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Thursday, July 24, 2008

"What in the hell is he talking bout" was the way I finished my Tuesday, July 22 comments - "he" being John McCain talking about "victory" and "defeat" in Iraq - as though either one could be the outcome of our five year old invasion and current occupation of Iraq. Some people on the right seem or claim to know what he’s talking about - either that or they just don’t care. He may not be their favorite candidate but he’s the Republican candidate and that’s all that matters.

They may have noticed - and perhaps support - the complaints of the McCain camp that he’s being virtually ignored by the media, while they’re all over Barack Obama like a cheap suit. There’s a reason for that of course and it’s not that "the media" have a "liberal bias." It’s that, to the mainstream media, this election is all about Obama. McCain is like a comfortable pair of old shoes. They know all they want to know about him. There’s nothing exciting there to dwell on. Obama is the new boy on the block - and besides which he’s black - or at least half black - so he’s the one considered the most newsworthy. But while the newspapers and television networks are covering his every move and his every word - they’re also waiting, like vultures - to sweep down on any misstep while virtually ignoring McCain’s ongoing missteps. For which the Republican candidate should be eternally grateful.

Let’s face it you Republicans and others who may have bought into the "hero, maverick, straight talk express" hype. The American press has been McCain’s friend for a long time. And they’re continuing in their friendly ways by not covering his movements and utterances on a daily basis. If they did - if they reported on him the way they report - and comment - on Obama, the Republican party might well be looking for a new candidate at their nominating convention.

How would the media react if Obama declared, in somber tones and with a straight face, that we needed to be concerned about the threatening attitude that the Chinese have assumed along their border with Turkey? I don’t have to answer that question. You know how much coverage that would get in the mainstream media. And the Limbaughs and Hannitys and the " autism denier" Wiener Savage would be having weeks of field days.

So McCain should be counting his blessings. Not that there’s a total lack of coverage of McCain’s incredible goofs and flip flops - but you don’t have to go out of your way to miss them. They’re just not there. You would think that a television network going to the extreme of covering up - not just an ordinary misstatement by a presidential candidate, but one in an area in which he claims to have the greatest expertise, would be a major news story. But you’d have to hunt for it to learn that during an interview on CBS-TV, the Senator boasted that the "surge" was responsible for the Sunni sheiks turning against Al Qaida , which in turn was responsible for a significant drop in violence. Except that the so called "Anbar Awakening" began months earlier, in August 2006 - before anyone was even talking about a "surge." You won’t see too many reports of this goof in your morning paper - but you can find it starting here - and or here. CBS decided not to let the American public see the Republican candidate for the presidency making a fool of himself. They simply edited the goof out of the interview.

You may have heard of McCain placing Iraq and Pakistan next door to each other, but probably not on network newscasts or in your local paper. For sure you won’t see it in endless video loops - Jeremiah Wright style.

And neither will you see what could easily lend itself to an endless video loop - the many
flip flops of John McCain. Yes I know - that sounds like a title for a mystery novel. Maybe there’ll be one after the election. Meanwhile the mystery is that the mainstream press isn’t paying that much attention to McCain’s incredible reversals on so many issues - whereas a couple of words by Obama expounding on his plans to withdraw from Iraq, get jumped on by the McCain camp as a "flip flop" and get picked up by the national media as though he’d actually announced a brand new policy.

But obviously McCain is not grateful for the absence of Obama style press coverage because he either doesn’t understand the ridiculous goofs and claims that he has made - or he thinks if he keeps repeating the same untruths, people will begin to believe them. I wonder from whom and what era he got that idea? Even when his error on the Anbar Awakening was pointed out to him, he still insisted that its success was because of the "surge." Never mind that the increase in American troop strength came six months after the Awakening began or that most of those personnel went to Baghdad. McCain knows best. He’s the expert.

I’m reminded of a clash between McCain and Romney during one of the Republican primary debates. McCain accused Romney of calling for a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq. Republican heresy!! Romney said he called for no such thing. McCain said you did so. Didn’t. Did so. And the following exchange took place.
ROMNEY: Is it not fair -- is it not fair to have the person who's being accused of having a position he doesn't have be the expert on what his position is?
How is it that you're the expert on my position, when my position has been very clear?

MCCAIN: I'm the expert. I'm the expert on this. When you said...
So there you have it. McCain is the expert - even on someone else’s political positions.

