What's All This Then?

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

So the Palestinians have discovered a new weapon. Israeli civilization. Whenever Israel warns people to leave or stay away from a structure that is about to be attacked for military reasons - they now do the opposite. They congregate in and around the target area, presenting themselves as human shields. The Israelis of course will not attack. They will not deliberately plow through crowds of innocent people.

Palestinian attackers of course, pray for the equivalent of "human shields" when they do their dirty work. The more Israeli civilians they can take with them as they blow themselves into Islamic "Paradise" - the greater their feat of "martyrdom." Fortunately for the Israelis who were close to the Palestinians’ other, recently introduced weapon - grandmothers who blow themselves up in acts of martyrdom - the first effort of this kind of suicide murder resulted in little more than minor injuries to a few soldiers. 57-year-old Fatma Omar An-Najar, mother of nine and grandmother of thirty, wasn’t close enough to do any greater damage when she detonated the explosives strapped to her body.

And as if the idea of grandmothers blowing themselves up in an effort to kill as many as "the enemy" as possible isn’t crazy enough - Hamas claimed "responsibility" for the attack. That’s Hamas - as in the elected government of the Gaza and West Bank Palestinians. And Israel is trying to make peace with such people?

Yet as I write, with a Gaza strip "cease fire" in place that has already been broken, Ehud Olmert is again talking about withdrawing some west bank settlements - and - as I have noted here with dismay - about swapping "many prisoners" for the release of Gilad Shalit, whose capture precipitated the massive assault on Gaza - on people and on infrastructure. And of course the IDF personnel kidnapped by Hezbollah which sparked that conflict, remain in the hands of the so called Party of God that is threatening to unseat the current Lebanese government. And the "cease fire" only applies to Gaza.

Of course peace is what is desired by Israel and Israelis and I would hope that peace is what is desired by most of the Arabs living in Gaza and the west bank - but these temporary cease fires and small movements of people from one spot to another isn’t going to produce peace. Nothing that has been tried for the last 58 years has moved the two sides close to peace. That is because the two sides have different interpretations of what peace means - and because there are more than two sides at play - with other players having no interest in seeing Israel living in peace in the Middle East.

Peace - a permanent peace with secure borders and normal relationships between sovereign nations isn’t going to be achieved between Israel and a Hamas led government. That kind of peace probably can’t be achieved with any of the various Palestinian factions running things. If you step back and take a look at the map of the area - and do it without dreaming - it doesn’t take long to conclude that for decades, both sides have been tilting at windmills in this quest for a normal peace. Most of what was once Palestine is gone. It disappeared in the creation of Jordan. What remains is the viable nation of Israel - and the Gaza strip and the land between Israel and the Jordan river which in my view is not viable as the basis for a self sustaining sovereign nation.

What exists now should never have been - and of course there are many who say that Israel should never have been, But we have to deal with what is and the burning question is - how? There are those that advocate a one state solution - Israel, Gaza, the West Bank. It’ll never fly. The Jews of Israel will never allow themselves to be swallowed up by an Arab state - Islamic or not. And that of course would happen with a one state, one man one vote solution. Arabs would outnumber Jews in short order and once again Jews would be a minority in the land in which they live. The two thousand year history that led to the re-birth of ancient Israel cries out across the ages at the thought of such an outcome.

So what to do?

On October 10, 2003, I wrote a piece here titled Ideal Two State Solution. It was somewhat tongue-in-cheek - but it had the outline of a grand plan that some people working for a peaceful solution from inside of Israel thought had some merit. Of course they also were quick to point some of the objections that would be raised.

Grand plans have been proposed before - but not by the Israeli government or any Palestinian authority. The Geneva Peace Plan - which is linked from my blog entry above - was a pretty good outline, except that it called for two separate states and withdrawal of settlers from all of whatever became the Palestinian state. My proposal was for a "Two In One" state solution. Give it a read. The October 10, 2003 link.

Everything that has been tried or proposed up to now has led to nothing but more strife between the parties. It is time - indeed past time - for Israel - the government of Israel, not individual organizations - to make a grand proposal for a way to live in peace with those who call themselves Palestinians. It is time to propose it publicly - to the Palestinians and to the rest of the world. It is time to offer an extraordinary hand in friendship as in my idea for a "Benelux" type of relationship. The reaction of the Palestinian leadership to such a proposal should be revealing and instructive as to what Israel’s future policy should be toward them.

Nothing has worked up to now. Why not try something revolutionary? Maybe that’s what generations of Israelis and Palestinians have been waiting for. I’m just an observer from thousands of miles away - but I know it’s what I’ve been waiting for!!

Monday, November 27, 2006
Not that anyone listens, but I’ll keep telling you anyway……

This blog has been on a Thanksgiving vacation which will likely continue into much of this week, but after reading newspapers for the last few days, I had to find a moment to comment on the relationship between what is said here and what one can subsequently find in national newspapers.

