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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Catching up - and winding down for the year. I haven’t been keeping up with my observations of the passing parade of late and I probably won’t be recording any comments here for another week or so - maybe more. Partially because of the holidays - a time when I like to relax and contemplate my navel rather than tax what’s left of my rapidly deteriorating brain. And partially because my excruciating sciatic pain makes it difficult to sit at the computer and type. Plus the annoyance and danger of not being able to blink. Seven weeks since Bell’s Palsy hit me in the gut - in the face actually - and while people say I look better, I still can’t blink, smile, speak clearly, whistle high notes or chew my food without getting some stuck between gum and lip.

I don’t imagine I’ll be missed. I heard some numbers recently about how many blogs are being created on a daily basis - and how many millions are already in existence. I asked Google how many were out there and got 47,800,000 hits - and the cyberjournalist site says there are 50,000,000 and counting. And who’s looking at them? Well I don’t know who - but I saw or heard one report somewhere that said the average number of readers per blog is one!! I assume that’s in addition to the blog writer - otherwise it would be a minus statistic. I guess I’m above average, I know at least three people who read this blog and one of them may even look for it daily!!

Anyway - enough about blogging. Oops. Wait a minute. I can’t just leave that subject without at least acknowledging the honor bestowed upon me by Time Magazine. Person of the year no less. And with only three confirmed readers. Thank you Time And thank you on behalf of the other me’s - or is it you’s - who share this honor. I don’t post any videos and I didn’t sell any version of a You Tube to Google for a billion or two, but the way I understand the selection, I and my blog qualify.

Or do I??

I don’t subscribe to Time and I don’t read the magazine - so there’s a little bit of a conundrum connected to the selection and my acceptance of the honor. It’s something akin to the question of whether or not a tree falling in the forest makes a sound if no one is there to hear it. If I don’t actually hold the issue of Time in my hand and see my reflection in its mirrored cover - can I truly claim to be among the honored?? Can I be a remote, non-subscribing "you?"

Anyway - back to catching up and winding down. I guess the big story of the year has been the same as last year and will probably dominate next year too. Iraq. America’s quagmire of the "zeroes" - 2003 to whenever we can say it’s over.

I’ve been wondering what happened to all those complaining about the lack of "good news" coverage out of Iraq. The school and hospital openings. The new football fields. That’s soccer football. The Iraqis don’t play our nutty contact sport.

All we’ve been hearing about lately is the daily death toll and the Iraqi study group telling the president how bad conditions are. It took some comments by Laura Bush to remind us that there are good things happening in Iraq. We haven’t been hearing about them because the press hasn’t been reporting them and that’s why only two out of ten Americans think that her husband is doing good job "managing" the quagmire.

Well good for Laura. Standing by her man like a good wife should. And providing comic relief at the same time. Still, you gotta wonder about the 20% of us who buy into such silliness. I find myself looking at neighbors or just people on the street or in the supermarket and asking myself - are they one of them - and should I avert my eyes as I pass them by??

On a more serious note, one couldn’t help notice the stark revelation of one of the truths of our Middle East policy as 2006 wound down. Dick Cheney went to visit our Saudi Arabian friends - and according to news reports - got read the riot act. The Saudis told us that if we pull out of Iraq and their fellow Sunni Muslims get into trouble, they’ll step in to help them.

Well, of course we’re not going to pull out of Iraq anytime soon. In fact all indications from Mr. Bush are are that having been exposed to the Iraq Study Group recommendations and having gone through the motions of "listening" to a lot of other people’s ideas - our new, forward looking Iraq policy is to pretty much continue to do what we’ve been doing. Maybe with a "surge" - the new word for putting a few thousand more kids in harms way.

The Saudis also don’t want us talking to Iran - and clearly we’re not about to do that either. So the Saudis don’t have to worry. But maybe we have to worry about who is pulling who’s strings. Are the Saudis the tail that’s wagging super dog? I know the Saudi royal family and the Bush family are practically kissing cousins and that they are big suppliers of our much needed oil - but you have to wonder how far we’d go as a nation to keep them happy.