Apparently McCain has no problem with the press covering he has received of recent attacks on Obama and his newest commercial. Remember that McCain had called for a civilized campaign - no personal attacks - just a discussion of issues. So what have we got so far? McCain says Obama would rather lose a war than lose an election. An accusation of treason - or just a joke that nobody gets? Obama uses the obligatory "Never Again" phrase when writing in a guest book at Yas Vashem . McCain attacks that action and those words, claiming that Obama is being disingenuous since he wouldn’t support a troop presence in Iraq to prevent a holocaust. Apart from the fact that it is ridiculous to make such a connection between two totally unconnected things - McCain, who is supposed to be the foreign policy expert, doesn’t seem to know that using the "Never Again" phrase is obligatory at Yad Vashem - that it is a solemn oath to the Jewish people - and to use its utterance as a springboard to attack a political rival is an insult to the country to which McCain has vowed his unconditional support.

Then there’s the commercial claiming that OBAMA is responsible for the run up in gas prices - "I’m John McCain and I approved this message" - and finally his assertion just the other day that oil prices have fallen somewhat because Bush removed the executive order banning some off shore drilling. Not that that traders took profits. Not that there was heavy selling in anticipation of a supply/demand imbalance. Because Bush said we should drill in off shore places where oil companies don’t already have leases that they’re not using.

These are items that the media have covered to some extent - and that doesn’t seem to bother McCain one bit. So maybe my premise is wrong - that he should count his blessings at the skimpy press coverage that he’s receiving. He doesn’t seem to be ashamed or embarrassed by anything he says - no matter how incorrect, no matter how stupid, no matter how venal.

Or maybe even he can’t answer the question that I posed at the end of my Tuesday comments and the beginning of today’s. Having watched and listened to him over the past few weeks - it wouldn’t surprise me one bit!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I’m getting tired of John McCain’s petty attacks on Barack Obama’s foreign policy "inexperience." It’s particularly annoying to listen to him mock his current trip after urging him to make such a trip. So far, what seems apparent from Obama’s discussions with leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq is that he has been right in what he has been saying about those countries and actions that we should be taking and that those leaders agree with him. And all McCain can do is criticize the trip and keep harping on the fact that because Obama voted against the so called "surge" - it proves that his foreign policy judgment is lacking - while his of course is well honed and ready to be put to use on "day one" in the White House. No on the job training needed for John McCain.

Maybe Obama can’t do this directly but perhaps a surrogate can - and that is to challenge McCain to describe his foreign policy "expertise." Not just claim that he has it - but how does he have it? It surely can’t be time spent as a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Testimony in front of the Armed Services Committee of which he is the ranking Republican member might provide glimmers of information with which he would not otherwise be familiar and which might be classified as "foreign affairs." But that doesn’t add up to foreign affairs expertise no more than does visits to foreign countries where one is not engaged in negotiating on behalf of the United States.

So what would constitute "expertise" in foreign affairs - an expertise greater than that of Obama? I would think it would be specific knowledge and understanding of the history, culture, customs, economy and the politics of other countries. And familiarity with the leaders of foreign countries - and how they think, whether or not you can trust them , whether or not they trust you - and how they might react in a variety of circumstances. And it’s always a help if you can speak a foreign language or two.

It’s easy to claim foreign policy experience and to claim that your knowledge and experience is superior to that of your opponent - but it’s not that easy to explain how. McCain has criticized Obama for not visiting Iraq and Afghanistan and for advancing position papers on those countries without going there and seeing the "facts on the ground." Such as walking through an Iraqi market accompanied by 100American soldiers with helicopters hovering overhead to demonstrate how "safe" it was to stroll around in Baghdad. There’s no doubt that there is some small advantage to visiting countries like Iraq and Afghanistan and to meeting with politicians and with our senior military officers there. But it is indeed small. What a general can tell you on the ground in Baghdad can be conveyed to you while you are in your Senate office or in a Senate hearing. And what you will get to see while you are in a foreign county - especially in a war zone - is what the people running things there want you to see. Of course such visits provide all kinds of photo opportunities, but that hardly qualifies as gaining foreign policy experience.

