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Friday, November 30, 2007

The "Peace Conference" is over and there are varying views as to its success or failure - but to many - including me - the one conclusion that can be reached is that it’s time for Ehud Olmert to fix his ailing prostate and go sit on a sun warmed beach

About this time last year I said here that it was time for Olmert to look for a new line of work. I had reached that conclusion after the Hezbollah war debacle and his comment that our invasion of Iraq had brought stability to the Middle East. I have to hope that it wasn’t because he was taking steroids because I’ve been put on a daily dose of prednisone recently and I think my wife has been giving me some quizzical looks during recent conversations at the dinner table.

Before the Annapolis conference, Olmert could be heard making other strange statements - not the least strange was his conclusion that a final status agreement with the Palestinians would take 20 to 30 years!! During the conference, he parroted the "final status deal by end of 2008" line - presumably dreamed up by the Bush Legacy Planning Committee, thus acknowledging the help and support he gets from the President - and certainly basking in the warm glow of Bush’s assurance to Wolf Blitzer that if Israel is attacked - the attackers will hear from us. But then he must have had a really bad prostatic flare up because he suddenly became the prophet of doom.

A two state solution - or Israel is done for says the accidental Prime Minister. And he gave Jimmy Carter’s discredited views a boost with references to such horrors as something approaching the old South African apartheid conditions with Palestinians struggling for equal voting rights. To which I can only say - "say what??" I gather what he’s talking about is that without the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel will still be caretakers - or occupiers if you will - of at least the territory known as the west bank. But even under those condition - conditions that exist at this moment, the Palestinians have voting rights. They vote for their own political parties and politicians. Unless of course he’s talking about the "inevitable" incorporation of the west bank territory as part of Israel as an alternative to a two state solution. That of course would be demographic suicide.

There are those on the Arab side pressing for a one state solution - which of course is a bloodless way to achieve what Hammas vows is their goal - the elimination of the Jewish state. Arabs would swiftly outnumber Israeli Jews - and bye bye the so called "Jewish state." That should never be accepted as a solution - but if the two state solution can’t be reached - I have to hope that someone will propose and push for something that would work and give both sides their own form of sovereignty and allow for Israel to continue as a Jewish state. I gave some examples the other day. I suggested it here a year ago - almost to the day. A TWO IN ONE state solution. I suggested that the government of Israel propose it. Now I’m suggesting that the next President of the United States propose it - because like Nostradamus - I predict the as Bush leaves office, there will be no two state solution - except maybe some gobbledygook on paper with no sustainable confirmation on the ground.

But I don’t expect any such radical proposals to be offered up by the Israeli or the US government. We humans - Israelis, Palestinians and every other ethnic and religious groups of peoples - are too locked in to today’s irrational behavior patterns honed by centuries of the same kind of irrational behavior patterns. So it’ll likely go on that way until the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs collapses into some sort of resolution out of sheer exhaustion. Just not, I think, in my lifetime.

We almost need a deus ex machina to hop out of a space ship to straighten out this cockeyed race of humans. But I ask you - if you were a logical, superior being - would you want to try to straighten out our crazed beliefs and behavior?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It isn’t my choice to be a pessimist - but I think I have to agree with the folks at the "Mid East On Target" newsletter that the Annapolis "peace conference" is deja vu all over again.

I suppose that if there ever were a peace agreement and the establishment of a Palestinian state, there would need to be international support - and particularly Arab support - so there is some logic in the attendance of European nations in addition to Arab League members. But there’s no way that I can see that any peace agreement can be reached - and implemented by the end of next year that has a ghost of a chance of holding - no matter how many countries get invited to come and talk to each other at any number of military academies.

The problem with all such "peace" talks between Israel and Arabs calling themselves Palestinians is that they ignore the ideas that could work if everyone involved was sane - and concentrate on things that won’t work no matter how long they meet and how hard they try. First of all, there’s little hope of viability for a Palestinian state on the west bank and Gaza strip. Even assuming the two can come together, it will be a state that will need to be propped up by international financial support - probably forever.. It would make far greater sense for the territories to be split up - for the west bank to be affiliated with Jordan and Gaza with Egypt. Not necessarily as part of those countries but as independent affiliated states. It would make sense but it’s not going to happen. Maybe because it makes sense.

The idea that I set out here on October 10, 2003 - a type of Benelux Economic Union involving the two populations makes sense - but only to sane people.

