What's All This Then?
Thursday, December 27, 2007
WE’RE OFF ON THE ROAD TO IOWA…
With Apologies to Bing and Bob….
In a few days the real race for the White House will begin in Iowa - and doubtless I’ll be recording my observations here after the results are known.. But before this year ends and the caucuses begin - a few random thoughts about the candidates..
Why Hillary? As I write this, her inevitability isn’t looking quite as inevitable - but from the very beginning I couldn’t understand what made her the preferred candidate of her party. As a matter of fact, I thought that her former position as the wife of an ex-president almost automatically excluded her as the right person to succeed George W Bush. It was too South American. El Presidente can’t run again so let’s stick in the wife. Apart from that oddity - there’s no doubt that she’s a bright women - but so are thousands of other American women in responsible positions - political and non-political. She has of course the ambition - which is something you have to have to run for your party’s nomination and for the big prize - but why would that make her preferred over Chris Dodd or Joe Biden or any of the other Democratic candidates? Does she have more experience than them? Better ideas? More credibility with world leaders? I don’t see it. She wouldn’t be my choice and if she is the candidate and she becomes President - I don’t think we’d see any major changes in almost any area. She’d be Bush light.
I watched most of Tim Russet’s interview of the strange Ron Paul last Sunday. I didn’t catch the first few minutes so I don’t know whether or not he asked what I would think should be the opening question of this guy who wants things to be as they were in the 1920’s - no income tax - no Social Security and absolutely no Israel. Why do you think you are being so strongly supported by Neo-Nazi and White Supremacy groups? I won’t try to answer the question myself. You can search the Internet and the answer begins to fall into place as you track down things he has written and said about Israel and about "neocons" - his totally unsubtle code word for Jews. But you’d think there’d be more to the broad support from the hate crowd other than their perception that the Congressman is a fellow anti-Semite. I suppose you can’t blame Dr. Paul for having such supporters. He doesn’t openly ask for their help and money. But in my view, the fact that he gets it in ways that no other candidate from either party "enjoys" is enough to eliminate him from serious consideration. And that’s apart from the rest of his nutty ideas - and some of his nutty answers to Russet. Like he never votes for the earmarks that he happily takes and spends. Russet pointed out that that was a "Kerryism" - "I voted for it before I voted against it"- but Paul just brushed that aside. But I guess what’ scarier than him are the large numbers of people who are contributing huge amounts to his campaign via the Internet. Paul won’t be the Republican candidate but presumably his supporters will be out there voting and maybe having an influence on who will next occupy the White House. Scares the heck out of me.
Coming back to Hillary for a moment, it saddens me to see Bill being thrust into the role of attack dog against Barrack Obama. Or maybe he chose the role for himself. Either way, it diminishes an ex-president to inject himself into a primary campaign this way. You certainly expect him to support his wife and no one could object if he campaigned on her behalf extolling her virtues and explaining why she is the best choice among 300 plus million Americans to lead this nation for the next four or eight years. And he would look a lot better doing that than questioning Obama’s "experience" which is probably more diverse than was his when he ran for and won the presidency in 1992.
I caught parts of another televised "forum" whatever you’d want to call it , organized by Sojourners - an evangelical group based in Washington DC - and featuring Clinton, Edwards and Obama answering questions about their faith. Those were the only three invited and they accepted and appeared on stage individually, answering "faith" questions and assuring an audience of ministers and other religious types that they were not just believers but people who were guided by their faiths. You want to scream watching these people say whatever they think they have to say to assure the evangelical electorate that they are "one of them." I’m not saying that these three don’t practice a religion or don’t believe in God. I’m just saying that they - like the Republicans - are willing to turn a blind eye to the constitution in their eagerness to become their party’s presidential candidate. The only answer to any "faith" questions should be - None of your damned business!! O.K. Maybe not as harsh as that - but in plain enough terms to make it clear that we do not impose a religious test on our leaders. On the Republican side in Iowa - it seems to be coming down to which of two candidates is more devoted to and would be "guided" by his "lord and savior." To which I say - to the Democrats and Republicans alike - what the hell are you trying to do to our country?? And if by any chance Mike Huckabee becomes the Republican candidate - are we going to have a theocratic election? Is some moderator at a presidential debate going to ask him if he really believes that the world is 6,000 years old and that Adam and Eve - fully formed homo sapiens - were the first humans to populate the earth - and had dinosaurs as pets??
It’s not easy for me to say this - but at the moment, John McCain is looking like the sanest in the Republican field. That could be why newspaper editorial boards are endorsing him. Behind closed doors they can say what they think about Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani and the rest without evangelicals listening in - and then the choice - poor as it may be - becomes obvious. Maybe we’ll finish up with a McCain-Lieberman ticket for the Republicans. The Democrats would then have to come up with a counter mix-and-match pair. Or maybe they wouldn’t succumb to such nonsense and select someone like Chris Dodd. But I guess only if gasoline is back to 39 cents a gallon.
