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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It was of course to be expected. Israel is being urged to ease the tightening of its border with Gaza and to continue to supply more than two thirds of its electricity and to allow essential goods to flow into a territory which maintains an active state of war with the Jewish state - in order to avoid a "humanitarian crisis." Ex-presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich sent a letter to Condoleezza Rice urging her to use her influence to get Israel to lift the blockade. "Collective punishment" says Kucinich, " will not stop the rocket fire; it only creates a questionable "balance" of suffering on both sides of the border." I guess that’s an example of what we’d get from the "Department of Peace" if Kucinich were ever elected president.

Of course at the moment, attention is on Gaza’s other border - that with Egypt, through which any immediate "humanitarian crisis" is being avoided by Gaza residents pouring over the downed barriers that were designed to keep them penned in to their coastal strip of land and hauling supplies back to their homes and stores. And Egypt doesn’t like it one bit. They’re trying to rebuild the barriers and get back to where they were vis-à-vis their Palestinian "brothers" - leaving responsibility for their welfare on Israel’s shoulders. But maybe this is an opportunity for Israel to do what it should have done a long time ago. Absolve itself from any responsibility for Gaza and Gazans. It’s a suggestion that’s being voiced at fairly high Israeli governmental levels. If only it would go beyond the "suggestion" stage.

For sixty years, Arab countries - all 22 of them with their close to six million square miles of land , have paid lip service to the plight of their Palestinian "brothers." Now Israel has a chance to call their bluff - or at least Egypt’s bluff. Egypt had control of Gaza from 1948 until 1967 when Israel captured the territory during the six day war. If there could have been an immediate peace agreement, it could have relinquished control back to Egypt in short order - but of course it wasn’t possible - and Gaza has been a disaster for Israel ever since. Even after withdrawing all the settlements and the military force that used to be there to guard them against maniacal attacks, Israel was stuck with supplying the territory’s basic needs - and continues to be stuck while the madmen of Hamas rain rockets across the border If this were happening anywhere else in the world, it would be considered madness for a country being attacked daily by a neighbor to supply and continue to supply the basic needs of that attacking neighbor. But Israel is expected to act like a country that has lost its mind and continue to do just that. Or it will be condemned by the world community.

Those who condemn Israel and urge it to ease border restrictions are fond of saying that it is wrong to inflict "collective punishment" on the Gaza population in response to the rockets being launched by only a few. They usually throw in some offhand remark about the rocket launching madmen needing to be on better behavior - but their basic target is Israel since they know that nothing they can say or do can change the behavior of Hamas. Such condemnations are a little bit like peacenicks saying that it was wrong to flatten Cologne or Dresden during world war two because not all Germans were Nazis or militaristic.

There are no good options for Israel if it continues to have to be responsible for the basic needs of Gaza. The only option that makes sense is for Israel to say to Egypt - you had Gaza under your control from 1948 to 1967. Now you need to do it again. The Gaza peoples are close to you ethnically and culturally. They have family connections to you. But they are attacking us daily with deadly weapons so we want to have nothing more to do with them and will no longer supply their needs. As their "brothers" - we strongly urge you to do so before there is a true humanitarian crisis . And call their bluff

I’ve suggested many times here that there are too many problems with the so called "two state" solution and that the one solution that makes sense is for an affiliation between the west bank population and Jordan and between Egypt and Gaza. It’s a solution that could never be negotiated between the parties for reasons too numerous to go into here. But there is a way to achieve at least a partial solution by taking the second step needed to do so after the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza - and that is for Israel to say we wash our hands of Gaza and see how long Egypt holds out before it is forced into taking on some of what Israel has been doing for Gaza in terms of supplying basic needs. It may even be pushed into exercising control over the rocket launching - and if some measure of quiet can be achieved for a period of time - some serious consideration of a Gaza/Egypt affiliation might arise.

I don’t see what Israel has to lose. Whatever it does, it will be condemned - so why not do something that could, in the long run, be a step toward bringing - if not peace - at least quiet to the region.

Of course this is a view seen through rose colored spectacles from a suburb of Chicago. Some Israeli analysts have a very different view of what is going on and what the future holds - and it's a scary one. Take a look here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

I caught just a few minutes of the Republican debate last Thursday. Unlike the recent Democratic free for all, they seemed to be holding themselves in polite mode - and Governor Huckabee in joke mode. But even in the few minutes when I had them on my television screen, they managed to scare me to death.

It’s just possible that John McCain will end up being the Republican candidate - and as Mr. Nice Guy - may just pull enough independents and Democrats to win the election. More likely if Hillary is the Democratic candidate. I have no doubt that McCain is a decent man and a military hero. Those spreading garbage about him being a traitor while in Vietnamese captivity are the lowest form of vermin who need to be eradicated with bug spray. But decent or not - hero or not - he scares me to death. According to McCain, we need to stay in Iraq for an untold number of years - maybe permanently. According to McCain - we’re winning in Iraq - and according to McCain, if we follow the dictates of Hillary Clinton and "raise the white flag of surrender" - al-Qaeda will have won!!

Say what??? If we leave Iraq, we’ll be surrendering? To whom? To the Shiites? To the Sunnis? To the Kurds? And that al-Qaeda winning business. Is McCain living in a fantasy world, believing that invading Iraq was an appropriate response to the 9/11 attack by nineteen - mostly Saudis - or is he just playing to what he perceives to be the fantasy beliefs of Republican voters?

It’s pretty well established in the minds of rational men that there was and is absolutely no connection between our assault on Iraq and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. That was a fantasy tale spun by George Bush and his cohorts. Whatever terrorist groups we have encountered in Iraq are there because we are there. Terrorists didn’t roam the Iraqi countryside freely when Saddam Hussein was in power. But if John McCain actually believes the nonsense he is spouting about "winning" in Iraq and al-Qaeda "winning" if we leave - he could be as dangerous if not more dangerous than George Bush if he should win the presidency in November. We’ll be perpetuating the nonsense that we can fight a "war in terror’ by invading Islamic countries. Excuse me for using the misnomer "war on terror" - but that’s become the common phrase to describe the impossible - fighting a "war" with military might against a concept.

