What's All This Then?

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Things could be getting complicated for the Republican presidential aspirants. They already have their problems trying to appease the various "values" voting blocks. Give the wrong impression about when you believe life begins - and thousands of eyes begin casting about for a different candidate. Show tolerance for homosexuals - and still a few more begin to distance themselves. And fail to emphasize that your Christian faith controls every aspect of your life - and you might as well have said that Hillary Clinton would make a fine president.

Of course all errors and shortcomings could be forgiven or trumped by the expression of sufficient warlike qualities. Promise to nuke the hell out of any Islamo-fascist that so much as casts an evil eye at the Statue of Liberty - and you will rank high as a man of faith and devout family values.

The Democrats don’t have these kinds of problems. They don’t even try to pander to the various voting blocks known collectively as the "religious right" - mostly because they’re sure that they wouldn’t vote for a Democrat anyway. And they don’t expect to pick up any votes from those who think that the Iraq invasion was ordained by God and that a preemptive strike against Iran would be an act of nobility. So I would have to say that when it comes to the recent poll conducted by the Associated Press and Ipsos - it’s advantage Democrats. These two organizations have identified what may be an important block of voters - possibly single issue voters - the ghost believers.

If you can believe the poll numbers - and these polls are usually pretty accurate - 34 percent of Americans believe in ghosts Now at first glance, you might think that this news bestows an advantage on Republicans - not Democrats. When one thinks of ghost voters, the image usually conjured up is that of Chicago - perhaps not so much today’s Chicago, but the Chicago of old, where Democratic voters were urged to vote early and often - and the addresses of many registered voters could be found in the city’s cemeteries. On top of that, 23% of those polled report having actually seen a ghost - and of that number - more liberals than conservative report seeing a specter by a margin of 31 percent to 18 percent. But of course the key word here is "specter" - and among the synonyms for specter found in Roget’s Thesaurus are hallucination, mirage and delusion - well known as the products of ingesting an excess of boilermakers - a habit clearly indulged more by liberals than conservatives. And with the current state of politics in the state of Illinois, there is no need for ghost voters.

So the poll presents a new problem for Republicans. As I’ve indicated, there are few who call themselves conservatives who would be found in their local tavern on a Friday or Saturday night downing a shot and a beer every ten or fifteen minutes - which of course is the accepted method for conjuring up a vision of a specter. (And for the uneducated in the ways of leisure imbibing - that’s what a boilermaker is - a shot of whiskey and a beer.) Which, by my reasoning, means that it’s the Republican candidates who have to give consideration to the possibility that some of their potential supporters will or won’t be attracted to their candidacy based on their stated position on ghosts. After all, a ghost believer is likely to be a life after death believer which could translate into a member of the religious right - a potential Republican voter if the pandering is sufficiently focused. So Republican candidates need to get ready for what is bound to come.

At this very moment, I would imagine that whoever has been designated to moderate the next excuse for a Republican debate, is framing a number of questions on the ghost issue. Do the candidates believe that there are Al Qaeda ghosts? Do the candidates believe that ghosts are Christians? Should there be a method to grant undocumented ghosts amnesty? If an American city were to be attacked by ghosts, what would the candidate’s reaction be? Have any of the candidates spoken to the ghost of Ronald Reagan? And what did he say? What is your position on ghostosexual marriage? Do you believe that ghostly warming is having a negative affect on our environment? And do you, Ron Paul, think you have a ghost of a chance of winning the Republican nomination?

I don’t know how any of the candidates will handle the ghost issue - except for Rudy Giuliani. I Guarantee that he will say that the ghost of 9/11 will be with him always. - that he sees the ghosts of the victims of 9/11 as he walks the streets of New York. And that of all the candidates, he is the most qualified to deal with the national and international ghost issue.

Baghdad Burning is Back

There have been some newspaper reports of restrictions being imposed by Syria and Jordan on the Iraqi refugees living there and those trying to get into the two countries. For a while, Syria had an open border policy, but with an estimated 1.4 million Iraqis in Syria , the rules and regulations governing refugees have been tightened. You can get some idea of what is happening from the newspaper stories - but a much better idea from someone who is living the experience. The former Baghdad blogger "Riverbend" has resurfaced after weeks of silence - her last report was on September 6, 2007 - and describes what she and her family have to do to maintain their residence in Syria. You won’t read anything like this in your morning newspaper.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I know things get a little wacky the closer we get to presidential primary silliness, but even so it seems a little early for the nation to be in the full throes of the silly season. Yet, unless I’m misreading all the signs, here we are.

Where to begin? How about Steven Colbert? He’s unquestionably a comic with talent - but he has also become a talented self promoter. Too talented if you ask me. It seems that every other week, he’s on the cover of some magazine or being mentioned in some poll of "best" something or other, or some animal is named after him. He addresses his viewers as "Nation" - they being part of his self proclaimed "Colbert Nation." I think maybe having "Truthiness" selected as the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year in 2005, went to his head and made him think of himself as more cult leader than comedian, so perhaps it was inevitable for him to declare his candidacy for super cult leader - or as we non-cultists call it, the Presidency of the United States.