My guess? Winning Iowa will not necessarily translate into anyone becoming a sustained "front runner." The nonsense will have to continue into a few more state races. And who knows - if it gets confusing enough, we might even end up with reasonable candidates from both parties. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
This is somewhat of a "repeat" blog entry in that I’m merely providing a link to a piece of fiction about Christmas that I wrote more than (gulp) 40 years ago. I think it’s appropriate to do so and I’ll tell you why. But first a word about Christmas.
I’m not a Christian so I don’t look upon or celebrate Christmas as a believing Christian might do. Nonetheless - I do celebrate - or at least enjoy Christmas. I do it the way hundreds of thousands of non-Christians and perhaps millions of nominal Christians do in the western world - as a national holiday. As a day off. In England two days off! (Boxing Day) As a time to send greetings to friends and family - to get together with friends and family for good food and drink. As a time to enjoy the decorations and the music and the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping - and the old Christmas movies on television - though I wish some network would please resurrect the Best Christmas Carol ever made - the one with Alistair Sym.
But there are many people to whom Christmas is a religious holiday - the most important holiday in the Christian calendar - and to a good many of those people , the enjoyment of Christmas as a joyous but not necessarily religious national holiday makes a mockery of their observance. They resent their religious celebration being "hijacked" for commercial or secular celebratory purposes. And they get pretty vocal about it. I wrote about that sort of thing December 19, 2004 - and it is no different today from what it was then and as it was when I wrote "The Price of Mistletoe" more than 40 years ago. I guess that was the inspiration for the theme of the story - a reflection of the disappointment and for some downright anger of religious Christians over what has happened to their religious celebration.
So click away on the links if you’re so inclined - and to my Christian and non-Christian friends and family who may read these words - a Merry Christmas to you all.
Friday, December 21, 2007
ABDULLAH AND LIEBERMAN. BAD AND WORST
Keith Olbermann was off for a few days this week but I have a feeling that had he been hosting current editions of MSNBC’s Countdown, a couple of people who’ve been in the news might have made their way onto the "Worst Person In The World" list.
I speak of those two worthies - King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Joe Lieberman.
The President’s hand holding friend has pardoned the young rape victim who had been handed a load of punishment by the Saudi courts for violating Sharia law. No 200 lashes. No six months in jail. What a nice man. We in the west are breathing sighs of relief that sanity has prevailed. This one time. For this one girl. Because there was world wide publicity - and western "friends" - hand holding or otherwise, felt constrained to bring pressure to bear on Abdullah - and he stepped in - quietly. It’s big news here but virtually unreported in Saudi Arabia. And it affects no one but this rape victim. Any and all other crazed sentences handed down under the madness of Sharia law are being carried out. Abdullah hasn’t suddenly decided to edge his country into the 21st century. He’s quite content to leave it wallowing in the 8th or 9th - or whatever century of our earth’s past in which that backward country wallows. It helps to keep the fanatics at bay and perpetuate his and his family’s continued royal rule. Fourteen of the 9/11 murderers have been identified as Saudi Arabian - but as long as the oil can be pumped from below their arid soil - we’ll hold hands with Abdullah - overlook the incredible suppression of Saudi women and praise this despot when he displays the slightest touch of humanity.
If there is a God - he must have one hell of a sense of humor - letting all that oil accumulate under the soil of the world’s most backward and repressive societies and forcing the rest of us - the so called enlightened societies, to kowtow to the likes of an Abdullah. Maybe it’s to teach us humility.
On the other hand, I have a feeling that he lost his sense of humor on the day he admitted Joe Lieberman into the human family. Either that or he was in his most humorous mood and decided to play a joke on Americans. A long term joke - one that drags on and on to get to the punch line. Sort of a shaggy dog story. Only there’s nothing shaggy about the, kind of creature that Lieberman has become.
Joe Lieberman used to be known as "the conscience of the Senate." I’m not quite sure what was meant by that. He was and is an orthodox Jew. He was and is sanctimonious. And it may be at one time he held himself above the fray and advanced reasonable apolitical arguments in good conscience. But then he ran for VP with Al Gore in 2000 - and hedged his bets by running for his Senate seat at the same time. Maybe that had something to do with his lackluster performance in the VP race - but for sure it revealed him as a man who would use any opening available to him to hang on to power. Less a man of conscience - more jut a politician.
When he ran in the Democratic Presidential primaries in 2004, he presented himself as the super hawk on Iraq - castigating candidates who would dare to submit that perhaps the world wasn’t a safer place because Saddam Hussein had been deposed. At the time, I thought he had adopted that super hawkish position to set himself aside from the rest of the candidates - a purely political strategy. And I was willing to defend him against those who accused him of being more the Senator for Israel than the Senator from Connecticut. But now I’m not that sure that his perfectly legitimate interest in and support for Israel isn’t the greater part of his support for the Iraq invasion and for further US military involvement in the Middle East.
