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Thursday, March 30, 2006

In one of his recent "everything’s all right, trust me" speeches, Mr. Bush tried to explain why he was so optimistic about "progress" in Iraq while the evil American media - except for Fox TV - was reporting one item of bad news after another. Said our President of his optimism in the wake of these images and stories of death and destruction that we ordinary folk are seeing every day. -"They wonder what I see that they don’t."

Well I sure wonder. I wonder what kind of news he’s getting from his commanders in the field and from his Iraqi and Middle East analysts. I don’t think of the major media sources as evil - but I do try to look in other places where I might find a different point of view or even news items that are not reported by the major networks and newspapers.

For example, I had to read the March 28 post of Baghdad blogger Riverbend to learn that the citizens of Iraq are being told that they should not obey any orders of Iraqi police on night patrols unless they are accompanied by American troops! Those are instructions coming from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense - illustrating how much they trust their own security forces.

Mr. Bush doesn’t like to read that much. He prefers to get his information orally - which perhaps is why we might say to him - you might wonder what we read that you don’t!!

I read Al Jazeera on line, which reports Iraqi news from an Iraqi point of view. And I read Iraqi blogs. These of course are only the views of ordinary Iraqis - people who actually live in the country. But what they have to say is not an appraisal of conditions and how well things are going - told to them by someone else. It’s first hand commentary. I would recommend that Mr. Bush take a look at them some time. Or maybe if he’s too busy defending us from an Al Qaida attack, he can have an aid look at them and then feed the content back to him in story form.

An extensive list can be found here - or you can try a representative half dozen such as The Mesopotamian.... Hammorbi...Iraq The Model.... Iraq Pundit .... A Family in Baghdad and, for a Kurdish point of view, Kardox.

Read carefully - or listen to your aide. There will be a test.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

There are days when I wonder if the ghost of Lewis Carroll has taken over the United States and we’ve all passed through a looking glass into a fantasy world where black is white, night is day and truth is anything the Bush administration says is truth. Or maybe truthiness. I had to give a tip of the hat to Steven Colbert at some time on this blog.

What am I talking about?

I remember so vividly in my early days in Chicago reading stories about "mob bosses" in my daily newspaper. People were named, often along with their nicknames and the kind of criminal activity in which they were engaged. And I remember being both puzzled and angry. How could this be, I asked myself? It was all reported and discussed so openly. If these people are gangsters and everyone knows what kind of crimes they commit and it’s reported in the newspapers as routinely as the stock market results, why aren’t they in jail?

I had the same reaction to the reporting and portrayal of race relations in those days. Long before the civil rights movement. People in the south being beaten and killed and not allowed to vote and made to ride in the backs of buses and eat and drink apart from other people because of the color of their skins The papers reported these things freely. Movies were made about them. And I had to ask myself, how could this be? How could such crimes be committed and nothing done about them except to make movies about them and write about them in newspapers?

And now here we are decades later and in the words of that world famous philosopher, Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra, it’s deja vu all over again. The lies, deceptions and incompetence of the Bush administration are proven, written about, broadcast about, joked about, condemned - and nothing happens. The President and his Vice-President shrug their shoulders and keep lying , deceiving and exhibiting increasing levels of incompetence. And I ask as I asked myself as a newcomer to the US decades ago, how can this be??

Republican majorities in the House and Senate of course prevent anything major from changing this unhappy situation, such as impeaching the President - or even something relatively minor, such as the chief executive asking for the resignations of Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice. Rumsfeld will never be asked to leave no matter who calls for his resignation. Bush will continue to ignore those calls, including from respected members of his own party - thinking of his childish stubbornness as resolve. And Rice is joined at the President’s hip - like a second wife - an extended member of his family. She could stumble us into wars on three fronts with friendly nations and Mr. Bush would say she’s doing a heck of a job. His thus far single effort to appease members of his own party calling for some personnel changes is little more than window dressing - replacing Andrew Card with Joshua Bolten - someone with virtually the same "insider" status. Not exactly the same kind of bold move made by Ronald Reagan when he hired Howard Baker to be his chief of staff.

And as for the antics of Dick Cheney, words almost escape me. Some who have known him throughout his political career, say that they don’t recognize today’s Dick Cheney. I’ve only been able to "know" him from a distance, but I don’t think I have any trouble recognizing what he is today. A man without honor or conscience. A coward during the Vietnam era, he has the audacity to accuse honorable Americans of being nothing short of traitors because they disagree with him and his administration's misguided and dishonorable policies. This is a man who parlayed his stint as Secretary of Defense under Bush senior into the chairmanship of Haliburton, from which he became a multimillionaire and from which he became even richer after he left to return to government "service."

Imagine that. You oversee the United States Department of Defense - to which a company named Haliburton is a major supplier, and when you quit your defense department job - Haliburton is waiting for you with open arms and millions of dollars. And here we are engaged in a war of his and his bosses choice and the self same Haliburton is reaping millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to supply our troops and "re-build" Iraq. How’s that for honorable quid pro quo? And doesn’t that give Mr. Cheney the right to vilify those who disagree with him? To brand then as traitors? To accuse them of giving aid and comfort to the "enemy?"

It’s all so bizarre. No matter how many books are written by White House insiders that reveal the thinking and plans of the President and his cohorts that have landed us where we are today; no matter how many official documents are uncovered that confirm those revelations - nothing happens. Except that it gets worse. And this morning I heard someone call into a radio talk show and declare that history will recognize Bush as a genius!!

And speaking of the bizarre, I have to make note of a brief moment that I spent a few days ago watching Sean Hannity "interview" Newt Gingrich. Normally, I would have switched on by the station, but at the moment my remote rested on the Fox channel, Hannity was bringing up this ridiculous complaint that Bush, Cheney and the right wing ranters and ravers of radio and television keep bringing up - that the media* doesn’t report all of the good news out of Iraq . Gingrich responded that the reporters weren’t necessarily as much to blame as their editors. And went on to give an example of a reporter who had visited a school that we had helped to re-build and filed a story about it - only to have his editor reject it as not being newsworthy.

What is so bizarre is that Gingrich is a highly intelligent man who said this with a straight face and with sincerity in his voice. As if, in the world according to Bush, the mundane and the routine should be items of "news" to be given equal time in newscasts and equal space in newspapers - as mass executions, roadside bombing, abductions and the deaths of American fighting men and women.

I said I was wondering if the ghost of Lewis Carroll had taken over the United States - but it’s more like the world of Bush and his cohorts - a work of fiction by a combination of authors - maybe Orwell and Huxley along with Carroll. A Brave New 1984 World of Looking Glasses , reflecting black as white, bad as good - and, in the words of our illustrious leader - (paragraph eight) "I just want you to know that when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace."

(* Common usage has made "media" a singular noun - so who am I to argue?)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Who is George Mason?"

No, that’s not the opening line of "Atlas Shrugged" - Ayn Rand’s strange but brilliantly written book about her philosophy of objectivism , (link included for the curious).

It’s a line to show my ignorance of and lack of interest in the game of basketball. But I am aware that George Mason is a "what" and not a "who" and that it’s the name of a college that has a basketball team in the "final four" - the survivors of what is commonly known as March Madness.

To me, the game of basketball in general represents some form of madness that occurs in many months other than March - although of course that is a month above all others that comes to mind when thinking of mad things. The March Hare of Lewis Carroll’s Tea Party for example. And of course the Ides of March….

So, you may ask, what is particularly "mad" about the game of basketball? And since you ask, I’ll tell you. It is surely the only sport - at the professional or semi-professional (college) level that requires its participants to be a certain height!!

Look around the world at all the great sports. Football for example - wrongly called soccer in some places in order to distinguish it from the game Americans play that has a lot less to do with the use of the feet. You can be any size from a virtual midget to a seven foot behemoth and be successful playing soccer football at the highest professional level. Some positions on American football teams call for large men - but you can also be five foot eight and be a super star.

The same goes for cricket - the other international sport - played in England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, South Africa and elsewhere. You can be large, small, black, brown or white or any combination thereof and be a successful professional cricket player.

Ice Hockey, Field Hockey, Tennis, Golf, Baseball, Rugby, Skating, Swimming, Track - you name ‘em and you can play them at the professional level no matter how short you may be. And if you’re short enough and weigh as much as the aforementioned virtual midget - you might be able to compete in the sport of horse racing.