I thought it was funny when Stephanie Miller announced that she and CC Goldwater would run for the White House in 2008. It was/is totally a gag. The granddaughter of Barry Goldwater and the daughter of William Miller don’t plan to run in any primaries. As their web site says, they’re doing it for fun and to promote CC Goldwater’s HBO documentary about her grandfather - and Stephanie Miller’s syndicated radio show.

Steven Colbert is doing it for a gag too - the only difference being that he may be a candidate in the South Carolina Republican and Democratic primaries. Whether such a thing is legally possible I don’t know. But it’s fiscally possible. All it takes $35,000 to get on the Republican ballot and a fraction of that to run as a Democrat. Or enough names on a petition. If he actually does run - it is entirely possible that he could screw up one or both of the primaries. Colbert has a cult following - mostly of young people - and if a large number of them reside in South Carolina and think it would be fun to go along with the gag, they could actually do serious harm. Think of Nader and his "devoted" followers.

But my first questions leads to another - more serious question. Has Tim Russet lost his freaking mind?? I tune in Meet The Press last Sunday and there is the noted moderator playing straight man to Steven Colbert. I’m not sure why Russet did it. Maybe he felt that Meet The Press needed some comic relief after weeks of trying to be serious about the gang of presidential wannabes. There wasn’t too much question about why Colbert did it. He has some kind of pseudo book out from which he will reap some hefty bucks - certainly enough to buy his way onto the South Carolina Republican primary. And Meet The Press likely reaches a larger audience than The Colbert Report - even if they’re not the same audience that watches his cable show.

But I have to wonder if the invitation to appear on Meet The Press wasn’t just for comic relief. If perhaps people who should know better actually believe that the reach of someone like a Colbert is such that he merits serious attention - even as a comic act on a serious news program. I shudder to think what might happen if Oprah were to make a similar announcement - tongue-in-cheek or not. You think Hillary displayed clout when she appeared on four talking head programs on a single Sunday? Try finding a Sunday morning without Oprah if she announces. Sorry kids - Hanna Montana will not be seen this morning because of this important conversation with future president Oprah Winfrey.

And then there’s the jolly band of raiders from the FBI, commonly being bandied about by pundits as the David Copperfield story. This one really blows my mind. Apparently there’s a woman claiming that Copperfield raped her somewhere out of the country. How the FBI gets involved in a rape allegation is beyond me - but then I’m not that familiar with the FBI’s mission statement. But assuming they have some legitimate role in a rape investigation - what part of the investigation warrants the seizure of two million in cash from Coppefield’s warehouse in Las Vegas? He isn’t being investigated for money laundering or peddling narcotics. How do they justify grabbing his cash? Admittedly it’s a little strange for anyone to have that much cash lying around - but strangeness isn’t a crime - or an indication of criminality. The raiders grabbed a computer hard drive and a memory chip from a camera - and those might be relevant items to impound in a legitimate criminal investigation. Maybe Copperfield raped and taped - or photographed - and there would be solid evidence of a crime and not just the claims of a female who neither reported the alleged rape to the police or sought medical help at the time when it supposedly took place,

But two million simoleons? I guess if I ran across that kind of cold cash, I’d be tempted to want to at least fondle it. But maybe the raiders wanted their colleagues back at the office to share in the thrill. Or maybe just to tease them with "You won’t believe what we found in that warehouse" - and then go on to describe the bundles of cash, eliciting a chorus of "Sure you did . And then it all disappeared in a cloud of smoke - right?" And then whip out those bundles of cash and have a good laugh at the stunned expression on their faces.

So what have the pundits made of this affair? To tell you the truth, I’m not aware of much punditry about the situation - but I’m truly astonished at the little that I did hear and observe. It was all about whether or not the raiders uncovered any of Copperfield’s secrets. One cable show that spent some time on the affair two nights in a row, had illusionists as guests to speculate on whether or not the FBI now knew how to walk through the Great Wall of China - something that might come in handy if the World War Three that Mr. Bush was talking about just the other day can’t be prevented by going to war with Iran. Or something like that. It’s hard to know just what it was he was trying to say- but it sounded like the sort of things he was saying in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

I can only hope that Copperfield will get good and mad at the harsh treatment he is suffering at the hands of his government and make some its leaders disappear. Starting at the top. Just long enough for us to have a much needed laugh before the silly season resumes in full force.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A couple of interesting takes on the recent rash of noose appearances, both by African American journalists but from different aspects.