I also caught a minute or two of Mitt Romney trying to appear as militaristic as McCain while championing his business experience and how that would put him in good stead to straighten out this nation’s economy. Just one problem that I see with that. In business, you can be a hero by becoming the CEO of a large company, slashing its work force by thousands, trashing pension plans and busting unions. That’ll bring you a hefty few million bonus at the end of the year and Wall Street will call you a genius. But it’s a little different when you’re the President of the United States. You may propose but you’ll likely find it a lot harder to dispose than when you were a private sector CEO - in the good old days.

It’s beginning to look like McCain or Romney in November - and unless some Deus Ex Machina emerges from a deadlocked Democratic convention, it’ll be Clinton or Obama. I’m almost hoping for some last minute savior - maybe a draft Al Gore movement. Not that I don’t have a preference . I’m for Obama. The Chicago Tribune just endorsed him and said some of the things that should be said about the man. He has the qualities that we should look for in a president and his campaign has developed into a "movement" reminiscent of Bobby Kennedy’s presidential run before he was cut down by a madman. But at a moment in history when the White House is the Democratic party’s for the taking - and we desperately need that kind of change, the Democrats are offering a choice between two candidates that carry problems into the general election that could sink the party’s chances. We’d like to think that all Democrats and fair minded independents would look only at the character and ideas of Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama - but less face it - race and gender will weigh on people’s minds when they enter the voting booth - and in Hillary’s case, whether warranted or not - a parcel full of negatives that have built up over the years.

Yes, we need to get to that moment in our history when we fulfill the promise of our beginnings - and elect a women or a black to the presidency - and somewhere down the road - a Jew or a Muslim. But we had a wealth of ideas and experience offered by Joe Biden and Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson in a year when we desperately need to elect a Democrat to the White House - and we cast them aside in favor of two candidates who will be asking the voters of this country to make history - and I’m not sure enough of them - of us - are ready to do so. We’ll know better after "Super Tuesday" - because if Barrack Obama can attract the same broad spectrum of support that he won in Iowa - and to a certain extent in South Carolina - it will tell me that the country is indeed ready for a new chapter in the American story.

Between now and February 5, a lot of us will be paying close attention to the Clinton tag team - who are quite capable of ruining the Democratic chances in November if they continue with the slash and burn/racial campaign that they’ve waging against Obama. Bill Clinton can deny it all he likes , but there’s no question that he is out on the stump trying to paint Obama as a "black" candidate who can maybe win here and there in the south where there are large numbers of black voters - but not a national election. What could be more racial - and more egregious - than responding to a reporter’s question of why it takes two Clintons to run against Obama - than answering with the comment that Jesse Jackson won S. Carolina twice? No one, including Jesse Jackson, ever expected him to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic part. He was a "black candidate" who could be expected to win in a state with a large black voter base - but not nationally. In other words, a win in S. Carolina didn’t mean that much - and by invoking the Jackson name and victories in an answer to a question that was never asked - he was saying - hey, Obama is like Jackson - a black man who can win here and there in the south - but you need a Hillary (and a Bill) to win nationally in November.

Let’s hope he can be persuaded to tone downthis kind of rhetoric during the next eight days, because if he doesn’t, he may do damage to his party that will be beyond repair in the short time left between now and November.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I know that it’s almost impossible for those vying for the presidential candidacy of their party to avoid attacking their rivals - and I suppose to a certain extent there are no rules governing what the limits of those attacks should be. But to me those limits are like art or pornography - I know them when I see them. Or in the case of what I witnessed Monday night and since then - hear them. The Clintons, both Hillary and Bill, have reached that limit and gone way beyond.

No one expects the spouses of candidates to be other than totally supportive of them and to participate in their campaigns. On the Democratic side, we’ve heard highly intelligent, well crafted, emotionally appealing words of support for their spouses from Elizabeth Edwards, from Michelle Obama and from Elizabeth Kucinich -but unless I missed something or the media failed to report something - none of them have attacked any of their opponents. All the speeches and interviews they have given have been about the qualities and ideas of their husbands. You didn’t hear Elizabeth Edwards talk about Barrack Obama voting "present" on some bills in the Illinois legislature as though this was some sort of crime. You didn’t hear Michelle Obama talk about John Edwards working for a hedge fund that was deeply involved in sub prime lending - as though that was some kind of character flaw. And you didn’t hear Elizabeth Kucinich talk about anything other than her husband’s ideas for a new direction for America.

But Bill Clinton is not your average candidate’s spouse. The former president of the United States - and the titular head of his political party - who you would expect to conduct himself with some measure of dignity - has been engaged in the dirtiest of gutter politics - devoting his energy on behalf of his wife - not just to supporting her but to attacking her chief rival and deliberately lying about things he has said and done. I use the word "deliberately" because it is clear that the Clinton campaign knows all that there is to know about Obama - and when it comes to his speeches and interviews - the whole world knows or has access to exactly what he said. So when Bill Clinton stands before a crowd and says that Obama said that "the Republicans had all the good ideas" - and adds "I’m not making this up" - when what Obama actually said was "I think it's fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10 to 15 years in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom" - he is engaging in the politics of lies and distortions.

Members of his own party have urged him to "tone it down." Some have begun to talk publicly with radio talk show hosts and others. They are worried that with the White House within the grasp of a Democrat, his slash and burn approach to winning the nomination for his wife could well snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But the former president doesn’t seem inclined to listen. He senses something that perhaps he never thought possible eight years ago. His return to the White House. To the seat of power. And it’s consuming him. You can see it in both of the Clintons. An almost palpable hunger for what they think is rightly theirs - a third and maybe fourth term in office. And they will say and do whatever they think is necessary to destroy their one rival for the Democratic nomination.

