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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Since this blog is one of general commentary, I don’t feel obligated to comment on the President’s State of the Nation speech. I didn’t listen that closely and so I don’t have a count of the number of interruptions for standing ovations, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for that important piece of nonsensical information. On to more interesting things.

It’s been a while since I had any comments about judges, lawyers and criminal defendants - I think the last time was about the Michael Jackson child molestation case - but I can’t pass up the Drew Peterson case. When his case finally comes to trial - for those who have been off planet for a while, the former Bolinbrook Illinois police officer is accused of murdering his third wife by drowning her in a bathtub in 2004 - a death that had originally been ruled an accident - and his fourth wife, a young lady less than half his age, has mysteriously disappeared. He hasn’t been charged with killing wife number four yet, but that’s probably just a matter of time. When the wife number three case finally comes to trial, I predict it will get national coverage - maybe not on the scale of Jackson or O.J. - but heavy nonetheless and I’ll likely be among those contributing to the hullabaloo with commentary.

My prediction is that Peterson will be found guilty based on a plethora of hearsay evidence which may or may not be allowed at his trial. That might sound a little strange because, you might ask, if it is not allowed at trial, how could it be the reason for a jury to convict? The answer of course can be found in the mini-trial now going on to determine whether any hearsay "evidence" will be allowed under a new Illinois law, enacted precisely because of and for the Peterson case. Peterson’s lawyers asked that any consideration of hearsay evidence be held behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes and ears of the news media, their rationale being that if the hearsay evidence being considered is exposed to the public, it would taint the prospective jury pool. The judge, one Stephen White, decided, in his wisdom, that he would hear and rule on potential hearsay evidence in open court - and in full view of the news media.

The result of course has been that the witnesses - and there have been a bunch of them - have had their stories detailed on the nightly new and in the area’s newspapers day after day. Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune for example, had the latest testimony on the front page!! Much of the potential hearsay evidence has been of the same nature. Peterson said all kinds of allegedly self incriminating things to a variety of people. And missing wife number four allegedly told people that if she turned up missing, Peterson did "it" - or words to that effect. If the story was submitted in script form to a television soap opera, it would probably be rejected as too unbelievable - even for a soap opera.

I don’t know if Peterson is guilty or innocent of any crime. I do know from watching and listening to him in news reports for months before he was arrested that he is an insensitive idiot who seems to think that its appropriate to act like a clown when talking about his missing wife whose body is being searched for by friends and family members - but not by him. He may be a serial killer, but there are no eye witnesses and no physical evidence linking him to any crime. The totality of the evidence is the suspicious disappearance of wife number four, and the suspicious death of wife number three which has been ruled a homicide five years after she was found dead - and THAT charge was precipitated by the publicity created by wife four’s disappearance for which he has not been charged - at least not yet.

All of the "evidence" against Peterson consists of the apparently incriminating things he said to a variety of people, of suspicious acts about which hearsay evidence has been offered - and things that wives three and four said to a number of people before their respective death and disappearance. It will make absolutely no difference if Judge White decides that all or none of the hearsay "evidence" will be allowed at trial. It has already been allowed. Radio, television and newspaper reports of every word that Judge White has been considering have been exposed to the entire jury pool area - and beyond. Even a successful plea for a change if venue wouldn’t help his case - unless it was to a foreign country that was without radio, television, newspapers and Internet access.

In my view, Peterson’s goose is cooked. Even without any direct evidence against him, his chances didn’t look too good - but having heard all of what once would not have been allowed to be heard as part of a murder trial, it would be a rare juror who would conclude that Drew Peterson is the unluckiest man in the world and not a serial killer. Nonetheless, what is going on in Judge White’s courtroom is a far cry from justice and the concept of presumption of innocence and a fair trial. I know if I was on his jury, it would be hard for me to ignore all that I have already heard from witnesses who may not be allowed to testify.