Unfortunately, there is too much insanity involved on both sides - although far more on the Palestinian side. Elaborate peace agreements could be reached and published in triplicate or quadruplicate and dropped like snow flakes from high flying planes across the region - but it wouldn’t bring any peace. Not with the state of current populations. Mahmoud Abbas or Abu Mazen has absolutely no control over any of the west bank population that doesn’t go along with any agreement he signs with Israel - no mater how many different signatures he attaches to the document. And no outside force can impose control over the crazies in Gaza - who have made it clear that they will never accept even the existence of the state of Israel.

So what would a "peace agreement" look like and how much force would it carry? Let’s say that both sides make "painful concessions" and they’re able to draw up a document that permits Mr. Bush and other world leaders to gather together for a deluxe photo op. I would view it as similar to the triumph of a battered wife obtaining a restraining order against her abusive husband. A nice, clean legal document that has absolutely no ability to keep the peace any time the husband decides to resume his battering.

There are crazies on both sides. There are Israeli Jews who believe that Arabs have no right to any part of Biblical Israel. But apart from occasional rare instances, they don’t launch terrorist attacks against Palestinian Arabs. There are no armed "factions" within the Israeli Jewish population. There is Kadima and Likud and Labor and Meretz and many others - but these are political parties. They campaign and vote - not kill and maim. They don’t blow themselves up to achieve their aims. The Palestinian Arabs have their political parties too - but they also have Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and others that "vote" with guns and bombs and suicide attacks.

For any peace agreement to work to the slightest degree - all of these disparate groups would have to sign on. Independent armed bands would have to disband. The Palestinian Arabs of the west bank and Gaza strip would have to agree to live by the rule of law and let their democratically elected officials speak for them and make agreements on their behalf and be willing to live by the principles spelled out in those agreements.

Wait a minute. They did elect people to represent them. They elected those Hamas people. Who are not at this "peace" conference . Who weren’t invited to come. Who wouldn’t come if they were invited. So what is everyone else doing at Annapolis? Maybe - as Mideast On Target concludes - it’s all about frequent flyer miles.

Perhaps I can make my point clearer by introducing what I have named the laugh of the day. No, HORSELAUGH of the day. Saudi Arabia won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state. "We do not believe states should define themselves according to religion or ethnicity." says the Saudi US Ambassador. Tell that to the Saudi women waiting to be flogged and jailed for alleged violations of Islamic Sharia law. Which I guess the Saudis don’t consider either religious or ethnic?? And these are some of the people brought in to help achieve peace in the Middle East.

Good luck to all at Annapolis and the Bears on Sunday. They’re having a bad season but if they beat the Giants I don’t think Eli Manning et al will attack them with Qassam rockets. At least I hope not. Still - maybe they should sign an agreement before kick off.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I was thinking that I would be able to resume recording commentary on the passing parade while I "enjoy" a respite from the prospect of back surgery to see if a daily maintenance dose of oral steroids could hold my sciatic pain to an acceptable level - but as often happens, fate intervened and I have no heart for news commentary today.

I learned yesterday that my old friend Bob Kowalski died suddenly on November 9. He was 65 years old and in excellent health - but the scourge of a pulmonary aneurysm doesn’t recognize or acknowledge anyone’s state of health when it strikes without warning.

There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of - "when life deals you lemons - make lemonade." Sayings like that are often tossed around casually and are frequently misapplied. But if anyone’s life ever epitomized that saying it was that of Bob Kowalski. I met Bob more than thirty years ago when he was just beginning a modest career in the Chicago area working for the American Osteopathic Association from which he would move on to a better job at the National Dairy Council. I’m not sure of all the things he did at the two associations - but among them was science writing. He was a trained science writer. As I say it was a modest career. Bob wasn’t getting rich on association salaries. And that modest career got interrupted by a heart attack and bypass surgery at the age of 35!!! Shortly after that, Bob moved out to California to seek fame and fortune as a freelance science writer - but what found him at the age of 41 was another heart attack and another bypass surgery.