Well, here’s a couple of indications of how far we’d go - us and our primary ally - the Brits.

Just a few days ago, I was reading about Majid al-Massari - the son of a Saudi dissident working out of London who advocates the overthrow of the royal family. The son is in the United States but he’s close to being deported back to Saudi Arabia for reasons that have the smell of make believe about them. He says he’ll be tortured if he’s sent back to Saudi Arabia - but a Saudi official in Washington said no - we won’t hold his father’s sins against him - he’ll be O.K. - and the immigration review board said that was good enough for them. Now a US Court of Appeals has reviewed and upheld their decision and al-Massari could be on his way to torture and death at any time now.

If you read the story, the actions against al-Massari up to now aren’t that much different from actions taken against nameless people who wound up in Gitmo for no good reason and were kept there without an opportunity to challenge the charges against them. Except for one little twist. The Saudis want to get their hands on the guy and it looks like there has been collusion between us and the Saudis ever since he applied for asylum nine years ago - and his application got buried in an endless paper shuffle.

And just this morning, we hear that the Brits have suddenly dropped a two year investigation into allegations that BAE SYSTEMS - a major defense contractor - had been shoveling out millions of pounds in bribes for years to secure Saudi Arabian defense business.

They didn’t drop the investigation because they couldn’t find the evidence or prove a criminal case. They dropped it because the Saudis more or less said drop it or else!! And the Brits virtually admitted that that was why the case was dropped. At least there’s more honesty there than in the al-Massari case. I don’t hold out much hope for al-Massari. Staying on the good side of the Saudis is just too important for us to worry about one man’s rights - specially someone who isn’t even a US citizen. We’ll send him back, avert our eyes and do the Saudi’s bidding. Such is the power of oil.

There are a lot of voices out there that say we invaded Iraq to do Israel’s bidding - that this little country, so dependent on our financial and diplomatic support, can manipulate the foreign policy of this great nation. It’s nonsense of course - but it’s about as clear as it can be that we can be and are being influenced by the nation that furnished fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 murderers.

When the Democratic Congress convenes next year and - I hope - starts peeling away the layers of secrecy that the Bush administration has placed around so much of its actions - and the true reasons for those actions, perhaps we’ll get a glimpse of what I think of as "The Saudi House Rules." But don’t look for any big changes in our "Pact With the Devil." Not as long as the oil keeps pumping.

I can’t sign off for the year without saying a word or two in favor of our British cousins - having lumped them together with us as Saudi yes men.

I was watching Question Time in the House a few nights ago. That’s the House of Parliament. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and even Labour (English spelling) members were pounding away at Tony Blair. No similarity to a presidential press conference here. Tony doesn’t have the opportunity to pick questioners with likely ‘soft" questions. Nor do questioners have to ask permission to pose a follow up question if they’re not satisfied with Blair’s answers. Conservative party leader David Cameron didn’t like anything Blair was saying about improvements in the National Health System - and he let him know it with question after question and counter argument and at one point asking when the hell Blair was going to resign. He didn’t say "when the hell" - but his demeanor said it in spades. To Blair’s credit, he kept his cool and hewed to his party line.

It was interesting to watch - more so than the one time when my wife and I were there in person in the visitor’s gallery. No "question time" on that occasion. Just boring debate about boring subjects with a sparse attendance by M.P.’s. But while I was watching, I was reminded of the one huge difference between our politics and theirs. Obviously a totally different system. The Prime Minister isn’t elected nationally like our President. He just has to win election as an MP in his district and his party elevates him to the top job when they are in the majority. But that wasn’t the difference that I was reminded of. It was that Blair- or Cameron if the Conservatives ever win - doesn’t have to pander to anyone’s narrow beliefs or prejudices to get elected or stay in power. . It isn’t necessary for either of the leaders of the two major parties to be officially for or against gay marriage or abortion or stem cell research or any of the other issues that we seem to insist that our politicians address before the single issue groups of voters decide to support or oppose them. And the difference shows up at question time in the House where there is every opportunity to bring up such issues - and they just don’t arise.