Anyone facing a criminal charge is automatically at a disadvantage. Unless you’re a multi-millionaire, the odds are against you. The state or other authority has virtually unlimited resources. Prosecutors are already on salary and available. The state doesn’t have to be concerned with attorney’s retainers and hourly rates as does a defendant. The state doesn’t have to hire investigators or forensic experts. But rich or poor, what any defendant is entitled to is as level a playing field as possible. In the past, one of those playing field levelers was the inadmissibility of hearsay evidence. When Peterson comes to trial, because the law in Illinois has been changed - some such evidence may be admissible - but it really doesn’t matter because it has already been heard - word for word - and from where I sit, that guarantees that Peterson can NOT get a fair trial. And considering what has been going on for days in Judge White’s courtroom, I think it will be as close you can get to being double jeopardy!!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The final demise of Air America comes as no surprise to me. Even before the star crossed venture was launched - when it was still in the idea stage - I predicted failure. Less than six months later I expressed misgivings about their business plan - and repeated many of the same sentiments a year after that - almost to the day. I may have written about it again since April 2005, but I don’t have the time to through all of my blog postings to find it. My feelings are the same now as they were then. Air America got off on the wrong foot and never recovered its balance - if it ever had any. But there’s nothing lost with its demise. "Liberal" talk radio - if you can call it that - is thriving the way Air America could have thrived - as just a program syndicator and not a buyer of air time on secondary, low output radio stations.

The liberal talkers aren’t on as many stations as the leading right wing ranters and ravers (RWRAR’s) - but that’s no surprise. Limbaugh and company created the "hate and attack the political opposition" genre and were up to full steam by the time liberals realized what was happening. The Air America project was reactive rather than proactive and thus doomed to the role of forever playing catch up. That liberal radio isn’t as widely heard is because of station ownership and station availability with the RWRAR’s having a lock on so many stations - not the content and presentation of the likes of Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, Bill Press, Thom Hartmann and others.

But what prompts me to comment is not so much the bankruptcy but the reactions I read on line to published news stories at such sites as Reuters where the results of right wing brainwashing is vividly displayed. I was particularly struck by someone’s belief that Air America failed "despite all the government funding it received." If the person who posted that bit of knowledge reads this, would he/she please let me know how to get a piece of that mythical government funding.

No matter what the facts, those who accept the right wing spin on anything will believe and continue to believe that Air America failed because they had lousy programming and no one was listening, despite the ratings being currently enjoyed by the above mentioned liberal talkers, in many markets going head to head with and beating one of the big RWRAR’s.


My comments on the Massachusetts election is prompted by the fact that just about everyone seems to know why the Republican won and what the victory "means." I’m not among the ones who claim to know the "meaning" of Mr. Brown’s elevation to fill the balance of the late Ted Kennedy’s term - but I have a few thoughts.

First a few numbers. In the presidential election, Obama got around 1,900,000 votes and McCain a little more than 1,100,000. A pretty impressive victory for Obama but over a million for McCain wasn’t a bad showing either. In the special election, the numbers for Brown were 1,168,107 and for Coakley 1,058,622. That means that Brown’s and McCain’s numbers were very close to each other. We can’t say that all of Brown’s support came from Republicans or Republican leaning independents, but the similarity of his and McCain’s numbers would tend to suggest that they were a heavy component of Brown’s vote. And without question, those who were Republicans were - to borrow from the man they voted against last November - "fired up and ready to go." To them, this was more like a mid-term than a special election and they turned out accordingly.

The Democratic numbers speak for themselves. 845,000 less for Coakley than for Obama 14 months ago. Those votes didn’t go to Brown. They went nowhere The Democratic voters were neither fired up nor ready to go. Perhaps they might have been had their candidate been one who could have articulated the importance of maintaining at least a possible filibuster proof Senate - but what they got was someone who inherited what seemed to be an insurmountable lead in the polls after winning the Democratic primary and proceeded to vie for the title or world’s greatest exponent of how to lose an election. I know if someone was running for the United States Senate in my state and showed disdain for the idea of standing out in the cold and greeting voters at a train station or anywhere else as Coakley did, responding to a video of Brown doing just that, the chances of them getting my vote would be somewhere in the range of slim to none.

Maybe a component of the vote was unhappiness with Obama or with the health care debacle - but I believe it was more a case of Brown running a more appealing race and Coakley running an abysmal one. If Brown can win a six year term against someone who’s known to Massachusetts voters and knows how to run a campaign, then maybe his recent victory is, as some conservatives have suggested, the beginning of a political reversal of fortune in the United States. If so, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m wrong about the significance or lack thereof of the Brown victory. But I don’t think I am.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What can I say about yesterday’s Supreme Court decision that would be any more revealing than the words of writer Chayefsky in the 1976 movie "Network." The words were spoken by television executive Arthur Jensen, played by Ned Beatty - and by news anchor Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch who had gone berserk on the air with the following rant:
"I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be!

We all know things are bad -- worse than bad -- they're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone."