(Would you indulge me with a brief time out here to express my irritation at the need to have to use that expression to describe our dark skinned fellow citizens. Hell, not all of them are of African descent. One of our close friends is as black as can be - but she hails from Sri Lanka. So wouldn’t black make more sense? But if I have to be politically correct, at least I can be brief while doing so. So from time to time, if the phrase needs to be repeated after first being introduced, the abbreviated form of AA will be substituted).

As I was saying, there were two interesting but different takes recently, by a couple of distinguished AA newspaper columnists about the appearances around the country of nooses following the brouhaha over the "Jena Six" case. One was by syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts , who, with a theme of "The History of Rope," reminds us of the horrors of our American past where ropes were used as part of the commission of despicable crimes against black citizens. He acknowledges that we’ve come far from those days - but nonetheless tells us that those victims of our sad past would not view the emergence of nooses appearing across the landscape as "pranks." And neither does he.

Clarence Page is a member of the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune and a frequent guest on television talk programs such as The McLaughlin Report. Page sees the noose explosion somewhat differently. Don’t get hung up on the nooses in the news he tells us. It’s a relic from the past. There are no KKK monsters organizing lynchings. There are more problems with black on black killings that need to be addressed. He’s right of course - but so is Pitts - and the Pitts message is the one that grabs me and gets me to thinking about the dangers of bigoted thought lurking just below the visible landscape.

Pitts agrees with Page that blacks have come a long way since the days of Jim Crow. There are black mayors and black U.S. Representatives and black Governors. There are sports super stars. There are entertainment super stars. There are black scientists and CEO’s. In every corner of our society, there are AA icons of success. Yet there are problems of unequal treatment of blacks and whites as alleged in the Jena Six case. As there were allegations of a less than all out effort to help the large black populations affected by hurricane Katrina.

And there are nooses.

And it struck me that those nooses were appearing at the same time as we are reading reports of an upsurge in world wide anti-Semitism. And I see an interesting parallel - and in this country, one with a disturbing twist. Jews enjoy success in the United States unequaled anywhere, except perhaps in Israel. We have Jewish Senators and Congressmen - and Jewish entertainment super stars and Jewish scientists and CEO’s. Almost like African American success stories. Not so much in the sports arena. There aren’t many of the likes of Sandy Koufax and Lou Boudreau around today - but Sasha Cohen is knocking them dead on the ice - and kicker Robbie Gould can always be counted on to put a few points on the score board for the Bears.

But as with our AA population, success - and apparent acceptance into American society as equal to everyone else, has not eliminated the hatred that some Americans have for Jews - even though they might keep it suppressed. It surfaces in ugly ways once in a while with swastikas painted on a Jewish establishment or home or the desecration of a Synagogue. It’s there, below the surface. One hopes not, but it may always be there. And there is no guarantee that it will always remain below the surface - relatively harmless. So you would think that Jewish people in general would be sympathetic to the concerns of black citizens when they worry about the manifestation of racial hatred manifested by dangling nooses - and that there wouldn’t be Jewish equivalents of Rush Limbaugh and Shaun Hannity and their ilk, giving aid and comfort to those who would indeed dismiss the hanging of nooses as pranks and the attack launched against a white kid by the Jena six as being appropriately charged as attempted murder.

But surprisingly, some of today’s leading radio talk show hosts who are members and support the philosophies of the far right - are Jews There are also some conservative radio talk show hosts who are African American. Armstrong Williams comes to mind - but mainly because of his acceptance of money to promote a government program. And Larry Elder. But unlike Limbaugh and Neil Boortz and the rest of the right wing lunatic fringe, these are not people whose comments show up on Media Matters and Crooks and Liars or as a Keith Olbermann "Worst Person in the World."

The same can’t be said for the Jewish right wing radio ranters and ravers - in particular the two terrible Michaels - Michael Medved and Michael Alan Weiner - doing business as Michael Savage. After all, his show is called the "Savage Nation." It would hardly sound sufficiently lunatic as the "Weiner Nation."

I haven’t had a chance to hear Weiner-Savage lately, but I’ve caught a few minutes of Medved while driving and punching around from station to station. This man is an embarrassment to his fellow Jews. He claims to be a religious Jew. He ends every show with a reference to "This Greatest Nation on God’s Green Earth." But he didn’t think Ann Coulter’s recent anti-Semitic comments about Jews needing to be "perfected" was anti-Semitic at all. He doesn’t think our history of enslaving black men, women and children was all that bad and he seeks to correct whatever erroneous beliefs Americans might have about slavery with things like his "Six Inconvenient Truths About the U.S, and Slavery" post on Townhall.com. Isn’t that a wonderful title? It must give Al Gore a warm feeling .

It’s not often that I take the time to listen to these Jewish right wing ranters and ravers, but when I do, I get a sad feeling in the pit of my stomach - if such a physiological thing is possible. These people have the right to say whatever they want to say. Such is the beauty of our country and of the amendments to our constitution. But while they are all vocal supporters of Israel - I can nonetheless visualize some of them as being Kappos in a concentration camp had they been caught up in the horrors of the Holocaust in the thirties and forties. Such is their blind support of the politics of the right and of the current scary administration. There are times when they seem not just oblivious to the anti-black, anti-Semitic and other bigotry that is still an integral part of the fabric of this nation - but disdainful of those who would call our attention to and condemn acts of bigotry.