When he was forced to run in the Democratic primary in Connecticut last year and lost, I breathed a sigh of relief - but I should have known better. It’s regrettable that Connecticut law allowed Lieberman to do what he did - lose in a primary and run as an independent in the general election.. Connecticut doesn’t have a "sore loser" law that would have prevented this end run around the voters’ choice in some other states. And now Lieberman has revealed himself not just as a sore loser - not just someone to whom - despite his sanctimonious pronouncements - power is more important than principle - but as a modern day Quisling. His endorsement of John McCain is an act of treachery. Not just because he is a former Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. Not just because he has competed in Democratic Presidential primaries. Not just because he caucuses with the Democrats and is the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. And not just because McCain is a Republican. But because he has endorsed someone who might well pursue the militaristic policy that he favors - that in no sane way is in the interest of the United States and is totally opposed by the party with which he caucuses. Fortunately, the likelihood of McCain winning the Republican nomination and the general election is somewhere between zero and minus one. But that doesn’t make Lieberman’s act any easier to take.
In 2008, 21 Republican Senate seats are up for grabs as opposed to 12 Democrats. If the Democrats can increase their ersatz majority to a workable number, I would hope that we’ll see no more spectacles like the appearance of Harry Reid on The News Hour tonight saying how good a friend and how fine a Democrat Lieberman was and that instead, he and the rest of the party would tell the turncoat where to go - and that would be to the Republican party that returned him to the Senate with another act of treachery - supporting him instead of the Republican candidate who finished up with 10% of the vote - and far away from any Committee Chairmanships.
So when Keith Olbermann gets back to regular programming - which I imagine will b sometime after the holidays - I highly recommend that he takes any one of the remarks that sore losing, self aggrandizing, egotistical Republocrat Joe has said during the past week to ten days and nominate him as Countdown’s WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD
Monday, December 17, 2007
THE NO CAPITAL IN CAPITAL ONE SAGA CONCLUSION
Two and a half years have now passed since my namesake at Capital One Services assured me that I had "helped them identify an opportunity to strengthen their position on delivery of service." Convoluted phraseology I’m sure you will agree - but the sense of it seems clear. I called their attention to something they were doing wrong and they thanked me and implied that they’d do better in the future.
In the summer of this year, little squibs began appearing on my credit card bill urging me to claim my current cash award. It kept quoting an amount that seemed out of kilter with the points that I had accumulated since the last time I’d cashed in points - and sure enough, when I responded to their urging, the check they sent me amounted to .5% of those points instead of the 1% I was expecting. I called Capital One to ask what was going on and to tell them that at .5% cash back - they were no longer competitive. The response of the individual who I spoke to on the phone - who might have been sunning himself in New Delhi or cooling his heels in Lima, precipitated the following letter from me:
I didn’t expect to hear anything from Mr. Fairbank. When you write a letter to the CEO of a corporate behemoth, it would take a monumental accident for he or she to actually see it. It gets diverted to a gatekeeper - someone whose job it is to protect bigwigs from the plaints of lowly consumers. In 2005, the job fell to one Tina Smith and she managed to do it with some measure of grace. At least she didn’t say anything totally stupid when she wrote to me. But there was a different gatekeeper on duty in October of 2007 and its response to me began with an ominous portension of things to come by substituting our street name for our surname. Here’s the letter - and I assure you that it is produced exactly as written - with the punctuation exactly as punctuated and the phraseology exactly as phrased.
Obviously I had never seen any notification of a reduction in the cash back reward program or I wouldn’t have said what I said in my letter to Richard Fairbank. And it was pretty clear that the only response I was going to get from a gatekeeper was standard corporate non- responsive gobbledygook. Note that Erika Davis used the exact same words as those used by Tina Smith in April of 2005 to let me know that my "feedback was instrumental in helping them identify an opportunity to strengthen their position on delivery of service." It’s as though the gatekeepers have at their command a supply of pre-written paragraphs designed to cover a variety of circumstances and it is their job to select which ones to use when responding to a cardholder’s question or complaint. Of course if a gatekeeper fails to grasp what is being said in a letter from a cardholder, those pre-written paragraphs can be used inappropriately. They can for example, respond to a question that is never asked . But even though I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get anywhere with further correspondence, I thought that if nothing else, it might provide something worthy of inclusion in my work in progress "Battling the Behemoths" book. So I pressed on.
Now you would think that if this Erika Davis gatekeeper person had half a brain, she would send me a nice letter apologizing for the mix-up and tell me that a new card with the 1% cash back with an annual 25% bonus is being issued to replace my old card and it should arrive shortly and please destroy your old card. But Ms. Davis didn’t view me as a valued, preferred cardholder. She viewed me as an antagonist. In her view, a battle had been engaged between a consumer and a behemoth - and there was no way she was going to surrender or even give ground.
