has a long piece on his blog about how busy he is and how the popularity of his wonderful blog draws so much e-mail and how he reads all of his e-mails but just can’t respond to them all. It struck a discordant note with me. Maybe he impressed a colleague or two the same way.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

There are 435 Representatives and 100 Senators in Congress. We have fifty governors of the fifty states - and presumably fifty Lieutenant Governors and fifty State Treasurers and fifty Secretaries of State and fifty Attorneys General and fifty each of other elected state officials. Add in the elected officials of counties and cities and townships and other geographical divisions across the country - and the numbers are in the thousands - probably hundreds of thousands.

I’d be willing to make a bet about all of these people. I’d be willing to make it publicly and ask anyone elected to a governmental post of any kind to tell me that I’m on the wrong side of the bet.

And the nature of the bet? That if asked or challenged, each and every person who has been able to get themselves elected would describe themselves as people of faith. Each and every one - if asked - would say that they practice or follow a religion of one kind or another and that they believe in God.

And some of them - maybe a great many of them - would be bald faced liars. There isn’t any question that among the nation’s elected officials there are atheists. People who just plain don’t believe in the idea of a "God." I don’t have to be a statistician to make such a statement - but if you don’t believe that it’s a statistical truth, you’re probably among the people who think that we’ve never been to the moon and that Neil Armstrong’s comment about a small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind was delivered from somewhere in the Arizona desert.

Apart from atheists, there are likely hundreds or thousands of elected officials who actually do belong to some organized religion but who don’t believe 99% of what their religion preaches. But as I’ve said before on these pages, you’re not going to get elected dog catcher in this country if you reveal anything like that. A majority of voters aren’t going to endorse a "Godless" candidate.

I doubt that too many people would admit to a pollster that religion and belief in a deity was at the top of their list in what they looked for in a candidate for public office, but if they were asked the direct question - who would you vote for between a highly qualified candidate who is a confessed atheist and a less qualified candidate who professes a profound belief in God and attends church services every day and twice on Sundays - you’d get a lot of red faces and a lot of spluttering and maybe no answer at all but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that the atheist would be going back to private life on the day after the election.

Let’s face it folks. Permeating our political landscape is the politics of fear of religion. Or fear of the influence that religion has on the voting public. Candidates for political office, no matter what their personal beliefs, are scared stiff of not appearing to be as religious as the general electorate - and certainly terrified of saying anything that might be interpreted as belittling anyone’s religious beliefs, ands so they act accordingly, professing to be as religious as the next guy if not more so.

It’s always been that way , but since George W Bush has been in office, it has taken on an "in your face" attitude by those vying for and wanting to hang on to elected and even appointed offices. Since the announcement of Harriet Miers as the President’s choice for the next Supreme Court justice, there have been obvious efforts to convince members of the conservative religious community - evangelicals and "born agains" - that she’d be someone they could be proud of on the court. Translation - she’s anti abortion and would vote to overturn Roe v Wade. But that was just with language that could be interpreted that way. No one was saying that she was being nominated because of her religious beliefs. Until today that is, when President Bush just about said that indeed it was because of her religion!!

Probably the reason that the Democrats have lost their majorities in Congress is because most have tried to keep as much separation as possible between church and state in their appeal to voters - whereas Republicans have done the opposite, appealing as much as possible to voters who want religion to be in the forefront of every aspect of life - in our schools, in our courtrooms and in our legislatures. And it puts Democrats in a difficult position. Do they maintain their approach of leaving religion out of politics - or do they adopt the approach that seems to be working - pandering to the religious majority? Substituting religious sophistry for sophistication.

Almost exactly a year ago, on October 18, 2004, I expressed my concern that Mr. Bush would appoint a judge to a high court - even the Supreme Court - based on the kind of religious beliefs that he himself holds, and now it seem that it has happened. The intrusion of religion into politics has reached new heights, from which it might be difficult to descend for those wishing to put it back where it belongs - in churches and mosques and synagogues and in the privacy of people’s homes.