Things were not looking good for Bob. He had a family history of heart disease and following his second bypass, his cholesterol was out of control. But Bob was a stubborn fellow. We used to play poker when he lived and worked in Chicago and it wasn’t easy to bluff him out of his winning hands. He set about using his science writing training to find a way to control his health - and he found it. And from that came THE EIGHT WEEK CHOLESTEROL CURE - a book about successfully lowering cholesterol without resorting to drug therapies - on the best seller list for a remarkable 115 weeks!! Two heart attacks and two bypass surgeries - blows that might finish off an ordinary man - and lemons by the barrel full. And Bob turned them into a cornucopia of lemonade. Over the next 20 years, he wrote eight more books on health and published a "Diet Heart" newsletter and became an internationally acclaimed authority on practical methods of maintaining a healthy heart.

Being cut down in one’s prime at the age of 65 is a rotten break in anyone’s language. In his Christmas letter last year, he said that his cardiologist had given him a totally clean bill of health - and apart from some back problems, he himself felt as fit as a fiddle. He was looking forward to this year and to the publication of his ninth book and then maybe semi retirement with lots of leisure travel. I know he spent much of this year doing what he loved - traveling around the world - promoting his books - consulting and lecturing - playing golf and fishing - living life to the fullest. And if you have to go, that’s not a bad year in which to make your exit.

There’s been no local (Chicago area) obituary published for Bob , so I offer these few words in memory of my old friend and hope that some others who knew him will come across it and join me in saying goodbye and rest in peace to one of the world’s good guys who left us way too soon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I suppose that’s why it’s called the "practice" of medicine. No matter how hard or how long - it never achieves the "makes perfect" goal.

These words of wisdom are not being written from a hospital bed following hours of traumatic surgery. The announcement of my back surgery posted here yesterday was premature. It didn’t happen. And for the best of reasons.

As readers know, this isn’t a personal blog - though from time to time I will devote a few paragraphs to things happening in my personal life - but usually only when I think they could also be instructive for others. My avoidance of surgery today is such an instance, which is why I think it’s appropriate to explain what happened.

Last July, I was scheduled for this same surgery - but a day or two before the surgery date, I became ill with severe pain in my neck, a low grade fever and a hand that swelled up like a balloon. I was hospitalized with these problems for five days, during which time the swelling of my hand was drained of whatever fluid it contained in the belief that it’s cause was infection and I was pumped full of antibiotics which resulted in a case of c diff. My surgery was postponed and rescheduled for today - November 21.

Between last July and today, my hand problems were diagnosed as "pseudo gout." - and on Sunday night, three days before my scheduled November 21 surgery, my left hand again swelled up like a balloon, causing severe pain that radiated up to my shoulder. This time however, my doctors concluded it was because - as required before a surgical procedure - I had been off all NSAIDS for more than a week and was having a pseudo gout flare up.

My surgeon didn’t want to operate while I was having this problem - but he and my primary care physician thought it might be possible for me to recover sufficiently to be ready for surgery by treating the swelling with oral steroids. I was skeptical - but after one day of steroid therapy, my hand had improved 60 to 75% and by midday of day two it was almost 100% normal. A miracle!! I was ready for surgery. Except that something else also happened .For the first time in years, I spent a day without agonizing pain in my thighs. And then yesterday - another such day. When my surgeon heard this, he canceled surgery. He said that just maybe, my pain could be reduced to a tolerable level through the use of low dose oral steroids - which would be preferable to the risks and uncertain outcome of open back laminectomy.

Here’s what I think is instructive. I’ve had spinal stenosis for years. I’ve taken oral steroids in the past with absolutely no beneficial effect. I’ve had steroid injections in the past with absolutely no effect. In January of last year, I had minimally invasive lumbar decompression but it provided me with no relief whatsoever. In the months leading up to the surgery that was scheduled for today, I was tested with myelograms, MRI’s and discography. Although these tests showed that I still had problems not corrected by my first surgery - the extent of those problems didn’t seem to correlate with the severity of my pain. Nonetheless, surgery was considered my only option.

A point about my previous treatments with oral and injected steroids. I had steroid injections before my fist surgery. No effect. I had a steroid injection after my first surgery. Absolutely no effect. I had oral steroid therapy before my first surgery with absolutely no beneficial effect - but none since - until two days ago!! And two days ago it seemed to have had a palliative effect on my leg pain. I’m not sure why and I suspect neither are my doctors. But I think they will conclude that perhaps my first surgery wasn’t that unsuccessful and that my continuing pain was at least partly due to inflammation that may not have been clearly revealed in any of the tests that were designed to zero in on the source of my pain before my second operation - and that maybe , for whatever reason, that some inflammation is responsive to oral steroids but not to epidural steroid injections.