A sneaky one this Erika Davis. She pulled the old "operational limitations" to throw me off the track - probably with the full realization that I would have no idea what she was talking about. So I thought I would respond with a sneaky trick of my own. A little humor - and the same letter sent to FIVE top Capital One executives in the hope that (a) one of them would get through to the actual addressee and (b) that that person would have a sense of humor.
You would think that a company as large as Capital One would have more than one gatekeeper manning the ramparts for five big time executives - but that’s not the case with this Capital-less company. Either they’re a bunch of cheapskates - or all letters from cardholders are automatically directed to a single person. In this case, the infamous Erika Davis.
After I’d recovered from the uncontrollable fit of laughter that consumed me as I read this letter I had a scary afterthought. Could it be, I wondered, that Erika Davis has a sense of humor that exceeds mine? Could it be that she has been toying with me all along and goading me into a desperate attempt to reach her through humor so that she could respond with a superior sense of humor by pretending to take my nonsensical description of her seriously? As I said, it was an afterthought - lasting no more than a second or two. In reality, it was my humorous description of Ms. Davis that was indeed scary because it wasn’t that far removed from being the truth. She may indeed be a carbon based humanoid - but to be human yet totally devoid of humor and to be a communicator with no sense of the meaning of the word, is to be close to a science fiction writer’s vision of a humputer - a hybrid of a humanoid and a computer, trained to perform certain tasks but not to reason or think. Certainly not to think "outside of the box." Capital One is ill served by someone like this - and if she takes her cues from higher up the corporate ladder, then Capital One is ill served by its top executives.
But I can’t leave this story without calling attention to the huge disservice that Capital One may be foisting on hundreds of thousands of its cardholders. As far as I know, when I first acquired my Capital One card, it was the only card they issued. When they began issuing new cards with more perks attached and reduced the perks attached to existing cards, they reduced old cardholders to the level of second class citizens. Some - perhaps many who may not be aware of all these changes - as indeed I wasn’t - may still be paying $19 a year for their old Capital One card - a description of which you can't even find on their web site - but if Capital One keeps accepting those payments without sending a clear, understandable invitation to all of those cardholders to switch to their new, no fee, higher cash back awards card, they in my view they are no better than usurers and bait and switch artists.
As I said at the beginning of this tale of woe, if you check any search engine for complaints about any large company, you’ll uncover a substantial collection. Capital One is no exception and here are three complaint sites about this company -
My 3 Cents
I may add the comments of these two days of blogging to them and to others. Stupidity and thoughtlessness of public companies should be exposed to the public they claim to serve as often and as forcefully as possible.
UPDATE January 15, 2008
You’d think that was the end of it. Capital One couldn’t think of anything sillier to say to me and I’d canceled their card and moved to one that was more than competitive. But one can never assume anything about a company like Capital One Financial Services - for what should show up in my mail box not that many days ago - but this letter.
You’re a valued customer. You deserve the best. How about an upgrade to your card? We’ll give you a few options., and you’re guaranteed to be offered at least one, like No Hassle Rewards, getting rewards faster or improving other card features.So...in contrast to what Erika Davis has been telling me - Carolyn wants to upgrade my Capital One card. Except that I no longer have a Capital One card. It’s canceled. Still I’m curious,. I want to know what kind of "upgrade" they had in mind. So I called. I didn’t get to speak to Carolyn, but I spoke to one of her "specially trained team members" who assured me that my card had not been canceled. I played along with this for a while because I wanted to know about the "upgrade" - but when I asked about it, he hemmed and hawed and talked about a better interest rate. I told him that was no upgrade because I never carried a balance - which he acknowledged. But when I asked what other "upgrade" he had in mind, he wasn’t able to come up with anything. I finally hung up and called their executive offices and talked to someone who looked at my record and acknowledged that my card had been "scheduled" for cancellation and who assured me that in response to my call, it had indeed at that moment been canceled. I asked if she could give me a confirmation number or code. She s aid she couldn’t do that. The way they confirm cancellation is to send out a letter of confirmation. I’m still waiting for that to show up. Stay tuned.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
THERE’S NOTHING CAPITAL ABOUT CAPITAL ONE
This will be an expose of the stupidities of Capital One - the credit card people - perhaps spread over two or more days of commentary.. Rightfully, it belongs in my other blog - and indeed it will be added to the stories I am accumulating there for possible inclusion in a book on "Battling the Behemoths." I suppose if one were to go to a search engine and type in "complaints" followed by the name of just any national company, you would get a substantial number of hits. I Googled Capital One complaints and got 385,000 hits. But this story isn’t about a complaint - resolved or unresolved. It’s about a successful company that can nonetheless sometimes act like its employees were recruited from the non English speaking population of an asylum for the terminally imbecilic.