That is what Hillary Clinton did during the Democratic debate on Monday night. She didn’t just challenge Obama’s proposals for such things as health care - which is the sort of thing that candidates should do as part of a debate. She got down in the gutter and tried to portray Obama as someone not willing to say what he believes because he voted "present" on some Illinois legislation that he had problems with in the form in which they were presented and was not willing to approve or disapprove. With thousands of yes and no votes to his credit , it’s more than a stretch to accuse the Illinois Senator as lacking conviction because of "present" votes. Evan worse was her assertion that Obama "represented slum lord Rezko" - which she must have known was not true. Antoin Rezko was a supporter and friend of Obama for years and a fund raiser for many politicians, including the present governor of the State of Illinois - and yes, he’s currently under a Federal indictment for, among other things, allegedly seeking kickbacks from firms doing business before two Illinois regulatory boards. But none of the allegations against him involve any dealings with Obama and Obama did not "represent" Rezko or his business interests and there is no question that Hillary Clinton knows this.

Yes, during Monday’s debate, Obama got in some licks that were designed to sting. But there’s a difference between saying that he was trying to help the poor on the streets of Chicago while she was sitting on the board of Walmart- which is true - and her untrue "slum lord" come back which she was obviously waiting to use whenever an opening presented itself.

But what is most disturbing about these kinds of attacks by both the Clintons - and the tome and body language with which they are being delivered - is what they reveal to me. And that is an almost maniacal thirst for the power that they once again feel is within their grasp. Obama is in her way - and in Bill’s way - and it seems that the two of them will do whatever they think it takes to remove him as a rival. If they are successful, it will present me with a difficult decision. At this point in time, I can’t see myself voting for Hillary and Bill Clinton - and make no mistake - a vote for Hillary is a vote for Bill. I think many other people who would want to vote for a Democrat for president this November are facing the same dilemma.

Hillary Clinton keeps saying that once a nominee has been selected, the party will unify behind that nominee and all the nastiness of the primary battles will be forgotten. She may be right - but it’s my feeling that if she and her husband continue to conduct their campaign of lies and distortions against Barrack Obama, it may not be the case. Blinded by their own ambition and sense of entitlement, what the Clintons may do is destroy the Democratic chances of regaining the White House in a year when they should be odds on favorites to win. And if that turns out to be the case, Bill, assisted by his wife, will be rivaling George W for the title of worst presidential legacy of the 21st century.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

And suddenly it’s the economy. Just like that. It’s the issue in the primary races. Our stock market drops from the artificial highs that it probably never should have reached - the world stock markets follow suit and in the presidential primary races the Iraq morass is on the back burner. The buzzword is recession. The pundits put it out. The comedians and commentators repeat it. And the rest of us - or most of the rest of us - nod our heads in affected wisdom and repeat what we’ve been told as though it’s a conclusion we have reached ourselves. And now we have a three quarters of a percentage point reduction in the discount rate and a "stimulus package" recommendation to concentrate our minds even stronger on the theme of the day. It’s the economy stupid. Though none of the presidential wannabes will add the "stupid." Certainly not the Republicans. Too many memories of a past defeat.

As the standard bearer of that one time "it’s the economy stupid" campaign slogan said recently in a diatribe against Barrack Obama - Give Me a Break!! Mr. Bush is proposing an incentive package of around 140 billion dollars to ward off this recession - which is not accepted as inevitable or even very likely by some economists. But it’s getting support in congress and somewhere down the road, our household may be getting a "gift" from the government of as much as $1600! Whoopdedoo. We’ll be rich!! And much as I’d like to help us avoid sliding into a recession, all I would do with my share of that increase in our current orgy of deficit spending would be to put it in the bank. My spending habits wouldn’t change one iota. And I suspect that people who are actually struggling to make ends meet would be more likely to pay down debt than go on a spending spree.

But if attention is concentrated on the economy and somehow Iraq gets pushed into the background as a routine part of our lives that’s not such a big problem now that "the surge" is "working" - and people buy into this garbage - THE issue of this election and of our times may indeed be virtually a non-issue, which of course will benefit Republican candidates.

Obviously we should be concerned about the economy - but not to the extent that we avoid having a debate between the final candidates for the presidency on the major issue of this moment in our history - and that’s not the economy but our continued military presence and activity in Iraq and how that continued presence and activity affects our relationships with the rest of the world. Not that it doesn’t have something to do with our economy. Spending billions of borrowed funds to support the Iraq debacle certainly doesn’t make a positive contribution to our economic health. The president is talking about pumping 140 billion dollars into the economy - and we’ve already poured more than three times that much into Iraq. Think for a moment about what could have been accomplished domestically with that kind of expenditure - if we had a government truly dedicated to the welfare of the people.

But that’s really not the point. I am disturbed at what seems to be happening viz a viz Iraq. It almost isn’t news any more. The "surge" is "working." Even some of the biggest critics of the war/occupation are mouthing this inanity. What does "working" mean? That there have been less violent attacks recently? Well why could that be? Maybe because we now have a much larger military police force roaming the country and engaging in proactive as well as reactive activity. Hey - throw another two or three thousand police onto the streets of Chicago and we might see a series of headlines telling us that there were no murders last night or the night before - something that almost never happens.

Surge or no surge, we are as entrenched in the morass that is Iraq as we were a year ago and the year before that. Nothing has happened with the Iraqi people that satisfies us to the point where we can talk seriously about leaving. We’re coming up on five years of this war or occupation or whatever you want to call it. Our kids are still getting killed and maimed every week. There’s no end in sight. If we did it for oil, we’ve failed miserably - unless it was our intention to see oil at $100 a barrel - or unless we plan to stay forever and control Iraq’s oil production. Iraq is no longer any kind of counterbalance to any aggressive policies that Iran decides to pursue. And much of the rest of the world looks upon us as bullying aggressors. To allow a temporary slowing of our economic growth to dominate the presidential debate and allow the horror of Iraq to slip into the shadows as a non issue - as something that’s become part of our daily routine - relegated to small paragraphs on page four, five or six of our newspapers - would be to allow those who lied us into the mess and those who supported those lies and their consequences - a free ride into the sunset of this administration.