They may think that the hanging of nooses is little more than a prank, but I would wager that if any of them ever had a swastika painted on their door - or worse - it wouldn’t be for any of the conservative comments they make on their radio shows. It would be because they are Jews.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Last Sunday - before last Sunday - and since last Sunday.

It’s as though the pundits have all been handed the same script - maybe hand delivered by Bill Clinton. "If Hillary wins in Iowa" it reads - "it’s all over!!" Meaning that all the other people running for the Democratic presidential nomination can stop spending money, fold their tents and go home. Hillary is the nominee. Pardon me for questioning the wisdom of conventional political punditry - but I have to ask, in the words of ancient philosophers - say what??

There are two issues here really. One is the ridiculous way we go about choosing our nominees for the presidency. Maybe the old fashioned way - the smoke filled back rooms wasn’t the best way to do it. Then it was only a handful of wheelers and dealers deciding on who would be the party’s standard bearer. Of course today the rooms would likely be smoke free - but it would still only be a handful of people making the decision. And today of course it’s more democratic. It isn’t necessary to be a wheeler and dealer to nominate a candidate. Just to be an Iowan and participate in the Iowa caucuses!! Whoever you pick as your favorite in that state is automatically the candidate - the line up of other states holding primaries notwithstanding.

It’s like declaring the winner of a horse race by picking whoever was first out of the starting gate. And it makes no sense at all. Even the entire primary system makes little sense. It’s like the electoral college - only sillier - where the winner of the most delegates at the end of the primary season is not necessarily the winner in terms of the total popular vote. With the electoral college - as in the United States Senate - states have influence far out of proportion to their population. And in presidential primaries, Iowa trumps New York and New Hampshire trumps California. It makes absolutely no sense. It ignores what the will of the majority might be. Yet we stick with it - like zombies - like lemmings knowing no other way to go when they come to a cliff but jump into the ocean and start swimming.

Now about Hillary. Why Hillary? It’s a similar question to one I asked seven years ago. Why Bush? The answer to that question wasn’t as much public knowledge as it is today, but it is and was at least easily understandable. Power brokers of the Republican party led by George Schultz, anointed him as their candidate. Schultz has been quoted as saying some complimentary things about Bush - but the one I heard that sticks in the mind is that he and his cohorts thought that Bush was electable - that he would be a good campaigner. And in that of course they were right. Think what you like about Mr. Bush as a president, you have to agree that he knows how to campaign for the job.

But no one has anointed Hillary Clinton - except maybe the print and broadcast media over-reacting to the constant flow of polls - which have never included the opinions of me or anybody I know. So why Hillary? There’s no doubt that she’s intelligent and well versed on domestic and foreign affairs - but that’s something you could say about hundreds - maybe thousands of people who call themselves Democrats. She also handles herself well in the televised formats that substitute for debates. She’s obviously worked hard and has mastered the technique. She has a certain prominence that others don’t have - having lived in the White House as the wife of a U.S. President for eight years. And she wants her husband’s former job. She wants it with an obvious passion. But is that a portion of her resume that should make her the automatic front runner for her party’s presidential candidacy?

You could easily make an argument for why just about any of the other Democratic candidates should be the party’s choice. Joe Biden is as knowledgeable and experienced as any of the candidates and sounds like he means everything he says - and he hasn’t quoted a word of Neil Kinnock - with or without attribution. . Chris Dodd is equally experienced and equally articulate. Dennis Kucinich would represent almost a total change in our priorities as a nation if he was sitting in the White House. Barack Obama is as bright as anyone - and as I said here on January 22 of this year, there would be international advantages to his election as president. In my opinion it would also be a greater watershed moment in our history than the election of a woman.

Our cockeyed primary system has produced some unlikely candidates for the White House - and some unlikely winners. The voting public seems to be mesmerized into buying into the concept of "momentum" as a reason to ignore candidates with excellent credentials and accept the inevitability of the one with the "Big Mo!!" That’s what got us George Bush as the Republican candidate in 2000. Of course there wasn’t much of a choice beyond Bush and John McCain - and having watched McCain since then, I’m not sure we’d have been any better off if he’d been the candidate. Except maybe the election wouldn’t have been decided by the Supreme Court and President Gore would be finishing up his second term in office.

I don’t buy the inevitability of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. I don’t think she’s the best candidate for the Democratic party. I don’t think she will bring policies to the White House that will differ that much from what we’ve experienced for the past seven years. With her as the party’s standard bearer, I would be inclined to agree with Ralph Nader that there’s no real difference between the parties. (But please don’t run again Ralph. We’ve got enough problems without you reenacting your spoiler roll.)