Basketball alone stands as the sport that requires its players - professional or amateur - to be very tall. I know there are anomalies - though I couldn’t specifically identify any. As I indicated at the beginning, my knowledge of the sport is minimal. But I am aware that there are occasional players who make it to the big time, peering up from their six foot frame. They are the exceptions - the rare exceptions that are not the kind that prove any rule.

The sport could be played at the professional level by people who were not raised on a diet of growth hormone - simply by lowering the basket. But that would give an obvious advantage to the taller players - you’re no going to keep then out of the game - that would be discrimination - so we’re back to square one. At the college or professional level, it’s a game for people who are just naturally six five to seven five tall. Or taller.

I guess you could argue that since there are sports that other, average sized people can play, it’s only fair that there be a sport for the oversized crowd. But what about the millions of American kids - this is where the sport is played more than anywhere else in the world - who spend countless hours of their childhood and their youth bouncing basketballs off their garage doors as they try to perfect their hook shots and free throws, only to surrender to the realization that they’ve reached their maximum rate of vertical growth and the world of college and professional basketball is forever beyond their reach? What kind of a country and what kind of sport does that to kids? It’s a goddamned shame.

Which brings me to another aspect of basketball madness - a form of madness that it shares with football of the non soccer type - the use of colleges as the "minor leagues" for the professional leagues. Rather than having true minor leagues - such as those that exist in baseball and true football, which the great unwashed insists on calling "soccer," - professional basketball engages in an unholy alliance with the nation’s colleges to provide a steady flow of bodies to replace giants leaving the game because of age or injury. This in turn creates the madness of "recruitment" - representatives from seats of higher learning , scouring the country for the purpose of persuading tall young men having some skill at the game of basketball to become "students" at their colleges.

I’m not saying that these vertically enhanced young men that college alumni and other assorted fans cheer at stadiums around the country, do not engage in some activity other than playing basketball after they’ve been recruited. Such as attending educational classes and absorbing some of what is being taught. But there’s no question that the young men so recruited - often from inner city schools in neighborhoods where basketball is close to being a religion - are there to play basketball - and the kind of basketball that attracts the crowds that pay the kind if money that swells the college coffers.

I guess I look at all of this from a different perspective because I went to school in England. School sports were competitive. We played hard against each other and the spectators were enthusiastic. But if there was anyone at any of the schools I attended who was "recruited" because of his athletic skills, it was the best kept secret in the history of British academia.

I am of course aware of the huge interest in the tournament that has been going on that has produced the "final four" - and I’ve heard people talking around me and on the radio about "brackets" - and I know that’s not something you pick up at the hardware store. But I find that the unbelievable enthusiasm for a game played by huge men who could go eye to eye with a baby giraffe - that in my youth, in another country, was a girl’s game called "netball" - to be a form of madness on a par with Mad Dogs and Englishmen who go out in the Midday Sun!!

And since Bradley’s gone, I pick George Mason to stun the world and go all the way!!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Never mind about foreign ownership of our port facilities. I’ve just learned that a Dubai group - yes Dubai - that same part of the United Arab Emirates - has bought the Essex House on Central Park South and I’m having conniption fits.

It was a long time ago. I’m retired now, but whenever I used to go to New York on business - and there was a time when I went pretty often, I would stay at the Essex House. What a wonderful place. Across the street from Central Park. Almost next door was Rumplemeyers where I could stop for coffee or ice cream or a sandwich or even for dinner. A wonderful treasure in the St. Mortitz hotel. I’m not sure if it’ still there. It’s been years since I was last in New York and I don’t think I ever got over to Central Park South - or 59th street as the less imaginative might call it.

When the Essex House was first sold to a chain - and I can’t remember which one it was - I opined to an old time employee that I supposed my Essex House credit card (which I think I still have somewhere ) was no longer any good. With tears in her eyes, but with a firm voice, she said "That card will always be good."

She was wrong of course. Ownership has changed more than once since then and as far as I know, they stopped issuing Essex House credit cards after that first sale. She’s probably long gone now, but if she was still with us, I’m sure the tears would be flowing at this latest unholy turn of events.

Mohamed Al Fayed owns Harrods - and for a brief moment in time there was speculation that he could become father-in-law to Princess Diana!!!! And now Dubai money men own the Essex House!!

If I believed in religious nonsense and Biblical predictions, I could easily be persuaded that we were getting close to the end of days. I don’t - so I’m just disgusted at all these things that happen to prove that you can’t go home again.

Stop it you Air Americans!!

It’s been a while since I offered any critique of Air America Radio, so I’ll pen just a few suggestions here. I’m a pretty regular listener, so I have a sense of entitlement.

I would like Jerry Springer to stop saying "let’s play radio" as he begins his program. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but it stinks. You’re supposed to be doing a serious program about serious matters Jerry. Matters like the endless war in Iraq and the latest lies spewed by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. How on earth can that be thought of as "playing" radio? You need to stop inviting listeners to "play radio - and thank you for inviting me into yours." It’s juvenile. Stop it.

And by the way, if you haven’t already done so, it’s way past time to stop giving regular time to "Ed," your arch conservative listener who disagrees with everything you say. Accepting calls from people who disagree with you is fine - but if I want to listen to regular right wing ranting and raving, I can punch in Limbaugh for a minute a day while I’m out driving somewhere. I don’t expect or want it when I’m tuned in to you. Stop it!

A similar word to Al Franken about his "ditto head" childhood friend. I don’t care if he saved your life when you broke through the ice so that you could become a hero pilot in world war two. No, wait a minute. That’s "It’s a Wonderful Life." All right. I don’t care if he helped when the Jew haters attacked you on the way to school. And I don’t care if it is "your" radio program on which you can do anything you like. I don’t want to hear ditto heads on Air America defending the nonsensical things that Rush Limbaugh says. If I want to hear that crap I can tune in Limbaugh. I actually turn the radio off when you introduce your friend and wait five or six minutes before checking to see if he’s still with you. And I keep turning the radio on and off until I know he’s gone. It’s annoying as all get out. Stop it!!

Finally a word to Rachel Maddow. I don’t find Kent Jones particularly funny but obviously you do because we can hear your cackling laughter all the way through his daily presentations. It’s like a fork on a plate - at least to me. Also, I know you’re not heterosexual. I assume everyone who listens to you regularly knows. We don’t need to keep being reminded. Stop it!! Both things.

I’ll offer some more critiques later on. It’s Friday. That’s enough for now.

A thirteenth juror or an outsider judge? Something strange in a Chicago courtroom

Yesterday I said I wouldn’t be writing about politics for the rest of this week - the "rest" being today - and I’m going to keep my promise. But I can’t resist a word or two about a matter relating to a politician - and more specifically to the trial of a politician - former Illinois governor George Ryan. Supposedly, the cast of characters in this trial is restricted to Ryan and his co-defendant, the lawyers on both sides and the judge, But it seems that there is an ex officio participant in the courtroom. Or maybe we should say a self appointed participant. A local newspaper has reached into the legal chamber with information that has influenced the conduct of the trial on one occasion and on the jury deliberations on a second occasion.

During the trial, the Chicago Tribune broke the story of an alleged connection between a former attorney for George Ryan who had testified for the defense - and the law firm that is defending Ryan in this trial. The prosecutors wanted to recall the witness but settled for a statement that was read to the jury about the alleged connection and a denial of any wrongdoing by Ryan’s former attorney.

Now we have a situation where it has been revealed - by the Chicago Tribune - that one of the jurors - currently involved in deliberations - lied on his jury questionnaire. He had a minor criminal record but didn’t reveal it. And that has resulted in turmoil in the courtroom with talk of jury replacement or even mistrial. And as of late today,the same paper has revealed that a second juror also lied on her questionnaire.

I have to ask, what the hell is going on here? The trial is over. The jury is deliberating. And the Chicago Tribune is investigating? Who? All of the jurors? Apparently so. They say so in their own story. But why? Why now when the jury is deliberating? What if they discover that one of the jurors is really Jimmy Hoffa and another Judge Crater? Will they create their own journalistic mistrial?

I don’t get it and I don’t understand why the judge isn’t asking the Chicago Tribune the questions I’m asking here. Specially about Judge Crater.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Using the ancient adage that "all politics is local, " I’m switching today’s political comments from the national scene to Cook County, Illinois where we’ve just had a primary election - and specifically to the contest to elect the Democratic candidate to run for president of the Cook County Board in November.