McCain has crowed that the so called "surge" that he was urging months before it took place is "working" - and because Obama was opposed to a "surge" - that proves McCain’s superior judgment in matters of foreign affairs and security. First of all, let’s not talk about a "surge" as though it was a living, breathing thing. We seem to have an annoying habit of giving names to military actions that tend to glamorize or mask what they really are. "Shock and Awe" was a relentless military onslaught that killed thousands of Iraqis and toppled the Iraqi government in a matter of weeks. The "surge" was a temporary increase in troop numbers that was supposed to give the Iraqis a chance to sort themselves out politically. It very likely has made some contribution to the reduction in street violence in Iraq - though we are still getting the occasional suicide bomber resulting in mass murder and injury. But surge or no surge - much of the relative calm that has been achieved can be traced to several other things. The walling off of Baghdad neighborhoods - maybe something we picked up from the Israelis? The cooperation - if you want to call it that - of Muqtada al-Sadr, who has told his minions to stop attacking fellow Iraqis - at least for a while - though he still wants us out of the country a lot quicker than Malaki has indicated - and that might bug him enough to call off his cease fire.. And money. Lots of money. We’ve put a bunch of potential bad guys on the payroll. No one knows exactly how many Sunni militiamen we have "hired" at $10 a day . Depending on which source you rely on, it is anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000. That’s a lot of our taxpayer money being spent to keep the peace in Iraq - maybe as much as a million a day.

Take away the claim that the reduction in violence in Iraq is due solely to the "surge" - (the "surge" is "working") - and that it represents McCain’s superior expertise in matters of foreign and military affairs - and there is very little that McCain can point to to demonstrate that superior expertise. Any president worth his salt will surround himself with people who actually do have expertise in various matters - including foreign affairs - and the selection of such people will be a matter of judgment - and there is no evidence that McCain’s judgment is superior to that of Obama’s. I wouldn’t suggest the opposite - that Obama is more qualified to conduct foreign policy than McCain - but at least Barack knows the difference between the Sunnis and the Shiites - and without the benefit of having strolled through a "safe" market in Baghdad. And I’d bet my bottom dollar that he also knows that Iraq doesn’t share a border with Pakistan.

While we’re on the subject of foreign affairs and who is best qualified to conduct them - perhaps an Obama surrogate can also ask what McCain means by "victory’ in Iraq. Obama has made it clear that he has a plan to end our military involvement in Iraq while he has described and decried the McCain "plan" as simply staying there. So the question for McCain is "until what?" and if the answer is "until we achieve victory," the question that must be answered if we are to seriously consider this man for the highest office in the land is - what constitutes "victory?" The New York Times has just rejected an op-ed submission by McCain that was supposed to be a response to an Obama piece. The Times rejected it as written because, among other things, they wanted it to include a McCain definition of "victory." Up to now, the only thing you can glean from McCain’s pronouncements is that leaving Iraq amounts to either defeat or surrender - the words seem to be interchangeable to RWRARS (right wing ranters and ravers) - and staying amounts to victory.

It’s a simplistic mantra designed to appeal to those who don’t bother to stop and ask the question that anyone with an IQ on the right side of moron would ask. Which is -

What in the hell is he talking about?

Friday, July 18, 2008

There are a lot of people in Israel who believe that the end is near for Ehud Olmert's political career. He has said himself that he will step down if he is charged in an indictment - and the possibility of him being charged looms larger and larger. But even without the stories of corruption which have plagued his tenure as Prime Minister, this latest "accomplishment" - the release of convicted criminals in return for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, should provide him with more than enough shame to prevent him from being able to continue in his job.

It was two years ago when these two were taken prisoner in a Hezbollah raid across the Lebanese border, which also killed two of their comrades. How long Goldwasser and Regev remained alive isn’t known. They may well have been dead when Israel responded to their capture with a massive air and ground attack against Hezbollah strongholds - and in the 33 days of conflict that followed, more than a thousand Lebanese lost their lives and 159 Israelis were killed, including 40 civilians killed by Hezbollah rockets, fired indiscriminately into civilian areas.

Since the birth of the state and through all of its wars and skirmishes, Israel has placed a high priority on the safety of its military personnel and it has been its policy to leave no stone unturned in its efforts to secure the release of captured soldiers. Many of Israel’s enemies are absorbed in a culture of death They aspire to achieve martyrdom in their impossible struggle to turn the clock back to 1947 or 1946 or even earlier. To Israelis - and to Jews everywhere, life is a precious gift, to be protected and honored. It’s even reflected in the Hebrew toast - l’chaim - To Life. And although the exchange of criminals who have been tried, convicted and sentenced for one or two captured Israeli soldiers - or their bodies - goes against the grain and the natural preference to not negotiate with terrorists, the pressure to do so is understandable. So if in August or September of 2006, the Israeli government had agreed to release some prisoners, including the murderous Samir Kantar - for the safe return of Goldwasser and Regev - the Israeli public and supporters of Israel around the world would have swallowed hard but would have understood that life is sometimes more important than a "never negotiate" principle of non negotiation with terrorists.