There is hope that voters will finish up picking someone other than Hillary. Howard Dean had this kind of "Big Mo" going for him before the Iowa caucuses in 2000 - and we know what happened to his "inevitability." But if it is going to be Hillary, those of us who want to see a change of party in the White House have to hope that the Republican front runner will hold onto his lead. The nation really doesn’t know Rudy Giuliani yet. Whatever you may think of Mrs. Clinton, she has a well oiled machine managing her campaign - and they will be ready to scare us to death with revelations about "America’s Mayor." In that case, it’s advantage Clinton. Her opponent - or his surrogates - will bring up the same garbage about her that she has been plagued with since her husband was elected President - but at least she will be the devil we know.

That’s how crazy our presidential election system has become. The primaries and the election itself. Being "the devil we know" counts as an advantage. Is there some other way to explain the Bush re-election??

Friday, October 12, 2007

You Can Try All You Like To Make Us Pay - But You Can’t Touch Us - We’re The C.I.A!!!!

If I go to Google and type in my name plus What’s All This Then, it produces 2,100,000 hits of which, not surprisingly, this blog site comes up in the first position. But if I type in just my name, I get 20,300,000 hits, which gives me a sense of relief. There are millions of us sharing this common name and it gives us all some measure of anonymity.

I would imagine that Khaled el-Masri wishes his was a name that could produce twenty million Google hits instead of the 157,000 that it produced when I typed it in this morning. - and just about every hit was about him - and not about someone with a similar name who the CIA says is a "terror suspect." Pity, because the CIA grabbed Khaled in Macedonia, thinking he was the terrorist they were looking for - shipped him off to Afghanistan where he was imprisoned and tortured for months before our heroic terrorist fighters realized they had the wrong man and dumped him in Albania.

Apparently the CIA didn’t say sorry and cut the guy a check for maybe a half a million bucks or more - so he sued. He sued George Tenant, three airline companies that were used to move him around - and "John Does" - presumably unknown CIA operatives . And he got nowhere. Well, he got all the way to the Supreme Court - but they refused to hear the case, allowing the lower court decisions to stand. And those lower courts said we’re not going to allow any case to be heard where the evidence might reveal national secrets.

So there we are. The courts of our great land have given the blessing of immunity to the CIA. They can do anything they like to anyone - as long as they say it was about fighting terrorism.. El Masri was a German citizen of Lebanese descent - but there’s nothing in the court decisions that says it would be any different if the plaintiff was an American citizen. They can hold you as long as they like without telling anyone. They can ship you from country to country where you might be jailed and tortured for months on end . And when they figure out that you’re not a terrorist and not a danger to anyone and they let you go - you have zero recourse.

According to our president, one of the reasons we invaded Iraq was to bring freedom to Iraqis. I don’t remember what number reason that was. It was one or two after WMD which Mr. Bush couldn’t find in the oval office. But before we came along, the best way for Iraqis to stay out of trouble and not end up being tortured in one of Saddam Hussein’s jails, was to keep a low profile and not make any waves. And maybe have a common name.

Add the El Masri case outcome to Gitmo, the Patriot Act, warrantless wire tapping and who knows what else is going on in the shadows - and it’s beginning to feel like that in this bastion of personal freedoms.

Some Of My Best Friends…….

I was watching a brief debate on the PBS News Hour the other night between dueling authors - and learned of a new phrase that may see limited usage by a relatively small group of people - but like that that old cop-out - "some of my best friends are Jews" - is equally self identifying.

The debate, moderated by Judy Woodruff, was between John J. Mearsheimer co-author of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" and Abraham H. Foxman , National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of " The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control."

In his book, Mearsheimer , and co-author Stephen M Walt, contends that AIPAC, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee - a lobbying group - has the power to direct President Bush, Vice President Cheney and members of the Bush administration cabinet, to launch a war that is against American interests but is desired by Israel. Which - Foxman’s book notwithstanding - is confirmation of what the world learned not that long ago from Mahathir Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia who - in a farewell speech - explained that Jews ruled the world by proxy - and that they didn’t fight wars themselves - they get other people to do it for them. I explained it all on this page back on October 23, 2003.

Unlike Mahathir Mohamad however, Mearsheimer doesn’t want to be known as a total nut or as an acknowledged anti-Semite. There’s not that much to be gained by having that kind of reputation. So professor Mearsheimer made it clear several times on the PBS News Hour that while AIPAC may indeed have the power to tell the president of the United States what to do, it is, nonetheless, a perfectly legitimate American lobby - just like the National Rifle Association and the American Association of Retired Persons. Yes sir. He’s not saying that there’s anything evil or un-American about AIPAC. No sir. It’s just like those All American lobbying groups - the NRA and the AARP.