The reason I’m devoting a few comments today to the local scene is because I’m disgusted. I’m disgusted with the campaign that took place for President of the County Board. I’m disgusted with the turn out, which - as often is the case in primary elections - was low. And I’m disgusted with the results.

The race was between the incumbent, John Stroger - an old time party organization man - and one of the County Board Commissioners, Forrest Claypool. And the basic issue was between what the County Board currently is - a bloated sea of political patronage - and reform - which would have meant that dozens, maybe hundreds of relatives and friends of Mr. Stroger on the County payroll might have had to look elsewhere for honest work.

As I say, Mr., Stroger is an old time politician who was loyal to and received loyalty from the first Mayor Daley of Chicago - the kingmaker of Democratic politics from the fifties to the seventies!! And Mr. Stroger is black. Mr. Claypool, who once worked for the current mayor Daley of Chicago, is not.

The race was won by Mr., Stroger. Even though all the votes hadn’t been counted and Claypool had received a substantial vote - not that far behind that of Mr. Stroger - he conceded yesterday.

So why am I so disgusted that I’m devoting space on a blog that customarily covers diverse topics from religion to the British Royal Family? Several reasons.

First, I’m disgusted at the turn out for the primary election in general. There was a long list of candidates for various offices and for judgeships on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. I don’t know the exact percentage of eligible voters who turned out - but it was low. A miserable fraction. I’m all for a law that says if any voter doesn’t vote in two elections in a row - including primary and general elections - he or she should lose their voting privilege. Disenfranchisement. Making the punishment fit the crime.

Second, I’m disgusted at the senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin and the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton. Both allowed themselves to be used in television commercials for John Stroger - Durbin on camera and Clinton with a "voice over." Mayor Daley did too but I’m not disgusted with him. He is what he is. He’s been able to be elected and re-elected because he cuts up the clout pie and dishes out portions to the black, Hispanic and any other ethnic community he can bring on board his re-election machine. Besides, Stroger was loyal to his dad and you can’t blame him for returning the loyalty. Also, Daley needs the African American community for his re-election and the AA community was solidly behind Stroger. More on this in a minute. Frankly, I’m not that comfortable describing black citizens as "African American" since I have friends who are jet black in color and not of African descent, but it's become the accepted way of describing Americans with black skins, so I guess I have to go along with it.

I’m disgusted with Durbin and Clinton because I think they’re hypocrites. Certainly Durbin is. I know these are both senior party members and are expected to be loyal to fellow party members - even if they are party hacks of an old school that has disappeared almost everywhere and are way past their prime. But there are ways to do that without appearing in commercials that reveal you as a hypocrite.

The Democrats in Congress have been saying that governance at the national level is in sore need of reform - that there is a "culture of corruption" and that again and again, Republicans have put party over country. The race for the Democratic candidate for President of the Cook County Board was between a reformer, putting the "public good above party loyalty" - and an incumbent doing exactly the opposite!! In my view, it is the height of hypocrisy to criticize your opponents at the national level for putting party before country - and then turn around and publicly support an over the hill politico who may once have done good work but is now little more than the overseer of a bloated patronage haven - reminiscent of bygone days of political machines.

As for President Clinton, I haven’t observed him doing much to help his party return to power. Certainly traipsing around with Bush senior isn’t any great help. And neither did it help to say that he "liked both these guys" - Bush and Kerry - during the last election. If that’s how he felt - at the very least he could have kept his mouth shut. But in this local election, he lent his voice to an endorsement of a local politician that he probably knows very little about and helped to defeat the kind of candidate that the Democratic party sorely needs if it is to return to power at the national level. Shame on him!

This was also an election that took on distinct racial overtones. Stroger had a stroke late in the campaign and shortly after he was hospitalized, a local columnist wrote a critical piece about him that included a joke about his illness being a ploy to get a sympathy vote. The black community went bananas over what was obviously a tongue in cheek joke - at least to me - and demanded that he apologize. And sure enough, the next day, both the columnist and his paper conceded that it was wrong to joke about a sick man in that manner.

And local black politicians, radio talk show hosts and ministers, were all over the boob tune urging voters to be sure to go to the polls on Mach 21 and vote for John Stroger. I saw not a single African American politician, radio talk show host or church minister of any denomination, urge a vote for Forrest Claypool. There may have been a sprinkling of votes for him in the black communities, but the overwhelming vote was for their fellow African American. African American voters in Cook County have supported Caucasian candidates over the years out of loyalty to the Democratic party - and if Claypool had won, I’m sure he would have received most of their votes in the general election - but this primary election was one that was pretty much decided along racial lines and that is a damned shame.

As I said in my comments on March 21, my voting experience was a little less pleasurable than it should have been. But that was for reasons other than what I’ve written here today. Now my post election feelings are those of disgust. I don’t think I’ll be writing about politics for the rest of this week. Maybe not next week either!!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Now starting it’s fourth year at the Theater of the Absurd….

I don’t know why the papers across the country - across the world for that matter - aren’t screaming with the same headline this morning. "Bush says Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has no right to ask US to leave Iraq."

He didn’t quite say it that way of course. What he said was that future US Presidents and future Iraqi Presidents will decide when to withdraw our forces.

That’s what happens when our esteemed President holds an unscripted press conference. He opens his mouth and bits of truth come tumbling out along with the lies. Forget about withdrawing from that oil rich country, he’s telling us - as if we hadn’t already figured it out. We’re there for the rest of my presidency - and after that, you can be sure that Iraq will be the thirty third country in which we’ll have a military base ( if that list is up to date) - and you can also be sure that it’ll be a large and permanent base.

It is truly astonishing. In appearance after appearance, the President, the Vice President, Rumsfeld et all continue to spout the same unconscionable nonsense as though they were all actors in some third rate off Broadway play that should have closed after the third performance and the blistering reviews by every critic in town, but keeps playing to no more than a half dozen paying customers night after night. One sits there and watches this performance on television and tries to relate it to reality - but frankly without success. We are undoubtedly being governed by a cabal of madmen.

After three years of being ignored during presidential press conferences, the venerable dean emeritus of the White House press corps was finally called on to ask a question and Helen Thomas came through with the zinger that has long been needed to be asked in this kind of public forum. I won’t quote it exactly but rather the spirit behind it. "Why in the hell did you go to war against Iraq? It was goddamned obvious that you wanted to do it from the moment you won the White House and every reason you’ve given up to now has been proved to be a lie. So tell us Mr. President - tell us the why the hell did did you take this country to war?"

And of course we got the expected denial from Mr. Bush. What me wanting to go to war? Perish the thought. And of course no chance for a follow up from Helen.

Since Helen Thomas seems to be the only member of the press corps with the balls to ask that kind of question and since for that reason, Mr. Bush simply refuses to call on her, I have to wonder why her fellow reporters don’t adopt something akin to the rules of debate that govern the Senate in support of their ignored colleague. . When Bush repeatedly ignores her raised hand and calls on someone else, why doesn’t one of those "someone elses" simply say. Thank you Mr. President. If you don’t mind, I yield my question to Helen Thomas. And if the President refuses to go along with the ploy, have the next reporter do the same - and so on. Wouldn’t that be one hell of a press conference? Almost guaranteed to have a half dozen new words added to the dictionary of Bushisms. Unless of course the tactic is anticipated by Rove, in which case the President might be armed with appropriate strategery.

My reaction to yesterday’s performance?


Or as Ebeneezer Scrooge might put it - I’ll retire to Bedlam.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I didn’t start this blog until after the invasion of Iraq had begun, so I don’t have any written record of my feelings during the PR build up that preceded the attack. I do remember feeling conflicted about whether or not the time had come for members of the UN to back up the warnings and sanctions they had imposed on Iraq. It wasn’t just Iraq - at least not in my mind. It was the case that Bush was making - rather persuasively - that if the UN was to mean anything when it came to warning nations of dire consequences when they continued to defy the authority of that world body, at some point it would have to act to impose those consequences.

That problem still exists of course, because - with the exception of the UK which followed our lead as a puppy dog follows its master - the UN didn’t act to impose any consequences. Just us - and for reasons that have long since been discredited.

As the fourth year of our occupation of Iraq begins - and there can be no other word to describe it - the original "war" having been over in a matter of a couple of weeks - as announced by President Bush on May 1, 2003 - support for the adventure is at it’s lowest level, and in my house, the support is at the zero level. We need to turn things over to the Iraqis and re-deploy to Kuwait as a first step to getting our troops back home.