But what would have been reluctantly acceptable two years ago is far from acceptable today. It dishonors the Israeli soldiers who died in battle. To my mind it dishonors Goldwasser and Regev. What was the purpose of launching the massive attack - not just on Hezbollah - but on the Lebanese infrastructure, which killed so many Lebanese civilians - rather than negotiate a release of the two Israeli prisoners? Surely it wasn’t to obtain their release - and any thought that such an attack , which from the beginning seemed to have no cohesion, would not just achieve that unlikely result but would "destroy" Hezbollah, would have to be the thinking of raging drunks. The attack and the 33 days of conflict that followed were an unmitigated disaster both for Israel and Lebanon. And the provisions of UN Security Council resolution 1701 that brought an end to the conflict have been ignored by Hezbollah and Lebanon and no one has done anything about it. Two years later, after all of the sacrifice - nothing has been achieved.

After the shooting stopped on August 14, 2006, Hezbollah claimed victory. They weren’t victorious of course - no more so than Israel - but they had survived and to this day retain their power as a "state within a state" in Lebanon. But after this ignoble exchange and the greeting of the murderer Samir Kantar as a hero in Beirut, they can rightfully claim a victory - and they can send their letter of thanks directly to Ehud Olmert. But they’d better hurry. If they wait too long there may be a change of address for the Israeli Prime Minister. Maybe one with which Samir Kantar would be familiar.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I heard about the New Yorker front cover before I actually saw it and when I did see it, I didn’t think it was particularly funny but it certainly scored as political satire, though I thought maybe it would have had more impact and not stirred up a lot of controversy if, instead of being on the front cover, it had been embedded in the story that it was drawn to enhance. Except there was no story. There was nothing between the covers of the magazine that tied into the cartoon. It was all by itself on the front cover and we were supposed to understand that it was satire - exposing the ridiculous nonsense that has been circulated about the Obamas.

There was a 15 page article about Obama in the Magazine, but it had nothing to do with the front cover. It was about Obama’s political history in Chicago - and if I had to describe it in a single word, I would call it unflattering. And the New Yorker is supposed to be a "liberal" publication.

The cartoon could have worked as political satire if it hadn’t been offered as a stand alone statement on the front cover. Unfortunately, though it is meant to expose the stupidity of some of the attacks launched by the far right against the Obama family, without some print context the cartoon is nothing nore than a visual collection of falsehoods - and if there is a cardinal rule about what qualifies as a subject for political satire in a cartoon, it should be that there needs be some truth, however slight, depicted in the drawing. About the only "truth" in the New Yorker cartoon is that Obama and his wife have indeed been seen fist bumping each other.

Examples of what I’m talking about can be found almost any day on the editorial pages of major newspapers. For example, this one from the July 11 Chicago Tribune lampooning Obama’s alleged "flip flops."

You may not agree that he’s "flip flopped" one all of the topics listed - but there is a sufficient element of truth in the story that the cartoon depicts to render it a perfectly acceptable political cartoon.

Instead of achieving the result they were aiming for, the New Yorker added fuel to the fire that has been smoldering ever since Obama announced his candidacy. Of course regular readers of the magazine "got it" as soon as they saw the cartoon. But New Yorker editor David Remnik should have known what was going to happen - that the cartoon would have a life way beyond his sophisticated readers and would show up in newspapers across the country and all over the Internet. Lots of publicity for the New Yorker - but fodder for the spreaders of hateful falsehoods about the Obamas It’ll just add height - however small - to the mountain of ignorance that the Democratic nominee has to surmount on his way to the presidency.

On a totally different yet related subject - recent polls indicate that an even more formidable task faces Obama in trying to dispel the notion that- by a huge margin - potential voters seem to think that McCain is to be more trusted in handling matters of national security. That large numbers of people think this sends shivers up my spine. McCain’s whole adult life prior to his election to the senate was in the military. His father and grandfather were admirals. He looks at the world through a military prism. He believes in military solutions to international problems. He has said that there will be more wars. He has said that we will be in Iraq for many years. He has Joe Lieberman whispering in his ear that we need to attack Iran "before it’s too late." The man has an uncontrollable temper and an aggressive view about what our role in the world should be. After the debacle of Iraq, the mishandling of Afghanistan and the adoption of torture as an instrument of American foreign policy, we need a more thoughtful approach to dealing with the world’s problems than "Bomb, Bomb Iran."