And then the other day, another big difference between the British Prime Minister and the President of the United States cropped up as a news item. Not a big one. It rated four or five lines buried on the inside of my morning newspaper. It was that a British Airways jet had overshot the runway as it landed in Miami. No one was hurt. The plane taxied to its assigned gate and there was no appreciable delay. But what was "news" about the incident was that Tony Blair and his family were aboard - on their way to a vacation in the U.S. Traveling on a commercial flight.

No deep philosophical point to make here - just a simple observation about how different our two great democracies are - even though we’re first cousins. Can you just imagine George W Bush taking a commercial flight to his Texas ranch? Or to an overseas vacation spot? There wouldn’t be room for any ordinary passengers on any commercial jet carrying Mr. Bush. There’d probably be a need for a second jet just to accommodate the overflow of secret service agents and reporters!!

I think the fact that Tony Blair can travel that way and that it would be unthinkable for George Bush to do so, speaks multitudes about how these two leaders are regarded by the world community and by their own countrymen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
And a Suggestion For a Follow Up Conference

The Iranian conference of Holocaust deniers is now over and presumably a report is being prepared to set the record straight and tell the rest of the world what really happened between the early nineteen thirties and mid forties. Germans I am sure are waiting with bated breath to find out how wrong their records are. Maybe they’ll be able to change their laws that make Holocaust denial a crime, once Mahmoud Ahmadinejad explains and proves that it never happened.

If it wasn’t so evil, it would be funny. Here are these sickos from around the world - and I include the crazed orthodox Rabbis who think Israel has no right to exist among them - who gather to proclaim that one of the best documented series of events of modern times, never happened - or was so exaggerated as to be little more than a hoax.

The irony that escapes these nuts is that during such a ridiculous "conference" - the Muslim attendees will take time out five times a day to stick their noses on the ground and utter allegedly religious gobbledygook - the handful of Rabbis will sway back and forth uttering their version of religious gobbledygook - and the rest will likely acknowledge the existence of still another version of a deity. All will be worshipping a "God" and/or prophets for whose existence there is not one scintilla of verifiable evidence - just "belief.": That which is documented and for which proof abounds is being challenged by these madmen, while they maintain their individual, unshakable belief in Gods and prophets.

To "counter" the nonsensical publicity being generated by this convocation of haters, Germany and Yad Vashem hastily organized their own conferences - for which there was almost no publicity - at least not in the national press or on television.

I think Yad Vashem et al missed the boat. What needs to happen is for serious scholars to organize an international conference on "belief" - this one to examine whether or not there is any such thing as a God and whether people such as Moses, Jesus and Mohammed actually existed - and if they did, whether they were prophets, ordinary men or con men? With heavy emphasis on the Islamic versions of deities and prophets. Since Iran seems to have appropriate facilities, I would suggest that nation to host the meeting.

Like any good conference, it would be divided into multiple sessions covering a range of scholarly interests. Some that I would suggest would be;

The role of God in man’s creation: Was God in charge of the earth from the moment it was formed or did his/her/its appearance coincide with the appearance of man?

Understanding the soul: Do souls exist by themselves and get assigned to humans as they are born or are they created by the birth process?

Who gets to Heaven? With regard to eternal life, ascension to heaven etc., does this apply to all humans? Tree worshipping pygmies for example. Do they have the same access to paradise as do American Southern Baptists? And babies who die before they have a sense of self awareness. When they die, in what form do they continue to exist in the "after life?"

Who can be a martyr? Is automatic ascension to "paradise" reserved exclusively for Islamic martyrs, or may Christians, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists also be allowed entry upon killing a number of their enemies by blowing themselves to pieces?