I’ve been using the Capital One credit card for a few years. Even though it was a card with an annual fee, it was highly competitive for a while, offering points for airline tickets and then a 1% cash refund on all amounts charged. I think it may have been the first card to offer cash - and with the hundreds of dollars that I got back over a period of time - the low $19 a year fee was a bargain. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back in 2002, the card wasn’t offering cash - just airline tickets - and that year they began to become a little less attractive by increasing the number of points needed for various flights. To compensate for that less attractive state of affairs, they lowered their interest rate from 9.9% to 7.9%. It didn’t affect me since I don’t carry credit card balances - and since I had a pretty sizable accumulation of points, I decided to keep using the card and not switch to another, no fee card.
Fast forward to 2005 Out of the blue, I get the following form letter attached to a monthly bill.
Occasionally, due to the changing economic environment, we have to adjust customer’s annual percentage rates (APR’s) By doing so, we can maintain the quality of service and support you deserve as a preferred Capital One cardholder.As I said earlier, the rise and fall of credit card interest rates is of little interest to me since I don’t carry balances - but this letter struck me as being a little squirrely and perhaps a harbinger of things to come - and since I had a another matter to straighten out with them, I thought I would ask why they would raise the interest rate on one of their valued, preferred cardholders who always paid his bill on time and so on January 18, 2005 I wrote them as follows:
There was no response to this letter and eventually I called to find out why and my call generated a response in the mail by way of a form letter post card with print small enough to require a magnifying glass to make sure that what I was looking at actually was print! This inspired another letter from me to the head honcho at Capital One on April 12, 2005 as follows:
Richard D. FairbankI didn’t really expect to hear anything from Mr. Fairbank - but On April 19, 2005, I did receive this letter from one of his underlings
Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding your Capital One Account. I am taking this opportunity to apologize for the interaction you experienced when you contacted our Customer Relations Call Center. I want to assure you that we are committed to providing superior quality service to all of our customers. I regret this was not the case with your concern.With a name like Smith perhaps I shouldn’t refer to her as an underling. After all, she wrote a very nice letter even if it wasn’t exactly on point - and at the same time - I think it might have been in the same mail delivery - I received another letter, also dated April 19, 2005, thanking me for staying with Capital One and reducing the interest rate on my account to 7.9%. This from one was from Pat Johnson, Retention Group Manager of Capital One Services Inc.
Success!! My "feedback" helped Capital One to identify an opportunity to strengthen their position on delivery of service. From now on, any problem that arose with them would be easily solved. Wouldn’t you think? But this was just a teaser to lull me into a false sense of security - a belief that the people at Capital One would all be like Tina Smith - genuinely concerned about a cardholder’s concerns and ready to do whatever was necessary to satisfy them. But two and half years later. I was exposed to the ugly truth. While on rare occasions the Doctor Jeckyll half of their gatekeepers’ personalities are able to surface to deal with a cardholders’ concerns - it is their Mr., Hyde side that is truly in charge - and it was he whose evil ways were responsible for the parting of the ways of Capital One Services and one of their valued, preferred cardholder. That part of the story to come.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
THE REPUBLICAN PRIMARIES - POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS CONTESTS?
As I watch my waning years march inexorably toward their final outcome, I sometimes fantasize about the people who will be living in the distant future that I will never know. I fantasize about what it would be like on earth - say 30,000 years from now. In the year 32,007. If that’s how we measure the passage of time by then. If the earth is still here. If people are still here. And what I wonder about most is whether or not the human race will still be harboring and allowing their lives to be controlled by religious beliefs and whether or not we will be hating, killing and warring with each other because of those beliefs. I certainly hope not. I hope that if there are people living on earth at that time, they will look back at us with compassionate sorrow at the enormity of our ignorance and naiveté. Specially if there are tattered remains of news reports from around the world from the last few weeks.
What would they think of the madness of a young girl being gang raped - and then herself being convicted of a crime and sentenced to be flogged and serve a jail sentence? The crime being that before she was attacked - she was in the company of a young man who was not a relative. They’d think it was as I have described it. Madness. Just as they would think that sentencing a school teacher to be flogged and incarcerated because the children in her class gave their class Teddy Bear the name of an alleged religious prophet - worshipped by millions round the world in this primitive era. Given the fact that millions of men bear that same name with pride, they might think that this was even a greater madness than punishing the victim of a rape. But if they were serious students of this era, they would know that the world of 2007 was divided into widely disparate groups - some living up to the potential of whatever advancements and knowledge that had become available to them by that time - while others wallowed in the knowledge, customs and beliefs in vogue centuries earlier - and they would perhaps conclude that some of us were less primitive, ignorant and naive than others . Unless among those ancient, tattered news reports, there was some information about what was happening in that part of the world known as the United States at the end of the year 2007. Then they would assuredly conclude that we were all as mad as each other.
That’s a long and round about way to introduce some comments on what is going on in the race for the presidential nomination of our two parties - but I need to do it to calm myself down - because I don’t have any way to transfer the depth of my disgust at the "issues" being raised to determine which candidate will best represent the Republican side of the race to my computer screen. I’m just not that good with words.
