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Thursday, October 30, 2008

I live only a matter of 25 or 26 miles from the 7000 block of South Yale on Chicago’s south side, yet in so many ways, it’s as far away as a foreign country. It took the murder of Jennifer Hudson’s mother, brother and nephew to bring it closer - to make me pause and think, as I have dome so many times before, how lucky I am to be living in my suburb north of the city - and how tragic it is that in our great metropolitan area there are neighborhoods that are virtual war zones.

Jennifer Hudson is known the world over because of her academy award performance in Dream Girls - and millions knew her before that break out role because of her appearance on American Idol. It was a horrifying slaughter - a crime that would have been well reported no matter who the victims were. But the story would gave faded after a day or two - faded into the murky backdrop of Chicago’s murder rate - more killings this year than in New York or Los Angeles. There are neighborhoods on Chicago’s south and west sides where kids - just in the act of walking to school or on their way to or from a park or a friend’s house, put their lives on the line. Gang warfare abounds - and flying bullets don’t always reach their intended targets. Not when innocent kids are in the line of fire.

The story of the Hudson murders persists because of Jennifer’s fame. But the story is not that different from murders that are committed on Chicago’s south and west sides almost on a daily basis. The sound of gunfire is so common in some of these areas that people become used to it. It becomes part of the background of their daily lives. So it was that a neighbor of the Hudsons told news reporters that he and others heard the gunshots that most likely were the ones that killed Jennifer Hudson’s mother and brother - but did nothing - didn’t call the police because the sound of gunfire was a common event. What a sad, sad comment.

The Governor of the State of Illinois, the mayor and police chief of Chicago, have all expressed anger and dismay at Chicago’s rampant murder rate - and all three pledge to leave no stone unturned in their efforts to battle violent crime. And I think they’re sincere. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the cynical view that if most of the murders were taking place in an affluent, mostly white suburb, a state of emergency would already have been declared and the streets would be flooded with law enforcement personnel. I think the governor and the mayor and the police chief are doing all they can - but they are fighting an uphill battle against a tide of history that has yet to be stemmed.

In the suburb where I live - on my block and in the surrounding streets, black, white, Asian and Hispanic families live side by side without detectable friction - and in our suburb, violent crime is a rarity - and the most violent - murder - an extreme rarity. The commonality of our neighborhoods and our population isn’t racial or ethnic or religious. It’s our economic status and our basic values. We are middle class. We are home owners. We believe families begin with marriage and we respect the law. I guarantee you that if anyone in my immediate neighborhood heard gunshots in the night, they would dial 911 and they most likely would be out on the street a minute later to see if anyone was in trouble and if they could help.

In contrast, decades after the civil rights revolution, Chicago remains a heavily segregated city - with vast areas populated almost exclusively by people whose commonality is skin color. Large numbers of these populations lead lives insulated from the rest of the Chicago metropolitan area and have done so for decades. And living with violent crime has become a way of life for them with absolutely no sign that it will change in the immediate future. Gangs operate freely - in some cases ruling parts of some neighborhoods like a political party. A violent political party. It’s ironic that at a moment in our history when - in just a few days - an African American is likely to be elected President of the United States - it will make not one bit if difference to the lives of fellow African Americans living in these crime ridden areas of Chicago’s south and west sides.

Chicago’s Mayor Daley places the blame on too many guns in the hands of too many people - but he also says the obvious - that adult African American males need to take responsibility for themselves and their children and to speak up against the violence in their neighborhoods. Well we’ve seen the decent, law abiding folks in these neighborhoods "speak up" against violence. We’ve seen them marching with signs saying "stop the killing" or words to that effect. And we can imagine how impressed the gang bangers are by those marches. Of course there are African American fathers who do accept the responsibility of standing up to violence in these neighborhoods. They’re the ones who do call the police at the sound of gunshots. And they’re the ones who instill a sense of right and wrong in their children. But they, like the governor and the mayor and the police chief, are fighting an uphill battle against conditions that never seem to change.

I know psychologists and psychiatrists and criminologists and a whole bunch of other "ists" have explanations of the hows and the whys of gang formation and the genesis of crime in inner city neighborhoods - but that doesn’t contribute anything to the efforts to reduce the crime rate and to give mothers hope that their children won’t be added to Chicago’s horrifying murder statistics.

A majority of Chicago’s annual murders take place in areas heavily populated by African Americans and the majority of murder victims are African American. From this you can draw one of two conclusions. Either African Americans are naturally violence prone and will continue to commit violent crimes no matter where they live or work or how educated they may be - or there is something about being segregated from mainstream society and being born into and raised in a society so insulated from the mainstream that you don’t even speak the same language as someone living - as I and my neighbors do - 25 or 26 miles way - that makes violent crime a more common occurrence than in the rest of the metropolitan area.

I’m no psychologist or psychiatrist or criminologist, but I opt for the explanation that African Americans are no more and no less prone to violence than any other American - but that the perpetuation of ghetto like neighborhoods decade after decade is bad for the soul and more likely to be plagued by a greater crime rate than other neighborhoods. It needs to end. Great efforts have been made with the removal of high rise public housing that was built to keep African Americans segregated during the era of the first Mayor Daley - the father of Chicago’s current mayor. But as long as we remain the most segregated big city - close to three million population - in the United States, I don’t doubt that we’ll continue to be the murder capital of the nation.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

There must be something about rabid Republicans that closes their minds - not just to facts, not just to reason - but to simple requests to stop annoying others with their fantasies and "truths" from the mouths of the Limbaughs and Savages and their ilk. I’ve said it kindly here on more than one occasion - most recently on October 9 - don’t send me links to nonsense because I don’t click on them and I don’t read the stuff that you glean from nonsense sites and include in your e-mails. But still they keep coming. I’m flattered that some conservatives read me on a regular basis but I wish they would try to understand what it is they are reading.