Nancy Pelosi has already taken impeachment "off the table." Should we now take Iraq "off the table" as THE major issue to be debated by the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates because the polls show that the economy is higher on the list of concerns of Americans than Iraq? I could write a quick thousand words on why those concerns are reflected in the polls. I won’t. I’ll just say that if the preoccupation of the media was with Iraq to the same degree as it now is with the economy. - that is what would be reflected in the polls of people’s concerns. Sure, some of us think independently - but for the most part we’re sheep.

By November, the economy may not be dominating the headlines as much as it is today. But whether it is or not, one thing is certain. Whoever wins the Republican nomination for president will be a supporter of the Iraq invasion and of keeping our troops policing and dying there for an indefinite period. That position needs to be a major issue of this election. The Democratic candidate should not allow other issues to dominate the dialogue to the exclusion of an all out assault on the Iraq debacle. Maybe we won’t impeach Mr. Bush, but we can put his criminality on trial as part of this presidential election. Let the Republican candidate defend and let the chips fall where they may.

P.S. January 23, 2008 Update. As if to put a stamp of emphasis on the foregoing comments, the headline on the front page of today's (1/23/08) Chicago Tribune is FED JOLTS SROCK MARKET and NOWHERE in the paper is there a single mention of Iraq!!!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I’m all "primaried" out this January fifteenth. I barely paid attention to the Sunday talking heads this past weekend - and I suspect that by now I have a lot of company. Maybe I’ll get a second wind down the pike. I’m sure I will. But not today - the Michigan promary notwithstanding.

What’s of minor interest at the moment is the proposal of our esteemed governor of the state of Illinois to extend free rides on public transportation to senior citizens - those of us over the age of 65. It’s his way of saying that he’s sorry that he’s reneged on his vow not to sign any transportation bail out bill that calls for a tax increase - and some of our legislators are not happy about that decision. Free rides for old folks is going to cost a few million bucks and eat into the tax revenue that the bill calls for to ward off cuts in service and personnel for Chicago and Cook County area public transportation. And I sure hope that those legislators don’t get mad at me. And why should they you may ask? I’ll tell you.

No other state has such perks for senior citizens. Illinois will be the first. And where do you think Rod Blagojevich got the idea? You think he dreamt it up all by himself? You think one of his aids or hangers on came up with the idea? Hugh! They’re all politicians. They don’t have ideas - just policies. Let’s face the truth. Blagojevich reads this blog!! Most of the time it doesn’t influence him one iota - or he wouldn’t act like the jerk that he emulates almost every time he opens his mouth. But obviously when he turned to my comments on the local transportation debacle and its contrast with what is happening in England that I posted here on December 5, 2007 - it must have set off bells in his coifured belfry.

Of course if the governor read all that I wrote that day, he would understand that the free, non-rush hour rides for the over sixties in the U.K. - I guess our cousins across the pond get older quicker than we do - is part of an overall difference with us on priorities. The UK government isn’t that influenced by lobbyists - so there’s no group with the power to deny its citizens national health care or to scare people into believing that social security may disappear or that the country will go bankrupt by putting the welfare of the people above things like increased military spending and tax manipulation that make the rich richer. But even without that kind of backdrop - free rides for seniors is too attractive an idea for the legislators in Springfield to block - so score one for the embattled governor.

I haven’t taken any public transportation in years - but if the whatsalthisthen inspired Blagojevich plan takes effect, I might just ride back and forth between my home and the loop. After driving to the nearest bus stop that is.

My wife was on vacation last week and while we spent the time locally. the house routine was somewhat changed - one of the changes being that a particular radio station was on at a particular time when it’s usually tuned elsewhere - and before I could change it, my old friend Paul Harvey was being introduced. Actually, it wasn’t Harvey. Someone was substituting that day and I listened for a few minutes - up to the first commercial break. And there he was. He could have been vacationing in Australia. He could have been recovering from open heart surgery. He could have been in an irreversible coma. But there was the pre-recorded voice of the great newsman reading the commercial. Of course when Paul reads the news himself, the line between "news" and commercial isn’t necessarily distinct. You might often think that it’s all part of the news!!

I wrote about Paul in the early days of this blog - on July 11, 2003 - I guess what you might call a sort of exposé since I questioned his reputation as a newsman while praising his skills as a commercial spokesman. I’ve rarely been exposed to him since I wrote that piece - mainly because I’m not tuned to the local station that carries him at the time when he’s on the air. For that reason - and because if I do accidentally hear his voice - it’s a race between his next few words and my getting to the radio to turn him off. His sound and content has become that annoying to me. It didn’t used to be when we worked at the same station a lifetime ago, but I guess I’ve grown less tolerant of certain annoyances with advancing age. One would think that by now, Paul would have gone away. Retired. Resting on his laurels. He certainly doesn’t need to earn any more money. He probably has more than the Federal Reserve Bank. But then I remembered reading about him signing a ten year contract a few years ago that would keep him broadcasting at least a couple of years after Bush leaves the White House - and maybe through the entire term of the next president. I guess he just wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he couldn’t continue his daily preachments to those who hang on his every word as the gospel of all gospels - and of course buy whatever it is he tells them to buy.

Why am I making these comments? No particular reason. Just that on September 4 of this year, Paul will be 90 - and if he’s still broadcasting and I’m still blogging at that time, I’ll probably acknowledge the milestone. Whatever you may think of his politics or his concept of what constitute "news" - you can’t help but have some degree of admiration for what amounts to a human embodiment of Tennyson’s Brook.