Over the week end, a new phase was launched in the never ending PR battle to portray the situation in Iraq the way the Bush administration wants us to understand it - which of course is that "progress is being made" and similar nonsensical claims about the newest explanation of the adventure. And what is that? Why it’s the third anniversary of our noble quest to free the Iraqi people. No more weapons of mass destruction. No more Al Qaida. No more fighting the terrorists there so that we don’t have to fight them here.

It’s just the long and arduous task for which our young men and women are sacrificing life and limb in the thousands - to "free" the people of a nation thousands of miles away and having no connection to us other than as a supplier of the oil that makes the gasoline that enables us to travel the kind of highways that the Iraqi people wished they had. Or maybe not. Maybe they were happy living the Iraqi way of life - what ever that might be.

As I listen to all of the Bush/Cheney/Runsfeld et al spin, I am reminded of our spinning Iraqi doppleganger from the early days of the invasion, Baghdad Bob - speaking of resistance and even victory while our forces were blocks away. "Pay no attention to those tanks in your neighborhood." Or that man behind the curtain if you’d prefer it in Wizard of Oz terminology. It was great fodder for the late night comedians as is our own version of Baghdad Bob to this day. In particular on Comedy Central’s Daily Show.

Perhaps an even better example in microcosmic terms would be the battle reports being fed to the Egyptian population during the six day war. It seems that the Israelis were being repelled and vanquished - up until some time on the sixth day that is - when the entire Sinai Peninsula was in Israeli hands.

It’s almost sickening to hear our President repeat the time worn garbage that the right wing ranters and ravers have been using almost from day one of this debacle - that the good news out of Iraq is not being reported - only the violence. The "good" news being that our troops are building schools or soccer fields or helping to open hospitals or handing out candy to kids.

Really Mr. President? Is that what we sent our highly trained fighting men and women to Iraq to die for? To bomb some schools into the dust and then help re-build them? I prefer to get news of what is happening in Iraq from the likes of the lady who runs the riverbend blog out of Baghdad. And by the way, she has a comment about schools that might interest Mr. Bush or anyone else complaining that the so called "good news" isn’t being reported.

As I noted a few days ago, I’m surprised that the President’s approval rating is as high as it is. How anyone can continue to support or believe this man - or Cheney or Rumsfeld is beyond me. But they’re out there - and what scares me about them is that they can vote. I heard one of them calling in to a radio show the other day that will remain nameless because Jerry Springer is a modest man. This nitwit wanted to explain to Jerry that the main reason we invaded Iraq was to go after suicide bombers. In order to win the "war on terror," we had to find the suicide bombers and kill them before they committed suicide., taking some of us with them. As if they wore signs on their kafiyyehs to identify them as the evil enemy. "I’m a suicide bomber. Catch me if you can!!" Jerry actually let this idiot talk and tried - without success - to reason with him.

I’m on my way to vote in the Illinois primary. I take pleasure in voting, but the thought that this idiot and far too many who think as he does may also be voting - maybe even in my precinct - makes today’s experience just a little less pleasurable. And scary!

That’s the sad thought I carry with me on this sad third anniversary of Mr. Bush’s war.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A few days ago, a fellow Chicago Tribune reader, one Nancy Thorner, expressed her dismay with this year’s Oscar nominees and winners in a letter to that venerable newspaper.

Among her disappointments were the movie maker’s lack of connection to "mainstream" American society, the absence of movies that portrayed a love of country and the goodness of America and its people and movies about our brave troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever else they are confronting our evil enemies.

She particularly singled out movies about Aids, Civil Rights and Gay Marriage as examples of being "out of touch" with mainstream values. She even says these kinds of movies "insult the intelligence." I find it difficult to imagine that the writer of such a letter has any intelligence to insult. Or to put it in language that she might understand, my instinctive reaction to her basket of complaints is "say what?" Or maybe just "Duh??"

Civil rights not a value of mainstream America?? Aids and Gay Marriage not issues confronting main stream America? Apparently not to this "mainstreamer" who presumably wants to see some movies about all the "good" things we’re doing in Iraq. Like building schools or opening fire stations. Maybe a movie about a brave President faced with evil enemies plotting to destroy the United States of America and his courage and ingenuity in leading the resistance to their evil plans. It’s a pity that Henry Fonda is no longer with us. He’d be perfect for the part. I’d suggest Martin Sheen but I’m sure this letter writer would reject him out of hand as someone who could reflect her values. He’s there on the television screen reflecting those other values - you know, aids and civil rights and all that other out of touch un-American stuff.

I have what I think is an interesting perspective about American movies, in that I grew up watching them in another country at a time when those "feel good" movies were tumbling out of the Hollywood studios as fast as the writers could write them, the directors could direct them and the editors could get the reels ready to ship to movie emporiums around the world.

There was only one thing wrong with those feel good movies. They portrayed an America that didn’t exist. Not that they were entirely fictional. Just that they took the necessary liberties to make the audiences believe that their reflections of America existed somewhere - in some town or in some state. That surely there were real people just like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland putting on shows in a barn somewhere out there. When I came back here to live permanently at the age of 22 - I was here as a child but taken back to England when my mother died and spent my formative years there - I found a different nation from the one I had come to know through watching movies. Nor necessarily a bad nation - just different.

Movies after all are mostly a fictional genre - even movies about real people and real events are fictionalized by the time they reach the screen. Movies of the forties and fifties about Americans at war for example - the kind that Ms Thorner would like to see made today - had little resemblance to what actually took place on the field of battle. There were heroes of course - but there were few fighting men who, for example, looked or acted like the character Robert Taylor portrayed in the 1943 movie Bataan. Or like Lloyd Nolan in the same movie.

But even back then, while Hollywood was churning out the kind of movies that Ms Thorner would like to see produced today, other kinds of movies - movies that were - as she describes them - on the cutting edge of society - were being produced and rather than being "out of touch with many in the mainstream" were leading and nurturing main stream thought on matters that affected all of society.

Ms. Thorner might have objected that they weren’t in touch with her concept of "mainstream" but I for one am grateful that the Oscars recognized The Lost Weekend as best picture in 1946 and Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1947 and On The Waterfront in 1954. I don’t consider those kinds of movies unpatriotic at all. Neither do I think of Brokeback Mountain in that fashion either.

If she is concerned with "patriotism" being "unfashionable" I would suggest that she help reverse this unfortunate trend by voting in the primaries next Tuesday, by urging all her friends and neighbors to do the same, and by writing or calling or e-mailing her congressperson and senators and sugesting that they urge our president to obey the laws of the country and to uphold the constitution of the United States as he is sworn to do. That would be a real act of patriotism. Maybe it could be a theme that could be developed for a movie.

And a happy St. Pat’s to all movie goers everywhere.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It seems that I have to make one more comment about the trial of former Illinois Governor George Ryan.

After I called attention to yesterday’s comments on the Ryan trial and on Eric Zorn’s Tribune column, he and I had a few e-mail exchanges. He’s followed the proceedings much closer than I have and has formed opinions based on what he’s observed first hand - whereas mine are formed from a distance and from the strong impression that the prosecutors were out to "get" Ryan as the crowning feather in their cap after successfully prosecuting 59 lesser lights including a few of his close aides.

There’s no question that a good deal of what went on during Ryan’s tenure as Secretary of State and Governor had the appearance of quid pro quo - but the question that the jury has to decide is whether or not any of the activities and incidents that the prosecutors have presented in this case amount to illegal activity. Did Ryan violate his oath of office? Did he break laws? Was the state harmed in any way by any of the business dealings with Ryan insiders?

I don’t know the answer to those questions - but I’m reasonably sure that if a band of prosecutors in this or any other state, were to examine and take apart the activities and dealings of any Secretary of State or Governor over a period of three or four years, they could come up with something similar to what is in the Ryan indictment and say J’Accuse!! The power of the Federal government in that regard is awesome. Once prosecutors make a decision to go after you it makes no difference if you’re guilty or innocent. You will be harmed. Even if the case never gets to trial - as was my experience when the government went after me decades ago - the mere accusation - with its attendant publicity, mental anguish and financial drain, leaves scars that will linger for years.

And now I promise - no more comments about this case until the jury announces its verdict.