This is a one man, labor of love blog. No one pays me to do it. I do not pretend to practice journalism. I don’t call sources and try to track down stories. What I write is pretty much personal opinion and personal observation. Because of that, I take some pride in my ability to make fairly accurate predictions about certain matters. I’m not going to provide examples in today’s comments. I don’t have the time or any strong desire to hunt for them and insert links. Maybe later.

But I did want to point out how I frequently make an observation here, only to later find the same or similar comments being made in national newspapers. A couple of such "after the blog" comments caught my eye in recent days.

On November 20, I wrote about the potential rip off of Cook County Illinois voters by one Bobbie Steele, the temporary president of the Cook County Board, who could receive double the pension she would have been entitled to as a board member if she retired before her temporary position expired at the end of this year. I expressed my disgust.

Five days later, in a November 25 editorial, the Chicago Tribune expressed its disgust! I’m not saying that the Tribune was inspired to write its piece because of this blog - but I do wonder what took them so long!!

And I have to congratulate The Indian Express and other newspapers that quoted the words of Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram about the way that crude oil - and it’s primary derivative gasoline - is priced.

I’ve said what Mr. Chidambaram has now said many times in this blog - the last two times on April 20, 2006 and July 17, 2006 (second item) - that the price of crude oil has less to do with supply and demand than with speculation on the world’s crude oil futures markets.

When a country’s Finance Minister says it, it makes news - as though it was some kind of new thought. When I say it in this blog, no one pays attention. Such is the life of a lonely observer of the passing parade and uncannily accurate predictor of future parade routes. I’m happy to be right of course, but I’d be just as happy to be like the pundits who are right less often and get paid anyway.

Send money!!

Keep Hope Alive!!

I hope Jesse won’t bill me for using that last bit.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I may be cutting back on blogging frequency for a while, while I concentrate on dealing with health problems - but I have to add this brief comment while it’s on my mind. I’ve been listening to the local station that carries some Air America programs and some syndicated "progressive" talkers. I put progressive in quotes because that’s what most of them call themselves, though I’m not quite sure what it’s supposed to men.

Since the election, a good many people have been calling these shows expressing dismay at Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that impeachment of the president is "off the table." These are all people who are mad at Mr. Bush and don’t think that he should be given a free ride when it comes to the commission of impeachable offenses - if such offenses could be proved.

Most of the radio hosts are either neutral on the subject or lean in Ms. Pelosi’s direction, but I have yet to hear one of them state the obvious. Unless a whole lot of Republican senators are willing to abandon all sense of party loyalty and look upon and judge facts as facts - an impeachment of President Bush is a non-starter.

You might be able to get the House to begin an exercise in futility - simply out of a sense of frustration or out of the need to make a statement for the history books. All that is needed is a simple majority vote and the Democrats now have that majority. But a trial in the Senate would require a two thirds vote to convict - and the last time I looked at the line up is was 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats and two independents who - as of the moment - plan to caucus with the Democrats, giving them the slimmest of majorities. The votes for impeachment conviction simply aren’t there - so just conversation about it is an exercise in futility.

Do These Numbers Look Right to You?

$51,100,000 and $136,000 are dollar amounts that are far apart to be sure, but they are like peas in a pod in terms of the feelings of disgust that they arouse in me.

I pay little attention to sports in general and even less to the ridiculously exorbitant amount that some athletes get paid - but sometimes a number seems so out of line that it catches my attention long enough get disgusted with how out of balance it is with the reality of everything happening in most people’s daily lives. The Chicago Cubs had a horrible season - finishing last or close to last in their league. So you wouldn’t think they would mortgage Wrigley Field to hold on to any of their losing players. You’d be wrong of course. They just re-signed their third baseman, Aramis Ramirez for five years during which he’ll be paid a total of $73 million dollars. $14.6 million a year!!! And as of this morning, they signed someone else for 8 years and $136 million dollars!!!

But the $51.1 million mentioned above struck me as an even crazier figure because that’s the amount that the amount that the Boston Red Sox have put up for the right to negotiate with a Japanese pitcher. Just to negotiate with him. Fifty one million bucks just to talk to the guy. According to the story, they don’t have to pay that amount if they don’t sign him - but if they do, it comes on top of how many hundreds of millions this instant multimillionaire will be paid for a few years of his services.

When these kinds of numbers get bandied about - the image of professional sport as a pleasant pastime - as something for all of us to share and enjoy - athletes and fans together - becomes blurred, indistinct. To me, it casts a dark cloud over the field of play. I cannot imagine myself paying to go to a ball park to watch someone swing a bat or toss a ball and not have those ridiculous dollar signs obscure my view of the action. It’s beyond ostentation. It’s beyond excess. It’s sick. Devoid of all sense of reason and proportionality. I don’t know what it is, but it’s no longer sport.