For example, I don’t know how many people have sent me the petition asking the Senate to rescind their "vote" to extend social security benefits to illegal aliens - even though they’ve never paid into the system. There was no such vote of course and I have sent the explanation of what actually happened in the Senate over two years ago and on which this silly rumor is based - to people asking me to sign on to the petition. I don’t know if this particular "rumor" was started out of ignorance or malice - but given the nature of the current presidential campaign I would suspect the latter.

I have yet to receive links to absolute "proof" that the reason Obama has gone to Hawaii is not to have one last visit with his ailing grandmother who is not expected to live long enough to witness her grandson become the next President of the United States - but to "doctor" his allegedly phony birth certificate to prove that he was actually born in Hawaii and not Kenya or Iran or Indonesia or wherever the crazed ones insist he was born. But I expect they’ll be arriving - as did the false report about a McCain supporter being attacked and having a "B" carved into her face. The right wing nuts bought this ridiculous story and spread it all over the Internet - and of course some of my right wing friends sent it to me with a see what your people are doing?

A small aside on this "your people" business. I have already voted. I voted for Obama/Biden. I also voted for some Illinois Republicans on a lengthy ballot who I think could do a better job than their Democratic opponents. The process is called thinking. Considering the issues and the candidates before blindly stabbing at the screen of the voting machine.

Something has gone wrong with the Republican party. It has lost its way. It is being dominated not just by the fanatics of the religious right but by crazed individuals who believe every crazed thing they hear about Barack Obama. In his endorsement of Obama last Sunday, Colin Powell made it clear that the party he has belonged to and supported for so long, no longer represented his views. And more and more Republicans around the country are publicly "defecting" to the Obama camp. They see the hate filled campaign that has been conducted by McCain - or at least in his name - and they can’t find any way to support it or vote for their candidate. Good for them. Whatever one may think of the Democratic candidate and/or the Democratic party, there has been nothing in any of the Democratic advertising or stump speeches that has questioned the patriotism of John McCain or suggested that there was something suspicious about him. And there has been no record of anyone at any Obama rally shouting the sort of hate filled things that have been shouted at McCain and Palin rallies. During the third debate, when McCain was defending the people who come to his rallies, he actually tried to infer that similar things go on at Obama rallies - but of course there are no recordings to back up such an assertion. They just aren’t there. The hate in this election is all coming from one side.

The question of course is why this kind of campaign? There was some underhanded stuff in the campaign against John Kerry - mostly the swift boat garbage which, along with Watergate, gave us another phrase to use in describing the worst of our political system - indeed of our country. Any scandal is now some kind of "gate" and any underhanded attack on a political candidate is now "swiftboating." There were no rumors of infidelity, drug use or anti-Americanism aimed at Al Gore. Infidelity was used against Bill Clinton - but no one tried to prove that he wasn’t from Hope, Arkansas - and infidelity wasn’t enough to sink him. And you can go back as far as you like and look at the kind of campaigns Republicans ran against their Democratic presidential candidate and you won’t find anything quite like what is being hurled at Barack Obama. For those ultra conservatives in denial who say that say it isn’t so and maintain he’s being attacked because of his policies - I wish they would tell me what policy difference is described in this latest mailing by the RNC with these kind of words - "Terrorists" "Not Who You Think He Is"

I do believe that Barack Obama will be elected president on November 4. I believe that there are enough fair minded people - Democrats, Republicans and Independents whose skin colors are white and black and olive, who will overcome the automatic votes of died-in-the-wool Republicans who would vote for Mortimer Snerd if that name was on the ballot with an "R" after it - and the rabid right wingers who are filled with hate and dread at the very idea that someone like Barack Obama could ascend to the presidency.

I wanted to get these thoughts down as an addendum - a companion piece if you will - to what I wrote two days ago - and try to stay away from writing anything more about politics until after November 4. I have both hope and fear in my heart at what awaits us ten days from now. I think the election willbe a test of who we are as a people and what kind of country and world we want for our children and grandchildren. We’ll either pass or fail that test on November 4. You decide what constitutes success or failure.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I suppose most people aren’t particularly disturbed when they hear about polls that say a majority of us think the country is "going in the wrong direction." That may because most people agree with that sentiment. Maybe that’s why Barack Obama is ahead in the polls that measure how we feel about presidential candidates. But as of this morning - for me at least - those "going in the wrong direction" poll numbers have taken on a frightening new feeling. We are beginning to see more and more of a dark side of a portion of the American populace. I don’t know how large it is - but I think it’s large enough for the rest of us to be afraid. Afraid at the possibility that they may achieve the power they seek.