It’s all well and good to be appalled at the constant flow of horror stories emanating from the world of Islam - but are we - the enlightened ones - the ones living in the twenty first century and not the seventh - really that much different - and will our descendants, 30,000 years from now, see us any different? O.K., we don’t flog women who get attacked by rapists or who allow kids to pick Jesus or Moses of Mohammed as a name for their Teddy Bear. But we’re in the middle of a contest to pick one of the candidates for the Presidency of the United States - and what are we asking some of them to tell us? What would Jesus do? About anything. Some of us - lord knows how many - want to judge the worth of candidate by what he thinks some historical figure - who may or may not have existed but who is worshipped as a deity by millions - would do about today’s problems and issues. The Republican candidates were asked this question and they answered it - seriously.
Now the candidate surging in the polls is a former minister and Governor of Arkansas who isn’t sure whether the earth is 6,000 or billions of years old and who doesn’t believe in evolution. I’m not sure exactly when he believes that humans appeared on earth, but I get the impression that he thinks it was quite recently. Maybe close to that 6,000 figure when the earth might have appeared. And the guy is surging in the polls. He may win the Iowa primary. He may win the Republican nomination. There is a growing number of people who want our leader to match the ridiculous beliefs of some of the Islamic leaders who we scorn on a daily basis.
And now we have another candidate upon whom those who would tend to favor Mike Huckabee are looking with hesitation and suspicion because he is a Mormon - making a major speech to convince them that he is as religious as Huckabee and that we should all be tolerant of all religious beliefs. But he also divides the American electorate into "us versus them." Church going believers and the rest of us. And adds this gem.
"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.I don’t know whether or not Romney thinks the human race began 6,000 years go and the first beings simply rose from the dust - but apparently he doesn’t believe I can be free because I don’t have the required religious belief.
If it weren’t for the fact that this nonsense will very likely influence the votes of so called "evangelicals" - we could almost look upon it as temporary respite, filling the humor gap left by the writer’s strike - and no Daily Show, Colbert Report, Leno or Letterman. I can just imagine what they would have made of this race to be the most Godly. Or would that be the most God fearing? Or God believing?
I’m not suggesting that religion is all bad. It is of course a two edged sword - with hatred and intolerance and oppression and mass murder as one side of the blade - and a way for millions of people to make sense out of chaos as the other - even if, when we stop to think about it long enough, it makes no sense at all. But when large numbers of Americans begin to insist that our potential presidents assure us that they believe in fairies and miracles and Santa Claus and that science is trumped by legend, we are heading down a slippery slope toward the land where the Ayatollahs dwell.
Religion "tests" - forbidden by our constitution - have never played the kind of role in a presidential primary campaign as they seem to be playing today. In my lifetime, the closest thing to what is happening in the current campaign is the JFK speech assuring the American people that presidential decisions would be made by the president and not by the Bishop of Rome. It was a great speech. JFK said what needed to be said. He pandered to no one. He didn’t gush about his "personal savior" nor separate believers and non believers, churchgoers and non-churchgoers as enemies, as Romney, stumbling over his desperate pandering did. If I believed in an after life, I would wholeheartedly believe that JFK was turning in his grave as Romney stooped to the level of the religious bigots whose votes he hoped to capture.
I don’ think it will be a big issue in the general election. I don’t think the Democratic candidate will feel the need to make religious belief a major part of his or her campaign. I think the Democratic candidate will win the election - and for four or eight years - religion in this country will be where it should be. In the churches and synagogues and mosques and homes and out of the political area. But what we have seen so far coming from the Republican candidates as they try to convince evangelical Christians that they believe as they do - is something to be watched carefully. It’s pretty clear that the Christian right - and I’m being kind referring to them in those terms - want some form of theocratic democracy in this country - if not a downright theocracy. And if presidential wannabees keep pandering to them - and one of them does it so skillfully that the rest of the electorate overlooks or doesn’t realize what he’s doing and joins with them in supporting him - they may just achieve their nutty aim.
And if you think it couldn’t happen here - not in a democracy - remember that the greatest monster of modern times didn’t come to power in a sudden coup. He used the German political process and became absolute dictator after an election and a bill passed in the Reichstag on March 23, 1933. So it could happen here. Not necessarily the election of a dictator - but maybe the election of a Christian Ayatollah equivalent!!
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
WHEN IT COMES TO PRIORITIES, WE COULD LEARN FROM THE BRITS
Since I live in the state of Illinois, I, like all of my fellow Illinoisans suffer one way or another from the dysfunctional nonsense that has been going on in the state capitol on a variety of issues. Because our elected legislators couldn't decide what to do about a restriction on how much property taxes could increase annually that was about to expire, the half a year’s tax normally due September 1 in the county where I live - didn't become due until December 3. That shortens the period to the due date for the other half by three months!! It didn't bother me too much because the longer I can hold on to any kind of cash, the more interest I can earn. But to some people, that one-two punch of having to pay a year’s property tax in a three month period could be a strain. But what has been most dysfunctional has been an ongoing argument about how to help fund public transportation in the Chicago metropolitan area. Without some state funding, the local bus and train services face severe cutbacks. One deadline after another has been set for laying off hundreds of employees, raising fares and eliminating bus routes - and one stopgap amount of money after another has been found by the Governor to stave off the disaster - for a week or a month - depending on the amount pumped into the system.