I suppose what’s instructive about this experience to anyone else suffering from back and leg pain due to spinal stenosis, is that before submitting to surgery, it’s worth trying anything - however unlikely it is to succeed - and even if it’s been tried before without success. In my case there was a difference in circumstance between the failed use of oral steroids to relieve pain and the apparent success of it’s current use - the difference being that I had surgery in between the two uses and that perhaps it was the combination of that surgery - believed to be a total failure - and my current ingestion of oral steroids that has - at least for the moment - resulted in a lessening of my pain to a tolerable level .

I guess I owe it all to being cursed with the misery of pseudo gout - for which I may just be eternally grateful!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I haven’t been doing much commenting on "The Passing Parade" lately - mostly because I’ve been too busy preparing to be out of commission for a few weeks . I’m having back surgery on November 21 - the day before Thanksgiving!! Turkey in the hospital this year. And I probably won’t be back at this site for a while after the surgery. There’ll be a few days in the hospital and then a couple of weeks in a rehab facility after my hospital stay. And when I get back home , my routine may not allow for much time on the computer.

So before too much time passes, I’ll devote this short pre-op blog entry to another sad farewell.

I don’t know that anyone knows the number of blogs that are now on line and active to some degree or another, but it’s in the many, many millions. You can try searching this and you’ll get estimates all the way up to and beyond 100 million.. With those kinds of numbers, it surprises me that there aren’t bloggers out there who knew people like Red Quinlan and Bob Lewandowski and Fred Weituschat and John Weigel and Bob Klobnak and Richy Victor and would take the time to acknowledge their lives - and their deaths on their blogs as I have done on mine. But not a peep. Except for a friend of Fred Weituschat who mentioned him on his web site - not a blog.

And now not a peep from the many people who knew Bruce Newton - from his days at the old WBKB , now WLS - Channel 7 in Chicago where I knew and worked with him - and at WCIU, Channel 26 in Chicago, where I also knew and worked with him - and throughout his career when he left television. Bruce died November 7, 2007 at the age of 80.

I can’t say that Bruce and I were close friends. During the years when we knew each other and worked together, we were friendly - but I hadn’t seen him for years until John Weigel hosted a 30th anniversary lunch for some of the original crew that put Channel 26on the air - those of us that he could track down. John was the founder of Channel 26 in Chicago. That was July 7, 1994. And I haven’t seen Bruce since, though we did talk on the phone once or twice about the possibility of another re-union after John Weigel died.

Bruce’s claim to fame was his creation of Garfield Goose, the puppet loved by millions of kids for years, but I remember Bruce best as the cartoonist for the tiny little company newspaper that I created and published in the late fifties and early sixties for the employees of WBKB, Channel 7 in Chicago. Those were the days before computers and readily available word processors and printers. The copy - mostly written by me - was typed on stencils on an old manual typewriter and run off on a mimeograph machine. You pretty much have to be an old timer to even know what a mimeograph machine is - or was. I don’t think you’ll find any round today.

Few of the copies of that ancient company newspaper exist today. I have a handful. There may be others hidden somewhere in the ABC building at State and Lake in Chicago - but I wouldn’t know where. I had hoped that I could reproduce two or three of his ancient cartoons here as an homage to Bruce - but they simply don’t reproduce well enough - so this will have to be a graphically deprived homage. So long old buddy. You made a lot of kids laugh with your creations - including mine - and on all of their behalves I say thank you and rest in peace.

And good luck to me tomorrow.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The former governor of the state of Illinois is now in a Federal prison, beginning a six and a half year sentence - and as I anticipated, the one local journalist who has been smearing George Ryan for years, wrote a column of celebration and of course virtually accused him of the crime of murder by again tying his conviction on corruption charges to the accidental death of six children, killed when metal fell off the back of a truck being driven by someone who had paid a bribe to obtain a commercial driver’s license while Ryan was Secretary of State.

Ryan is maintaining that he is innocent of the charges for which he was found guilty - and said - in a final statement on the eve of his confinement, that he intends to prove it. The only way to do that is to have the Supreme Court agree to hear his case and then to decide that he is entitled to a new trial - an extremely unlikely proposition. So, with the case pretty much over, columnists, writers of letters to newspapers and bloggers can feel free to air their thoughts and vent their spleen on the matter, knowing that it will influence absolutely nothing - as opposed to the months of the trial when spleen venting was occurring regularly in Chicago newspapers - being read and absorbed by members of the trial jury and possibly influencing their thinking.