Over the past two or three weeks, I have become more and more concerned about the tone of the Republican presidential campaign. Both sides distort and exaggerate in their stump speeches and media ads. But only the Republicans have settled on a campaign of personal attack on the character and patriotism of the Democratic candidate. That campaign has attracted a following of mindless, right wing yahoos - and as far as I can see, they are being welcomed by John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Yes I know that there have been at least two occasions when Senator McCain has had to rebuke people at his rallies who have spoken hateful things about Obama into a microphone while their images were being captured on countless cameras. But there was no way McCain could have let those moments pass without stepping in to defend Senator Obama. It would have looked devastating on the evening news - or on You Tube. Even so, his supporters at those rallies booed his defense of Obama’s character and patriotism - and of course his ads and his running mate continue to supply reasons why rally attendees say the things they’ve been saying and will likely continue to do so. But even though he has been forced to chastise some of them, McCain defends his rally audiences as fine, upstanding Americans - along the way never failing to mention the veterans that show up to hear him or Sarah Palin speak - and attributes the cries of hatred and intolerance to a few fringe rowdies. You could almost buy into that defense and explanation if those unacceptable reactions occurred in a vacuum. But the cries of "terrorist" don’t come in response to criticism of Obama’s health care ideas - or "kill him" in response to a comparison of tax plans or "traitor" in response to criticism of his Iraq policy. The most vocal at the McCain/Palin rallies may indeed be rowdies - but they are responding to both candidates’ portrayal of Obama as someone not quite American whose motives are clouded in a smoke screen of unanswered questions.

The depth of the feelings that these expressions of hatred represent was brought home to me in chilling fashion the other day as I watched a news clip of a McCain rally. I don’t recall where he was speaking - but he was greeting the crowd and acknowledging veterans in attendance - presumably identified by wearing souvenir military regalia. Some people carry their military service with them into civilian life and for the rest of their lives. I was in the army for 3 year 77 days and the only thing I kept as a souvenir was my discharge papers. But I digress. The acknowledgment of veterans brought polite applause and moments later, the crowd broke into a chant of USA, USA - and chills ran down my spine.

I remember the saga of the impossible dream when the US hockey team defeated the Russians at the 1980 Olympics to the crowd’s chant of USA, USA - and chills ran up and down my spine at that time too. But they were chills of joy and amazement and exhilaration. We had done the impossible We had beaten the Russian ice hockey colossus and those chants said it all - it was US versus THEM. We were the good guys and they were the "enemy" and our jingoistic chant seemed appropriate. And to the most partisan among us, I suppose the candidate we are supporting for president could be thought of as the "good guy" and the other guy the "enemy." But they are not opponents in the same way we and the Russians were opponents. They are both Americans. Both of them love our country and what it stands for. You can yell "four more years" at a campaign rally if an incumbent is running. You can yell the name of your candidate. You can yell a slogan - "yes we can" or "you betcha betcha betcha." And I suppose, under some circumstances, if a candidate is being critical of a foreign country and asserting that in any kind of conflict, the USA would prevail, you could chant USA in support of that sentiment. But when one side in a presidential race has been demonizing the candidate of the other side - implying that he’s "not like us" and "sees America differently" - those chants of USA, USA sound very much like an "US" versus "THEM" chant - "US" being the American candidate and "Them" being something else. Something not quite American.

Then on Friday, a crazy women who voters elected to congress from Minnesota’s sixth district two years ago, appeared on MSNBC’s "Hardball" - questioning Obama’s patriotism and suggesting that the media investigate all 535 members of congress to determine who is pro-American and who is anti-American!!. She actually said those things. The reaction to this nonsense has been an outpouring of donations to the campaign of her Democratic challenger - not just from Minnesota but from all over the country. And yet, punching in one radio station after another while in my car the other day, I caught Michael Medved in the midst of what was obviously a statement of support of Michele Bachmann’s outrageous attempt to resurrect McCarthyism. What’s wrong with that kind of investigation he wanted to know - and he went on to cite the case of a congressman he once worked for who had engaged in activities that could be considered "anti-American." I didn’t stay long enough to catch the name, but I have to assume that he was talking about former congressman Ron Dellums. And you can read all points of view about him on line if you feel so inclined.

On Sunday General Colin Powell announced his support for Barack Obama in six and a half minutes of reasoned eloquence - and Rush "open mouth" Limbaugh promptly proclaimed that the endorsement was simply because of the color of Obama’s skin. Both Powell and Obama have black skin, though Powell’s is considerably less black than the Senator - despite the influence of Obama’s maternal Caucasian ancestry. But the fact that they both share African-American ancestry was enough for the foul mouth one. In a rational world, this would be a source of rolling in the aisles laughter. In a rational world, a crazed bigot like Limbaugh wouldn’t be allowed access to the airways. I don’t know who else from the world of right wing punditry has joined in this unvarnished display of racism - but I know there is support for it among the mindless on the right because I’ve seen and heard some of it and it’s scary. We know that racism didn’t die with the civil rights laws or with the ascendance of Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods - but for some time now it’s been beneath the surface and the chances of it becoming a disruptive force seemed to be slowly fading along with the generations that practiced and revered it. But now it’s back - out in the open with very little attempt to mask it as something other than what it is.

I don’t think it will end with the election of President Obama. We are not the country we once were. That could be an uplifting statement if I was talking about the progress we have made from the horrors of our own version of apartheid to today’s society, when millions of us have selected Barack Obama as our candidate for the presidency and millions of us will vote for him by or on November 4. But I’m talking about the country described by columnist Leonard Pitts in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune. In case you don’t have the time or inclination to read it, let me quote just one paragraph.
Then you look up one day and realize how profoundly that fear has changed your world. People are imprisoned without charges or access to attorneys, and it's routine. People are surveilled, their reading habits studied, their telephone usage logged, and it's commonplace. People, including children, end up on a secret list of those who are not allowed to fly, nobody will tell you why, there is no appeal, and it's ordinary. We swallow lies like candy, nod sagely at babblespeak, and it's unexceptional.
To those on the extreme right, there’s nothing wrong with this "new world" that Pitts described. To the rest of us it’s the reason we have worked for, sent our money to and - for those of us who believe in a deity - pray that Barack Obama will be elected the next President of the United States.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I’m sure I have lots of company this morning - people sharing my sense of relief that the presidential "debates" are over. Once again, the third and final debate - the one characterized as John McCain’s last chance to pull off some sort of miracle - proved nothing and provided no worthwhile information. It did show the depth of McCain’s desperation as he launched attack after attack at Obama with nonsensical accusations. It also provided some moments of almost uncontrollable laughter courtesy of Senator McCain. That was when he tried to show some sort of dangerous relationship between Obama and the community organization group known as ACORN - a group that he praised to the high heavens when he was the keynote speaker at one of their events two years ago. But look what he said about them in Wednesday night’s debate when he tried to tie phony names on some ACORN voter registration sheets to Obama.
We need to know the full extent of Sen. Obama's relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.
The laughter of course was induced by the idea of $8 an hour workers filling their voter registration sheets with names like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and whatever other non existent people’s names to make it look like they really worked hard and registered a lot of people - "destroying the fabric of democracy." Of course if, as has been reported, these people were only being paid $8 an hour, I don’t blame them for padding their actual work with imaginary work. $8 an hour? Come on ACORN - you can do better than that.