There is nothing wrong with having a president whose background is that of military service. We have had such a president . His name was Dwight D Eisenhower and on January 17, 1961, after eight years in office, he gave a farewell speech to the nation that anyone thinking of voting for McCain because they believe he would be "stronger" on defense should read. If they do, I think they will agree with me that - to paraphrase the words of the late Lloyd Bentsen - "Senator, you’re no Dwight Eisenhower."


Monday, July 14, 2008

For a number of reasons, not the least of which is the length of time it takes to recover from the kind of back surgery that I had on May 7th, I will not be doing any traveling for a while - certainly not any overseas travel. In a way, considering what’s been happening with the nation’s airlines, that’s something to be grateful for. I’m not going to be a part of any herd of travelers being treated like cattle and having to pay a bunch of extras for the "privilege" of standing in line, being examined for my terrorist potential and paying $15 for a checked bag!! What’s next - $5 for a bag of peanuts? Assuming that you can find a plane to take you where you want to go. It seems that in addition to trying to nickel and dime passengers to death to try to cut back on the losses major airlines are experiencing, they’ve also come up with the brilliant idea of grounding large portions of their fleet. Planes that aren’t flying aren’t using all that expensive gas. Less gas, less losses. What a brilliant idea.

The last time I traveled overseas, I flew United. The plane wasn’t full in either direction. The whole fleet was in service at that time. And all of the United personnel were pleasant and efficient - despite the fact the company was losing money hand over fist and was on the verge of filing for bankruptcy. . But United had a brilliant strategy for avoiding that desperate move. They hired one Glenn F Tilton - gave him a $3 million "signing bonus - and two months later United filed for bankruptcy!! Tilton then went about the business of cutting salaries and jettisoning pensions of United employees. With that kind of cost cutting help - on the backs of United workers - the company emerged from bankruptcy in 2006. The business community hailed Tilton as a hero. In their view, he was a business genius. To United employees, he was a villain. I’ve written about the business joke that United has become more than once in this blog - the last time on May 11, 2005 - second item.

Fast forward to 2008 and things are even worse. Fuel prices of all kinds are going through the roof, so United devises a brilliant strategy to cut costs. They lay of at least 1100 workers with more to follow and ground a host of gas guzzling planes. That may save them some money but it hardly endears them to the flying public - not to mention the suddenly out of work United employees. It’s no longer easy to find a United flight to get you where you want to go. And if you do find one, it probably won’t be leaving when you’d like it to leave or arrive when you need to arrive.

Meanwhile, little old low cost Southwest Airlines which in my part of the world flies out of Midway in Chicago, is not grounding any planes or laying off workers - and unlike the rest of the airline industry - is posting profits. How are they doing so well while United, under the tutelage of the $3 million dollar man, Glenn Tilton - is doing so badly? Simple. They were smart enough to have hedged their bets in the futures market to the extent that their jet fuel costs this year is close to a dollar per gallon less than what United is paying!!

Jet fuel isn’t traded in the futures market, but unleaded gas - and as we all know so well - crude oil - is. Southwest hedged against rising jet fuel prices by trading in crude oil futures. Does this make Southwest one of the speculators that are said to be at least partially responsible for what we’re paying for gas at the pump? Not at all. It is precisely for businesses like the airline industry that the energy futures markets exist. While an airline may not take direct delivery of any crude oil , it is perfectly legitimate for it to buy oil futures as a hedge against the huge amounts of jet fuel that they buy and that is a derivative of crude oil. It is the people and organizations that never take delivery of crude oil or any of its derivatives and who are not in any kind of business that require them to buy huge amounts of crude oil or any of its derivatives that are the speculators. Their interest is simply in making money from the price fluctuations in the commodity. For the speculator - it could be any commodity - as long as there is plenty of price movement.

So if Southwest has been able to anticipate the increase in the price of jet fuel and hedge against it so successfully, what does that tell us about the management of the major carriers - and particularly of United’s management that so brilliantly entered into and pulled the company out of bankruptcy on the backs of their employees? For my money, it says that they don’t know what they’re doing other than making sure that no matter how badly they screw up, they’re not the ones to suffer. And that’s not just confined to the airline industry. No matter how poorly any publicly traded companies perform - their CEOs keep raking in their millions. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, read this piece by fellow blogger Don Jones.