But what about that tiny figure ? The "tiny" one. That $136,000 that seems out of place among all these millions. It’s an amount that the temporary President of the Cook County, Illinois Board will get as an annual pension if she retires before the newly elected president - the SON of the former president about whom I have written here with disgust (second item) - takes his place in the presidential chair. The reason it disgusts me almost as much as the crazy amounts being paid to baseball players is that if the temporary chairperson - one Bobbie Steele - was not holding down the president’s job on a temporary basis and wanted to retire from her job as a commissioner on that same board, her pension would be half that amount - still a handsome sum. But for the privilege of filling in for a matter of a few months until the son of the father takes over his fiefdom - the taxpayers of this county in Illinois will be giving Ms Steels a gift of $68,000 a year for life if she decides to retire before the end of the year.

But it’s not just this little bit of political sleight of hand at the taxpayer’s expense that annoys me as much as the whole pension set up that political job holders enjoy - to say nothing of the salaries they get before they retire. Every once in a while we hear about someone leaving a political job - elected or otherwise - to make more money in the private sector. That may make sense for some professionals - lawyers for example. Maybe a lawyer working full time for a municipality - or even an elected judge - could make more money in the right kind of private law practice. But you don’t hear it about a whole gamut of jobs in the public sector because it just isn’t true. Big city public works jobs often pay far more than the job holder could dream of making in the private sector. Jobs like "inspector" and "administrative assistant." High five and sometimes low six figure annual salaries - some of it earned through the magic of "overtime." Take a look at this list of Cook County, Illinois departments. Click on any of them and see the range of basic salaries and how many are in the seventies and eighties annually!!

My wife has a masters degree and has worked at a University Library for 27 years and she would barely be in the mid range of these public sector salaries - and she definitely won’t be able to collect the kind of pension that the public employees get after the same length of service - even with the same salary as my wife is getting in the private sector.

No great philosophical point to make here. Just an expression of disgust at things that rub me the wrong way.

Friday, November 17, 2006

During and after then recent clash with Hezbollah - which produced nothing other than death and destruction for Lebanon and for Israel - the two kidnapped Israeli solders which was the ostensible spark that launched the conflict have yet to be released - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s competence and judgment was challenged and criticized. Did his decision to launch what amounted to a full scale war against Hezbollah make sense? Was it the right thing to do and the right time to do it? These are questions that are being asked and some people are coming up with their own - not too favorable answers.

I don’t know whether or not it was the right thing to do and I’m not sure I have any right to make judgments sitting in the comfort of my computer room in a Chicago suburb. But I do have a right to express an opinion about Olmert - and at the moment, I think he has lost all sense of perspective - and if he has any sense of judgment, I think he left it in Israel when he took off to visit the U.S. and meet with President Bush.

After three and a half years of struggling to make sense of our Iraqi adventure, the President is finally beginning to acknowledge that we need to make some major changes in what we’re doing. He still says that the ultimate goal is "victory" - and that can be interpreted any way you like - but he’s obviously backing away from the endless and meaningless "stay the course" - bringing in his father’s old guard to lean on. Even some of the neocom architects of the invasion are expressing revisionist thoughts about the disastrous affair.

While we have been bogged down in Iraq, Iran has become what seems to be a more serious problem to deal with. Are they or are they not developing atomic weapons? Are the crazed statements of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just that - nutty rhetoric designed to irritate us and other western countries and stimulate patriotic pride in Iranians? Or does Iran have serious intentions to attack Israel and perhaps other countries in some blind religious desire to spread Islamic hegemony throughout the Middle East, Europe and perhaps the world?

We don’t really know because we don’t talk to them and we don’t have good eyes and ears on the ground that we can rely on for information. What we do know is that they fought an eight year war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988 and we backed Iraq in that conflict. When the war ended in 1988, no treaty was signed and Iraq remained as a counterbalance to Iran’s influence in the region. But now? The Shias of Iran and Iraq are more likely to be allies than enemies.

Iraq is an unholy mess that will take a miracle to rescue it from the brink of total disaster. So what is Ehud Olmert’s view of the situation? That our invasion and occupation of Iraq has STABILIZED the region. That’s what he said to Mr. Bush the other day. That American operations in Iraq have brought STABILITY to the Middle East. It boggles the mind. Even Bush and the gang of neocons aren’t making such ridiculous claims.

Maybe it’s time for Ehud Olmert to look for a new line of work. He sure seems to be screwing up his current job.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

One thing I learned over the past few days. You don’t feel much like blogging when you’re suffering from Bell’s Palsy - which hit me like a ton of bricks on Friday. The worst part of it is having one eye that won’t blink!! You have to keep pumping stuff in it so it won’t dry out. You could actually lose vision in the affected eye with this silly problem. I wouldn’t want that to happen. With all the changes going on in Washington and around the country and around the world - it’s hard enough to get a clear picture of things with both eyes working at full capacity.