But Senator McCain also knows better than that. He knows that there’s no voter fraud. The phony registrants aren’t going to show up to vote. They don’t exist. Unless of course there’s a nefarious plan afoot to have people who are registered voters, first vote as themselves and then come back later as Mickey Mouse or whatever - along with appropriate credentials to prove that they are indeed Disney characters. Destroying the fabric of democracy? If McCain hadn’t already dealt enough near fatal blows to his own candidacy, surely he must have added one with that ridiculous statement - that and the equally astonishing statement responding to Obama saying that he was for a law banning so called "partial birth abortion" provided that it included an exception for the health and life of the mother -
Just again, the example of the eloquence of Sen. Obama. He's health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, "health."
Yes, that won him all the women who, up to that revealing moment of Senator McCain’s understanding and sensitivity, had been sitting on the fence.

On the other hand, the idea that voters can be persuaded to cast their ballot for a candidate for the presidency based on something he or she may say on one of these televised "debate" still puzzles and irritates me. Some say that Ronald Reagan turned the tide in his favor after his single "there you go again" remark to Jimmy Carter. Certainly he was slightly behind in the polls before the 1980 campaign’s one debate between the two of them. But - amusing as it was - a four word phrase swinging voters from Carter or undecided to Reagan ? Who could have been so persuaded - other than Yahoos of course. Which brings me back to the third McCain Obama debate and another example of McCain’s desperation - invoking the "story" of Joe the Plumber.

We all know by now that he isn’t "Joe" - that he isn’t a licensed plumber, that he’s behind in paying local taxes, that his last year’s salary of approximately $40,000 would earn him a tax reduction under Obama’s proposed tax plan, that the small business he works for clears closer to $100,000 a year than $200,000 and that there’s no way "Joe" had any chance of buying his bosses business - even at a relatively small multiple of that $100,000 net figure. Yet McCain - apparently utilizing the same vetting intensity he and his campaign applied to the selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate - plunged blindly into the phony story of Joe’s ambition and potential woes under an Obama administration and in so doing provided the nation and the world with a glimpse into the working of his mind - which appears to be more and more scatterbrained than reasoned - and to the nature of some of his supporters. Yahoos!! Those dangers to society that Lemuel Gulliver encountered in the land of the Houyhnhnms.

How else would you describe this guy - wallowing in his fifteen minutes of dubious fame, giving press conferences, proclaiming that he abhors social security - thinks it’s "a joke" - thinks it was great that we invaded Iraq "WMD’s or not" - isn’t registered to vote- and thinks Obama tap dances around questions "like Sammy Davis Junior." And today McCain continues to invoke his name and his "story" - oblivious to the fact that he’s made a blunder that, like the personal attacks on Obama, will likely backfire. He’s probably thinking that of he wins the White House - fictional "Joe" would make a fine race relations czar!!

But seriously folks - even though I don’t think the debates are really debates and provide little more than an opportunity for candidates to recycle pieces of their stump speeches to a fairly wide audience - they sometimes give us little insights into the inner being of candidates that might not otherwise have been revealed. Much of what McCain and Obama said on Wednesday they’ve said before in one fashion or another. The "I’m not President Bush" line was new, written I’m sure with the hope that it might match the impact of Reagan’s "There You Go Again." It didn’t, but hailing Joe the Plumber as some sort of American hero gave us an insight into the kind of supporter that McCain is willing to embrace publicly. It’s one thing to hope for everyone’s vote to whom the idea of a Democratic president is an abomination, even if they have white hooded robes or nazi insignia decorated jackets hanging in their closets. But if you want to put your figurative arm around someone and say He’s the kind if American I’m working for, you’d think you’d wan to be sure that the rest if us could view him as someone at least a little bit like us. I don’t know about you, but to me, Joe the Plumber doesn’t come close to fitting that bill.

But - and here’s a magnified view into the workings of Senator McCain’s mind - once the media descended on this poor schlemiel’s house and revealed the not so "ordinary Joe the worker" things about him, instead of letting the fires die out - as they would in a day or two if not stoked by the candidates - he is out on the stump accusing Obama and the Democrats of smearing poor Joe.

Approaching the end of his military and congressional career, it’s almost sad to see this man descend to such depths in his desperate effort to win the office that has eluded him for so many years. The debates do indeed reveal things about candidates that might not otherwise surface. Sometimes I wish they didn’t.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I was going to write something about the so called financial meltdown - but what’s happening in the presidential campaign takes precedence today. It’s gotten that crazy. And that dirty. Besides, after the Dow rallied close to a thousand points to start this week - it’ll be more interesting to comment later.