Anyone reading this blog on a regular basis would, I am sure, conclude that my argument with Capital One Financial Services that I wrote about in two parts - on December 13, 2007 and on December 17, 2007, couldn’t get any more ridiculous than what was revealed in the back and forth correspondence with their CEO’s gatekeeper. But you’d be wrong. Apparently, there’s no end to this company’s idiocy - and if you’re interested, click on this link, scroll down to "Update January 15, 2008" and you’ll see what I mean.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Call me a cynic, but the strongest impression that the New Hampshire primary left on me was one of disingenuousness. That of the statements of the losing candidates to whom losing was no real kind of disappointment but maybe even some kind of victory. I caught just a little of John Edwards’ post "non disappointing" loss from a distance. It was on a boob tube in another room, I having turned the postmortem shows off in the room I was in. It sounded like his stump speech about the horrors of corporate America and particularly the young girl who died waiting for insurance approval of a medical procedure that might have had a slim chance of prolonging her life for six months. It was the same stump speech he gave after coming in second in Iowa. Not that I am picking on Edwards. I cite his post primary speech as typical of the disingenuousness of so much of what politicians feel they have to say when they lose any kind of competition. And after John Kerry endorsed Barack Obama instead of his former VP running mate - or staying away from endorsing anyone - he took that disingenuousness to another level by saying how much he loved and respected Kerry - and no - he was neither bitter nor disappointed.

As to the results? John McCain can keep calling himself the comeback youth - he himself said he was a little long in the tooth to be calling himself the comeback "kid" - but winning New Hampshire wasn’t really a "comeback" for him. He won it handily against Bush and went downhill from there. For whatever reason, people in New Hampshire like him. More importantly, a lot of people in New Hampshire don’t like Mitt Romney. As a former governor of a neighboring state, he should have been the hands down favorite, but I think more and more people are beginning to see him as a serial flip-flopper - someone who will change his position unabashedly to conform to whatever he thinks is the prevailing belief of the audience he’s trying to impress. Thus, someone who has hunted maybe twice in his life becomes a "life long hunter." And beyond Romney, there really wasn’t much of a choice for New Hampshire Republicans and they showed us what they thought of the unattractive crowd with their lack of support for Giuliani, Huckabee, Paul et al - the totals for all three amounting to less than loser Romney’s total. Of course Huckabee’s twenty six odd thousand votes was considered a big victory by him. There’s that "primary speak" thing again.

Over on the Democratic side, I watched one talking head show where a Hillary spinmeister was telling us that a loss to Obama of less than double digits would be considered a win. This when the polls were showing that Obama had surged ahead of her in voter preference. And this after - for weeks on end - the polls had shown her to be far ahead of any rivals in that state. And those were the polls that were probably right. She slipped a little from that large lead - but not enough to lose. Some people seem to think that her "moment of vulnerability" - when she came close to tears - tipped a boatload of women in her favor at the last minute. It may be so, but I doubt it. And while I don’t buy into the theory from the right that it was all a contrived act - I can’t dismiss it as an impossibility. Remember her "laugh period?" Do you really think those peals of laughter as a response to various questions was a natural response or a contrived one? And remember that Hillary has moved from one theme to another, trying to find the one that will best resonate with undecided voters. She jumped on "change" when she saw it working for Obama - and in her "moment of vulnerability" she latched onto Edwards’ "it’s personal to me" theme.

But whatever you may think of Hillary’s performance - far worse was her husband’s attack on Obama - calling his position on Iraq a "fairy tail" and taking some of his comments on the subject out of context - in effect lying about what Obama actually said. I have been supportive of Bill Clinton in the past - but the viciousness of his attack on Obama has changed the way I think about the man. I don’t recall him ever being this vicious when campaigning on his own behalf. Obama should have responded by saying that the former president is unquestionably an expert on concocting fairy tails - but apparently has little expertise in separating fact from fiction.

With the withdrawal of Bill Richardson, the Democratic race is down to three candidates plus one Kucinich. The congressman from Cleveland has an enthusiastic following among people who actually believe in fairy tails - but he isn’t going to be a factor in the race - other than stirring up interest with acts like calling for a re-count in New Hampshire. I’m not sure what he thinks he might find - but in this day and age, one never knows. Maybe the Clinton camp found a way to rig the machines where she did well - as opposed to the paper ballots where Obama did well. Or maybe the Republicans did it because they'd prefer to run against Hillary. Kucinich attracts the fairy believing crowd with his proposals of a single payer, not for profit healthcare system and instant withdrawal from NAFTA. Not that there’s anything wrong with those ideas. They sound great. It’s just that you can’t wave a magic wand and make them happen. It would take years to generate enough support for the kind of healthcare system that Kucinich proposes - and I suspect that he knows it. But apparently he’s not about to withdraw from the race and he’ll keep coming up with these kinds of proposals. Where he could make a real contribution is not just to propose such ideas but to challenge Clinton, Obama and Edwards to respond to them.

One final note on the Republican’s mirror image of Kucinich - or at least their version of "odd man out." I won’t dwell on the nutty proposals of Ron Paul - but I have to comment on what appears to be his Teflon coating - partially supplied by media pundits - in the face of growing questions about this man’s inner beliefs and his attraction to right wing hatemongers. The latest revelations have been about the years of Ron Paul Newsletters filled with hateful and bigoted comments about blacks, Jews and gays. Just go to any search engine and search for Ron Paul’s hate filled newsletters and you’ll get an eye full. Last night he was on CNN with Wolf Blitzer denying knowledge of what was in his own newsletter. Other people must have written the stuff he said. He had no knowledge of it. And Blitzer let him get away with it. This is the conversation that took place, taken from The Situation Room transcripts web site:

BLITZER: Candidate Ron Paul is joining us now live from the campaign trail in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about it. How could this happen? Because I have gone through some of these old Ron Paul newsletters. It has your name bannered on the top. And some of these comments as we've just heard from Brian's piece are pretty shocking.

PAUL: It is. And of course it's been rehashed for a long time and it's coming up now for political reasons. But everybody in my district knows I didn't write them. And I don't speak like that. Nobody has ever heard me say anything like that. I've been reelected time and time again. So everybody knows I don't participate in that type of language.