Well, I'm not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first, you've got to get mad. You've gotta say, "I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value!" So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, " I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!"
After which Beale is cornered by Jensen, and this is the relevant portion of his memorable, 2010 US Supreme Courtish speech:
"You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians! There are no Arabs! There are no Third Worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immune, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds and shekels! It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic, and subatomic and galactic structure of things today. And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT and T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon - those are the nations of the world today."
And those "nations" with their Petro-Dollars and Electro-dollars and all the other kinds of currencies have been unleashed upon the American political system courtesy of John Roberts. Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas because up to now, as we all know, there’s been not nearly enough money available to flood the airways with "information" about those running for or holding political office.

Truth in fiction. Life imitating art. Call it what you want but Paddy Chayefsky called it 34 years ago. We’re heading for the bizzaro world he portrayed in "Network." Get used to it and pray that we can hang on to a Democratic president long enough to restore sanity to our highest court.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

They’re really something these New England people. First they eschew the opportunity to send Joe Lieberman into retirement and instead send him back to Washington to become obstructionist-in-chief in the path of any progressive idea while ready to be supporter-in-chief of any kind of military action. Maybe military action is good for his health care insurance overlords. Then the voters of Massachusetts send someone to replace the late Ted Kennedy who is the antithesis of everything that Kennedy believed or stood for throughout his career. It’s as though the people of the Bay State rented a fleet of buses to travel to Arlington National Cemetery to spit on Ted Kennedy’s grave - and while they were there, to expectorate on the graves of John and Bobby - just for good measure.

I heard an alleged independent voter in a newscast "explain" that Brown "ran a good campaign" while Coakley was nowhere to be seen - or words to that effect. He didn’t add that Brown was good looking which of course is never an issue for the thoughtful and well informed voters of this nation. Or maybe he really wanted to see deadlock in Washington for the foreseeable future. That would have been a good reason to vote for someone who could evoke "good job Brownie" from the party of NO hierarchy.

Regrettably, there is no filibuster available for those who looked past the glamour of the Brown campaign and voted for Coakley. That kind of privilege is only available to as few as a single individual in the "Through the Looking Glass" world known as the Senate of the United States. It is often said that the US Senate is "the world’s greatest deliberative body." Any visitor from another planet who spent time observing the workings of the Senate during the first year of Obama’s presidency would, I believe, come to a different conclusion. For my money, we have surpassed what I have often thought was the nuttiest of democratic legislative bodies - that of Israel’s Knesset - where government can’t function without partisanship - not BI partisanship - but cobbled together agreements between members of as many parties as it takes to achieve a majority.

In the bizzaro world of the US Senate, white is black, up is down and the minority rules!! There is no other way to describe it when a minority of 40 senators can force not just a simple majority to pass any legislation - as is the way in other of the world’s democracies - but a 60% majority. According to the rules of the Senate, no legislation can pass if the minority invokes the 60 vote rule and now that the Republicans have 41 votes, they have the ability to bring legislation to a standstill and give every indication that they intend to do just that, starting on this - the first anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration.

There has been talk in the past of changing the rules of the Senate - perhaps reducing the number needed for debate closure from 60 to 55 - perhaps going back to the old days of filibustering, where senators were required to stay on the floor of the Senate and keep talking. I think something more drastic is needed - something like adopting the rules of the House where a majority rules. 51 votes and that’s that. Or when the Senate is equally divided - the vice-president to break the tie. And no ability for a single Senator to hold up the consideration of any presidential appointment. It’s nutty enough when a Senator representing less people than the population of Chicago or Philadelphia has the same voting weight as one representing millions. That should be enough power and privilege for anyone.

But we’re talking about Washington and Washington politics. It’s sort of fun but gives me little satisfaction to write about what should be. It ain’t gonna happen. Forget it Israel. You’ve been legislatively out-nutted. Just get used to being in second place.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