The new hierarchical line-up in the House hasn’t been worked out yet, but already some presidential hopefuls are starting up the exploratory committees and others are giving coy answers to reporter’s questions. I’ve been asking questions too - of myself and of others.

I was at the hospital for some tests a few days ago and while I was waiting for the doctor, I decided to conduct an impromptu survey about a possible future presidential race. It wasn’t much of a survey. I only had a chance to talk to one female hospital employee before the doctor arrived - but her answers were interesting and maybe an early warning of what lies ahead.

My basic survey question was "would you vote for Barack Obama for president?" The answer was a resounding NO - and I asked why. I said is he too young - too inexperienced? Pointing out that if he won he would be older that JFK was when he was elected. The answer was yes and yes but that wasn’t the reason she wouldn’t consider Obama. It was because Jesse Jackson would automatically have undue influence in the White House. She wasn’t a Republican. Her opinion of Bush was that he was a jerk. But that was her perception about an Obama White House and she wouldn’t believe otherwise.

Of course since his name began to get bandied about, more attention began to be paid to his past and present activities. I wrote about him critically the other day because of his blind partisan support of an unqualified and sneakily selected fellow Democrat for a local office. And I’m someone who was an enthusiastic supporter of his Senatorial campaign.

Hillary of course has been talked about by pundits as the leading Democratic candidate for months - but so far, she hasn’t given any definitive indication of her future ambitions. My reaction to the possibility of her as the candidate is why? What is it about Mrs. Clinton that makes her more desirable than any of the other possible candidates? She’s a sharp women - there’s no question about that. But you could say that about hundreds of Democrats in and out of public office. I think you need something special to lift you above the crowd and I’m not sure Hillary has it other than her gender.

I was disappointed to hear that Russ Feingold removed himself from consideration. There was someone with something interesting to lift himself above the crowd. Apart from being sharp, he, like Obama, would be a "first" if he won. Obama the first black president. Feingold the first Jewish president!! It’ll happen one day folks - but I doubt in 2008.

The funniest hat getting ready to be tossed in the ring belongs to that of the former mayor of New York - Rudy Giuliani. Here’s a guy who was best known for his highly public extramarital affair while he was serving as mayor - and then became a "hero" because he rushed into the streets after the 9/11 attack. What he’s done since to demonstrate his ability to become the leader of the free world escapes me. Maybe he’ll tell us while his exploratory committee is being formed.

From where I sit, the McCain presidential hat is almost as funny. I’ve written about the Senator from Arizona a few times on this blog - the most recent just last month. People call him a maverick. People give him a lot of slack because of his history as a POW who endured torture. But as a presidential candidate I have to look at him as someone who manages to hide behind the veneer that people seemed inclined to grant him while he flip flops to position himself for whatever moment is at hand. As I said in the blog comment linked above - when the "real" John McCain stands up, will anyone be able to recognize him?

Historically, the odds are against McCain, Obama and Clinton to win the big prize. Only TWO sitting senators have been elected president. Warren G Harding and JFK. American voters seem to prefer governors. Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Roosevelt, Carter. We’re lucky that our laws prevent one sitting governor from making a run at the White House. Can you picture a President Schwartzenegger as leader of the free world? Maybe that’s not such a silly question considering who the current occupant is.

One former presidential wannabe who is unlikely to throw his hat in the ring for 2008, is nonetheless someone who could cause plenty of trouble between now and then if he feels so inclined - and that is the elected head of the party of one - Joe Lieberman!!! Elected by Republicans from his state - Lamont got more than the total votes cast in the Democratic primary - he could, if he feels so inclined - become the Ralph Nader of the Senate, believing his views to be superior to any majority or to any party.

Before he was elected as a "Petitioning Democrat" - he was crystal clear on his affiliation. He was a Democrat and would caucus with the Democrats. Interviewed since he was re-elected, his answers to questions about his party affiliation have been somewhat shaded. He’s an "Independent Democrat" but he could vote with the Republicans - and with the help of Darth Vader , stop any Democratic initiatives that he didn’t care for for the next two years.

The Democrats will bow and scrape and acknowledge his seniority and give him his committee chairmanship, but this man with an ego bigger than his hat size is undoubtedly feeling and enjoying his power to upset the Democratic apple cart and I would be surprised if he doesn’t do something like that one or more times over the next two years. And I wouldn’t be shocked and surprised if he just moves to the other side of the aisle and declares Republican allegiance.

After a quick visit to the White House for a kiss on the cheek of course!!

Friday, November 10, 2006
Words Of Wisdom Actually, But I’m Too Modest To Say That In All Caps….

So there’ll be no more Rummyspeak for the last two years of the Bush Two era. No more known knowns and known unknowns and unknown unknowns. I’ll miss the convolutionology . (Don’t look it up. I made it up. It’s a strategery thing). The arrogance - and what experts tell us has been his incompetence, I won’t miss.