But there may be hope. Perhaps this latest effort to mix politics and religion - this blatant "in your face" reason for appointing someone to the highest court in the land - because her religious beliefs will be an important if not the deciding influence on how she votes on issues coming before the court for the next 20 or 30 years - will be the springboard for a backlash against this creeping - now galloping movement toward turning our democracy into some kind of half baked theocracy.

During the upcoming confirmation hearings, Democratic Senators have an opportunity to expose this effort by the President and some members of Congress to inject religion where it doesn’t belong - if they have the guts to do it and the sophistication to do it without making the fatal error of insulting the religious beliefs of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Public. There’s been some talk of calling James Dobson to ask what assurances he got from Karl Rove and why he believes she was nominated by the President. I hope it happens It could be a seminal moment. But I’m not holding my breath . That fear of saying the "wrong" thing about religion has become ingrained in our elected officials. It’ll be the rare politician who will dare to break the mold and say what needs to be said about where religion belongs and doesn’t belong. It’ll be an even rarer politician who admits to having no religious affiliation or belief but asks voters to judge him on the basis of his abilities and integrity.

That’ll be the day.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I guess if I was pressed to offer an opinion on the selection of Harriet Miers for a seat on the Supreme Court, I would have to say it’s probably not the best choice - that there are probably hundreds of lawyers and judges who are far more qualified than she for that exalted position. And of course that knowing the President personally and him knowing all about her heart and soul (what is he now, a cardio-psychiatrist?) are hardly qualifications for her to sit on the high court. And the scariest reason of all for being concerned about her being confirmed is his assurance that she’ll never change. The Harriet you see in 2005 will be the same Harriet in 2025 and beyond. So says the President - this despite the fact that up to now, she hasn’t hesitated to change the way she thinks about important issues - otherwise she might still be a Catholic and working to elect Democrats from Texas. He’d better be wrong. Anyone who’s judicial philosophy is that inflexible - who can say that no matter what events unfold and what kinds of cases come before the court for the next 20 or 30 years it will remain unchanged, has no business being a judge of any kind.

But my opinion is caught between a rock and a hard place because it puts me on the same page with people that I disagree with on just about everything. Charles Krauthammer thinks she’s a terrible choice - that Mr. Bush missed a wonderful opportunity to turn back the clock and appoint someone rooted in the nineteenth century - or earlier. That automatically makes me want to support her. If he thinks she’s a bad choice, maybe she’ll make a wonderful justice. But then we’ve got the apparent secret assurances given to conservative religious leaders that she’s someone who won’t let them down. Meaning she’ll vote to overturn Roe v Wade if the right kind of case comes along? Meaning that you can be sure that gays will never get the nod of approval from the Supremes for anything?

We don’t know and that may be the problem with this nomination. And if she stonewalls during her Senate hearings as she is expected to do - and if no paperwork is forthcoming that reveals anything about her thinking on matters that may come before the court - we may never know until she has an opportunity to rule on a controversial issue.

I have to make one observation about where she got her law degree. A law professor from the University of Chicago wrote a negative op-ed piece about her legal qualifications shortly after her nomination was announced and among other criticisms, decried the fact that she had graduated from Southern Methodist University Law School. This was no Harvard or Yale wrote this professor. This wasn’t even one of the top 50 law schools in the country. This brought a response from some lawyers who suggested that where someone earned their law degree wasn’t important. That the law was the law wherever it was being taught. That it didn’t change from Harvard to Southern Methodist. It was what graduates did in their legal career that mattered - not where they graduated from.

To which I have to say - really?? The school makes no difference? If that’s the case, you have to wonder why so many kids try so hard to get accepted at certain colleges and universities. After all, Einstein’s theory of relativity is expressed the same way at Podunk U as it is at Yale and Shakespeare’s plays aren’t published as an abridged version for students at Jerkwater Junior College. And as for law school, if the law is the law wherever it is being taught, what’s wrong with getting a law degree by way of a correspondence course? As long as you’re able to memorize everything you need to know to pass the Bar Exam, why should where or how you got your legal education matter?