There are almost no words to describe the way Rush Limbaugh has used the tragedy of Haiti and the US aid efforts as little more than a convenient springboard from which to launch a few more days of his unique brand of broadcast hate. While most conservative on air pundits are at least speaking of the tragedy with some degree of sympathy, some even guiding their viewers and listeners to places to donate money, Limbaugh is using it as an opportunity to attack the president in racist terms while discouraging his listeners from making aid donations via the White House. We’ve grown used to Limbaugh and I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. We know there is no pit for this "thing" as Keith Olbemann so aptly named him the other night - too deep for him to crawl into. And we know he has an audience to whom this filth appeals, so perhaps it is useless to expect a negative reaction from them. But I have to ask - as I have done here before, what of his sponsors? Tiger Woods is revealed as a philanderer and his sponsors can’t drop their association with him fast enough. Limbaugh preaches hate day in and day out, spews lies on a regular basis and has chosen to use the occasion of one of the worst tragedies in recent history to trivialize the outpouring of the American people’s physical and monetary help to the people of Haiti and to attack the motives of our president - and his sponsors say and do nothing because he is able to persuade his audience to buy their products and services. Pat Robertson says that the Haitians are suffering because they made a pact with the devil to help them throw off the shackles of French domination. If there is such a thing, it would seem more likely that the sponsors of the Rush Limbaugh program are the ones who have made a pact with a devil and if they continue to not do or say nothing about his current behavior while millions of Americans react, as we always do in times of such tragedies, with sympathy and generosity, they - his financial enablers - should be ashamed to call themselves Americans.

I list Pat Robertson as a fellow "despicable" but in a sense, he has lots of company in people who do not consider themselves and who are not considered by others as despicable. Just as we have come to accept Limbaugh for what he is, we shouldn’t be surprised when Robertson uses a tragedy such as this to make one of his ridiculous pronouncements. But I doubt that it’s much more ridiculous than what can be heard on any given Sunday or Saturday or any other day in houses of worship as ministers of various faiths hold forth on the workings of their version of a deity. I have to wonder how many people of faith who find Robertson’s remarks disgusting, un-Christian or in any of a hundred ways unacceptable, also believe that all that happens, does so as a result of "The will of God."

How many times have we heard - and will continue to hear people give "thanks to God" for the miraculous rescue of some child from beneath a pile rubble when no one thought it possible that anyone could still be alive after so many days. But what does this really say about religious belief? That it was "God’s will" that the earthquake took place in the first place but that there were certain people that he had decided to spare from death? Or perhaps that the earthquake was a natural disaster having nothing to do with the will of any deity but that once it occurred, God stepped in to save a certain number of people?

Pat Robertson is far from unique in expressing a belief that great human tragedies occur as a result of God’s wrath at some form of human misbehavior. There are plenty of examples of such belief in the Bible. It’s just that Robertson has more of a bully pulpit than other so called religious leaders - and he is also a nut case, so more prone to making ridiculous and harmful pronouncements at the most inappropriate moments in history. He should be tarred and feathered and run out of the700 Club at the business end of a pitchfork. And his organization’s tax exempt status should be removed immediately. It won’t happen of course. We’ve allowed religious organizations and their leaders to get away with murder for years and there’s no sign of us changing how we view their place in society.

And yet the words of Robertson and Limbaugh - and perhaps those of others who have less of the public’s attention - beg the question - what do we do about people like this, particularly Limbaugh? How long does a civilized society put up with the likes of a Rush Limbaugh? We live in a free society, a bedrock of which is the right of free speech, so we can’t look to government to take him off the air and lock him away in a padded cell. (The padded cell wouldn’t be to protect him from self harm - just to protect others from the sound of his voice). And it’s pretty clear that we can’t look to his sponsors to withdraw their financial support or for radio station owners to be overcome with a terminal case of decency and replace his daily invective with a Beatles marathon. They are all in this together. Money, by way of mass appeal to the information deprived, trumps all sense of decency and fealty to truth. It is a three ring circus display of America at its worst. The ugliest of Americans as exalted spokesman for the ignorant and bigoted among us.

I don’t have an answer to the questions I have posed that would pass legal muster but I would imagine that millions of my fellow citizens have had some of the same dark thoughts that this man has stirred in me. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who I have quoted above, said the other night that there would be "consequences" for what Limbaugh has said about the tragedy of the Haitian people. I don’t know what he thinks they might be but I hope that there are consequences. This excuse for a man does not deserve to be any part of a civilized society.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

12 days ago when I wrote about 2009 being the year of the nut jobs in politics and broadcasting, I omitted to mention Sara Palin , mostly because I felt she needed to be separated from the run of the mill nut jobs. As I return to the blogosphere, how could I not say something about Sarah Palin? She was beginning to fade from her media assigned role as a substitute for Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan when she won the 2009 award for the Year’s biggest lie. That would be the non-existent "death panels" that she claimed would bring Grandma’s life to an early end if the administration’s health care bill was passed. Well, it’s about to pass so look out Grandma. What can I say about the quitting Governor of Alaska other than the fact that she should offer a daily prayer to John McCain or whoever came up with the nutty idea of making her his vice presidential running mate. Snatched out of total obscurity, her now national recognition is making her a millionaire - or maybe even a multimillionaire with her "book," high priced "speaking" engagements and now a Fox "News" gig. Who the hell would pay thousands of dollars to "watch" her speak? It’s truly mind boggling. If I’m writing about her again in January of 2011, we will have truly descended into the abyss and I will start preparing for the Mayan prediction of an end to everything in 2012.