Will anything change with the beginning of the Bob Gates era or will it be more or less cosmetic? I have a feeling it will be the latter. The President is still in charge. I can’t imagine him agreeing to anything but what is probably the unachievable - "victory" in Iraq. Unless he’s willing to be creative and change the definition of victory. And do what we did in Vietnam. Declare victory and go home. And hope for a better outcome after we leave. And not wait nine years as we did after Republican Senator George Aiken suggested that as a solution to the Vietnam quagmire in 1966.

I suppose it’s possible that one benefit from the change at the Pentagon and from the promise to work with the Democratic leadership to solve problems - is that we’ll have fewer speeches by Mr. Bush laced with the fear phraseology he has been using for the past five years - "9/11." "War." "Terrorism." "War on Terror." "9/11." "September 11." At least in the immediate post- election period. Then again - if there is a lull in that kind of rhetoric, it isn’t likely to last long. . As the Republicans begin to battle each other for the prize of being the presidential candidate in 2008 - the endless "war on terror" will undoubtedly be front and center as Bush rails against the danger to our very existence of installing a (gasp) - Democrat in the White House.

But whether or not there is a lull in the "politics of fear" - the immediate post-election era would seem to be a good time to try to analyze the nonsensical rhetoric that the President has been spouting for years - and particularly for the last three and a half years.

First the word "war" and the phrase "war on terror." It’s semantic double speak. A first cousin of an oxymoron. Saying that we are at "war" with "terror" makes about as much sense as saying that we are declaring "war" against bad breath - or bad manners. There is no such country as Badbreathistan or Badmannersalia. It would be wonderful if "terror" could be removed from the human experience - though certain movie producers would strongly disagree - but it can’t be removed by military action.

Saying that we are "at war" with "terrorists" makes little more sense than being at "war" with "terror." And you really can’t get around the silliness of this by classifying it as an "unconventional war" - or that most insulting bit of silliness - a "complicated war" that is "difficult to understand." By we common folk. As Rummy himself put it as he bowed out on Wednesday.
"The great respect that I have for your leadership, Mr. President, in this little understood, unfamiliar war, the first war of the 21st century -- it is not well-known, it was not well-understood, it is complex for people to comprehend. And I know, with certainty, that over time the contributions you've made will be recorded by history."
In what book isn’t quite clear yet.

By the Bush definition of war - major nations around the world should also be in a state of war. But for whatever reason or reasons, countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy and Russia - though victims of, concerned with and working to guard against acts of terrorism - have not announced to their people and to the world that they are in a "state of war."

In this crazy world that sophisticated aliens from distant planets refuse to visit - terrorists abound. They’re in no one place. They don’t carry identity badges or wear uniforms. But we know that they exist and that they want to harm people they don’t like - a long list on which I am sure Americans hold a place of prominence. Probably in first place. So - as long as the human race remains in the state of immaturity that produces terrorists - we need to do what we are doing. Examine everything and everyone boarding planes and other public transportation. Screen the inflow of goods at our ports (Actually, I’m not sure that we’re doing much if a job in port security). Keep track of people entering our country - and maybe not let everyone in just because they carry a valid passport. Talk to the leaders of other countries on a regular basis - particularly countries in unstable parts of the world, whether we like them or not. And work with every other country with which we have reasonably friendly relations to look for and rout out terrorist cells.

But do it quietly and efficiently without endless rhetoric about war and evil nations and evil leaders and the important Presidential job of protecting Americans.

Perhaps the silliest thing that the President insists on saying is that Iraq is "the central front in the war on terror!!" Say what??? Before we invaded Iraq, the only terror that existed there was that which Saddam Hussein inflicted on his own people. Dictators have a habit of doing things like that. But as a central point from which terrorists embarked to far away places on a daily basis to do their evil work? How far away is an accusation like that from one about Jews using the blood of Christian babies to make Matzos? It’s really that ridiculous.

If the President wanted to zero in on a particular country as "the central front in the war on terror" - how about Saudi Arabia? Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists were Saudis. Not one was Iraqi. Yet we invade Iraq and the President holds hands with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

If the President wanted to zero in on some place that could be "the central front on the war on terror" - why not pick up the phone, call his pal Tony over in England and say "Yo Blair. Let’s go git us some terrorists in Pakistan." Blair might go for that suggestion, given the ancestry of Britain’s home grown terrorists.

But then the President and Musharraf are hand holding buddies too.

But as this momentous week comes to a close, I do have some sense of hope. The President has had lunch with Nancy Pelosi and presumably subjected to a frontal assault of "San Francisco Values" If that doesn’t change the man’s direction and rhetoric, I can’t imagine what else will.