Where is God? Since God and/or his prophets appeared on a regular basis between fifteen hundred and five thousand years ago, to what would the scholars attribute his absence from earth in a recognizable form since?

Does God speak to mortals? How would the scholars evaluate the claims of many preachers and self proclaimed prophets of today that they receive regular communications from God - as opposed to the claims of historical figures such as Moses and Mohammed.

The significance of who sees religious visions:Why do sacred images appear on walls, mushrooms and potato chips to Catholics and not to Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Wiccas?

I think these and many other questions would be appropriate topics for discussion. Since a majority of the human race believes in and worships a deity for whose existence there is no verifiable proof by way of scientific examination or irrefutable record - it would surely be as important to convene a conference of scholars that questions those beliefs - as to convene a conference questioning that for which there is irrefutable proof.

It was interesting that a "Sixty Minutes" segment last Sunday was devoted to the unveiling of German records of the Holocaust that had been kept under wraps for more than 60 years. It was impressive and moving - particularly the moments when survivors were shown their own names on meticulously prepared lists of the condemned and the dead. The deniers of course will not be impressed by the German records. They’re just names and numbers written on pieces of paper. Probably forgeries at that. Not like the holy words of the Bible and the Koran. Now there is truth. Irrefutable truth.

Well, if we can get the counter conference organized with the same kind of publicity than the nut of Iran seems able to generate every time he opens his brain disconnected mouth, maybe a convincing challenge can be made to the irrefutable truths of Bible - and especially the Koran. Maybe one that will make more sense than the revisionist historical garbage that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is peddling - even to those in his country and elsewhere in Islamic countries who have been taught from childhood that Jews were the source of all the world’s problems.

They’re not you know. I add that just in case Mel Gibson should come upon my blog.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

As of this morning, the prognosis for South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson is that he will recover and will not have to resign his senate seat. But the fact that since his stroke like attack, discussion has raged about a possible shift in power in the senate, demonstrates the fragility - and indeed the cockamamieness - if there us such a word - of our Democratic system.

Think about it. We’ve just had an election that thoroughly repudiated the policies of President Bush and the knee jerk support he has been receiving from a majority of Republican elected officials. The shift in the House was dramatic. Gaining control of the Senate - even by the slimmest of margins - was never considered anything close to a sure bet - but the sentiment in the country was such that both houses finished with Democratic majorities.

Now a Democratic Senator is seriously ill - and from the moment he became ill, the possibility existed that he might have to resign his seat - and that a replacement would be named by the governor of his state. And because that governor is a Republican, he would appoint a Republican to fill the vacated seat, thus tipping the balance of power in the Senate to the Republicans. It would be fifty fifty with Cheney able to give Republicans effective control with his tie breaking vote.

Think about it. We’ve just had an election in which the voters of this country have said we want a change in direction. The did it by handing control of Congress to the Democrats after six straight years of total control by the Republican party. But because of the rules and traditions of our democracy - a man from a thinly populated state, elected this year for a second term as governor with a grand total of 207,000 votes, can exercise control over the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. In effect, he can thwart the will of the voters of this country. It’s insane!!

In a rational society, an elected U.S. Senator who became disabled, would be replaced by someone from his own party, upholding the will of the voters who elected him - and in the current case - the will of the nation!! It isn’t likely that there will be a need for Governor Mike Rounds to appoint anyone - but the fact that he could if necessary and that everyone is talking about it, strips bear the nutty underbelly of our revered democratic system.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that this incident should be unfolding as we embark upon the equally nutty carnival that is our democratic way of choosing who will be the next person to lead this - the most powerful nation on earth. In some democratic countries there is a natural progression towards national leadership. People rise in seniority and in approval by political party members and become the natural candidates for high office. In England for example, if the Conservatives ever gained the majority, everyone would know in advance who the next Prime Minister would be.

In the good old USA it’s a free for all - and at some stages of the carnival it’s a comedy show. The requirements are simple. Be over 35 and born in the USA and you’re eligible. Technically, that’s all you need to qualify you to be President. You could have lived in an isolated community all your life and speak, read, write and understand no language but Macedonian - and you’re still eligible.