If the Democrats can find some way to stop shooting themselves in their feet, they stand a good chance to gain a majority in one or both houses of Congress next November. But they have to improve their aim or get rid of their guns altogether. The Russ Feingold effort to censure the President for example. Feingold is a fine man. The people in Wisconsin can’t say enough good things about him. He is a potential presidential candidate. He could be our first Jewish President. Wouldn’t that be fun for our Arab "friends?" I would certainly vote for him. I think he’d make an excellent chief executive.

But I have to wonder what the hell he thought he was doing trying to introduce this censure resolution. Although just about everyone knew it was coming, it seemed to come as a big surprise to his fellow Democrats who are falling over themselves in their mad rush to get as far away from the proposal as possible. Could it be that Russ didn’t consult with his colleagues - that he didn’t first ask them if they would sign on to the idea before he introduced it on the Senate floor? Or maybe even ask what they thought of the idea?

In my view, the idea of a censure at this point in time is just plain goofy. It wouldn’t pass of course, even if every Democratic Senator signed on. It might have had some possible beneficial effect if every Democrat had agreed to do just that - to stand shoulder to shoulder with Feingold. It would show that they have guts - that they were willing to express their disgust with Mr. Bush in plain, unvarnished terms and to carry that level of disgust and anger into the mid-term elections.

But standing alone, all that Feingold accomplished was to provide fodder for the Republicans to ridicule him and to call for a vote that the Democrats fell over themselves some more in their haste to prevent that from happening.

This is a moment in time when it’s the President, the Vice-President and assorted members of the administration who have been doing most of the foot shooting. And in the case of Cheney - face and torso shooting. What Democrats need to do is not provide these stumblebums with anything that will distract from their inadequacies. Left to their own devices, this administration will continue to reveal itself to be the most incompetent group of egotistical idiots in modern history and we shouldn’t do anything to divert attention from their clown act.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Check back to yesterday’s comments on the Ryan trial. As you can see, I have had to contradict my promise not to write anything more on this topic until a verdict is announced. More has bee added. Quite a bit more. And it's all the fault of Tribune columnist Eric Zorn as you will plainly see....

Monday, March 13, 2006
Until the verdict that is…..

The jury now has the Ryan case that I wrote about on Friday - and having read news reports of closing arguments and what went on in the courtroom as the trial came to a close, I have to add one more comment about one issue.

The prosecution desperately wanted to bring up the case of the six children who died in an accident cause by a piece of metal falling off a truck being driven by an allegedly non English speaking driver who had paid a bribe to obtain his license - something that I’ve written about in the past. It was a horrible accident that prosecutors and Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass among others, have tried to tie to the ex-governor - as though he was in some way personally responsible for the tragedy. As if it could not have happened with a driver who spoke little or no English but who had obtained his license without bribing anyone. And if you don’t think that happens- drivers who speak almost no English with legitimately obtained driver’s licenses - you’re living in a fantasy world. Maybe you don’t take cabs in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Incidentally, when I first obtained a driver’s license - decades ago, I was told that it was common practice to be ready to slip a few bucks to the road examiner if it appeared that he or she wasn’t totally happy with your performance. In other words, the concept of "license for bribes" wasn’t born under Ryan’s reign as Illinois Secretary of State. It was an ancient illegal tradition - and I wouldn’t be surprised if it still goes on, even as the jury deliberates Ryan’s fate.

But I digress. At the time of the 1994 accident, I was both impressed and puzzled by the reaction of the children’s father, Scott Willis. Willis, a Baptist minister, blamed no one for the tragedy and seemingly was accepting of the loss of six of his nine children as the will of God. At least that’s how I remember it. I remember specifically that he was forgiving of the truck driver and that he wasn’t about to do what I would have done. I would have been as mad as hell, forgiving of no one and I would have sued the pants off of anyone I could find that was remotely connected to the deaths - the driver, the owner of the truck, the truck manufacturer, the manufacturers of individual truck parts and anyone else I could think of that had anything to do with the truck. Maybe the last place where it had an oil change.

But Willis’ initial reaction didn’t last long. He sued and was awarded something in the area of one hundred million dollars. He no longer lives in the greater Chicago area but he has visited the courtroom on a number of occasions during the trial, including the final day, sitting and concentrating intently like a latter day Madame LeFarge. He is no longer the all forgiving pastor of 1994. He’s been on television saying that he wants to see "justice" done - and he has congratulated the prosecutors for a job well done. One can only conclude that he now blames George Ryan for the death of his children and the "justice" that he wants is to see him convicted of the "crimes" of which he is accused - none of which refer to nor have anything to do with the death of his children.

My dismay at the appearance of Willis as an honored trial observer - you can bet the rent money that he didn’t stand in line hoping to get a seat in the courtroom - and his stated desire to see "justice" done - is that it is going to filter down to the jury, if it hasn’t already done so - and will become part of the deliberations even if it is never mentioned. They’ve seen him in the courtroom. They’ve seen him on television crying for "justice."

The issue may not have been part of the trial other than by oblique reference, but it will be there, in the minds of the jurors, some of whom may well agree with Willis that Ryan bears direct responsibility for the death of those kids - as though he knew who was applying for and getting driver’s licenses at any of the more than 130 testing stations around the state.

And to my mind that would mean that the former governor would not have received a fair trial.

And while I’m at it - as this trial unfolded, there were many occasions when I wanted to make some comments - but since I wasn’t a courtroom observer - just a reader of what courtroom observers wrote - I decided not to say anything. But now that the it’s over and I’m writing about something connected to the trial , I can’t resist making a couple of observations that for sure I would have made if I were one of the defense lawyers.

The prosecutors at one point made a big deal about people getting special license plates while Ryan was Secretary of State. That’s a crime? Giving Cardinal George or Oprah Winfrey low numbers is a criminal offense? Give me a break. They also wanted the jury to believe that it was criminal to give state contracts to friends. If that’s the case, we’d have to jail most of the nation’s mayors and governors and for sure the President. His co-defendant, Larry Warner, is apparently on trial because he was a friend of Ryan and was a middle man in arranging contracts. The government says that kind of activity is a crime too. How is a mystery that the jurors will have to wrestle with - but I can't see how cashing in on friendship and showing your gratitude by throwing a few perks to your friend amounts to criminal activity.

Finally, the prosecution made a big deal about how little cash Ryan withdrew from his bank account over a period of years. I’m no lawyer, but I would have enjoyed the opportunity to defend or rebut whatever point the prosecution was trying to make. If I was on trial, any prosecutor could say the same thing about me. Probably about people sitting in the jury box!! Over the years I’ve probably withdrawn less cash from my bank than George Ryan!! But there is a simple explanation for this. Large cash amounts were never needed. This is no longer a cash society. Most of my shopping is paid for with a credit card. Dining out is paid for by credit card. Bills are paid on line or by automatic charge to my credit card or automatic deduction from my bank account. The few remaining bills and purchases are paid for by check - and the easiest way to get cash other than to withdraw it from my bank is to get cash back in a super market or any other store that has this convenience. And I’m not doing anything crooked.

Being a politician with a political fund, it’s likely that Ryan had cash stashed in his office and spent it from time to time. How he spent it might be an issue for government prosecutors - but certainly not the fact that it existed and that he had access to it.

So much about George Ryan - until a verdict is announced.

March 14, 2006 9 a.m.

Well, I have to contradict myself. I’m going to add a comment on the Ryan trial before the verdict. All because the Chicago Tribune columnist who I said in my post of March 10, 2006, had been careful not to jump to any conclusions about guilt or innocence has come pretty close to doing just that. He doesn’t say that he believes Ryan to be guilty but in today’s column, lists three reasons why the jury will find him guilty. Reasons that the non-sequestered jury will be able to read and agree or disagree with. Or, as is the problem with this kind of unrestrained coverage of this kind of trial - be influenced by.

I can’t imagine that any members of this jury have any knowledge of this blog, but I will nonetheless offer a response to Eric Zorn’s conclusions - as though I were sitting on the jury.

Ryan took vacations at the Jamaica home of a friend who also had a piece of property leased to the State. To make it look like he paid to stay there, he wrote checks and the friend gave him cash in the same amount. I’m not going to send an ex governor to jail for accepting this kind of perk from a friend. Remember Nixon and Bebe Rebozo? What he shouldn’t have done is messed around with the check for cash nonsense to make it look less like a perk. But to throw him in the slammer for that? Not this juror.