The answer of course is that who teaches you and how they do it makes a huge difference in the breadth of your education - of your understanding of the law and what kind of lawyer you may become. All law professors and instructors might teach from the same text books. All may teach the same dry details of federal and state and international law. But how they teach - how they are able to make the dullest subject come alive for their students, is the reason why future lawyers strive to get to Harvard or Yale or Stanford and won’t settle for Southern Methodist.

Of course in Ms Meiers’ case it doesn’t matter. The President knows what’s in her heart and that has to be far more important than anything she ever learned about the law . At least that’s what the Senate’s Judiciary Committee is being asked to deal with. And if she can survive there, the entire Senate. To which I say good luck!!

Changing of the UK Conservative Guard

I watched Michael Howard deliver his resignation speech at the annual Conservative Party Conference last Thursday. Actually, I watched a recording on C-Span yesterday.

What struck me about it was how relatively uncomplicated and civilized the British system remains. If Howard’s party had been able to achieve a majority in Parliament during his tenure as party leader, he would have become Prime Minister. No mystery. No jockeying for position in a primary season. No wondering who would be challenging Tony Blair. There is no primary season. Leaders are picked the old fashioned way. What we used to call the smoked filled back rooms. Except that there’s little smoke nowadays and the process is a relatively open one.

Whoever emerges as the new leader of the Conservatives will do so relatively unscathed. He will not have had to endure a bitter and wearing primary fight. His potential opponents for the leadership position will not have attacked him publicly and described him as being unfit for any role in government above the level of garbage collector or dog catcher - and will thus be able to throw their full support to him during the general election without being labeled hypocritical.

With this kind of system, I would have been able to hold John McCain in higher regard than I do, because I would not have witnessed the spectacle of him being trashed in the most despicable way by the George W Bush primary campaign, only to see him fawn over Presidential candidate Bush and President Bush, seemingly at every possible opportunity.

Question time in the House of Commons will be resuming on CNN shortly. It’s something worth watching. After 229 years, we can still learn something about government from the Brits.

Friday, October 07, 2005

If there is one unique quality to be found among the Right Wing Ranters and Ravers of Radio, it’s their ability - or maybe just their willingness - to defend the indefensible. There is no way that Bill Bennett’s comment about reducing crime by aborting all black babies is defensible as something appropriate for a radio host to say on the air for any reason. It wouldn’t be appropriate if it was preceded by a disclaimer such as, "I am now going to say something ridiculous and outrageous and then I’m going to explain why I said it - so don’t get mad and switch of your radio. Wait for the explanation."

Of course there wasn’t any disclaimer unless you want to consider the line about aborting all black babies being "impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible" a disclaimer. But even if you did, it doesn’t make the racist comment defensible.

I said the other day that I’m willing to buy brother Bob’s assertion that Bill isn’t a racist. At least not a conscious, overt racist. But he may have some subconscious racist beliefs that manifested themselves with his thought that crime could be reduced by aborting all black babies.

I haven’t heard all of the excuses that the Right Wing Radio nuts have come up with, but I’m aware that they are mounting a unified defense and one aspect of that defense is that his comment was "taken out of context" and that the entire conversation with the caller to his radio show isn’t being reported. As if that would somehow sprinkle magic dust on the racist comment and render it innocuous.

Well, here’s the context. The entire conversation with the caller to "Morning in America."

CALLER: I noticed the national media, you know, they talk a lot about the loss of revenue, or the inability of the government to fund Social Security, and I was curious, and I've read articles in recent months here, that the abortions that have happened since Roe v. Wade, the lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30-something years, could fund Social Security as we know it today. And the media just doesn't -- never touches this at all.

BENNETT: Assuming they're all productive citizens?

CALLER: Assuming that they are. Even if only a portion of them were, it would be an enormous amount of revenue.

BENNETT: Maybe, maybe, but we don't know what the costs would be, too. I think as -- abortion disproportionately occur among single women? No.

CALLER: I don't know the exact statistics, but quite a bit are, yeah.

BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know. I mean, it cuts both -- you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well --

CALLER: Well, I don't think that statistic is accurate.