Two years away from the next presidential election, we’re already well into the first stage of the game of "who will run." To illustrate how ridiculous it can become, a potential leading candidate for the Republican nomination was recently defeated Senator George "Macaca" Allen. If he had held onto his seat, he might right now be forming his "exploratory committee." As it is, there are more than a handful of Republicans who have either announced the formation of exploratory committees or are making noises indicating that they’re exploring the possibility of forming an exploratory committee. I don’t know how many are serious about giving it a try - but here’s one possible list that Ron Gunzburger has compiled. And here’s a Democratic list - also compiled by Mr. Gunzburger.

As strange as these circus horse races may be, we could finish up with two perfectly acceptable candidates. It does happen more often than not, despite the principals who battled in the last two elections - or at least one of them. The major interest of course, emanates from the Democratic side. Although neither has announced, the choice may well be between Clinton and Obama. Either a woman or a black man. A first. A seminal moment in American history.

Personally, I’d like to see the nomination go to Obama. I think America has been waiting for someone like him - someone who typifies what America is supposed to be about. The son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. As American as apple pie. Of course there will be criticism. It’s already started. He’s only been a senator for two years. He has no experience. What does he stand for.? Those last two issues were raised in letters to the Chicago Tribune just today. The answer to the first is simple and obvious. George W Bush. Governor of Texas for six years in a state where the governor has less power than in many other states.Before that - business failure. And, to our everlasting shame - we elected him twice. Surely Obama, with his distinguished background, is as qualified as Dubya was when he won the Republican nomination.

As for what Obama "stands" for - I think that is pretty clear from his campaign for the senate and everything he’s said since. He’s for a better America. He’s for decency and fairness for all. He’s for forging good relations with other countries. He’s against preemptive warfare for no good reason. And most importantly, he doesn’t "stand" for any ridiculous belief or philosophy that has no place in national governance or international dealings. He doesn’t campaign on such issues as abortion and gay marriage - issues that should have nothing to do with whether or not a candidate is capable of leading this country in the twenty first century in a very troubled world.

As I said at the beginning of these comments - it’s a cockamamie system of democracy that we’re stuck with and it’s certainly on display at times like this - when we realize how the governor of a thinly populated state can wield such awesome power - and when someone we weren’t aware existed a couple of years ago can burst upon the scene and become president. But it’s all we’ve got - and as Churchill once said - Democracy is the worst form of government in the entire world...except for all the rest.. Cockeyed or not. That’s my comment - not Churchill’s.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A few comments on some recent news items. Very few. I’m still struggling with stupid medical problems.

On August 20, 2006, I quoted a list of questions that conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager said should have been asked of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he was interviewed by Mike Wallace. They were good questions. Prager is a bright man. He’s also a religious nitwit and he displayed that part of his nature when he wrote a piece attacking newly elected congressman Keith Ellison for his decision to use the Koran when he does his photo-op oath of office bit. Prager says that’s a terrible thing to do. He should use the Bible - not the Koran.

Of course the swearing in ceremony, done en masse for all newly elected representatives, is done without any kind of Bible or Koran or one of the Harry Potter books. The oath of allegiance is to the Constitution and doesn’t call for anyone to be holding any alleged "holy" book.

But then, Prager is what I would call a "Jutheran." He would be as comfortable being a born again Christian as he allegedly is a religious Jew. He aligns himself with the rigid thinking of the religious right. In Prager’s world it’s perfectly O.K. to have crosses on display on the front of every public building and the Star of David on the back or on the sides. But no other religious symbol. The intolerance is inflexible. So I guess what I’m saying is that no one should be surprised at Prager’s rant about Congressman Ellison and no one should waste time arguing with his point of view. He won’t listen. He won’t understand. He’s like the character in the joke about the pious Jew who prays at the western wall every day - and when asked what it’s like to undergo such an experience, answers - "it’s like talking to a wall."