The only question is what kind changes will result? As I said on Wednesday - the next two years should be fun to watch.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

This time the vote agreed with the exit polls - even in Ohio. I’m reasonably pleased with the results because we absolutely have to make changes - in our Iraq strategy, in foreign affairs in general and in our domestic agenda. It simply wasn’t going to happen with both houses of congress in Republican hands. No one was challenging the executive branch and oversight was virtually non-existent. That should change - and I hope it will change for the better. There’s no guarantee of course. The majority members are still politicians - not knights in shining armor.

This isn’t a partisan blog like some that are always being quoted by other media - so there will be no gloating here. To the contrary, what I feel compelled to talk about is precisely what I think is the negative role that partisanship played in this election - as it does in election after election. And I imagine it will continue to do so as long as people insist upon calling themselves Republicans or Democrats and blindly voting for anyone running on those party labels.

Two years ago, 1,371,882 people in Illinois voted for Alan Keyes, who was running for the U.S. Senate as an "imported" Republican. They voted for him despite his maniacal harangues about his opponent being the personification of evil and his predictions that God would bring him victory. They voted for him because there was an R next to his name on the ballot.

This year - as of the count published in this morning’s papers - Katherine Harris had 1,342,576 votes cast for her in the Florida race for US Senator because she too had an R next to her name - this despite the fact that the Republican party tried to get her to quit the race in favor of a candidate with a little more compus mentis. She lost of course - but One Millions, Three Hundred and Forty Two Thousand, Five Hundred and Seventy Six people voted for this certifiable nut simply because there was an R next to her name on the ballot.

The other day, I expressed my dismay at the support being given to Cook County Board President candidate Todd Stroger by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and my Representative Jan Schakowski. Stroger, a black man, was chosen by the Democratic back room boys to run for the office vacated by his father - John Stroger. The process stunk and I felt that the support by Durbin and Schakowsky stunk too. It got even smellier when I received a letter urging me to vote for Mr. Stroger signed by Durbin and Barack Obama. I’m a supporter of Senator Obama, but I am dismayed that he would lend his name and support to the shenanigans that produced this particular candidate.

Sadly, Mr. Stroger’s race - which he appears to have won - was not just sullied by blind partisan politics - but by equally blind racial partisanship. A glance at the ward by ward voting in Chicago tells the story - Stroger 5,354 - his white Republican opponent 274. Or 9,478 to 367. The same in ward after ward with heavily African-American population. I caught a glimpse of a newscast yesterday where a reporter had asked a couple of African-American women about Stroger. I have to admit that I didn’t catch the question. When I turned to the station, the women were talking. They both were saying how they didn’t see anything wrong with Stroger’s candidacy and how much they approved of the concept of a father (John Stroger, retired President of the Cook County Board) helping a son (Todd Stroger, hand picked candidate for that job) - as though the County of Cook in the state of Illinois was a private business which Stroger senior had every right to keep in the family!

As the legendary Chicago Alderman Paddy Bauler said on the occasion of the election of the first Mayor Daley in 1955 - "Chicago ain’t ready for reform." A half century later - about the only kind of reform in the air is that of a forced nature - emanating from the office of Federal Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald!!

Over in Illinois’ sixth district, Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth - despite losing both her legs in battle - despite being endorsed by the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times - couldn’t overcome the Republican partisanship of voters in Henry Hyde’s long term district. She came close, but in the end, not enough members of the party that endorsed the President’s Iraq adventure and his "stay the course" policy could bring themselves to support someone who actually carried out part of that policy and sacrificed her limbs in the endeavor. Instead, they voted for Peter Roskam - someone who has never seen military service, who did not volunteer to join the military to carry out his president’s policies but who instead pursued a career in that hated of all professions (by Republicans) - that of a personal injury trial lawyer!! And a rich one at that!!

And in Ohio’s second Congressional District, where one would think Republican voters couldn’t wait to correct the error they made two years ago - electing a representative who brought shame and embarrassment to the district - they re-elected Jean Schmidt - she who stood on the House floor as she began her first term and called John Murtha a "cut and run" coward - an accusation that she was later forced to have removed from the record.

There are other cases around the country where loyalty to party labels and party philosophy trumped common sense, fair play and in some instances - decency! But all in all, it didn’t work out badly at all. Despite all of the partisanship, we now have President Bush reaching out to Democrats and pledging to work together to solve the nation’s problems. That should be fun to watch for the next two years.

Incidentally, I watched all of the President’s news conference today. He’s a lot better at it than when he first started out - but I always get the feeling that despite all of the banter from the podium, he is contemptuous of the reporters posing the questions. Does anyone else share this feeling I wonder?

Monday, November 06, 2006

And We’ll be Back to Regular Political Lies and Distortions….

Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot. That was yesterday. -
Guy Fawkes Day.
The commemoration of the plot - led by Mr. Fawkes - to blow up Westminster Palace and along with it, King James 1 and members of the Houses of Commons and Lords more than 400 years ago,.