Ryan may have committed all of the acts with which he was charged and whether or not any or all of them rose to the level of criminal activity is something on which I am not qualified to comment. From statements that Ryan has made, it would seem that he does not believe that the crimes of which he was convicted, were crimes at all. I know that I was once indicted for "crimes" that I did not commit - and when my attorney asked the court to dismiss the indictment, the judge not only did so but asked - if everything the government alleges is true - in what way has a crime been committed? In Ryan’s case, he gave state business to friends. He got some perks from friends. He didn’t get rich. There were no huge bribes uncovered. There was no grand theft or fraud uncovered. And he didn’t kill six children. There were bribes paid by people to get commercial drivers licenses while he was Secretary of State - but no proof was offered that he knew about or condoned the taking of bribes. A number of people were indicted and convicted in what became know as the "license for bribes" scandal - but that doesn’t make Ryan guilty of any of those crimes and they weren’t part of his indictment. A number of people in the Daley administration have been convicted of various crimes connected with their jobs - but the mayor of Chicago insists that he knew nothing of their criminal activities - and no one has charged him with any crime.

Whether or not Ryan was or is guilty of criminal activity, I don’t think he had a fair trial. I’m amazed that one of the things that I thought was horribly unfair wasn’t raised in the appeal for a new trial. I’m speaking of Ryan being forced to stand trial in tandem with one of his "insiders" who got state contracts and who provided perks. Back on May 15 of this year, I asked if an accused murderer rated higher than an accused Governor. Two people accused of committing mass murder at a Browns Chicken restaurant were granted separate trials. One has been tried and found guilty. The other has yet to be tried. When I think of multiple defendants - I think of things like the Nuremberg trials - where there was no doubt about the guilt of the multiple defendants. The same might be said of what passed for a trial of Saddam Hussein and some of his cohorts. When more than one person is tried of interlocking crimes in the same courtroom, it is difficult for there not to be some assumption of guilt. And as I pointed out in May, Ryan and Larry Warner may have been on trial together but they were being defended separately - and possibly harming each other with those separate defenses.

I also didn’t think it was fair when a juror who perhaps would have held out for a not guilty verdict, was removed from the jury after they had been deliberating for seventeen days. She maintained that she was insulted and brow beaten by other jurors for her view - and while she was ostensibly removed for not revealing a past criminal charge that was dropped, there is a strong suspicion that she was ousted for a different reason. She sent a note to the judge saying that she was being called names and being subjected to personal attacks. The judge sent a note back asking jury members to respect each other. Ryan's lawyers asked for a mistrial. The judge brushed their complaint aside and a week later, Evelyn Ezell was gone.

There are people who get wrongfully convicted. Some have been sentenced to death - only to be released after many years when something like DNA evidence surfaces to clear them. And it’s not unlikely that some innocent men have been put to death. On the other side of the coin some have gotten away with murder. That’s our jury system. But whatever the alleged crime - whatever the evidence presented, a basic tenet of our rule of law is that every defendant is entitled to a fair trial. During Ryan’s appeal process, a very strong minority view was offered by more than one judge who, while affirming that the evidence for conviction was strong, challenged the fairness of the trial itself.

If a trial without a co-defendant and without the dismissal of Evelyn Ezell had taken place, George Ryan might still be a free man today - probably because of a hung jury. Most likely he’d still be facing a second trial on the same issues and maybe the verdict would be the same. But maybe there wouldn’t be the lingering suspicion that there was something less than impartiality in the way the trial that landed him in jail was conducted.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On May 11.2005, I asked the question "WILL FRANKLIN BE GIVEN THE POLLARD TREATMENT?"

Pollard of course is Jonathan Pollard , the former naval intelligence officer who was charged with passing classified information to Israel. He entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors - but was sentenced to life without parole - which was in violation of his plea agreement. The facts of his case were never discussed in court. A lengthy secret memo, delivered to the court by then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger has never seen the light of day. No one knows what was in it. But he also delivered another four page memo, accusing Pollard of treason - a crime with which he had not been charged.