Quite a few people seem to be impressed with Robert Gates and his "no sir" answer to Senator Carl Levin’s question - "are we winning in Iraq?" I’m not one of them. Not because of his answer but because of the question. In my view, what Senator Levin was doing with that question was political posturing. It’s a ridiculous question - a third cousin of "are you still beating your wife?"

The question itself begs another question - maybe a series of questions. Winning what? What do you mean by "winning?" We’ve already "won" the war to unseat Saddam Hussein. We defeated his military forces and in terms of that accomplishment, the president was correct when he said that we have prevailed. Since then of course, Mr. Bush has been talking about achieving "victory." About staying the course until we have achieved our objective. "Prevailing" was only the first course in this endless banquet of misery.

If "winning" means staying in Iraq until the country is stable, all sectarian killing has stopped and democracy reigns, we will be there for decades. And in that case, Doctor Gates gave the only possible answer to the impossible question. He could have been more blunt and said what most thinking people now believe. We made a horrible blunder in the decision to invade Iraq. We had no idea of the consequences of our actions and now we are persisting in pursuing that blunder at an unconscionable cost.

It’s like the gambler in Las Vegas who is on a losing streak but continues to bet rashly, convinced that his luck will turn - as it continues to get worse. Or a commodity market player who makes a bad prediction and stubbornly refuses to admit he was wrong as he watches his investment dwindle down to zero.

What we need to do of course is find a way to pull our troops in a way that will do the least damage and leave the Iraqis to sort out their problems on their own. It should be obvious by now that there is no way in the world that we can solve the sectarian differences of the Iraqi people militarily and there is no way our soldiers should be used to police the country until the various factions can reach a political solution.

The president of course will never admit - either that he authorized the invasion for no legitimate reason - or that we made a horrible miscalculation about the problems our invasion would cause. To keep on the present course of action to protect - or perhaps we should say - to shape his legacy - would be unconscionable. But that seems to be what’s in the offing, despite talk about "changing course." Our military forces will remain and our kids will continue to die - as they are now doing at an ever increasing rate.

If that continues to be our policy - then perhaps that which I have said would be a ridiculous waste of time and effort - should nonetheless be considered seriously. Articles of impeachment. Something has to be done to either call a halt to the madness or assign accountability for the madness.

And speaking of madness - I don’t know how much it cost for the Iraq Study Group to come up with their packet of suggestions - but for two or three thousand bucks, I would have been happy to supply my ideas for getting us out of the mess - and they would have been no more silly than the ones put forth by Messrs. Baker, Hamilton et al.

Talking to Iran and Syria is a good idea - if we started those talks four, five or six years ago. Or earlier. To suggest that it would be a good idea to go to them hat in hand now and ask for their "evil" help to sort out the mess that we helped create is ludicrous. Equally ludicrous is the idea that WE should tackle the problem of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict - as if we could impose a solution that groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad would accept and honor. And equally ludicrous is the belief that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the source of all the problems that engulf and arise from the Middle East.

And speaking of Israel and the Palestinians, I note that our esteemed former President, Jimmy Carter, has made his contribution to solving that conflict by asserting that it’s all due to Israel’s occupation of "Palestinian territory" and that if Israel would just withdraw, peace and harmony would reign. Well, the book has already resulted in one "withdrawal" - that of Dr. Ken Stein, who resigned as Middle East Fellow of the Carter Center of Emory University after a 23 year association.

The conflict of which Mr. Carter attempts to analyze is a complicated one, but one or two things are crystal clear and not at all complicated. One is that there was no resolution of the so called Israel/ Palestinian conflict before there were any settlements or occupation of "Palestinian territory." There was nothing approaching peace between the two sides. Another is that following the six day war, there was no one with whom to make peace. Peace was offered and rejected. I don’t necessarily endorse the settlement program that followed - but had there been an acceptance of peace - had there been no Khartoum conference in 1967 with its "three no’s" - no peace, no recognition, no negotiations - there would have been no basis for the blame that Carter attempts to assign in his book.