Tomorrow, we’ll be trying to accomplish a more civilized equivalent method of selecting or rejecting our governmental representatives - but with no less passion that that expressed by the British plotters of 1605. And some might say no less civilized - considering the kind of vicious campaigning that has been going on and the suspicion that there will be attempts in some states to rig the results to favor incumbents who the polls say are facing likely defeat. If they could get away with it, some candidates would be happy to create their own version of Guy Fawkes Day by blowing their opponents to bits.

I for one can’t wait for the campaigning to stop. I may be wrong but I swear that elections in this country are getting dirtier and dirtier and this one may be the dirtiest yet. Winston Churchill once said "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." But then he didn’t observe American elections in the day of television attack ad campaigning or he might have left off the second half of that sentence.

We pride ourselves on being the world’s leading democracy but we are a sorry example of how to take advantage of the freedoms that our democratic system bestows upon us. Wikipedia lists the voter turn out of 36 nations over a 35 year period - and we come in at number 34!! Iceland - Venezuela and Bulgaria have larger percentage turn outs than us. Only a fraction of us decide how all of us should be governed - and that by itself is a national disgrace.

But just as bad - perhaps even worse - is the way campaigns are conducted by political aspirants. They lie, cheat and attack each other in ways that would clog our courts with libel and slander suits if it was anything but electioneering. And the fact that lying and cheating actually persuades voters to cast their ballots for or against a particular candidate is mind boggling. It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to see laws enacted that would require all eligible voters to pass an intelligence test before they are allowed to exercise their franchise.

A brief comment on the advertising of just two campaigns in the state of Illinois. The seat vacated by Republican Henry Hyde, who has represented Illinois’ sixth district since 1975 is between Republican candidate Peter Roskam - who in "normal" times would be a shoo-in in this heavily Republican district - and Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs fighting in that war. Both sides have attacked each other of course - but the lies about what Duckworth would do if elected are particularly over the top - considering who she is and the sacrifices she has made. The polls have had them neck and neck - and coming down to the wire, it wouldn’t have surprised me if the Roskam camp had come up with a television attack ad criticizing positions Duckworth doesn’t have and telling viewers that this former helicopter pilot "doesn’t have a leg to stand on." They didn’t - but that’s how dirty the campaign has been.

Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House, hasn’t done much advertising . Perhaps he felt that he didn’t need to. After all -how often does a ten term Congressman who is also the Speaker get defeated for re-election? But in the closing days of the race, I have heard at least one radio ad by Mr. Hastert in which he touts his accomplishments for the district - and says why he should be the choice instead of his Democratic opponent John Laesch - a 32 year old carpenter who has never run for political office before. Among other things, according to Hastert - Mr. Laesch, a former missionary and Naval intelligence officer - doesn’t share the district’s "values!!"

Say what? What’s wrong with John’s values? Not Christian enough maybe? Not bigoted enough - against same sex relationships and stem cell research? Not one of us? This garbage about "values" is the most sickening thing that a political candidate can use. It is the mask of bigotry behind which a candidate can hide. He/She may be an American but not an American like us!!

A Laesch win would be a major upset indeed, despite the fall out from the Foley affair hanging over Hastert’s head, - but if Hastert did lose, there wouldn’t need to be any tag days for him. Apart from his congressional pension, there’d be the millions he’s already made through the use of federal "earmarks." In a rational world, that alone would be enough for voters to give him his walking papers - but this is American politics, so I’m not holding my breath. Just my nose.

The dirty races have abounded throughout the country, but the award for "worst person in the campaign" - with apologies to Keith Olbermann - has to go to President Bush. It’s one thing to be enthusiastic when you’re the titular head of your party and you’re campaigning on behalf of party candidates, but the attacks that Bush has launched against Democrats has been beyond the pale, calling them "weak on terrorism" and ready to ruin the economy by raising taxes. The Bush/Rove approach to campaigning doesn’t criticize Democrats as the opposition - it demonizes them as "the enemy."

If the Democrats win control of at least the House, there will begin some measure of inquiry into and oversight of the actions of the Executive branch of government for the first time in six years.

What may come out of that may be painful but it will be cathartic for a nation that, in my view, is sorely in need of a new coat of democratic - small d - paint. And a powerful deodorant.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I thought about going to THE GOOGLE to see how many hits there would be in response to a John Kerry + foot in mouth search, but then I thought better of it. I didn’t want to be influenced by the opinions of others - none of whom I am sure realize what happened the other day - before I explained what I believe must have happened.

Like me, the former Democratic presidential candidate must have been both confused and intrigued by the new administration policy of "new speak." What you said wasn’t what you said. The new policy hasn’t lifted the President’s approval rating - but Kerry - still smarting from his defeat at the hands of someone I am sure he considers his inferior - probably figured that they were doing it again - coming up with a gimmick that he didn’t understand but that might well have the same effect as it did in 2004 - snatch a Republican victory from the jaws of defeat. So he though he would try it and put one over on Carl Rove.