He accepted gifts from state employees, which, according to Zorn gives him a failed mark for character. What nonsense. This is Illinois. This is politics. Patronage is still the way hundreds - maybe thousands - get their political jobs. They traditionally kick in to fund-raisers for their super boss - the top elected official of their state agency or department. It’s expected. In the past, there have been situations where employees were expected to kick back a percentage of their paychecks. As for cash gifts at Christmas from employees - including lowly employees - it’s something that I think stinks of having to kowtow a little too much to be sure of holding on to your job or getting your kids into the "family business." It’s not something that happens in the private sector but it’s common in the world of politics. And though he could have put a stop to it - any politician could put a stop to it - these things weren’t a Ryan invention. I’m not sending him up the river for this either.

Finally, top aides did the best that they could to protect their boss when the license for bribe scandal hit by making sure that their internal investigative staff put the kibosh on anything that would make him look bad. Indeed, two top aides involved in that kind of action are currently serving jail terms. But unless there is irrefutable proof that Ryan himself pushed for or approved those activities, I’m not going to convict him for that either.

Under a microscope, politics is often a dirty game - but the indictment against Ryan doesn’t accuse him of being less than an angel - it accused him of taking payoffs and otherwise enriching himself at the public trough and that his actions were illegal. If you want to read the whole indictment, here it is.

And if you want to know why I emphasized the phrase - his actions were illegal it’s because decades ago I was indicted for criminal activity and the wording of the indictment was as condemning as Ryan’s - though not nearly so long. None of what was alleged was true. It was created out of whole cloth by the office now headed by Patrick Fitzgerald. But even if it had been true - as the judge in the case asked of the government - where is the illegal activity? The case was thrown out of court. I know what it’s like for prosecutors to make it look like you were the incarnation of the anti-Christ. They’re good at it. The story is described in my post of December 18, 2003 - which you can read if you click on the link for this date in Friday's (March 10) comments below.

There is more substance to the Ryan indictment of course, but the same question has to be asked of each and every allegation. First of all - is it true - beyond reasonable doubt? Second, is it illegal - and third,if it is illegal, what law was broken?

Zorn’s "three top reasons" why Ryan will be found guilty of at least some counts assumes that all the jurors will answer yes and yes to the first two of my three questions and be able to cite the law involved to answer the third.

If I’m on the jury and Zorn’s reasons to convict are the TOP reasons to convict - my verdict would have to be not guilty.


On another (totally different) subject…

We’re hearing it a lot nowadays from President Bush and members of his administration. Any thing they don’t like - any criticism of our foreign policy or any attack on the President himself - the most recent one being Russ Feingold’s call to censure him - :"sends a wrong message." The recipients of this "wrong message" are not clearly identified other than "our enemies" - but there is also the inference that it is sending "wrong messages" to our friends and allies.

I have to chuckle when I hear this because I have to wonder how some of our arch conservative brethren reconcile it with their oft stated disdain for the opinions of other nations. It was a standard response from my old time conservative friend who used to criticize practically everything I said in this blog that had to do with politics and the Bush administration. I haven’t heard from him in a while but if I said we were doing things that harmed our relations with other western countries, he would be sure to say "who cares what other countries think?"

Apparently the President does - when it suits him to use that line as a political ploy!!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Sorry to say that the reduction in blog postings - from more or less daily, Monday through Friday - to more or less every other day - is due to health problems, specifically a condition of more or less constant pain since my spine operation of January 23. I hope to solve the problem with a second surgery down the road. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping up with blogging at a more leisurely pace than in the past and I promise not to use the phrase "more or less" three times in one sentence for at least the rest of this month, no matter how much I’m distracted by the pain in my back and legs.

And now to the business of the day.

I don’t often write about local (Chicago area) issues in this blog because the issues would make little sense to far away readers - in England for example where I have dedicated followers of these writings. But I’m sure they’ll forgive me for making some brief comments on a matter that I have touched on in the past - On December 18, 2003 , September 27, 2005 and October 22, 2005 - that of the trial of the former governor of Illinois, George Ryan, which is about to come to a close - perhaps going to the jury as soon as today.

There are times - and this has been one of them - when I wish our legal system had one of the restrictions imposed by the British legal system , which does not allow any media coverage of a criminal trial until it has been concluded. With the unrestricted media coverage that the Ryan trial has received - and with an unsequestered jury reading and watching the coverage, you have to wonder if the trial can be thought of as being "fair" - or one that is tainted by influences outside of the courtroom.

I know jurors are told not to discuss the case with each other or with anyone else and not to read or watch any television programs about the trial - but come on - these jurors are ordinary human beings who have been sitting in a drab, windowless courtroom day after day for months. There is no way that you can expect that they will go home at night and mute their television sets when the subject of the trial is being discussed or deliberately not read anything about the trial in their newspapers. And what they’re reading in one local newspaper - the Chicago Tribune - might well influence the opinion of one or more jurors.

The Tribune was responsible for casting doubt on the veracity of a defense witness - one Ed McNally. McNally was once George Ryan’s attorney and is now the US Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois. The Tribune questioned the truthfulness of McNally’s testimony by running a story about a debt that he owed or might owe, arising from his association as a partner of a former, now disbanded law firm. The point of the story was that the law firm representing Ryan - is also the law firm representing the creditor with a claim against partners of the said disbanded law firm, including McNally - and that there might be some quid pro quo involved in his testimony on behalf of Ryan. Some of the partners had been sued to collect the alleged debt - but not McNally.

Because of the story, the prosecutors in the Ryan trial wanted to recall McNally, and attack the credibility of his testimony - but the two sides and the judge finally settled for a statement that was read to the jury which included the details of the Tribune story and a denial from McNally that it had anything to do with his willingness to testify for the former governor or with the testimony itself.

But if you were a juror who read the story and then had a statement read to you in court, isn’t there a possibility that you might think that the McNally testimony - which directly contradicted a major prosecution allegation - could be questionable?

But beyond that story, which appeared in the closing weeks of the trial, a columnist named John Kass has been writing about the trial on a regular basis. So has another columnists named Eric Zorn, whose web site I link to on this page. I like his stuff. The Zorn columns have been descriptions of and reactions to what has been going on in the courtroom. If he thought Ryan was guilty or innocent - that thought wasn’t revealed in any of his columns. He did speculate on what the verdict might be based on the performance of the opposing attorneys - and that speculation swung back and forth depending on how well the attorneys performed!!

But the Kass columns - for example this one about the aforementioned Tribune story, were quite different. Though he also reported on what went on in the courtroom on a particular day with particular witnesses, what came through clearly was his belief that Ryan was guilty as sin. It was obvious from the early columns that he wrote about the case when a Ryan indictment was only speculation and became even more so after the indictment was handed down.

He is of course entitled to his opinion - even though he revealed what it was before a single witness had been called to testify in the matter - but when it gets published in the city and county’s major newspaper - day after day - it’s hard not to believe that some members of the jury have read those columns. Some might be fans of Kass. He occupies a space in the paper similar to that afforded to the late Mike Royko - though the similarity ends there. To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen - I knew Mike Royko - he wasn’t necessarily a friend of mine - but John Kass is no Mike Royko.

O.K. That’s a little nasty jab at Kass. He’s not a bad columnist but then no one could replace the late, great Mike Royko. But my point about this whole business of unrestrained media reporting and commentary on a major trial of a well known politician to which the jurors in the case are exposed - is almost certain to have some influence on their understanding of the case and of the accused. When Kass writes about the case, he also writes about what he calls the corrupt "combine" - the politicians from both parties that "run" the state of Illinois - of which George Ryan is a member. So says Kass. He has also written again and again about an accident that killed six children when some metal fell off the rear of a truck being driven by someone who had obtained his commercial driving license by bribing an examiner during the time when Ryan was Secretary of State, which office issues driving licenses. Those sort of allegations aren’t part of the trial that’s taking place in the courtroom - but they can easily become part of the trial when the jurors read about them week after week and month after month.

I’m all for the public’s right to know in these kinds of trials. But I also want the trials to be fair and beyond the influence of the media to affect the thinking of jurors. Reporters in England cover major trials with the same enthusiasm as reporters do in the United States. The only difference is that what they write doesn’t appear in their papers until the trial is over and the jury has rendered its verdict based only on what they heard and saw in the courtroom - without reading about what other people thought of the proceedings and of the performance of witnesses - and most importantly, information about the defendant or defendants having nothing to do with the alleged offense for which they are being tried.

My personal view of the Ryan case is that very little of what the prosecution alleges were serious offenses rise to the level of crimes. But I wasn’t in the courtroom. The jury might have a totally different opinion. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with.