I haven’t read the book, nor to I plan to read it, but the comments of Ken Stein are worth reading - and if you don’t want to believe him, track down Dennis Ross - who, on a television program a few days ago, virtually called Carter a liar for his fictional version of what went on at Camp David in 2000 in terms of who was prepared to accept and who rejected proposals for a comprehensive settlement. Maybe you can find it buried in this interview with Ross conducted by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Until further notice, you can assume that any gap in posting on this blog is due to ridiculous health problems. The further notice, if and when it comes, should be that some health improvement has been achieved. Maybe successful back surgery.

Meanwhile…. Not with a bang and not even with a whimper, Jerry Springer has departed from the radio air ways. Not from his horrible television show. No way the guy is going to give up the vehicle that allows him to be flown around the country by his own private pilot in his private Lear Jet.

I’ve been listening on and off since his show was picked up in Chicago and I hadn’t heard anything about him quitting until he spoke of yesterday’s show as being his last. And he’s gone.

For a while, he was part of Air America - and certainly he was part of whatever "progressive" broadcasting is going on in this country. So I was surprised when no mention of his departure was made by any of the other "progressive" talk show hosts I listened to yesterday or this morning. And there’s very little mention on the Internet - mostly by sites that cover talk radio and liberal talk radio in particular. If there was any print press mention, I can’t find it.

What really surprises me is that my Google inquiry didn’t unearth any right wing blogs gloating over his demise and extrapolating from his departure, the imminent demise of all liberal radio.

I won’t miss Springer’s effort to show us that he’s much more than the ringmaster of a television circus show. He’s not an unintelligent man, but like Al Franken, who also is no dummy - he’s no radio man. Success in the radio talk show business calls for the kind of je ne sais pas talent that you hear during drive time on major radio stations Don Imus on WFAN in New York - Spike O’Dell on WGN in Chicago. Springer didn’t have it. Franken, who may be the next to call it quits, doesn’t have it either. Listen long enough to Al, as I have done, and his show becomes virtually predictable, with the same line up of guests week after week saying pretty much the same thing week after week.

Don’t get me wrong. For the most part, I enjoy listening to "progressive" talk radio. It’s usually more sensible than the stuff being broadcast from the other end of the spectrum. Except maybe for the advertising. I listen to progressive radio on WCPT - a struggling station based many miles outside of Chicago with a weak, daytime only signal. Since it began broadcasting liberal talk a year or so ago, major advertisers have not flocked to the station. Not too many minor advertisers either. Very few of the advertisers that you hear on Chicago’s "regular" line up of stations can be heard on WCPT. But you can hear ads that you’re not likely to hear on those more established stations.

Most I’m sure are on behalf of legitimate enterprises offering legitimate goods and services. But there are some whose odor of illegitimacy is such that they defy the laws of science and send their smell over the airways and into your unsuspecting nostrils. Here are two that I think have places reserved for them in the radio ad hall of shame.

One advertises foreclosed properties that can be acquired with very little cash investment. There’s nothing illegitimate about this kind of business. People default on mortgages. The homes are repossessed and offered for sale - sometimes at bargain prices depending on the amounts still owed. But this particular ad says things that make you think something else is going on. It starts out by telling you that "This is a Public Announcement" - and then goes on to explain that there are government and bank foreclosed properties which can be acquired for "little or no money down." It then says that people whose last names begin with letters A through O are allowed to call "NOW" and people whose last names begin with letters N through Z "may start calling at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning." Since the ad runs again and again and at different times, the "now and tomorrow" is nonsensical come on. The ad only has to run two days in a row for the admonition of when you are "allowed" to call and the inferred importance of that timing - connected to the initial of your last name - to become close to being fraudulently moot..