So what is Mearsheimer saying? Both of those organizations have influence with our elected officials - but no one would suggest that either of them run our foreign policy - so when he asserts that the AIPAC does exactly that - but at the same time says it is no different from those nice folks at the NRA and the AARP , I submit that he’s saying the equivalent of - "Hey, I’m not being anti-Semitic when I talk about the awesome power of the AIPAC to control American foreign policy. Why some of my best friends are" - you fill in the blanks.

And decide what motivates Professor Mearsheimer.

A Taxing Tail Of Two Cities.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was New York. It was Chicago. It was Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, debating eight other presidential nominee wannabes in Michigan and telling them how he would handle taxes from the White House. Just like he did from Gracie Mansion. My goodness, said the 9/11 man - " I cut taxes 23 times when I was mayor of New York City. I believe in tax cuts." (Emphasis added).

Almost at the same time, 700 plus miles west of the Big Apple , Richard Daley, the current Mayor of Chicago, who is not running for president and who does not exhibit 180 degree changes in his political philosophy that he attributes to the events of 9/11/2001, was telling the news media and the good citizens of his city, that a lot more money is needed to provide the services that are needed to keep Chicago running. And since Oprah Winfrey hadn’t offered to cut a check for a few hundred million to cover anticipated shortfalls, the mayor was asking for a huge increase in (plug your ears Rudy) TAXES!! All kinds of taxes. Property tax. Taxes on bottled water. Taxes on booze. Higher parking fines. Wherever a turnip can be squeezed to achieve a revenue transfusion, Da Mayor is determined to seek it out .

Which of course is why Daley couldn’t even be considered as a presidential candidate. For example, back in the old days, both he and Giuliani were against guns and all for gun control. But 9/11 changed all that for tax reducing Rudy. Or it did when he decided to be a candidate for his party's presidential nomination. I guess he came to the retrospective realization that if New Yorkers had all had hand guns or maybe assault rifles available to them on 9/11/2001 - they could have shot those planes out of the sky before they hit the World Trade Center. But Daley still thinks we need to have more control over guns. In spite of 9/11. And he doesn’t just not believe in tax cuts.. He believes in tax increases.

If you think there’s something cockeyed here, I’m on your side. Either New York started out with an unbelievingly high tax rate that Chicago has yet to reach, which would lend some credence to Rudy’s tax reducing claims - or he’s fudging statistics, which politicians often do - specially when they want to persuade us to support their bid to become President of the United States. You know the ancient philosophical truth. There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

I’ll tell you what I get from this tail of two cities. New York’s a nice place to visit, but I prefer to live in my comfortable suburb of Chicago. Richard M Daley can often be as big a pain the rear as his father, Richard J Daley - but I wouldn’t vote for Rudy Giuliani for dog catcher.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Here I was yesterday explaining my reluctance to write about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict because it is so frustrating to even think about the idiocy that prevents people from living together in peace and prosperity, when along comes my reliable irritant - the letters to the editor section of the Chicago Tribune - and an idiotic letter that attempts to attribute the resurgence in world wide anti-Semitism to Israel’s war of independence and to the post six day war era.

The Tribune had published a three part series on anti-Semitism which drew the following response from someone who shares my last name, who lives not far from me and who I know. We’re not friends or even acquaintances, but I know who he is. What I didn’t know was what he is. Here’s his letter:

I was struck that the three articles on "The Resurgence of AntiSemitism" (Perspective, Sept. 30) make no mention of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967, not to mention the expulsion of some 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948/1949 as one important reason for the rising enmity Arabs hold for the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

To quote Norman Finkelstein, "Whenever Israel comes under renewed international pressure to withdraw from occupied territories, its apologists mount yet another meticulously orchestrated media extravaganza alleging that the world is awash in anti-Semitism. This shameless exploitation of anti-Semitism delegitimizes criticism of Israel, makes Jews rather than Palestinians the victims, and puts the onus on the Arab world to rid itself of anti-Semitism rather than on Israel to rid itself of the Occupied Territories."
The totality of the letter could almost have been directly extrapolated from the Palestinian P.R. play book with its use of the word "expulsion" to describe one of the inevitable outcomes of a war - the movement of populations and the creation of refugees. And there’s really no increase in anti-Semitism. The Jews just use it to deflect criticism of the state of Israel. Never mind that Jews IN Israel are among the greatest critics of its policies.

There’s no way to reason with someone like this. Nonetheless I thought I would try to see if the Tribune would publish a letter that refuted his bigoted explanation of the resurgence of an ancient hatred - and I wrote the following:
I was saddened to see a letter from my namesake and neighbor quoting Norman Finkelstein, the self-hating Jew recently denied tenure by DePaul University, to support his distorted view of why there has been a resurgence of anti-Semitism. According to Newland Smith (Look To The Source - letters October 6), it’s all due to "Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem" and "700,000 Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948."