But the point is when you bring the question up you're really saying, you're a racist or are you a racist? And the answer is no. I'm not a racist. As a matter of fact Rosa Parks is one of my heroes. Martin Luther King is a hero. Because they practiced the libertarian principle of civil disobedience, nonviolence.

Libertarians are incapable of being a racist because racism is a collectivist idea. You see people in group. A civil libertarian like myself see everybody as an important individual. It's not the color of their skin that is important. As Martin Luther King said. What is important is the character of the people. What's really interesting, though, and this might be behind it because as a Republican candidate I'm getting the most support from black voters and now that has to be undermined.

And I do this because I attack two wars that blacks are suffering from. One, the war overseas. And all wars minorities suffer the most. So they join me in this position I have against the war in Iraq. And what about the war on drugs? What other candidates will stand up and say I will pardon all blacks, all whites, everybody who were convicted for non-violent drug acts and drug crimes.

And this is where the real discrimination is. Let me finish this. Because I've got to get my message back because you put the other message out. I got to get my message back. Now, if you want to look for discrimination, it's the judicial system. Fourteen percent of the inner city blacks commit drug crime. Sixty seven percent of blacks are in prison. That's discrimination. That's the judicial code that I'm attacking. That's not racism.

What I defend the principle of libertarianism where we never see people who belong to a group, and every individual is defended and protected because they're important as an individual, not because of the color of their skin, but because of their character. So I am the antiracist because I am the only candidate, Republican or Democrat who were protect the minority against these vicious drug laws.

BLITZER: Congressman, there's a lot of material there. Let me just try figure out, how did this stuff get in these Ron Paul newsletters? Who wrote it?

PAUL: I have no idea. Have you ever heard a publisher of a magazine not knowing every single thing? The editor is responsible for the daily activities. People came and gone. And there were people who were hired. I don't know any of their names. I absolutely honestly do not know who wrote those things. But I do know they was a transition, there were changes around and, to me, it's been rehashed. This is the politics of it all. If it were important enough, why didn't the people in my district who have heard this for these 10 years or so that this came up and people believe me. Why don't you believe me and just say look, it's in there. It's bad. I recognize that. I had a moral responsibility.

But that doesn't mean that you can indirectly charge me as being a racist. That's what is being done, and yet, I am the most anti- racist because I don't see people in collective groups. And I practice. Right now, even before this thing broke, guess when our next fundraising day, our next super day, we raised four million one day, six on the next, the next one is on Martin Luther King holiday. I mean, this is it. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, they are the heroes in practice of civil disobedience to try to get the burden of government off our backs.

And that's why I am the one that protects the individual blacks who are in the city who are so unfairly being treated and thrown in prison. That's the message that needs to be heard and I appreciate somebody help and bring that out rather than nitpicking over something done many years ago which I did not write.

BLITZER: Did you used to read these newsletters? Congressman?

PAUL: Not back then. There may have been at times that I would. At times. I was in a medical practice. I traveled a lot. I was doing speeches around the country. Very frequently I never did see these. A lot of the things you just read, I wouldn't have recognized them.

And the point is it's not part of my character. The point also is when people get charged they usually have a clip. They have a clip of somebody saying something. A slip of the tongue or something. And then they're blasted to kingdom come. Nobody has ever heard me say that. They know those are not my thoughts. Therefore the people have not rejected me in Texas.

In a way this is a bit of a witch hunt. I know there is reason, I don't say you are unjustified in asking the question but you also have to think of the motivation behind this. Maybe this is part of the anti Ron Paul deal. I got excluded from the debates the other night. Maybe this is knock down on Ron Paul because he's gaining grounds with the blacks. I'm getting more votes right now and more support from the blacks because they understand what I'm talking about and they trust me.

BLITZER: I've got to tell you, congressman, you and I, we have talked a lot over these past several months. And when I saw these newsletters, I didn't know anything about them until I saw that article in "The New Republic," I was pretty shocked. Certainly didn't sound like the Ron Paul that I've come to know and our viewers have come to know all this time.

I just want to be clear because this is a chance for you to respond. Because this is a chance for you to respond. You repudiate all of these racist comments, all of the slurs, that are contained even though it contains the name Ron Paul in these news letters.

PAUL: Well, the most important thing is anything I've ever said in my life has repudiated that for years and years. So I do repudiate everything that is written along those lines and I heard tonight, and like I say, I've never read that before. If you asked me to dig up a copy of that I wouldn't have the vaguest idea. That's how unimportant it was to me.

But obviously it is important. It needs to be ironed out. In many ways, Wolf, I should thank you for bringing it up so I can clarify this and make sure everybody knew where I stand on this issue. Because it's obviously wrong. People who know me, nobody is going to believe this. Absolutely nobody just like you said. You've known me for a good many years and a good many interviews and that's just not my language.

That's not my life. I honor and respect the civil rights movement and the civil disobedience. And right now I really think that people have to think about the real discrimination in this country today has to do with the drug laws. What other candidate would take it upon himself to challenge this whole system of the judiciary, which is so unfair to the minorities?

Talk about that. That's what I want to people to hear. Out of fairness, that message needs to get out.

BLITZER: Ron Paul joining us from South Carolina. Thanks very much. You want to be president of the United States, you're going to have to expect a lot of scrutiny. All the candidates go through it. You're going through it right now yourself.