I write this as a preamble to suggesting that Governor Rod Blagojevich and Richard M Daley, Mayor of Chicago, hop on a plane over to Bristol - in the western part of England where my brother lives - and ask how to solve our transportation woes. I was having a friendly chat with my brother the other day and he was telling me things that were going on in his life. He’s been having some medical problems and so has my sister-in-law - and they've needed to see doctor after doctor and take drug after drug and have visiting nurses come to their home - and I thought to myself wow - if that was us - me and my wife - we’d be shelling out a bundle over and above whatever out medical insurance would pay. But it was costing them nothing. Zero. Nada. Bupkus. Under that - ugh - terrible socialized medicine system. But then he told me something new about public transportation.
The lovely city of Bristol and the surrounding doesn’t have to rely on "public" transportation owned by the city or any other municipality. The major provider of bus services there is a very pleasant, highly efficient private company. And it doesn’t keep going hat in hand to government with stories of impending disaster if it doesn’t get a huge influx of tax money. But I knew that. I’ve been to Bristol on numerous occasions. I’ve ridden those buses. What I didn’t know was that for people like my brother - over 60 years of age - riding on buses in England is about to become one of the great bargains of all time. It’s already easy for early seniors - which is what I would call anyone only 60 - to ride the buses in Bristol. After 9.30 a.m. Monday through Friday and any time on the weekends or on holidays it’s free!! No charge. All you need is a Travel Card to identify who you are - and it’s easy to get. But it’s about to get better.
Next April, that locally issued Travel Card will be replaced by a new card - and it will entitle holders to travel FREE on any local bus in any city in the United Kingdom!!!! The legislators in Springfield, Illinois or in any other state capitol or in any part of Federal government would never dream of coming up with a system like that. If nothing else, rabid Republicans would likely look upon it as something subversive - a plank of a platform to socialize the nation. But the Brits look upon it differently.
I've said here a few times that the England I once knew doesn't exist anymore. It's changed - and in my view not for the better. But there are some things that haven’t changed and one of them is the order of national priorities. Things are expensive in England. People come to the U.S. to shop!! Almost everything here is a bargain compared to UK prices. And for British seniors, their complicated social security levels may leave them in a worse or better position than US retirees. Scroll down to "rates of pension" and you'll see what I mean. But then scroll down to things like "winter fuel credit" and "Christmas bonus" and you can see from all the different kinds of benefits available under their retirement scheme, they try to make as sure as they can that people in the waning years of their lives don’t have to face debilitating financial as well as the other problems that come with advancing age.
Health care is another example as I’ve discussed here on many an occasion. Without the National Health program, my brother would have been bankrupt many years ago. We’re having our primary races for the presidential nominations and once again the issue of our health care costs and health care coverage is being debated. But no one who has a real chance of getting nominated has the guts to call for a national health program, something along the lines of the British system where everyone is covered. It won’t happen - not until we reach a point in our history where we set our priorities with the welfare of our people at the head of the list - uninfluenced by business or any other self serving interests. I haven’t looked up UK statistics on the growth in the numbers of people collecting social security - but I’m pretty sure that there is little doomsday talk about the system running out of money and people having to sell their kidneys to finance their golden years. There is always talk about the problems with their national health program. But neither the pension or the heath program is in any danger of collapsing. The money will always be there. It’s a matter of priorities.
If anyone has an argument with that concept - that an industrial nation can set national priorities with the inherent promise that money will always be there to fund whatever those priorities might be - take a look at our current set of priorities. Our military adventures are being paid for from a bottomless barrel of debt. They’ll never stop because "we don’t have enough money." It’s our current priority. Introduce new ones that benefit people and have nothing to do with war - and they'll get vetoed. Too expensive!!
Fortunately for our British cousins, they have a different set of priorities, even though they got dragged into Iraq in a small way. Try fixing public transport problems, giving seniors a pass to ride buses free anywhere in the country and making sure every citizen has access to health care that won’t send him to the poor house when your national priorities are upside down. The Brits have it right. We could learn from them.
Monday, December 03, 2007
SIMPSON AND PETERSON - THEY MAY BE MORONS BUT THEY’RE BOTH GETTING SCREWED
I have to make it clear at the outset that I think Both O.J. Simpson and Drew Peterson are morons. They act like morons. They talk like morons. They’re so bad, they give morons a bad name. Having said all that , I think they’re both getting screwed.