BENNETT: Well, I don't think it is either, I don't think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don't know. But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.
If someone could point out the "context" that absolves Mr. Bennett of fault for his stupidity or insensitivity or downright racism, I’d sure like to understand where and what it is. The truth of course is that there is no absolving "context." What there is however, is the self condemning phrase that’s at the heart of this brouhaha. Read the whole conversation again - "context" included - and it jumps out at you. But I do know that it’s true. Not that "some people might say" or "the Freakonomics position is." Mr. Bennett says that he knows that the crime rate would go down if we stop black kids from being born.

That’s his personal "knowledge" and I suppose you could defend it if you agree with it, but I can’t see any other way unless you do it the way I’m told that Rush Limbaugh is doing it. He’s been referring to this mysterious "context" that I can’t find even after reading through this short transcript maybe twenty or thirty times - and he says those nasty liberals are leaving it out of their reports. It’s a lie of course. Part of his technique to keep his ditto-head audience misinformed is to lie to them whenever it suits him and to rely on their stupor not to double check what he says For example, he said that Media Matters was reproducing just the line about aborting black babies and leaving out this exculpatory "context." If you go to this site, you’ll see the lie revealed and you can also read Limbaugh’s convoluted attempt to say that Bennett didn’t say what Bennett said.

I know that people at the outer edges of the political spectrum from the far left to the far right, will sometimes adopt positions that the majority of the rest of us, somewhere in the middle, find just plain cockeyed. But I’m not aware of anyone from the far left who would automatically leap to the defense of an indefensible act or statement by someone just because they held similar political views. A lot of people from the left came to the defense of Bill Clinton when he was being hounded by Ken Starr, but I don’t recall anyone trying to find the "context" of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky as a way of excusing it and defended the acts. He committed adultery. He cheated on Hillary. Whether or not that should have led to his impeachment is a totally different story from whether or not the relationship was wrong.

The extremists on the right don’t seem to be able to deal with the misdeeds of their political brethren . No matter what the offense or alleged offense, their instinctive reaction is to leap to their defense and attack those who reveal and criticize or condemn the misdeeds.

There are lots of differences between the left and the right in this country - but if I had to pick one reason while I feel more comfortable with one side’s philosophy than the other - this sort of thing would be it.

On Terrorism….

There wasn’t any rocket launch of suicide bombers bound for the moon to push yesterday’s "major speech" by the President off of the front pages of newspapers, but there didn’t need to be. In the paper that I read daily, the speech didn’t rank any higher than page 3 and without a full page headline. Obviously, its purpose was to drum up support for the Iraq adventure - and again he tried to tie Iraq into the "war on terror." It’s astonishing really. No matter how strong the evidence to refute the unsustainable assertion that Iraq had something to do with the 9/11 attack, he keeps repeating it as though it was some article of faith from his bible. Is there anyone left who believes it other than blinkered Republicans who also believe that Roosevelt was the son of the devil and Clinton the anti-Christ?

About the only thing "new" in the speech was the litany of names for "the enemy" and their alleged plans for world domination. And that we’ve foiled a number of attacks. No details of that of course. We just have to take it on faith.

Other than that, he pretty much hewed to the most recent Cheney line. It’s a long haul. We have to make sacrifices. We have to be patient. We have to stay the course. We’ll never give in etc, etc.

It was billed as a "major speech" - and if our President really believed that what he said yesterday was in any way "major" - I think we have to be even more worried than before that this man will sit at the helm of our government for three more years.

And on God……

I thought this business of Dubya telling a Palestinian leader that God had told him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan and to spread freedom around the world was old news, but now it’s being repeated in a BBC documentary and now we’re getting denials out of the White House. "Absurd" according to Scott McLellan. Scott apparently said that he’d had many meetings with the President and he’d never heard him mention any such thing. How’s that for proof?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I like to vary the subject of my observations of the "passing parade" because there are just so many interesting things happening every day - here and around the world. And in outer space for that matter. There was a news item today about a couple of neutron stars crashing into each other - a sort of cosmic fender bender - and there was one that got sucked into a black hole. It all happened a couple of billion years ago - but in galactic terminology, the discovery of the events is current news.