But the clear winner for the title of nut job of the year - the wormiest rotten apple in a putrid barrel of rotten apples - has to be Dick Cheney. I know Cheney the way millions of other Americans know him - from a distance. But some of those who have known him throughout his career have said that they don’t recognize "today’s" Cheney as the same man they knew years ago.

For my money, what Cheney and other politicians have done throughout their career should be illegal. From what I’ve read about the man, he had little or no work experience before getting into politics. Which of course made him a perfect candidate to become the CEO of Haliburton when he took a temporary hiatus from politics to make a quickie fortune. Of course they hired him for his vast knowledge of engineering and production and sales - like other CEO’s who work themselves up from the mail room to the executive suite. His insider contacts with the defense department was incidental to the skills that won him the job. Don’t take my word for it. Ask Santa Claus the next time you see him. I’ll give him this though. Unlike ex politicians who make smooth transitions to the career of lobbying their former colleagues, Cheney at least left Washington for a while. Haliburton is headquartered in Houston.

But if using his former position as Secretary of Defense as an entry to making his fortune as CEO of a defense contractor is odiferous and his involvement in promoting the lies that led us into the Iraq debacle and the outing of a CIA agent were potentially criminal acts, his current occupation as full time presidential attacker in a time which he describes over and over as a state of WAR is virtually treasonous. How else do you describe someone who - in war time - continues to say publicly that our elected leader is incapable of leading and everything that he does is wrong? Beginning almost from the day Barack Obama was sworn into office, the man has performed as a self appointed, permanent attack dog, criticizing anything the president says or does. Some say it’s a calculated preemptive defense against a possible criminal indictment for his alleged criminal activities while he was vice president - but that’s an unlikely outcome, given Obama’s Kumbaya approach to politics. Think Joe Lieberman.

Has there ever been an ex-president or vice president who has done anything like this? Not in my lifetime, that’s for sure.

Still, what prompted me to write this piece was the few minutes I spent watching Meet the Press on Sunday and observing with disgust the appearance of another Cheney - number two daughter Liz. Whenever I see Liz Cheney or hear about some ridiculous thing that she has said about President Obama, it makes me think of Mel Gibson. Gibson is someone who grew up in a house of hatred - but instead of rejecting his father’s anti-Semitism - embraced it. You could almost forgive him for defending his father against his detractors but not for carrying on the family business of hate. Similarly, I wouldn’t condemn Liz Cheney for coming to her father’s defense against his detractors - but she seems to be following the Gibsom example of embracing her father’s views and voicing them at every opportunity. Which begs the question - what in the hell is wrong with our news media?

It’s not just Liz Cheney that has me reaching for a bottle of Tums whenever I see or hear her - but her rock group sounding cohorts. The enablers. Liz Cheney and the Enablers. The daughter and the news media - especially the electronic news media and in particular the news panel programs. Why? What is she doing there? Why do they invite her? Is it because she shares the name of the former vice president and thus enjoys some inherited right of recognition as one whose views can be considered newsworthy? Does that mean if Chelsea Clinton starts making derogatory comments about George W Bush, she should be invited to make the rounds of the Sunday morning shows? If Karenna, Kristen or Sarah Gore decided to start calling Politico to make nasty remarks about Liz Cheney’s dad, should Bob Scheiffer rush to get all three of them on Face the Nation?

There are children of politicians who follow in their parent’s footsteps and get themselves elected to public office and perhaps carve out a reputation that would merit invitations to appear on the Sunday morning opinion marathon - but until then, who the hell wants to hear their opinions? Not me and I suspect not many of the millions who tune in the Sunday morning TV line up, looking for informed opinion and not nonsensical invective. Maybe it'll take a ratings drop that they can associate with a Liz Cheney appearance to bring the TV networks to their senses - but I don't hold out much hope. It's the age of the realty show and a book length gossip column about Washington politicians. Ed Murrow must be turning in his grave.