Let me dispense with Simpson first because this one is reasonably uncomplicated. He probably got away with murder in 1994. To me, the evidence of his guilt in the killings of his wife and Ron Goldman was about as strong as a prosecutor could ask for - but the jury in the case wasn’t considering that evidence. It had a different agenda and it resulted in his walking out of the courtroom a free man instead of in shackles on his way to jail. Now a lot of people are saying that justice will finally be rendered because of the multiple charges leveled against him for this almost comical Las Vegas caper. Assuming that it was true that the materials he was trying to recover in that Las Vegas hotel room were his - that they had been stolen from him - charging him with crimes that could land him in jail for life seems like some major overreaching.
Yes, one shouldn’t gather a posse and go barging into someone’s hotel room yelling and screaming and maybe brandishing guns. Simpson described the caper as a "sting" - and to his feeble mind, that’s probably what he thought it was - that he and his cohorts had those who had stolen his articles of memorabilia completely fooled about a "meeting" that had been scheduled to take place - and instead were going to "sting" them - just like the FBI and other law enforcement authorities often do in order to catch criminals.
Kidnapping - conspiracy to commit kidnapping - assault with a deadly weapon and lord knows what else. Maybe jaywalking. I suppose it can be technically correct to charge some one with kidnapping if they’re preventing someone to move about at their own volition - which obviously happened when the Simpson gang were in that hotel room - but come on. Kidnapping is when you grab someone and take them somewhere against their will. And assault with a deadly weapon? I know that you don’t have to actually lay hands on someone to be charged with "assault" - but "with a deadly weapon" because someone is playing cops and robbers?
Simpson acted like an idiot. If he believed that the people in the hotel room had items that belonged to him and that they had been stolen from him - the proper way to deal with the problem would be to report it to police. But Simpson probably reasoned - and correctly so - that the police weren’t very likely to rush to that hotel room and help him reclaim his property in a big hurry - and he simply wanted it back. Or so he says.
Charge him with something perhaps - but enough charges to send him to jail for life? Yes, he might finally be getting what he deserved for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman - but that’s not the way the law is supposed to work in this country. Simpson is an egomaniacal idiot. Charge him with egomaniacal idiocy and find him guilty and throw his sorry ass in the can for six months or a year. He probably deserves it. But the law says you can’t re-try someone for murder once they’ve been acquitted - and that’s what it looks like they’re trying to do in Las Vegas.
Drew Peterson is also acting like an egomaniacal idiot in his dealings with media. Some of his statements about his missing wife and about his former wives are patently misogynous. The conclusion of a forensic pathologist that his third wife's death was murder and not an accident reflects badly on Peterson because - as a cop, one would think that what has become obvious in retrospect - should have been obvious to him at the time. That the state of her body pointed to murder and not to the conclusion of the coroner’s jury that it was an accident. That - if he wasn’t responsible for his third wife’s death , he would have moved heaven and earth to discover just how she died and/or if a third party had caused her death. He didn’t and that casts a deep cloud of suspicion on him.
Fast forward to wife number four, who is either dead or succeeding in deliberately causing great harm to Drew Peterson. It’s possible I suppose that the international attention that has been focused on her disappearance might have scared her into deep hiding if indeed she is still alive. One can imagine the scorn that would be heaped upon her if she suddenly surfaces and says - sorry about that. Huge amounts of money have been spent. Hundreds of people have become involved in trying to find her. The world has been exposed to a real life soap opera courtesy of the electronic media parked outside of the Peterson home. It could be scaring off a person who has caused so much trouble. Yet she is the mother of two young children that she left behind. One would think that the power of mother love would overcome the fear of scorn and derision - and maybe even prosecution - and she would let the world know that she was alive. So the logical conclusion is that she is dead.
But now we come to the most ridiculous part of this reality soap opera - page after page of script that any self respecting television producer would reject as being beyond the realm of reason - even for a television soap opera. All of our vaunted media to which we’re expected to turn to for news - have become active players in the soap opera, ad libbing lines all over the place, reporting anything that almost anyone has to say about the mystery as though it was of significance to the investigation,as though, by virtue of it being said it has some basis in fact. Thus we have had the story of the blue barrel which morphed into a blue, rectangular container and into a "package" which two truckers say they were asked to haul to a secluded place by someone who may have been Peterson accompanied by someone who may have been the someone who is alleged to have told other someones that he helped Peterson carry the aforementioned container out of Peterson’s house.
Helping all this nonsense along is Peterson’s lawyer who is willing to appear on any television program that calls upon him - ostensibly to dismiss all of these soap opera imaginations as just that - but of course in doing so, becomes a contributing writer/performer of the soap opera.
Drew Peterson may be a serial murderer in addition to being a certifiable moron - but what the press is doing with this case - aided and abetted it seems by police authorities , is some other kind of crime that may not be punishable by anything other than the mark of shame that will be left on its already tattered reputation once the case is finally resolved.