PAUL: Understood.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us.
In all the years that a Ron Paul newsletter went out full of hate and bigotry, Ron Paul says he never knew what was in it or who wrote it. No one ever came to him and said - Hey Ron, what’s all this about? Is that something you find believable? Is it just "old stuff from years ago" that’s being dragged up for political purposes - or are we getting a look at who this guy really is? Perhaps you might get an idea of the answer to that questions by reading over what he said to Wold Blitzer and how he refers to certain people. "The blacks" for example. I know I did.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Iowa was and unquestionably is a watershed moment. A Black skinned American winning the Iowa caucuses - winning in a state where 94% of its residents are white and only 2.5% black.. Of course there are many who will insist that Obama is only half black - his mother being a white Caucasian from Kansas. The mouth that fouls - otherwise known as Rush Limbaugh - coined the appellation "Halfrican American." But we know that we live in a country where for decades people with the smallest amount of "black blood" were classified as black - or as the old term - Negro. I guess it’s different today and someone from a mixed marriage can call himself anything he wants to. Except that Obama doesn’t refer to himself in racial terms - which is one of his attractions. It could be the beginning of something very special. Our first dark skinned president - one with a dark skinned wife and two dark skinned children. Jesse Jackson won five primaries in 1984 and eleven in 1988 -but none of his wins sent the kind of message that the Iowa win sends. And despite Jackson’s impressive delegate count after his wins - no one really expected him to become the Democratic standard bearer at the end of the day. He would have been swamped by almost anyone in a general election. As the Democratic candidate, Obama would likely swamp just about any of the Republican wannaebes!!

You can’t count Hillary Clinton out. She’ll be spending a bundle and pounding away at Obama in New Hampshire. But the aura of invincibility has faded.

It was a little sad to see the lack of support for Joe Biden and Chris Dodd - both of whom have now dropped out of the race. I guess today’s voters don’t want to choose from members of the old guard - seniors who have been in the Senate for decades. Biden’s 65 and is serving his sixth term and Dodd is 63 and was first elected to the Senate in 1981. Still, you have to wonder why Hillary is a better choice than those two. Certainly she can’t claim superior experience. Nor youth. Hillary’s 60. I don’t understand it.

Bill Richardson is still in the race and was one of the four "allowed" to participate in the Saturday New Hampshire debate. I thought Richardson was through when he said something ridiculous about homosexuality during one of the quiz shows that pass as political debates. I don’t remember the exact words but it was something to the effect of not knowing whether or not homosexuality was a choice that people make. I do recall him saying that he wasn’t a scientist and that was why he couldn’t give a straight (no pun intended) answer.

On the Republican side, it didn’t take the qualities of a Nostradamus to predict that Huckabee would be the winner - as I did in my January 2 comments. The evangelicals put him over the top. Not that he’s likely to win in New Hampshire or other upcoming primaries where practical minded people outnumber evangelicals. And for sure, practical people wouldn’t want a president or even a presidential candidate who might leave them at any time when the "rapture" kicks in. Yes - Huckabee is one of those. He may be affable. He may have a good sense of humor. He may even be what Bush claimed he was - a compassionate conservative. But he doesn’t believe in evolution. For him, the world came into being around six thousand years ago - fully formed as we see it today. And at any time now, he and other devout Christians who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior, will be whisked up to heaven, leaving the rest of us to wallow in our sinful, unbelieving ways. I know that Bush has similar beliefs - but Huckabee is - or was - a Baptist minister with those beliefs. Do we really want someone like that sitting in the White House. Or worse yet - sitting down with world leaders to discuss earthly issues?

I note that Ron Paul’s vote numbers didn’t come close to matching his record breaking on line cash contributions. Maybe not too many Iowans were contributors - but you have to wonder just who are the people pumping so much money into his campaign. As I’ve noted here before - there are some strange people supporting his efforts.

My prediction following the back to back debates in New Hampshire is that a rock or rap group will emerge before the next election - calling themselves The Agents of Change. They’ll be a one number wonder, Maybe a one album wonder.

Seriously folks, it was a hoot to see just about everyone from both sides latch on to the "change" theme following Obama’s victory in Iowa. Most hilarious was probably Romney - asserting that he knew how to affect change because he’d done it in business. And McCain topped him by dubbing him a true agent of change. My view? Romney is finished. If there ever was anyone in politics who gave true meaning to the term "flip flopper - it’s Mitt Romney.

As one might expect, the Republican debate had it’s usual themes. Low taxes. Strong military. The threat of Islamic terrorists. Illegal aliens. "The Market" solves all problems. Government should stay far away. You have to wonder why these people want so desperately to be a part of government that they want to stay out of people’s lives. Like the Democrats, the Republicans had some differing ideas about how to improve the health care situation in this country and bring costs down but took time out to assert that any Democratic plan would be "socialized medicine" - a nonsensical claim, since none of the leading candidates have suggested any such thing. Kucinich would like a not for profit single payer plan - but the congressman isn’t going to be a candidate for anything other than re-election in his district.

What was mildly surprising was the support voiced for Mr. Bush and his foreign policy. Considering his incredibly low approval ratings, you’d think that a couple of the leading candidates would take a couple of shots at him. But then again, maybe they’re so deeply invested in the politics of fear that they have to continue to voice support for what may be the biggest foreign policy blunder in our history.

The Democratic debate was mildly disappointing because of the absence of Biden and Dodd. The four who were on the stage would have benefited by being able to bounce off of the intelligent and practical things that those two would have said. And I couldn’t help thinking that Al Gore would have wiped the floor with all four.

Brief impressions. John Edwards sounded like a desperate man with his passionate plea to consider him as the one person who would battle the corporate behemoths on behalf of the common man. You want someone with a broader set of ideas than that to occupy the White House. But since losing in Iowa after spending so much time there - virtually becoming an Iowan - I think he senses that he needs to do something dramatic to stay in the race -and I think he failed to do that last night.
Hillary sounded as desperate as Edwards, jumping on the "change" bandwagon. She has gone through too many stages to be believed - starting with inevitability, then experience and now change. I think it’s significant that not that long ago she was on all of the Sunday morning talking head shows on a single day - but today, she declined invitations to appear. Maybe she was just exhausted, but I have to think that her reasons were far more significant.