Now here we are more than 20 years later and Larry Franklin - a former Defense Department analyst, is accused of passing classified information to employees of AIPAC - the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee and pleads guilty!! No trial. No evidence in open court and a sentence of 12 years and 7 months in jail plus a $10,000 fine. Pollard would have loved to have had that kind of sentence. He’d have been long gone from his jail cell and maybe living and working in Israel.

But now there’s a big difference on the horizon between the two cases. Two AIPAC employees - Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman have also been accused of wrongdoing - but they’re not pleading guilty to anything. And to support their plea of innocence, they want to bring Condolleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley and Elliott Abrams and Richard Armitage and Paul Wolfowitz to the stand - and they subpoenaed them!! Lotsa luck you might think. No way the White House is going to allow that nonsense to take place. But they didn’t figure on Judge T.S. Ellis III - because he has now said "bring ‘em on." And if the government refuses or keeps objecting - he just might dismiss the case.

Those of us who had chills of anticipation running up and down our spines at the prospect of Dick Cheney being called to the stand during the Libby trial were sorely disappointed when that bit of theater didn’t take place. Presumably, Libby had already been assured that he would not have to serve time no matter what the verdict - and so there was no need for him to rat on his boss. But the AIPAC case is a different situation. There is a chance that the White House will protect Rosen and Weissman to protect Rice et al - but if it doesn’t, we can be looking forward - not just to some fascinating theater - but possibly to revelations that could shake the very foundations of the Washington establishment. It’s all a question of how arrogant Rice et al are - if they think that they can testify in court the way they testify in front of Congressional committees and on Sunday morning talk shows.

Let’s face it, when these people testify to Congress or guest on the talking head shows - they don’t reveal anything that could put them in a bad light. The worst that happens to them - for example when testifying under oath before a congressional committee - is that some Senator or Congressman will say they’re not satisfied with a particular answer. They may even be so brave as to label the testifier as being evasive or even disingenuous. Naughty, naughty. Extend your wrist for a slap. But get them in a courtroom, on the witness stand in front of a no holds barred, brass balled lawyer - and it will be a totally different story. Politeness and wrist slapping will be out the window. There will be no time limits on questions. Evasiveness will be met with scorn. Liars will be called liars and proof of their lies will be offered for all to see and hear.

Non of this will help Larry Franklin. He’s already playing out his role as sacrificial lamb. But if the administration doesn’t claim executive privilege or use some other excuse to prevent Rice at al from being called as witnesses - and they can of course - they’ve already demonstrated time and again that they’re not about to be bothered by something as frivolous as the laws of the land - we might get a look at the back door workings of our government - and that of some of our friends - even some of our supposed enemies.

Stay tuned. If we’re lucky, it could be - as Bette Davis once said - a bumpy ride.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot. It’s Guy Fawkes day folks. It was 402 years ago that Guy and his merry men got caught trying to blow up Parliament and got hanged, drawn and quartered for their efforts.

I’m sure there are plenty of Guy Fawkes wannabes in the USA today who would like to blow our government to smithereens - maybe not literally with Guy’s preferred WMD’s - gunpowder - but at least figuratively, perhaps starting with putting a virtual firecracker under the chairs of every Democratic Senator and Representative to remind them why they were elected to their exalted positions.

For example, as of this morning, it looks like Michael Mukasey will get himself approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and he’ll be our next attorney general. For a while there, it looked like the Democratic majority might hold firm and insist that the man who is supposed to elevate the Department of Justice form the depths to which it had sunk under Alberto Gonzales, not be allowed to answer a direct question with double talk. There isn’t any question about "waterboarding" being torture. It’s acknowledged to be torture and has been for years. It’s no different from strapping someone to a water wheel or holding someone’s head under water long enough to come close to drowning In the hands of an idiot - a person being waterboarded could drown. Could die.

What everyone expected with the nomination of someone like Mukasey is that the job of the Attorney General would once again become what it was meant to be - the lawyer for the people of the United States - not for the White House. Not as a legal rubber stamp for anything that President Bush wanted to do that wasn’t sanctioned by the Constitution. And he may indeed assert his independence from the White House once he assumes office. For the moment however, he’s playing point man for Mr. Bush , refusing to acknowledge what the whole world knows - that waterboarding is torture and unconstitutional.