I was glad to see Senator McCain trying to disabuse the crowd at one of his rallies of the belief that Barack Obama is an Arab - as one supporter asserted before McCain took the mike out of her hands. That’s how bad it’s become because of the attempt to paint Obama as something less than a loyal American because he has had an "association" with one time Weather Underground member Bill Ayers. Some of McCain’s supporters have swallowed this garbage so deeply into their guts that they don’t want to hear McCain back away from it. He’s had to defend Obama from unruly crowds approaching a mob scene more than once in recent days - and some of his supporters have booed his remarks. The negative campaigning - particularly by Sarah Palin - may be backfiring - but it’s already dome the kind if damage that will take time to heal - even after the election has been decided - no matter who wins.

I was also glad to see Frank Rich’s column in the New York Times over the weekend . He made crystal clear what has been going on with the Republican campaign and the despicable attacks against Obama, trying to paint him as a terrorist. Everyone should read it. Even rabid right wingers who still retain the power of reason - assuming they once had it.

But as pleased as I was to read the Frank Rich column, I was equally dismayed to open my redesigned, comic book style Chicago Tribune Monday morning and find Charles Krauthammer’s latest piece of invective. It’s sad because Krauthammer is an intelligent man - he’s won a Pulitzer for Pete’s sake - but his conservative beliefs take over his thought processes when it comes to defending the guilt by association attacks on Obama. Here we are less than three weeks from one of the most important elections of this nation’s history and Krauthammer is dragging out the right wing’s version of Obama’s Axis of Evil - the triumvirate of Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko and Jeremiah Wright - as reasons to attack Obama’s character. Consorting with these fellows tells us what kind of person Obama is - and according to Krauthammer - not the kind who should be elected president.

It is ridiculous beyond reason. If Obama is to be condemned for his tenuous association with Bill Ayers - then we might as well condemn the character of Chicago’s educational and political elite at the same time. Yes Ayers was radical nut in the sixties as a member of the Weather Underground - though he was never convicted of taking part in any violent action. But Obama was a child when all that Vietnam protest activity was going on. The Bill Ayers that Obama met decades later was a fellow resident of Chicago’s politically independent Hyde Park neighborhood , a distinguished professor of Education - and in 1997, a recipient of Chicago’s Citizen of the Year award!! He was a man who sat on a couple of charitable boards of which Obama was also a member. He was a man who allowed his home to be used for a coffee at which time Illinois State Senator Alice Parker who had decided to resign and run for congress, introduced some of her friends and backers to Obama, who she was supporting to succeed her. He was not someone still trying to blow up buildings and statues as expressions of protest - yet Krauthammer and others of his ilk want to associate Obama with the Bill Ayers of the sixties - not the sixty three year old Bill Ayers of today. If having some sort of tenuous relationship with the man that Ayers has become reflects badly on Obama’s character - then, as I said, we’d better start looking into the character of Chicago’s Mayor Daley and work down the ladder of Chicago’s political, charitable and educational elite because, having had and continuing to have some sort of "relationship" with Bill Ayers - they’ve ALL been "palling around with terrorists."

And how about that Tony Rezko? Here was a guy beloved by Illinois politicians of all stripes because he was an equal opportunity fund raiser. He was thick with the current Governor of Illinois. He was an insider at home with the movers and shaker of the Illinois Republican and Democratic parties. Obama was hardly a mover and shaker when he first met Rezko. There was nothing exclusive about their relationship. Obama was just another politician that Rezko supported - but there was no quid pro quo. There isn’t a shred of evidence that Obama ever used his political office to benefit Rezko or any of his business enterprises. There also isn’t a shred of evidence to prove that Obama had any knowledge of any Rezko dealings that were criminal in nature. Yet Obama is being criticized for not being prescient - for not knowing that Rezko would one day be indicted, tried and convicted of criminal activity. And do we really want a president who doesn’t have the ability to apply hindsight in advance? That’s the implication contained in the attacks by Krauthammer and other right wingers. They want to condemn Obama for not knowing what Rezko was doing in all of his business and political activities. They want to condemn him for not having the gift of second sight. I too lacked that ability when I was a supporter of now jailed former Republican Governor George Ryan of Illinois. Does that reveal a flaw in my character that would render me unfit for some high elective office? Would that also apply to anyone who ever knew or associated in any way with the former governor? It gets more ridiculous by the minute.

And finally there’s the Reverend Jeremiah Wright - and you can be sure the attack dogs won’t let the reverend enjoy a peaceful retirement. How, they ask, could Obama remain a member of a church for so many years where the pastor preached anti-Americanism? How indeed? Except that the premise is untrue. Anyone with access to a television set or the Internet has seen and heard snippets from some of Wright’s fiery sermons. They were fiery all right - in the same way that some of the nutty evangelical preachers so beloved of Republicans deliver fiery sermons to their flocks. But not un-American. The guy was a marine and a medical technician in the navy before he went into the preaching business. Hardly the background of an America hater. So when Wright said "Goddamn America" - he wasn’t saying "F You America - I hate your guts." He was saying that in his belief, God damns America for its treatment of its African American citizens. Remember the line was "Goddamn America - it’s in the Bible." Evangelical nuts preach the same sort of craziness. They get up in their pulpits and say such things as the tragedy that befell New Orleans was a punishment from God because of that city’s tolerance of gays. And just the other day at a McCain rally, there was a preacher telling the crowd that people of non Christian faiths around the world were praying for Obama to win and exhorting our God to defeat their God. There’s plenty of nuttiness to go around when it comes to men of the cloth.