But despite the vast array of subject matter that I could and would love to tackle - the hilarious activities of those goddammned keystone cops that purport to be running this country - and influencing events in other countries far removed from our shores - keep crowding all other items off the front burner of my mental stove.

I can almost understand why some people get the idea that people who write critically about the problems of our times get the impression that we blame President Bush for everything that goes wrong in the world. It’s just hard to leave his name out of most of those commentaries. But I’ll try not to make him the lead character in today’s farce - unless you want to assume that he’s the lead character even when a surrogate is being used to advance the convoluted plot. As in Dick Cheney. As in Dick Cheney who had "other priorities" during the Vietnam era.

Vice President Cheney, with his great insight in to matters military - due of course to his stint as Secretary of Defense in the Bush Senior administration - has once again given the nation the news that we have all been waiting for since the President (there, you see, it’s almost impossible to leave him out of it) declared that we had embarked upon a war on terror, later re-named the "global struggle against the enemies of freedom"

At the beginning of last year, things certainly looked grim and the President left it up to his number two man to let us know just how grim. This was a war, he told us, that would last GENERATIONS!! Not just a few years or a few decades, but generations!! Our children would be fighting this war. And our children’s children. This could be another 100 Years War!! (Actually, that one lasted 116 years).

I guess that grim assessment was to prepare us for the sacrifices that the President was about to ask of all citizens. A dramatic increase in taxes to pay for the battle ahead. Strict - perhaps even forced conservation of a whole range of commodities. And of course ,military service for all citizens between the ages of 18 and 50. I think we were all surprised when none of those things happened, but that was most likely because we were not privy to the information that Vice President Cheney was monitoring throughout 2004 and into the first half of this year - which he suddenly revealed to us on the venue to which all Americans look for Presidential and Vice Presidential revelations of great import - Larry King Live!!

There would NOT be generations of war after all. Things had changed. The ground war in which we were engaged - in Iraq - was almost over. The insurgency there was in its last throes!! That war - which clearly was at the very heart of the "terror" that we were battling - would be over by the time President Bush had finished his second term. No later than 2009. Hardly "generations."

Millions of mothers and fathers breathed huge sighs of relief - or at least those with c able who watched Larry King.

Of course there were critics - those people who blame Bush for everything that goes wrong anywhere in the world. The people who only read the bad news from Iraq. Some of them who actually report that bad news. They didn’t buy into Mr. Cheney’s analysis of how the war was going and how long it would take to wrap it all up.

But then we had other things that began to occupy us as much if not more than the global struggle against the enemies of freedom. Lots of things to occupy the public’s attention. The Valerie Plame "outing." Did Karl Rove and the Vice President’s own chief of staff commit treason? Hurricane Katrina. It made some Federal agencies look like Keystone Cops. Who the heck is in charge here? And Senate leader Frist. Was his trust "blind" or did he have Superman vision? And Tom DeLay - maybe heading for the hoosegow??

Obviously it was time for a reassessment of the most pressing issue of our time. Can we really put Iraq and the war on terror on the back burner and let all these other issues occupy the public’s attention? Maybe they didn’t understand what was meant by the "last throes" of an insurgency.

So yesterday, Mr. Cheney explained it. It’s one out of three. Or three on a match. Or rock, paper, scissors. You take the outside two, divide by the one in the middle and what you now come up with is a struggle that we will be engaged in for decades!! Not something that will be more or less won by 2009. Not something that will last for generations, involving our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren - but decades. Ten, twenty - maybe thirty years. And we have to be patient while those decades unfold he said. At least until we no longer need to be "at war" to keep the Cheney’s, Bushes, DeLays and Frist’s in power to continue to spread peace and democracy to the far corners of the earth.

And if we didn’t understand that, it surely was all cleared up today by whatever the President said in his "major speech" which I haven’t heard and not yet read but on which I’m sure I’ll comment on later today or tomorrow. As long as he isn’t pushed off the front page by a rocket launch from Iran carrying six suicide bombers on their way to blow up the moon.