Presumably he’s doing it because, the President’s insistences to the contrary, we have engaged in the torture known as waterboarding - he knows we have - and by acknowledging that it is torture and unconstitutional - he would be faced with the possibility of having to prosecute those who have committed unconstitutional acts. I suppose that even though he was highly regarded by Chuck Schumer, there’s no way that Bush would have nominated anyone who would go before the Judiciary Committee and flatly say that the White House is guilty of violating the constitution. And it’s a sad state of affairs when Senators who should reject this man, decide to give him their vote of approval because it’s better to have the devil you know. Or to put it another way, better Mukasey than a Gonzales clone who Bush could pull out of his conservative hat with a recess appointment. And recess is just around the corner.

On the other hand - as Tevye might have said - maybe this business of what is and what isn’t torture and what is and what isn’t constitutional. isn’t an appropriate reason to reject Mr. Mukasey. I am sure he is against the idea of torture. I am against torture. I think it’s a terrible weapon. I agree with John McCain and others that it isn’t necessarily productive - that a person being tortured will say anything to stop the torture - and "anything" doesn’t necessarily mean anything truthful. And I agree that we should make it clear to the American public and to the world that America does not commit acts of torture. And when confronted with a specific question about a specific act, we should answer it unequivocally. Yes, waterboarding is torture. Of course it’s torture. And we don’t waterboard.

In other words, we should lie.

Israel has had to deal with this problem for years - and "imminent danger" there has real meaning, unlike the ridiculous assertion that Iraq could have launched an attack against us 45 minutes after Saddam Hussein said "go." There have been times over the years when the Israelis knew an attack was imminent and that in order to forestall it - to learn exactly where and when - they had to bring pressure to bear on someone that amounted to torture. They denied it of course. Like us, they say that torture is not a sanctioned interrogation tool. But they do what they have to do to avert the slaughter of their civilians. They’re not always successful - but they succeed often enough - and only those divorced from reality care more about how the successes are achieved than the fact that they have been successful.

I don’t believe that we face the kind of danger that the Israelis continue to face. I’m skeptical when Mr. Bush talks about attacks that have been forestalled. The man uses fear as a political weapon. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to remind us that he’s a "war president." He’ll convince us of that if and when we launch a military strike against Iran. It’ll be without any provocation but he’ll tell us otherwise - that we attacked them to stop them attacking us - or acquiring the weapons of mass destruction with which they surely intended to attack us..

But there are dangers that we do face. I am sure that there are madmen who would like to do us great harm - who would like to kill as many Americans as they could in some spectacular manner emulating the World Trade Center attack. And I am sure that some of them are out there plotting to do just that. And I hope that our intelligence agencies, in cooperation with the intelligence agencies of our allies, are trying to track them down and stop them. Should we impose a code of conduct on our intelligence gathering personnel.? Absolutely. But when they are able to crack a plot and prevent horrible loss of life, should we hold investigations and demand to know that there was no deviation from that imposed code of conduct? I think this is a situation where the "don’t ask, don’t tell" approach should be employed.

At some point, we have to trust the people who are entrusted to protect us to do the right things and to know what the right things are and when to do them. If we can’t trust them at all, then we are truly in trouble as a nation - and asking provocative questions at a senate confirmation hearing isn’t going to make that kind of trouble go away

Thursday, November 01, 2007

We are supposed to be nation of laws, but of course those laws are interpreted and administered by men and women - and as the old saying goes, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Meaning judge A sees pure, unadulterated guilt and says "off with his head," while judge B says "Are you crazy? Let this poor victim go." And so we get some puzzling things coming out of our courts.

At the top tier of out legal system, we have the Supreme Court imitating art - specifically the movies. Christopher Emmett was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, but a few hours earlier, the Supreme Court halted the planned Virginia execution. The day before, Earl W. Berry was granted a stay minutes before his scheduled execution in Mississippi. Minutes!! You have to figure that this one was straight out of the movies. You can picture the guy, either already strapped to the gurney ready for the killing drugs to be pumped into his veins - or at least entering the death chamber just as the phone rings.