He was wrong of course. It’s a gimmick designed for Republicans - and if it’s going to work at all, it will only work for Republicans. Used by Democrats, it is designed to backfire. Such is the genius of Mr. Rove.

There are those of course who will disagree with me - who will buy Kerry’s explanation that what he said was a "botched joke." There is a remote possibility that they are right and I am wrong - so let’s examine this unlikely theory.

A "botched" joke would be the incorrect telling of a true joke. A true joke has a premise, a story and a punch line. I’ve examined the Kerry comments that have set off a firestorm of criticism from the "usual suspects" - and while I can find a premise of some kind and a poor excuse for a story - I can’t for the life of me find a botched punch line. If there was a punch line to the original joke that Mr., Kerry says he botched - it disappeared entirely in the botching.

Now assuming that Kerry’s explanation of what he was trying to do as his foot descended into his esophagus is what actually happened and that he wasn’t using the administration's newly introduced "new speak" campaign tactic - one has to arrive at the obvious conclusion that he has no idea how to tell a joke. Even the original lines in his prepared remarks which spoke of "getting us stuck in Iraq" if you're "intellectually lazy," followed by "Just ask President Bush" wasn’t particularly funny - even if it was obvious that his intention was to criticize Bush and not insult our soldiers in Iraq.

In the hands of a Seinfeld or a Jon Stewart however -even the botched lines "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq" could have had them rolling in the aisles. They might have changed it a bit. They might have added a word like cucumber. Cucumber’s a funny word. "You get stuck in Iraq with a cucumber" would have been funny - and not subject to erroneous interpretation.

But he didn’t look for help, so he’s stuck with botching a joke that wasn’t a joke to begin with and of course now we’ll lose the war and the country will sink into a deep depression.

Or maybe Rove and his henchmen will fail in their effort to grab this piece of nonsense and make it an election issues instead of the real issues the nation faces. Maybe enough of the electorate finally sees through their bag of tricks and rejects it.

A comment about John McCain - who may be the Republican presidential candidate for 2008. One would expect the likes of Rush Limbaugh to be all over Kerry like a cheap suit. One expects false indignation from Tony Snow. And I would have been surprised if Mr. Bush had not joined in on the attack. Having listened to the disgusting things he has been saying about the opposition party in his stump speeches, there is no depth to which he would descend that would surprise me.

But McCain has professed to be a friend of Kerry’s and I would bet my last dollar that he knew what Kerry was trying to say and that in no way would he dream of insulting the young men and women putting their lives on the line every day in Iraq. But McCain wants to be president. So just as he would allow himself to be a lap dog for the man whose primary campaign against him in 2,000 spread the false smear that he had fathered a black child with a prostitute - he now turns on his friend for political gain, knowing full well that the accusations he hurls at Kerry are as false as the stories of his illegitimate black child.

On October 12 of this year, I asked "Will the real John McCain please stand up? And if he does will anyone be able to recognize him?"

Maybe the vision is become clearer as we get closer to the mid-terms and to the next presidential race - but it’s becoming a sad looking picture.

By the way - speaking of botched "jokes" - does anyone remember President Bush "Looking for WMD’s in the Oval Office?" If not, here’s a reminder.


I just have to add a comment to the above because Kerry, with his convoluted way of saying everything, is keeping what should be a non-issue alive - and he’s being helped by fellow Democrats!! It seems that when it comes to national elections, the Democrats have forgotten anything they may have learned from the years they were in power.

Kerry’s ability to say things that seem to contradict his positions is legendary. Here’s a few. And he continues to do the same thing today. Instead of saying that I goofed because I didn’t read from my prepared remarks - and what was written down was as follows - and then SAY what it was that you were supposed to have said, he posts a statement of apology on his web site that doesn’t mention how he "botched a joke."

I don’t know what it is that attacks the gray cells of people elected to high office but it seems to be something approaching the political equivalent of contracting a nosocomial (look it up) illness. They become so used to spouting political gobbledygook that they forget how to use words like yes or no. Just try asking a presidential wannabe if he’s thinking of running for president. Just thinking!! If anyone answers with a one word "yes" - I’ll push a pea down State Street in Chicago with my nose. Just between Madison and Washington though. Barack Obama might read this and have fun pulling a practical joke.

But seriously, don’t you get sick of convoluted "politicospeak?" How simple would it have been if Bill Clinton, when confronted with the Paula Jones mess, had simply said - "I honestly don’t recall meeting Miss Jones, but if I did and I in any way offended her, she has my deepest apologies." Case over.

Just as Kerry’s brouhaha would have been over in a New York minute if he’s used just one word when the firestorm started. OOPS!!

Another case over - and I rest my case.