No doubt the CEOs mentioned here would agree with McCain’s economic advisor Phil Gramm that complaining about the poor performance of their companies and the deteriorating condition of the economy while they pull in paychecks in the millions, makes we common folk "a nation of whiners." Well, maybe if we "whine" enough, United and other major carriers will sit up and take notice that they’re screwing up royally. Or go out of business, which is maybe what United ought to do. There stock is trading for less than $4 today. Eight months ago it traded at $50!!

But they’ll probably hang on as long as there’s money to keep Mr. Tilton living the high life. After all, that’s become a standard of major American corporations. Publicly traded companies can be going into the toilet, their stockholders, employees and customers paying the price - but never the CEOs - America’s corporate untouchables!!

Monday, July 07, 2008

It was many years ago when I first ran across a copy of the Chicago Tribune. I had just arrived in Chicago from England by way if New York and read it on the train coming in. The paper had a definite conservative bias - and since there were several dailies available in those day, I settled on one that seemed to have less of a political agenda for my morning read. As I said, the was many years ago. Today, the number of major daily papers available is down to two and today I’m a regular reader of a far less conservative Chicago Tribune . I call it far less conservative but some call it downright liberal.

A couple of weeks ago, the Trib ran a special piece on "Obama’s Chicago" - talking about the parts of the city where he has lived, where he’s worked, where he went to church, where he likes to eat, where he works out and plays tennis and so on. Boy, did that bring a rash of protests. It was as though the Tribune had endorsed Obama for president. How could the Tribune devote that much space to a puff piece on Barack Obama they wanted to know? Where’s the McCain balance? I didn’t pay too much attention to the piece but it certainly didn’t strike me that way. To me, the rationale for such a piece was obvious. Obama may be the next president of the United States - and though he wasn’t born here, he’s been a Chicagoan for years - and if wins the election , he’ll be the first President from the city of Chicago. It didn’t seem to me that the Tribune was leaning left with this kind of story - just that it was giving appropriate coverage to a home grown presidential candidate. If McCain was from here, it would have been "McCain’s Chicago!!"

A similar storm of protests was set off by a recent editorial suggesting that perhaps we should repeal the 2nd Amendment. One letter writer wanted to know what would be suggested next - repeal the first amendment? That was someone who probably didn’t bother to read the editorial - just the headline. But if you read it, it makes sense - just as an op-ed piece in yesterday’s paper suggesting that it might be time to retire the pledge of allegiance will also bring a storm of protests from people who won’t bother to read that piece either.

There’s nothing sacred about the pledge of allegiance. It began as a commercial venture and it isn’t part of any law and, though it will come as a surprise to some people , no reference to any kind of pledge of allegiance can be found in the constitution - as opposed to the Declaration of Independence which ends with the oft forgotten words " we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." To me, those words are a true pledge of allegiance - a pledge by our founding fathers to "each other." Something that is sorely lacking among those who believe that the United States should function as a laissez faire society.

The pledge of allegiance should be easy to get rid of. All that’s needed is a movement to stop reciting it where it can be stopped - at official, non governmental events - in schools - wherever it has been tradition to mouth this phony exhibition of patriotism. I put the pledge in the same category of wearing flag pins. Neither has anything to do with patriotism - nor does the placing of one’s hand over one’s heart while reciting the pledge make you any more patriotic than someone who doesn’t. As I said the other day, I was saddened by Barack Obama’s perceived need to give speeches about patriotism in order to pander those people who have some distorted view of the importance of patriotism in a free society and what patriotism means and what place it has in election campaigns.

I know of no other society in the industrial world that bothers with the kinds of things that take on such importance at election time in the United States. Abortion. Religious belief. Gun ownership. Sexuality. Patriotism. And I don’t think there’s any western type of society where you will hear the belief expressed over and over again that theirs is "the greatest country on earth." Other than ours of course. I don’t know whether that’s because we have some sort of inferiority complex that we feel compelled to dispel with such expressions of braggadocio - or whether we’re too young a country to know, with confidence, that we are indeed great and worthy of quiet, unassuming, unvoiced patriotic loyalty. Or maybe we’ve been conned into believing that we have to display gimmicks and mouth inanities about how patriotic we are for fear that we will be looked upon as something other than "true" Americans.

I congratulate the Chicago Tribune for its editorial on the second amendment to the constitution, without which we would likely be a less argumentative and perhaps less violent society - and for publishing an op-ed discussion of the pledge of allegiance, without which we might find ways to better understand and express our patriotism. Without the wearing of pins, the waving of flags and the mouthing of inanities.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I think maybe Barack Obama has spent too much time with Hillary Clinton - first battling and now joining forces with her - because her approach of doing whatever it takes and saying whatever needs to be said to become the nominee of her party and to win the presidency, seems to have rubbed off on him. He’s beginning to change previously stated positions - not at the rate established by John McCain, whose flip-flops, according to Keith Olbermann, fill three pages - but enough to make us wonder if he’s truly going to move this country in a new direction when he moves into the White House.