But Krauthammer et al want to apply the same narrow standard of character judgment to Obama’s church membership as they do to his association with Ayers and Rezko. As far as Krauthammer is concerned, the snippets of Jeremiah Wright that we saw on television and You Tube for months on end, were the totality of Trinity United Church - and how on earth can we trust a man who continues to belong to such a church? He might as well ask how we could trust the lawyers, doctors, politicians, business people and others whose names are not Barack or Hussein or Obama but who’ve attended that same church year after year. They must all have terribly flawed characters - including one time member Oprah Winfrey. It gets sillier and sillier - this guilt by association nonsense.

But the core of Krauthammer’s column are the two conclusions that he draws from Obama’s association with the evil three. One - he’s a ruthless cynic who used these people. He doesn’t say how Obama used them, but it sure sounds dark and dangerous enough to fill gaps in the minds of non thinkers. Ayers for example. He doesn’t tell us how Obama used Ayers but he does ask how Obama could even shake hands with such an unrepentant terrorist - let alone sit on boards with him . Makes you think, doesn’t it? Soon to follow I assume, are a series of columns asking the same question of Chicago Tribune publisher Scott Smith, Dean of the College of Education of the University of Chicago Victoria J. Chou, Field Museum president John W. McCarter, Jr and others who sat on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Board along with Ayers. Maybe they never shook his hand and thus weren’t tainted as was Obama. Or maybe Obama was "using" ALL of the people on those boards he sat on. Or maybe they were all using Ayers. It gets complicated when you engage in long distance diagnosis.

The other Krauthammer conclusion about these three evil associations of Obama is that they represent a reflection of his core beliefs. He didn’t see their views as "beyond the pale." For many years, he says, Obama swam easily and without protest in that fetid pond. Isn’t that a neat turn of a phrase?

Thus, using Obama’s "association" with three out of Lord knows how many people he has "associated" with over the years, Psychiatrist Krauthammer has "diagnosed" the man who would be president in the truly scientific fashion of former Senate Majority Leader - Cardiologist Bill Frist’s tape diagnosis of Terry Schiavo. To which I can only say - thanks to whatever Gods may be that this man no longer practices psychiatry on unsuspecting patients. He does enough damage applying his pyschiatric training to his political writings.

Ed Schultz has been saying it on his radio show for months and I have to agree with him - these people are out of material.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I haven’t had much time available to spend at the computer so far this week, so I’m going to cover a few disparate items during this session. First a word to Republican friends, acquaintances, readers of this blog and relatives who send me e-mails about various things - and yes, both my wife and I have Republican family members. As you might surmise from my opening line, I barely have time to sit and write my own views and opinions. I certainly don’t have the time to read right wing views that you may send me or click on the endless links to endless nonsense about Barack Obama, so please don’t waste your time finding these things and sending them to me. A good many have been about how Democrats are responsible for the sub-prime debacle and the subsequent world’s financial meltdown and I was tempted to take a moment to comment of that accusation until I read Clarence Page’s column in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune - and he says it well enough to cover much of what I might say - so click away if you feel inclined. He didn’t mention the 60 trillion or so dollars of credit default swaps that are floating around out there and in an ironic semantic twist are defaulting all over the place and that surely must have been invented by Democrats to bring down the financial underpinnings of our nation to accomplish their nefarious secret agenda - but a good column nonetheless. Way to go Clarence.

I watched the so called debate the other night. I call it "so called" because it was nothing like a real debate. If you want see what real political debate looks like and if you have a cable or satellite TV connection, tune in Question Time in the House some time - that the British House of Commons - and watch Gordon Brown and David Cameron go at each other. It’s usually on one topic at a time interspersed with questions from back benchers - but the back and forth rhetoric between the two party leaders is articulate, understandable and directly to the point. They don’t need anyone timing them. They take no more than a minute or so at a time to make a point or to rebut their opponent. On Tuesday night at Belmont University, audience members asked questions and got less of direct answers than rehashes of previously held positions. Here’s just one example that had me yelling at the screen - "answer the question!!" And here’s the question, posed first to Obama:
Senator, selling health care coverage in America as the marketable commodity has become a very profitable industry. Do you believe health care should be treated as a commodity?
Obama answered by talking about the importance of the health care issue and about his plan to hold down costs and then we had McCain talking about the difference between his health plan and Obama’s and then Obama rebutting McCain - and nowhere did anyone attempt to answer the lady’s question. How I wished for a moment for a Dennis Kucinich to be on that stage. He might have talked about his ideas for health care but for sure he would have started out by answering the question posed and said absolutely health care should not be bought and sold like a commodity.

Other than the non-answering of questions, the event provided no real insights other than a disturbing look into the mind of John McCain. In his first debate with Obama he wouldn’t look at him and made no secret of his utter disdain for the junior senator from Illinois. At least he never called him boy - but he came pretty close Tuesday night. Senator - unless I receive incontrovertible proof that the man we believe to be Barack Obama is in fact a doppleganger from another planet - or worse - an Islamic terrorist surgically reconstructed to resemble your Democratic opponent, I fully intend to vote for him. I am reasonably sure that the way he is addressed by most of his fellow senators - perhaps 98 of them - will be the way his name will appear on the ballot and not as you referred to him, finger gleefully pointing and grin in full face - "That One!!"

I’ve come to the conclusion that these so called debates are a waste of time. At this stage of the election, most people know who they’re going to vote for. If there are still "undecided" voters, surely their decision will not be made by something one or the other candidate says in one of these appearances. There are enough clips of the two of them giving their stump speeches - and you can find just about everything there that you will hear the say in their "debates." But of course there may be people who will be influenced to vote one way or another by something one of the candidates says at one of these meetings. They were described by John Oliver on last night’s Daily Show - The Stupids. Well worth a look.