I won’t attempt to respond to that nonsensical, simplistic drivel about Israel and the Palestinians which has indeed been used by anti-Semites to promote their cult of Jew hatred since the Jewish state was re-created in 1948.. It would take too much space and probably still wouldn’t convince Mr. Smith.

But after such a ridiculous letter, it needs to be acknowledged that the creation of Israel and its success in defending itself against annihilation in 1948 and in 1967 - wasn’t needed for anti-Semitism to flourish and to increase in intensity from time to time. The hatred of Jews can be traced back to the early centuries following the birth of Christianity. Jews weren’t occupying any "Palestinian" land in those days. Romans were occupying the Jewish nation of Israel. And Jews hadn’t driven any Arabs from their homes or occupied any "Palestinian land" during the decades of Russian pogroms or when Hitler devised the "final solution" for the Jews of Europe. And certainly Jews living in Arab lands from Biblical times up to 1948 hadn’t driven anyone from their homes or occupied anyone else’s lands - yet they were subjected to recurrent pogroms - just because they were Jews.

Anti-Semitism and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are two separate - and to reasonable and rational people - mutually exclusive issues. It is only Jew haters who link them together as cause and effect of something that is inexcusable. And it is only the ignorant who would quote a self-hating Jew who is praised by the Holocaust deniers of the world to support such a theory.
I was tempted to add a line about which of these two descriptions applied to my confused namesake - an anti-Semite or just plain ignorant - but I knew that would lessen my chances - slim as they are - of having my letter published.

If you are wondering why I am so doubtful about the Tribune publishing a letter that I think you’ll agree should be published - or at least something along the same lines, I refer you back to June of 2003 when the Tribune published a clearly anti-Semitic cartoon which evoked some letters from me to the paper and several blog commentaries. In one - written on June 3, 2003, I refer to and included a copy of a letter that I had written to the editor of that paper in response to the publication of some hate garbage from an obvious anti-Semite. Neither my letter not any other refuting the bigoted nonsense that they deemed worthy of publishing, ever appeared in the Voice of the People segment of the editorial page.

It will be interested to see if they have learned anything in the past four years.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about Israel - and I think what keeps me away from coming back to the seemingly never ending crises involving that tiny strip of land is that whichever way you approach it, the result always seems to be the same. Utter frustration. And yet it’s that same sense of frustration that persuades me to comment today.

As anyone who follows these things knows, there’s been a lot of talk recently about the so called Israeli/Palestinian "peace process." Olmert and Abbas have met a few times. Israel has released some Fatah prisoners. A Middle East summit is scheduled to get under way soon in Washington and along with Jordan and Egypt, there may be representatives from Syria and Saudi Arabia and Lebanon sitting at the table with Israel. Blair and Rice are voicing optimism. I wish I could share it. But my gut feeling is that we are as far away from solving the decades long conflict as we’ve ever been. What makes me feel this way? Let me count the ways.

I know that efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians have accomplished very little during the past forty years - but there have always been expressions of hope that some day it would happen. And indeed those expressions of hope are still being vocalized . But then along comes Ehud Olmert’s latest "optimistic" estimate - that maybe a final status agreement can be reached in 20 to 30 years!!! That’s pretty close to saying that after sixty years of conflict, he sees no possibility of reaching an agreement that will satisfy the various Palestinian factions - and their Arab regime sponsors .You could interpret this as Olmert saying that the stalemate is going to continue forever. Certainly beyond his term in office and that of Mahmoud Abbas.

Still, there is a summit about to take place in Washington that will involve some of the major players in the Middle East - and surely that represents at least a glimmer of hope. Not if you’re the authors of the Mideast On Target news letter - which lays out reasons why the meeting - like many more before it - will be a waste of time. A lot of words. A lot of photo ops. But nothing accomplished. Or as they put it "A Conference to Nowhere." I read their rationale. My gut tells me they’re right.

And over at the Israpundit site - one of only two blog sites that I link to on my home page - the headline on its home page has stayed the same for a long time and represents that part of Israeli thinking that dovetails with that of the crazed Palestinian factions - Hamas et al.THERE IS NO DIPLOMATIC SOLUTION. THERE IS ONLY A MILITARY SOLUTION. I read the opinions posted at Israpundit as often as I can spare the time and many are well written and some of them make sense and some are just plain scary. As is the permanent headline which in my view is just plain nonsense. Just as there is no military solution to the morass that is Iraq - so there is no military solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. If there is ever to be a solution, it will be when sane people from both sides and with a clear vision of the possible, iron out an agreement around a diplomatic table - not when one side has been beaten to its knees. We’ve already seen how much progress toward a final settlement gets accomplished after major military action. None. It just gets more complicated.