I realize that if he wants to get elected, he can’t appear to be too extreme in his ideas and his proposals and that his chances would be improved if he came across as a centrist. The trouble is, he didn’t start out that way - and his efforts to become the candidate who pleases everyone is chipping away at his shining armor. For example, I know that he intends to go after voters that past Democratic candidates have ceded to the Republicans in knee jerk fashion, but to me, his speeches on "patriotism" and his proposal to increase the size of the Bush "faith based" programs smacks of pandering to that group of voters who care nothing for the real issues with which this country has to grapple- only the narrow parameters of their insulated world. Obama is better than this, but he is performing more and more like the description hung on him by his former pastor. "He’s a politician. and he says what he has to say as a politician.. He does what politicians do."

I can forgive him most of what critics have termed his flip flops. He didn’t pledge to take public funds if the other side did the same - only that he would try to come to an agreement on ground rules with his opponent - and apparently, McCain didn’t want to have any such discussion. Even the Chicago Tribune acknowledged that in a recent editorial.

His support of the FISA bill is understandable. The bill takes the final word on spying procedures away from the White House and puts it in the hands of a secret court. Even though he once said he would approve or support a filibuster against granting immunity for past actions by telecom companies - at this point in the campaign, a filibuster would be a distraction that would please no one but the most extreme members of the left.

I’m not sure that his once stated view that the Washington DC ban on handguns is constitutional contradicts what he said in response to the recent Supreme Court decision - that he has "always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms." There is nothing in the constitution or in the five to four decision that says local communities can’t enact gun laws. This may be a case where Obama can legitimately have it both ways.

But what has disturbed me most about Obama’s seeming attempts to move to the center, is his effort to "distance himself" from General Wesley Clark’s comments on Face The Nation last Sunday. The Republican attack machine glommed onto what the general said as though he had committed the mortal sin of insulting a war hero - if you consider that being kept a prisoner of war for 5½ years by the North Vietnamese qualifies one as a hero.

But Clark did no such thing. He was trying to say that Obama is as "qualified" to be commander-in-chief as McCain , despite McCain’s military background - and the following exchange then took place.
Bob Schieffer: Well you, you went so far as to say that you thought John McCain was, quote, and these are your words, "untested and untried," And I must say I, I had to read that twice, because you're talking about somebody who was a prisoner of war. He was a squadron commander of the largest squadron in the Navy. He's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for lo these many years. How can you say that John McCain is un- untested and untried? General?

Clark: Because in the matters of national security policy making, it's a matter of understanding risk. It's a matter of gauging your opponents, and it's a matter of being held accountable. John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in Air- in the Navy that he commanded, it wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, 'I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it-'

Schieffer: Well-

Clark -it publicly.' He hasn't made those calls, Bob.

Schieffer: Well, well, General, maybe-

Clark: So-

Schieffer: Could I just interrupt you. If-

Clark: Sure
And here’s where Schieffer makes one of the dumbest comments I have ever heard him make..
Schieffer: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean-

Clark: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President.
And that’s the remark that the McCain campaign and surrogates, along with the print and electronic news media, jumped on as attacking McCain’s military service. Shieffer’s comment couldn’t have been any clearer. It was perfectly O.K. to make the point that Obama also hasn’t had the executive experience that Clark said was lacking in McCain’s resume - but there was little sense in making the point that unlike McCain, Obama has never ridden in a fighter plane nor been shot down. And Clark answered the implied question truthfully - that having such an experience didn’t make McCain or anyone else qualified to be president. He wasn’t insulting McCain. He wasn’t attacking McCain. He was merely pointing out that McCain’s military service, including being shot down, captured and held prisoner for 5 ½ years didn’t make him any more qualified to be president than Obama - who has never ridden in a fighter plane and been shot down!!

Why Obama would "distance himself" from Clark’s comments is beyond me. It’s as though he’s looked at the scoreboard - seen that he’s a touchdown - maybe a touchdown and a field goal ahead - and even though it’s only the first quarter - decided to play defense for the rest of the game. And his idea of "defense" when it comes to McCain’s military service - is to be critical of a supporter who states truthfully that such service makes him no more qualified to be president than someone who has never served in the military - and to virtually agree with those who categorize such comments as an attack on McCain!!. Maybe this is some kind of brilliant strategy - defusing the other side’s attacks by agreeing with them - but the impression that I’m left with is that Obama would rather back away from any discussion that involves McCain’s military service than fight, even if the involvement is barely tangential.