If Richardson continues to be in the race and is involved in future debates, he needs to drop the "I’ve negotiated" claim as evidence of his vast foreign policy experience. Negotiating the release of hostages from the North Koreans or from Cuba isn’t the same as negotiating agreements with heads of state. He has had foreign policy experience as a Congressman and as UN Ambassador. He should concentrate on those experiences. Better yet, he should acknowledge that there isn’t enough support for him to continue in the race. He could play a worthwhile role if he could challenge the other candidates - if he could put some really different proposals on the table and pressure Clinton and Obama to respond to them. But he doesn’t do that. The one who can and does is Kucinich - but he was aced out of the debates because of the rules that were applied - and I think that was a loss for the New Hampshire voters and the debate viewers nationally. As I said, Kucinich isn’t going to be elected to anything other than his seat in congress, but at least he does think outside the box and offers up ideas for others to consider. If anyone is trying to be an "agent of change" - it’s Dennis Kucinich.

Barrack Obama won the Democratic debate - simply by not making any mistakes and by having everyone from both parties try to attach themselves to his theme of "change." And he won the Republican debate by being virtually acknowledged by the Republican candidates as the man one of them will have to face in November.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008
But let’s hope some of my blog posts of 2007 aren’t prologue to a new kind of presidential election. Theocratic campaigning !!!

For my final contribution of 2007 to this blog - though posted in 2008 - I though I would look over what I had written since last January 1 to see if anything struck me as significant. As worth while. Of course I think that any comment I make has at least some small measure of significance - but that’s just my ego. Not all who come across these musings will agree.

There was a lot to choose from. I posted 120 commentaries during the year - an average of 2.3 commentaries a week. About the same rate as the output of highly paid and highly read syndicated columnists. Of the 120, I picked four as having perhaps more significance than others because all had something to do with the presidential primary season now underway and because the upcoming presidential election might be the most significant of my lifetime.

On June 6, 2007, my theme was that we needed a new way to pick presidential candidates. There’s nothing that has happened since to change my mind - only to emphasize that belief. Typical of what I look upon as nonsensical theater is the way the various candidates have jumped upon the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as a reason for voters to pick them over their rivals. Naturally, people vying to become president of the United States would be expected to make some comment on an event such as this - and in that regard they didn’t disappoint. I think just about every candidate had something to say - but some, egged on and backed by media pundits - jumped on the event to show that they were more qualified to "deal" with an event of this nature because of their vast "experience." Mrs. Clinton was quick to point out that she "knew" Benazir Bhutto. As if she’d grown up with her in Oak Park Illinois. I don’t know how many times Hillary Clinton may have met Benazir Bhutto - but as a former first lady and current United States Senator - one would assume that Bhutto would have been one of many world figures that she may have met on official occasions - but "meeting" someone doesn’t qualify you as an expert on that person’s country and how best to express the U.S. reaction to any crisis that develops there. To me, it is totally disingenuous to use the "I know" whoever it may be to convince voters that your "experience" is superior to others.

John Edwards’ reaction to the assassination was to call Pervez Musharraf - and to at least one left wing pundit, that was a "presidential" act. Ed Schultz, on hi radio program, made a big deal out if the fact that of all the candidates, only Edwards thought of calling Musharraf and he thought that in doing so he was acting presidentially!! Excuse me. What on earth is "presidential" about picking up the phone and putting through a call to the Pakistani leader - who Edwards also claims he "knows" having met him on one occasion? If Edwards had already become the Democratic nominee, perhaps a call to Musharraf might have been appropriate. As the candidate of his party he might well become president, so it would perhaps be as important for him to have open lines of communication to Pakistan as it would for Mt. Bush. But as one of eight Democratic candidates and fifteen overall candidates - Edwards’ call was little more than a political ploy to get some attention as someone "on top of the situation" - as though his call to Musharraf could help alleviate the crisis in any way.

The Republican candidates weren’t any better. Their virtually unanimous response was "the fear card" - linking the assassination to the "world wide struggle against Islamic terrorism." And for those who buy the nonsense that being Mayor of New York when the World Trade Center was attacked is an automatic qualification to lead the world in the battle against these extremists, Bhutto’s death likely strengthened his support.

But my other selections of the year might be even more significant in the light of the battle being waged among Republicans to come out of Iowa with a win. They were all about religion. The theme of my comments on August 14, 2007 was "The MADNESS OF Religion" - with a sub-title of "Maybe there’s a God but he’s insane."
On August 16, 2007 it was "Looking for evidence for the existence of God" - and of course I found none.. And on December 11, 2007 I posed the question - The Republican Primaries - Political or Religious?

All three relate to what is happening Iowa - and of course the third is the one that relates specifically. I’ll put it in as plain terms as I can think of. The winner on the Republican side in Iowa will likely be because of his religion and his expressed belief in fundamental Christianity and how it would affect his decision making as president. At the same time, the potential winner and the rest of the Republican candidates are warning us about the dangers of Islamic extremism.The extremism of a religion. And I pose the question - what is the basic difference between extreme Islamic beliefs and those expressed by Huckabee and others? No, we don’t have evangelical suicide bombers attacking non-believers - but we have candidates who are pretty much telling us that their Christian beliefs are at the core of their being - and intimating that those beliefs are the ultimate laws that we should obey - superior to our constitution and the body of laws enacted by the states and by the congress. That kind of thinking and that kind of appeal is more closely related to the theocratic politics of those countries that produce these Islamic terrorists.

Across the pond - in the mother country from which we derived our heritage - Tony Blair has just converted to his wife’s religion. He’s now a Catholic - the news media reported the conversion in great detail - and that’s probably the biggest piece of news that mixes UK politics and religion that I can remember happening in my lifetime. Religion just isn’t an issue in British political elections. The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Britain’s third largest political party, has stated publicly something that would prevent any American from being elected dog catcher. Nick Clegg doesn’t believe in God - but that non-belief hasn’t hurt his position as head of a political party or as a member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam.

But think about how religion now permeates and exercises control over our political processes. No candidate for president would dare to present him or herself as anything but a devout, God fearing, church going believer - professing that their faith is a vital part of who they are and that religious faith in general is one of the pillars of democracy.

That may sound good to you if you’re a devout, God fearing, church going believer - but it has never been this kind of an issue in the past - and the fact that it's happening now in our country - at a time when we believe the problem of world wide terrorism is a handmaiden to one of the world's major religions - scares the bejesus out of me.