One quick note while I’m writing about local issues. Our governor’s Hate Crime Commission is falling apart because one of it’s members, Claudette Marie Johnson aka Claudette Marie Muhammad is an official of Lewis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. She invited members of the commission to attend a speech by Farrakhan in which he blasted the "Jews of Hollywood" for promoting homosexuality and "other filth." Claudette has refused to condemn the comments and instead has expressed her total support of and allegiance to Farrakhan.

Now four or five Jewish members have resigned from the commission in disgust - and the Governor’s idea of how to handle the crisis is to "bring Jews and African Americans together for a dialogue." As if he could get Jewish commission members to "dialogue" with this incredible bigot who has been spewing his anti-Semitic garbage for years.

But I thought it was interesting that Farrakhan would be making his remarks, presumably in response to the Academy awards where all those movies "controlled by Jews" were up for awards. But if it’s the Jews who control Hollywood, wouldn’t you have to wonder how they let a movie like "Paradise Now" get nominated for an academy award in the foreign film category? O.K. it didn’t win - but you can’t really say it was Jewish control that got the film nominated and made sure it didn’t win. Why let a film that more or less glamorizes or excuses suicide murder even get close to the nomination process? That is, if those Jews really control Hollywood.

And while I’m at it, if they really control everything, how the hell do they let themselves get slaughtered, expelled from one country after another, restricted in what work they can do and generally discriminated against?

I guess it’s like what the late great Bob Collins used to say on his WGN radio show about the Baltimore Catechism. It’s a mystery!!!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Speaking of the Oscars - as I was briefly on Monday - the young lady who describes herself as "girl blog from Iraq" - created her own "Oscars" for the leading characters in the Iraqi adventure - which for her is anything but an adventure. More like a nightmare.

I check on Iraq bloggers quite often to get the local view on what’s going on. It’s interesting - from her opening sentence, apart from a reference to a United Arab Emirates channel - you might think this was someone writing from Cedar Rapids, Iowa or Salina, Kansas - but then read on and get a sense of what at least one young Iraqi, fluent in English - thinks of our "noble" effort to free her and democratize her country.

It’s worth a look.

The Bloggers are warning us - but are enough of us listening?

And speaking of bloggers - this time domestic - I’ve only recently become a reader of the Capitol Hill Blue web site and a recipient of their daily news letter and I have to wonder what is going on when I can read a story like this one, alleging that Secret Service agents guarding Cheney reported that he was drunk when he shot Harry Whittington - and see nothing about it in the main stream media - just on the Internet.

Then the other day there was this scary story about how far Homeland Security can pry into your personal affairs - and again you might or might not find out about it from reports in main stream media.

What scares the living daylights out of me is that reports like these are most likely the tip of a metaphorically dangerous iceberg floating across our land that no one seems able to stop and that many don’t want to even acknowledge is there.

It seems that this administration can do anything it wants - chipping away at our freedoms, coming up with new interpretations of laws to justify its actions - and we can talk and talk about it, bloggers can post their fears and revelations on the Internet, Democratic Senators and Representatives can write to the White House - and nothing changes. Mr. Bush and his cohorts do what they want to do - and the Republican majority rolls over and plays dead - seemingly oblivious to the blend of theocratic dictatorial monarchy that more and more describes this President and Vice President’s style of governance.

Yesterday, the so called Senate Intelligence Committee blocked any possibility of looking into the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens strictly along a party line vote, instead creating a new sub- committee which is supposed to pay closer attention to this ongoing and - until we change presidents - permanent violation of the law. Sure they will. I mean, who gives a hoot about the law when you’re in control of all aspects of law - of all branches of government?

It disturbs me that Bush is as high as 34% in the polls. I heard mention of one yesterday that puts him a little higher!! I know that we’re a divided country on matters political - more so than at any other time in my memory - and that both sides think the other has no clue about what’s going on - but how can we hope to come together and solve our problems and make sure that our country is moving in the right direction when as many as 34% of Americans believe the sort of thing that’s expressed in this "letter to the editor" that I read the other day?

Here is someone who believes that "Bush and Republicans" have worked tirelessly to confront terrorism worldwide while Democrats do nothing but fight the President and are concerned about terrorists having their phones tapped.

How do you respond to such a person and such thinking? How is that any different from Karl Rove’s ridiculous assertion that "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attacker?" How scary that anyone - even the most rabid of conservatives - would buy into that kind of thinking?

We’ve got 34% or more of the people who are paying little or no attention to the warning signs represented by the sort of material referenced in the two blogs linked above - nor were the more than 20,000 Texans who voted to return Tom DeLay to Congress in yesterday’s Republican primary.

And against this background, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are beginning to make the same kind of statements about Iran as they made about Iraq while they were preparing for the invasion of that country. Particularly ominous are their statements that they know that Iranians are coming across the boarder and fermenting insurgency in Iraq. They may be right, but when you think back to the things they said they absolutely knew about Iraq before pushing the launch button - you have to start worrying about the kids who still think it’s worth the risk of joining the military to get an education and acquire some work skills.

If we don’t change the balance of power in November in at least one of the houses of Congress and stay on the same political course for the next two or three years, I hesitate to speculate what this country and the world will look like by the time we get an opportunity to elect a new President.

Just a scary day with scary thoughts. I’ll have to look for something more uplifting to write about for the rest of this week. Suggestions are welcome.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I picked up this video from israpundit.com last week and sent it to a number of people via e-mail.

It’s about five minutes long, but worth every second of your time to listen and to watch this LA based, Syrian born psychologist saying the sort of things that I’m sure many western leaders believe but are afraid to say - instead tip-toeing around the subject of the dangers presented by Islamic belief by talking about terrorists "hijacking a peaceful religion!"

If you believe that is the problem, I have some shares in an east coast bridge that I’d like to sell you.

Listen to this woman. The video is from a debate broadcast on Al Jazeera so she speaks in Arabic with English sub-titles. There is a transcript of the video which you can read here - but the impact is far greater watching and listening to her.

Her name is Wafa Sultan and you can find information on line about articles she has written and transcripts of other debates she has had with Muslim clerics.

This is one brave woman whose life may well be in danger for the things she says, but if she keeps at it she might inspire others to speak out in the same vein - with who knows what possible results? If we're ever going to solve the problem she addresses, the way to start has to be an acknowledgment of the truth - from both sides of this conflict.

I watched a little more than a third of the Academy Awards last night - mainly to catch Jon Stewart. Normally I wouldn’t bother to watch at all but Stewart pulled me in. He was great - striking just the right note and treating the assembled crowd the way he treats news on the Daily Show - but with less sharpened daggers. After all, though he was the host, he was also their guest and behaved more or less appropriately. But he did ad-lib a couple of times in pure "Daily Show" style. After George Clooney won his best supporting actor Oscar for example, he suggested that it might help the young lad get laid - as if he needed any help in that department.

Not everyone appreciated his work. Someone writing in the Chicago Tribune called his material "mediocre." An "art critic" from the same paper didn’t understand a long piece about Hollywood as Sodom and Gomorrah that didn’t have a punch line - other than Stewart saying "I don’t really have a joke here" which evoked the kind of laughter in my house that a punch line would likely have evoked for the unimaginative Tribune writer who didn’t understand that the absence of a punch line was the punch line. Some of the great punch line-less shaggy dog stories that I learned in my youth would be wasted on such a critic.

I haven’t seen any of the Oscar nominated feature films and I’m not sure which I will in the future - probably after they’ve been released on DVD. But I have to smile when I hear people - professional critics and ordinary folk alike - complain that Academy members are "out of touch" because they didn’t select any of last year’s money making blockbusters as candidates for Oscars. Which of course is a little like wondering why McDonald’s and Burger King don’t boast at least two Michelin stars or don’t get any kind of Zagat rating.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Since I’ve been writing about "free" speech for a few days, I must say that it pains me to end the week with a few words in defense of the President. Anyone reading this blog knows that I have little respect for Dubya’s policies and even less for his intellect and abilities. I want my President to be a hell of a lot more knowledgeable and smarter than I am , which was certainly the case with Dubya’s predecessor - but whenever I watch and listen to Mr. Bush, I usually end up shaking my head at the thought that we’ve twice elected this guy to run our country and I know I’m smarter than he is!!