Obama needs to stop praising McCain every time he mentions his name and stop saying that he "honors his service." And to not "distance himself" from anyone who says, truthfully, that military service doesn’t make McCain any more qualified to be president than anyone else. McCain and his supporters are using that service and his years as a POW to make him a sympathetic figure. He has a television ad showing him in captivity - and a lot of people might be influenced by that appeal for sympathy. Remember Hillary’s crying performance? Obama needs to be able to portray the Republican presidential candidate as decidedly un-sympathetic - and not let himself be conned into playing into the hands of the Republican strategists. And for sure, in his effort to appeal to all voters and not just Democrats - he needs to be careful not to create doubt in the minds of those who have supported him from the beginning as to who he really is and what he stands for.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I’m no a great fan of Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley but I have to admit that his passionate reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the second amendment got me to thinking a little more about the decision than my comments of last Friday. Chicago has a ban on gun ownership and Daley would like to close down all the gun manufacturers and turn their stockpiles into scrap metal. In reacting to the decision, he said
Does this lead to everyone having a gun in our society? If they (the Supreme Court) think that's the answer, then they're greatly mistaken. Then why don't we do away with the court system and go back to the Old West. You have a gun and I have a gun, and we'll settle it in the streets if that's they're thinking. We think we're such an improved society, the rest of the world is laughing at us.
And that got me to thinking. What is it about our society that the highest court in the land has to pronounce to the world that our constitution says that all Americans have a legal right to own a gun. Well, maybe not all of us. Not felons or nut cases - but for the rest of us, it has now been made crystal clear that it’s an inalienable right. And the argument that we hear most often in support of that right is that we need guns to protect ourselves in our homes - and in some states, on the streets - presumably against fellow citizens who also have guns which they own by right and with which they would like to do us harm.

Maybe Mayor Daley had a point when he made reference to the Old West. Sure, we had the local sheriff and the occasional US Marshal to keep the peace. We’ve all seen those brave lawmen in action on the silver screen. But they couldn’t be everywhere and protect everyone and the average citizen still had to carry a gun for his own personal protection - and practice the art of quick draw so that he could truly defend himself against the bad guys. But is that the kind of society that we have today? Do we really need to have our own weapons to protect ourselves against the bad guys because the police can’t be everywhere?

Our domestic death rate from gunshots far exceeds that of any other western society and we have more people in jail than any other country in the world . The Supreme Court ruling is likely to result in a lot more of us having guns - and logic would dictate that our annual death rate from gunshots will increase proportionally. Rather than guns being used to repel bad guys from our homes, it’s more likely that there will be more accidental deaths in the home and more guns available for the bad guys to steal. We’re supposed to be the leaders of the free world - champions of democracy and personal freedoms - but what our murder and incarceration statistics and the new Supreme Court ruling says to the rest of the world is that we are a violent society that has little faith in law enforcement keeping the peace and protecting its citizens from harm.

We are not the only country that believes in the right of citizens to own guns. There are other countries where citizens can acquire guns simply by having an easily obtainable gun license.. No "constitutional right" is involved - for example in countries like Switzerland or Israel. Gun ownership in those countries is widespread - at least as proportionally high as ours - but the murder rate from gunshots is far lower than ours. So what is wrong with us? Are we an inherently violent nation? Has the violence of the Old West - of the decades of slavery - of the civil war - been handed down from generation to generation so that it has become ingrained in us to the extent that it has become our natural way of life - so that a majority of us think that there is nothing wrong having weapons of mass destruction (think Columbine and Virginia Tech ) available to all of us?

We know we’re a generous society. We know there is inherent goodness in us. But it seems clear that we are also a violent society. It was either Benjamin Disraeli or Mark Twain or both who said "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." In the case of the numbers of guns owned by Americans - and the number of murders, suicides and accidental deaths from gunshots, combined with the number of incarcerated Americans - the statistics seem to be telling a very truthful story. The question is - what is that story? It’s something that we should be thinking about and examining while we are having the debate about what the second amendment means. And maybe the first questions we should ask ourselves - after we’ve accepted the incontrovertible fact that we are a violent nation - are WHY?and WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH US??