And one would think that after the Hezbollah war disaster and with a summit in the offing that at least has as its purpose an effort to move toward a final peace with the Palestinians - Israel would not be looking to provoke more clashes with its neighbors - particularly neighbors that could be principals at that summit.. So what does it do but send warplanes to bomb a site in Syria - a site that may or may not have been a nuclear facility and that may or may not have involved North Korea. Syria I am sure doesn’t want to go to war with Israel any more than Israel wants war with Syria - and the fact that neither Syria nor North Korea is issuing denials all over the place tends to make one think that maybe Israel had uncovered something that neither of those countries want to admit exists - but there are times when events take on a life of their own and the law of unintended consequences takes over.

Now there is talk of cutting off electricity and other essentials to the residents of the Gaza strip in response to the continued launch of rockets from that territory into Israel. This at the same time when we are hearing reports of Hamas enforcing Sharia law in Gaza.

All of which is why I find it frustrating to try to comment on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. As the orthodox Jew said when asked what it was like to pray at the remains of the Jewish Second Temple in Jerusalem - "It’s like talking to a wall." To me, the Middle East looks like a tinderbox

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The silent one is suddenly no longer silent. He’s written a book that he would like people to buy and contribute a few dollars to his retirement fund over and above his $1.5 million advance, so he is making himself available to all sorts of people for interviews. And revealing why he should never have been nominated nor confirmed for a seat on the Supreme Court.

I well remember the hearings on his nomination in 1991 and the last minute sensational testimony by Anita Hill accusing her former boss of sexual harassment - and his indignant denial - linking her accusations to some evil plan to keep him off the Supreme Court and "in his place," saying:
" As far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the US Senate rather than hung from a tree"
Later, Ms Hill submitted to a polygraph test, the results of which indicated that she had told the truth about Clarence Thomas. Thomas declined to take such a test. - and of course there was no reason for him to do so. By confirming him, even by the slim margin of 52-48, the Senate had in effect said that they believed him and not Anita Hill.

Polygraph tests of course are not admissible as evidence in court cases. Nonetheless, police and private companies continue to use them - and in a he said/she said situation where there are no other witnesses to what happened between two people - the expressed willingness to take a polygraph test can at least be taken as an indication that the individual has confidence in the probity of his or her position.

Fast forward sixteen years and here is Thomas giving interviews and repeating the same "I am a victimized black man" garbage that he spewed at his confirmation hearings. This man has a chip on his shoulder the size of a fledgling oak tree. He scorns members of the black community who consider him an enemy of their hopes and desires. He considers "affirmative action" as demeaning to people of color. He speaks with resentment about fellow African Americans who criticize his voting record. He says "It's fascinating that people, there's so many people now who will make judgments based on what you look like. I'm black. So I'm supposed to think a certain way. I'm supposed to have certain opinions. I don't do that. You don't create a box and put people in and then make a lot of generalizations about them." Yet the man lives and breathes the role of a victim of racial discrimination and clearly believes that much of the negative opinion expressed about him is because he is a black man who doesn’t act as "a black man should." Not because they think his views and legal opinions are cockeyed but because they think - as he said sixteen years ago that he’s "an uppity black who deigns to think for himself."

He speaks of the lessons that his grandfather taught him - among them being kicked out of the house when he decided he didn’t want to become a priest. I was kicked out when I was a kid too and all that taught me was that the person who kicked me out was a heartless son-of-a-bitch. But Thomas ends up calling his bitter memoir "My Grandfather’s Son" - in honor of his grandfather!! It seems that what he learned was that you just have to suck it up and fend for yourself and be bitter about everything you’re able to achieve because no one will believe that you achieved it without being given a pass because of your skin color. And maybe that more than anything else influences the kinds of decisions he writes, supports and concurs with.

In a "60 Minutes" interview with Steve Kroft that I saw, Thomas was asked how much of his life was determined by his race and did he think of himself as a black man. His answer was "I'm a man. I'm a man, first and foremost. I'm a citizen of this country. And I happen to be black. I am a human being."

But when Americans were first introduced to him at those dramatic hearings in 1991, he defined himself as a bitter black man besieged by a resentful white establishment - and to my eyes and ears, sixteen years on the Supreme Court hasn’t changed that self perception one iota. And one has to wonder if or how that kind of bitterness has made him the ultra conservative justice that he is.

I found it interesting that Thomas described his job as "deciding cases and writing opinions." He brushed aside the question of why he rarely says anything during oral arguments, citing past justices who were similarly reserved. Apparently questions posed by the other justices provide him with all the clarifications he needs on any case. Or could it just be that he doesn’t need clarification because he is going to make his decision from a conservative point of view no matter what oral arguments are presented? I just wish Kroft had asked him how much of his opinion writing is actually the work of his law clerks. But that would probably have made him rail against the suggestion that a black man can’t write his own opinions. As if the eight white justices didn’t have their own staffs of law clerks researching and drafting their opinions.

Sixteen years on the bench and who know how many years to go - and I have seen and heard nothing to change the conclusion that I reached in 1991 - that the man lied under oath and his elevation to the Supreme Court was as big a mistake as Bush 41 made during his presidency.