I almost classify the wastefulness of presidential debates with the wastefulness of many - not all but a great many congressional hearings. Calling in executives from failed financial companies who have taken home millions in salary and bonuses to berate them accomplishes absolutely nothing - unless the idea is to act as surrogates for all of our anger and frustration. But in the end it leaves us even more frustrated. Unless there is a possibility that these people have broken laws - legal as opposed to moral, which of course they have violated - there is no point to our elected officials wasting time that could be more valuably spent trying to figure how we can enact laws to prevent the disaster we are now experiencing without being overly intrusive in our lives and businesses.

On the same subject, it’s interesting to note how much of the rest of the world is following our financial meltdown - interesting because of how clearly it demonstrates how much the countries of the world are interconnected and interdependent. It’s interesting because Barack Obama has consistently said that we need other countries with us to solve the world’s problems and to have them with us, we must have their respect and trust- as opposed to so many on the right who blather that they don’t give a damn what other countries think about the United States of America. I didn’t hear the debate between Dennis Prager and Stephanie Miller that took place after the other debate on Tuesday - but I did hear about Prager’s comment that he only wanted his family to love him when discussing the question of our relationships with other countries. You can’t see much with your head buried in the sand. Unless of course your eyes are located in your ass.

On a totally different subject, the more I hear about and see clips of Bill Maher's RELIGUOUS - the more I look forward to seeing it. I don’t know if some of the things Maher has been saying in interviews about religious beliefs and politicians are in the movie - but I hope they are We all know that no candidate can be elected President of the United States without professing - not just a belief in a deity - but a profound faith in the dictates of a religion - and of course in this country that religion is Christianity. Maher hopes that in private moments, candidates don’t believe for a moment what they are compelled to say in public. Another way of saying what Jeremiah Wright said at the National Press Club after he had been condemned by Obama for his intemperate statements - "I do what pastors do - he does what politicians do." Well, when it comes to religion, I hope so. I hope that what we hear politicians say about religion is what they feel they have to say and not what they truly believe. Maher doesn’t say that he doesn’t believe in God - or some kind of deity. Just that he believes organized religions are nonsensical, a belief with which I heartily agree.

I’ll finish today with a comment on how disturbing this presidential campaign has become. Both sides have said inaccurate things in their television and radio ads and in stump speeches. Some have been outright lies - made up out of whole cloth. You can go to a neutral site like Fact Check to see who is the worst offender. But what disturbs me most is the increasing ugliness of the McCain campaign. I know that he is behind in the polls and that that kind of problem frequently dictates political strategy - and that strategy is often a strategy of personal attack on your opponent. But when you have someone like Sarah Palin giving a stump speech in which she implies that Obama is something less than a true American because he "pals around with terrorists" - and people in the audience yell "terrorist" and "kill him" and Governor Palin just smiles and doesn’t condemn that kind of response and neither does Senator McCain, you have to wonder what we have become as a nation. On the PBS News Hour last night, Jim Lehrer spoke with journalists from three battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - and they spoke of voters they had interviewed who had said quite openly that they wouldn’t vote for a black man, Let’s hope that the percentage of people who feel that way is small. This is a watershed moment in American history. We have an opportunity to prove to ourselves and to the world that we have matured and shed one of the great evils of our past by electing Barack Obama. Let’s hope the polls hold true up to November 4 and that the vote will be strong enough to overcome the efforts to steal the election that are already in full force.

One last thing about "palling around with terrorists." We have two distinguished universities in the Chicago area. The University of Chicago where retired professor Yoichiro Nambu just won a Nobel Prize - and Northwestern University where the Wildcats are 5 and 0 going into this Saturday’s game against Michigan State. Over at the U of C, we have that terrorist of the sixties who sat on a charity board of which Barack Obama was also a member - and in whose house Illinois State Senator Alice Palmer introduced the man who was running for the seat that she was resigning to members of the local community. That’s Bill Ayers - currently holding the title and position of "distinguished professor" - and the name that is a central focus of Sarah Palin’s stumps speech and frequently mentioned by Senator McCain whenever he thinks he can get away with it. And at the NWU, we have Bernadine Dorn - along with Ayers - a former member of the sixties Weather Underground group, holding the title of Associate Professor of Law.

I don’t know the total number of faculty, staff and students on campus at these two seats of learning, but surely they constitute a small army of potentially dangerous people who, if not terrorists themselves, are certainly - according to the theory being advanced on a daily basis by the lady who would be vice president of the United States - palling around with known domestic terrorists. Someone should alert the FBI or the CIA or the Chicago and Evanston police chiefs. Just think - without the watchful pair on this year’s Republican ticket, this sort of thing might have gone unnoticed for years - but now we have an opportunity to nip it in the bud.

Terrorists!!! Kill them!! (Some of then might even be black).

Friday, October 03, 2008

Wow, what a week.

The financial crisis that appears to be upon us is being described as the worst since the great depression and that if we don’t do something - "something" being pass a bill in congress to bail out the system, our economy could grind to a halt, credit would dry up and thousands of jobs will be lost. And all of this must be true because the people telling us this are experts in this sort of thing and know that a + b will most assuredly lead to C. It was ever thus and always will be. It’s the way of the gossamer world of economics.