A second one is reminiscent of peddlers of old who would go door to door in poor neighborhoods, selling merchandise for weekly payments which they would collect in person and which would sometimes go on for years. This is an ad aimed at people with poor credit. Indeed it says that no credit check is required. All that is required is that you have a checking account and can afford to pay $29.99 a week for twelve months. A total of $1559.48. And what do you get for that hefty sum? A computer. The make and type unknown. The ad doesn’t tell you. But if you pay up, you might get some extras, like a printer - again, make unknown. It’s pretty obvious that the ad is aimed at people who don’t have funds to buy a computer for cash and might have difficulty buying one on credit. So, in their generosity, they’re offering to provide one at a price for which you might be able to acquire as many as three - depending on how many bells and whistles you want. I have a two year old Dell with 160 GB hard drive, loaded with software - a 17 inch flat monitor and a basic color printer which cost me about half of what this company wants to wheedle out of the unsuspecting potential victims at whom their ad is directed.

It’s a caveat emptor world, but when ads are aimed at people who didn’t take Latin in high school or college - or very likely didn’t get much past grade school - it isn’t that much different from what those old time peddlers used to do to people in poor neighborhoods. . It does put a limit on the number of weekly payments - but the relationship between what they’re selling and how much they’re charging - puts them in the same category. People who take advantage of misery.

What surprises me somewhat is that these people with these kinds of products would choose to spend advertising dollars on "progressive" radio . One would think that there would be few people listening to liberal talk shows who would be potential responders to these kinds of products and services. Maybe they’re persuaded to place their ads there because the rates are ridiculously low - which I presume to be the case. Or maybe I’m all wrong about the kind of people who are listening to progressive talk radio and that these odoriferous outfits are actually getting responses to their advertising come-ons. In which case I’d have to admit that I know a lot less than I thought I did about talk radio and about people in general.

Which shows you what having a bad back and Bell’s Palsy can do to a person.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Back in May of this year when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a nutty letter to President Bush, I thought he should have responded and posted his response on line. Not something that he would write himself of course. He has speech writers and other staff members who could put together just the right combination of words and ideas to show how ridiculous this crazy man is. But Mr. Bush and his administration dismissed it out of hand.

And when the Nut of Iran challenged the president to a debate in August of this year, I said he should have accepted. But he dismissed that challenge as being nothing more than "a diversion."

I don’t know about a diversion but I do know that our policy of not talking to Iran - which of course pre-dates Bush - we can’t blame him for everything - is wrongheaded. And now that Iran and Syria - who we also don’t talk to - are cozying up to Iraq while we struggle to find ways to get our feet out of the quicksand that Iraq has become, that policy is making us look foolish and ineffective in the eyes of the world.

Now Ahmadinejad has written another letter - this time addressed to the American People - and once again, the Bush administration dismisses it as "hypocritical and cynical" - but again offers no other response.

Well others did offer responses. They’re all over the Internet. I typed in "Response to Ahmadinejad's letter to Americans" on Google and got 710,000 hits. Many make interesting reading - but one that came to me by way of a link in a newsletter that I get on a regular basis, I'm including as a link here. It’s written by a woman who describes herself as a Christian - seemingly an evangelical Christian - who is a strong supporter of Israel. Strong enough to have a blog called Israelblog where she posted her letter

I may not endorse her religious ideology, but I think she found an interesting way to criticize Ahmadinejad's ideology. One has to hope that Iranians and Syrians and others from the Middle East who go on line, will find it and other responses to the Ahmadinejad view of the world - and perhaps be influenced in their thinking by what they find. That’s what the Iranian nut case is trying to do with his letter. He’s waging a PR war to which the Bush administration’s response is to dismiss it as meaningless. But of course it isn’t meaningless. In the eyes of millions around the world, this is a war that Ahmadinejad is winning. We don’t need to counter what the nut case says for Americans or others in the western world - but if we let his rantings and ravings go unanswered - those millions in the rest of the world will think that we have no answer. And we will lose a PR war that at the end of the day - if we want to avoid living in a world that has gone totally insane - we must win!!