It’s not all the fault of the courts. Berry had been on death row for 19 years and the request for this stay - granted on Tuesday - was only filed on Monday. The Emmett case and the Berry case and others , are tied to an appeal of a Kentucky case arguing that execution by lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment - a case that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear. Only the guy dying by lethal injection knows what it feels like - but the argument is that this method of execution can be agonizingly painful. At some point in the future, the nine justices of the Supreme Court will tell us whether that is indeed so, without the benefit of actually experiencing lethal injections themselves. Presumably they’ll hear medical testimony from doctors who also have never had the personal experience of having the drugs in question pumped into their veins. But they’ll make their decision anyway. Based on what? The law? It boggles the mind.

Speaking of "cruel and unusual punishment" - lots of people were cheering and congratulating Georgia’s Supreme Court when they voted to nullify a ten years sentence that Genarlow Wilson had received for having oral sex with a fifteen year old girl when he was seventeen!! Two kids experimenting with their feelings and their bodies, but the young man was convicted of aggravated child molestation. After Wilson was jailed, the Georgia legislature changed the law, making oral sex between kids still a violation of law - but only a misdemeanor. But the Georgia Courts - including the Supreme Court, refused to give Wilson a break because the Georgia legislature didn't make the change retroactive, which would have allowed the kid to get out of jail immediately.

Sure - the Georgia Supreme Court eventually did do the logical thing and let Wilson out of jail after he had served more than two years of his sentence, but is this something worthy of so much praise - something that we should celebrate as justice triumphing?? The vote to cut the kid’s sentence to time served was 4 to 3!! Three of the seven "justices" on the Georgia Supreme Court thought this was a terrible decision. The ten year sentence couldn’t be "cruel and unusual" they said, because the state legislature hadn’t made the change in the law retroactive. They hadn’t extended it to any kids already convicted and serving a sentence. In other words, three judges sitting on Georgia’s highest court, would have kept Wilson in jail for ten years, based on a legal technicality!!

You have to wonder how four judges could be so right and three so wrong. And if you live in Georgia, you have to hope that there isn’t a shift in that state’s Supreme Court that would result in technicalities rather than logic becoming the deciding factor in matters as serious as life and death. "Sure the kid’s innocent. DNA evidence proves it beyond shadow of a doubt. But the evidence was submitted two days beyond the legal limit. Appeal denied. Off with his head."

In Illinois, it looks like former governor George Ryan has come to the end of the road in terms of legal appeals of his conviction and sentence for corruption while serving first as Secretary of State and then Governor. A couple of months ago, a three judge appeals court panel turned down his bid for a new trial. The vote was two to one. His last legal chance was an appeal to the United States Supreme Court and he asked the same three judge panel to allow him to remain free on bond while he waits for the Supreme Court’s response. The likelihood of the Supremes agreeing to even hear the case is remote - but not without precedent. But the vote was the same as in denying a new trial - two to one. "No more bond. Report to jail on November 7. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200." And once again, we are presented with judges who, if we didn’t know any better, could have been appointed to the bench from different planets in distant galaxies.

The dissenting judge - the same judge who dissented when the appeal for a new trial was denied, seemed to be concerned with the technicalities of the law. He said that the trial was "riddled with errors" even though there was overwhelming incriminating evidence. As I recall one of the incidents that might be considered an "error" - a juror was dismissed who was holding out for acquittal - if not on all counts, at least on some. To that juror, the evidence obviously wasn’t that incriminating. But it was to these judges and particularly to the two judge majority and even more particularly to one of the two who wrote a separate opinion with a few na na na na na na lines to embellish the legal mumbo jumbo. "Although they (Ryan and his co-defendant Larry Warner) would undoubtedly like to postpone the day of reckoning as long as they can, they have come to the end of the line as far as this court is concerned" she wrote. So here is a situation almost the opposite of the Georgia decision on young Mr. Wilson. There the majority went along with common sense while the minority cried foul because of legal mumbo jumbo. In Ryan’s case, the belief of his guilt seemed to be the deciding factor in the court majority hurrying him off to jail - while the dissenting minority cried foul because the trial at which his guilt became manifest was a tragicomedy of technical errors.

I know judges are human and can look at the same set of facts and come to different conclusions - but when some are so different - diametrically opposed - you have to wonder if there isn’t something other than legal considerations going on. Like the personal beliefs and philosophies of the judges - and the manipulation of legal interpretation to conform to those beliefs and philosophies. That may be the only way that the issue of death by lethal injection being "cruel and unusual" or not will be decided by the Supreme Court - and if I’m a convicted killer waiting on death row - looking at the philosophical make up of the high court - I wouldn’t make any long term investments.