I have to admit to being confused, not being schooled in economics -perhaps because it isn’t being explained to us mere mortals in language that we can understand. We are being told that this isn’t a bailout of Wall Street. It’s a problem of "Main Street." And the nature of that problem is that the credit markets have "frozen up" -as though some strange ice filled cloud has descended upon the land - and without the warmth that a 700 billion dollar congressional bill can provide, we will most assuredly all freeze to death. To which I respond - in the style of Pete Seeger - Where Has All The Money Gone? I am of course familiar with the scene in It’s A Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart is trying to avoid a panic run on the old Bedford Falls Saving and Loan and addressing a distraught savings account holder
No, but you...you... you're thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The, the money's not here. Well, your money's in Joe's house... that's right next to yours. And in the Kennedy House, and Mrs. Macklin's house, and, and a hundred others. Why, you're lending them the money to build, and then, they're going to pay it back to you as best they can. Now what are you going to do? Foreclose on them?
But of course the economic system of the United States is a little larger than a small town, fictional savings and loan, so I have to repeat my question. Has all the money in all the banks been poured into the sub-prime market and not being re-paid? Of course that doesn’t make sense because those crazy quilt mortgages weren’t created and serviced the way it used to be with mortgages - like the one I took out a thousand years ago to buy my house. It was at a local bank to which I sent payments every month and from which I received the paid in full documents after 30 years of making those payments. Today, mortgages are traded - bought and sold like shares in the over the counter market. So if all the lending institutions don’t have all or a huge portion of their depositors’ money tied up in these mortgages - where’s the credit crunch? It wasn’t there a few weeks ago, before some of these financial companies began to collapse like a house of cards - and even as they collapsed, giant companies swallowed them up like whales feasting on minnows. J.P. Morgan Chase swallowed Wamu. Bank of America devoured Merrill Lynch while still savoring the taste of Countrywide. Either Citigroup or Wells Fargo will be dining on Wachovia - and you have to wonder how bad things are when giants are falling over each other competing to grab these shaky financial institutions.

I don’t have any inside information but I’m reasonably sure that the money supply that we are told isn’t being loaned out is still in all of those financial institutions that are being affected by this strange freeze that has come upon us and not stuffed under people’s mattresses from coast to coast. When Warren Buffet pumped five billion into Goldman Sachs a few days ago and followed that up with a three billion investment in GE, I have to believe that he wrote checks or some such action calling on his banks to send the money where he wanted it sent. And from what I’ve been reading, other billionaires around the world are doing similar things - pumping billions into buying up pieces of major companies at bargain prices. There’s money floating around all over the place and as I watch all of this going on I keep asking myself why there’s a credit crunch- and where is it?

We keep hearing that as long as this crunch continues, people won’t be able to get mortgages or buy cars on credit - though no specifics are cited. On the radio station I mostly listen to, I hear ads from a mortgage company several times a day. They’re writing 30 year mortgages at a highly competitive rate. On television yesterday Lend America wasn’t just offering home mortgages but offering to help people in trouble with their current mortgages. No shortage of credit there. And unless the sky falls tonight, I expect to see my weekend papers filled with ads from automobile dealers complete with descriptions of the credit deals available. So where and why is there a credit crunch? The answer I suppose is that the reason there’s a credit crunch in some areas of our economy is that the banks that have the money are reluctant to loan it out - even to each other. It’s not that they don’t have enough cash on hand to make loans - it’s that they’re fearful to make them - so it seems we’re back to perception as reality that has either created the crisis the experts tell us threatens to destroy our economy - or is making it worse than it is. If everyone believes that we’re in trouble - then we are in trouble.

Leading congressional proponents of this bailout or rescue plan, pork laden as it exited the Senate yesterday and affirmed by the House today, tell us that because such knowledgeable people as Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke agree that some version of what they have proposed is the only way out of the mess that they say we are in , we need to trust their judgment and do what they ask of us - and do it now. Well they passed a much altered version of what the experts said was needed, but from what I can see, it still leaves the hen house unguarded - or maybe worse, guarded by the fox that has been causing Farmer USA all the trouble. I can tell you that it doesn’t fill me with confidence about the near term economic future. Remember the people who brought us this rescue plan are closely related to the little old man with the green visor working at his roll top desk in the bowels of the New York Stock Exchange, churning out a daily explanation of why the stock market went up, down or sideways - an explanation faithfully repeated as an item of news by trusting members of the print and broadcast media.

I’m just not convinced that we’re not being sold a bunch of band instruments and fancy uniforms as the solution to all the troubles that we have right here in River City.

Oh - and there was a debate last night. Governor Palin was appropriately perky - though inappropriately overly folksy. But she did a good job of remembering her talking points and one liners and she was helped by Gwen Ifill who didn’t pose a single question that couldn’t have been anticipated and prepared for. Even so, Ms Palin decided not to answer some of them and talk about whatever she had been prepped to talk about. It of course changed nothing. People who are supporting the Republican ticket I am sure were very pleased with her performance. People supporting the Obama /Biden ticket are still supporting the ticket. The post debate polls seemed to indicate that most viewers though Biden had "won" the debate and perhaps that might indicate that some who have been sitting on the fence have moved over to the Obama/Biden column.

Between now and the election, I don’t think we’ll see much of Governor Palin except at rallies where she is able to bring out enthusiastic crowds. I can’t imagine that she will do any more interviews. The problem with interviews is that the questions that interviewers ask can’t always be anticipated and prepared for with memorized talking points. So it gets a little tough when an interviewer asks what newspapers and magazines she reads and what Supreme Court decisions she disagrees with. - like that decision about that oil spill up in Alaska. I mean those are really hard questions that can’t be answered by saying that your fondest wish is for world peace. So don’t look for Sarah on Meet The Press or This Week or Face the Nation. Something to be grateful for in these troubled times.