Maybe that’s why I’m coming to his defense in this flap over the conference call tape where the possibility of the New Orleans levees collapsing was articulated, where "Brownie" warned that Katrina "could be the big one" - where Dubya asked no questions but assured everyone that the Federal government was ready and able to provide all necessary help - and yet four days later was saying that he didn’t think that anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.

Liberal radio - what there is of it - and Democratic and left leaning blogs have jumped on this like flies on horse dung, citing it as proof that Dubya is a LIAR. He lied to get us into Iraq and now we know he lied about Katrina. But was it a lie when he said that nobody anticipated that the levees would fail? If it was, you would then have to assume that the President was fully engaged during the conference call that took place the day before Katrina hit and that the reason he didn’t ask any questions was because he was concentrating so hard on absorbing and retaining everything that was being said by Brownie and Chertoff and Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield.

But he must have understood it all you might say - because he assured all involved that he was ready to give everyone everything they needed to battle this impending disaster. But would you have felt the same way if he had given one of his famous inappropriate facial expressions and said "Bring it (Katrina) on?" Would you have then thought he had a full understanding of just how serious a problem we were facing?

This is a President who opens his mouth and all too often says whatever might come tumbling out - not necessarily originating in any portion of his brain. He could well have believed that nobody anticipated the collapse of the levees. He could well have not understood that Max Mayfield’s remarks about the levees should have been interpreted as a warning of a possible collapse. He may not have even heard them!!

There are times when I am certain that Mr. Bush doesn’t know what he is actually saying. Such as when he was asked during a press conference in March of 2002 why he hadn’t spoken about Bin Laden for some time and he said that "he didn’t know where he was and didn’t spend much time thinking about him and that he truly wasn’t that concerned about him." And just two days ago in Afghanistan, he vowed that Bin Laden would be brought to justice. "It’s not a matter of if" said Cowboy George on Wednesday - "but when." What he might say today or tomorrow is anyone’s guess. Maybe issue his umpteenth veto threat!! Or tell us that we’re "winning" the "war on terror."

Think about it. This is the same man whose reaction to the news of World Trade Center attack, was to continue with a story that he had been reading to some Florida school children - with a blank - almost puzzled look on his face.

I won’t say that he’s disengaged all the time, but often enough so that when he contradicts himself he’s not necessarily lying - and I would give him the benefit of the doubt when he said that the collapsed levees in New Orleans were a big surprise. I’d give odds that he probably believed that to be the case - heaven help us!!

Speaking of Presidential lies, it’s been a while since I did a check on Clinton vs Bush in that category. According to Google on March 2, 2006, "Bush Lies" produced 42,400,000 hits and "Clinton lies" 17,400,000. Now some might say that it reflects worse on Clinton than Bush because he’s been out of office for more than five years and he still gets "lie" hits in the millions. On the other hand, since George Dubya has been in office more than five years, you can assume that most of his "lie" hits are his whereas Bill and Hillary are probably sharing the Clinton hits.

One final thought of the week on the issue of free speech and what kind of limits should be placed on that guaranteed right.

The Supreme Court ruled eight to one that the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) could no longer be used to prosecute anti-abortion protesters who harass patients and medical personnel at abortion clinics or at the office of a doctor who performs abortion. The lone dissenter was Justice Paul Stevens.

It was probably the wrong law to use to try to keep these anti-abortion crazies from scaring women and doctors to death and indeed to keep crazies bent on murdering doctors who perform abortions as far away as possible - though there is no law that could have kept a madman like Paul Hill from doing what he considered to be "God’s work!!"

There may be some other laws that women and doctors can turn to for possible protection against the kind of harassment used by groups such as the Pro-Life Action League, but for the moment they are free to harass to their heart’s content.

On the other hand, a jury in Trenton, New Jersey convicted an animal rights group and six of its members for harassing a company called Huntingdon Life Sciences that tests drugs and household products on animals.

In both cases, the activists were and are people who - in my opinion - go over the top in their protests. I am a lover of animals and would support any effort to stop the kind of inhumane testing that goes on at some facilities - but I wouldn’t advocate doing it with acts of violence.

I don’t know whether or not the people who were convicted in the animal case actually committed acts of violence - their site disclaimer says they have nothing to do with militant animal rights groups and that they do not encourage nor condone any illegal acts - but they nonetheless were found guilty of committing acts of harassment - using their web site and protesting outside of the homes of employees of the company.

The Supreme Court decision gave anti-abortionists a green light to continue to exercise what they believe to be their freedom of speech rights - while the jury in the New Jersey case agreed with the prosecution’s contention that the animal rights group’s version of free speech was "animal enterprise terrorism and stalking" and is punishable by up to 7 years in jail and a hefty fine.

It’s my opinion that neither of these groups - the Pro Life Action League and SHAC - "Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty - should have unlimited "free speech" rights. The anti-abortion crowd shouldn’t be allowed to block access to abortion clinics and the animal rights crowd shouldn’t be allowed to harass employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences at their homes.

But the two virtually opposite decisions point out how difficult it is to regulate "free speech" and why many advocate the widest possible latitude - an almost limitless interpretation of first amendment rights.

I would assume that the New Jersey case will be appealed and may end up in the Supreme Court. We’ll see then how the changed balance of the high court affects its interpretation of free speech. Is it the same for all or, depending on subject matter of the "speech" - more free for some than others?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Since I’ve been talking about free speech lately and my view that it has its limits, I thought I would take note of a couple of things going on across the pond.

Ken Livingstone is the Jew baiting Mayor of London, first elected in 2000 in what was London’s first ever election for mayor and re-elected in 2004 with a healthy majority.

He has a history of welcoming and praising people who we would consider terrorists - and generally criticizing western policies toward the Arab world and siding with the Palestinians in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict - to the point of defending suicide bombing as a tactic.

Given London’s considerable Muslim population of over 600,000 and with eleven candidates in 2000 and ten in 2004 splitting a total voter turn out of under two million in both years, it isn’t surprising that he triumphed in London’s first mayoral election and won re-election easily.

With his pro-Arab, anti-Jewish, anti-Israel stance, his policies for London as described in the 2004 election result link above - are of little influence on the outcome. He could probably run and get elected as often as the Daleys of Chicago - father and son.

Nonetheless, I disagree with the action taken by England’s "adjudication panel" which "suspended" him for four weeks for insulting a reporter who happened to be Jewish by telling him he was just like a concentration camp guard - doing his job only because that was what he was paid to do. Livingstone doesn’t get along with reporters, specially reporters from conservative papers and this isn’t the first time he’s made silly comments to members of the fourth estate.

If the concept of free speech in a democracy having some limitations is to find support and acceptance among the populace, the worst thing a government or a government body can do is to ban or punish silly speech - which is what Livingstone’s comments were. There was nothing dangerous in his attempt to berate and perhaps insult the reporter. It wasn’t some inflammatory comment made in a public speech. If it hadn’t been caught on tape, very likely no one would have known or cared about it. It would have been between Livingstone and the reporter and they could have duked it out or continued to hurl insults at each other and nobody would have been any the wiser nor injured in any way.

The Brits are naturally on edge since the bomb attacks of last July that killed dozens people riding London buses and trains - and it was not a surprise when they sought to fashion new laws to deal with the threat of terrorist attacks. I applaud the conviction of Abu Hamza who preached murder and mayhem in his notorious Finsbury Park Mosque. How much more open and how much better a solution to a perceived threat to the security of the United Kingdom than our approach of spiriting people away to a primitive hell hole in Guantanamo and holding them there for years without charge!!

The "glorification of terrorism" law may have its flaws - but at least it’s an open and understandable law. People like Abu Hamza will be prosecuted in open court. Not for criticizing the British government or it’s policies. Not for claiming that the Holocaust never took place. Not for attacking Gays or Jews or anyone else. Free speech will still be protected in England. But a specific kind of speech - speech in the same category as yelling "fire" in a crowded theater or "bomb" as you’re boarding a plane, will no longer come with a "get out of jail" card. Rather it will have a "you may go to jail" card attached.

But to confuse those kinds of laws and those kinds of prosecutions with the nonsensical things that Mayor Livingstone says privately or at least in a one on one confrontation, makes them a little more difficult to accept.

Free speech is a precious thing - a bedrock of free societies. When we start to fiddle with it, we need to be damned sure to get it right. Britain’s Adjudication Panel didn’t and needs to take a hard look at itself before it arrives at any more decisions like the one it imposed on the idiot known as Ken Livingstone.