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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Health annoyances have kept me away from the blogosphere for a few days and I may be commenting only sporadically for the next few weeks - I’m getting my second new knee in April - but for now, here’s a quick follow up to my comments about the Jewish right’s support of the Republican rhetoric that is fueling threats and acts of violence against Democratic representatives.

Ask and ye shall receive. I asked where the outrage and condemnation was from the Jewish right - the answer was there on the very next day. Jonah Goldberg expressed his outrage at the passage of healthcare reform. Railing against the president, he wrote " You won dirty against bipartisan opposition from both Congress and a majority of Americans." Gee Jonah - I guess when you win an election and there’s opposition to a piece of legislation from the losing party and a handful of members of the winning party - that’s "winning dirty." He went on to say that the president has polarized the country and probably bankrupted us too. Not a word about the growing incidence of violence. Not a word about calls to violence from the likes of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman. He’s just outraged that maybe we’ve taken the first step toward catching up with the rest of the industrial world in providing citizens with guaranteed healthcare without sending thousands into the same bankruptcy that he predicts for the entire nation.

Eric Cantor also obliged with his own expression of outrage - except that his outrage was at the Democratic party for "fanning the flames" because they had the temerity to allege that Republicans bore responsibility for inciting the violent acts. The noble Mr. Cantor explained that he himself had been the target of threats in the past because he was Jewish and he never blamed anyone. He didn’t mention that the encouragement to threaten him because of his religious faith came from crowds in the street and in the halls of Congress, waiving banners describing him as the anti-Christ and calling him Christ killer and filthy Jew while the Democratic members of Congress cheered them on. He forgot to mention the Democratic representatives who called an item of Republican proposed legislation "Armageddon" and being "more to fear than acts of terrorism." And of course he forgot to mention those despicable liberal broadcasters, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who day after day told their information deprived listeners and viewers that those ultra right wing members of the Republican administration - led by the most right wing of all Barrack Obama - were bent on turning this beloved country into a communist style dictatorship. Hell - not just a communist style - an actual communist dictatorship!!

I mention all this so you will understand the source of Congressman Cantor’s outrage. He’s far too modest to tell you any of these things himself. Above all, he doesn’t want to "fan the flames."

All kidding aside, these people scare me to death. They demonize the hell out of this president. They tell all who will listen that because of him we are approaching the end of the world. They applaud and encourage the tea party "protesters" - and then when the inevitable acts of violence occur - they absolve themselves of any responsibility while blaming the victims for "fanning the flames." I know this is the United States and we’re a long way from the 1930’s and Nazi Germany, but I still cannot understand how Jewish pundits and elected officials can be on the side of a political agenda that demonizes a president and members of his party , accusing them of dismantling and destroying the country - and continue to support that agenda as acts of violence against those they are demonizing begin to occur.

You would think that they, more than most others, would be painfully aware of what can happen when irrational hate born of lies and misinformation begins to morph into physical attacks on property and persons as we have witnessed in recent days. But apparently not. Their Republican beliefs and party loyalty seems to have trumped common decency and common sense. But it isn’t all bad. There is one positive note among all the negativity. Charles Krauthammer, M.D. no longer practices medicine. He just writes his single minded columns - for which those of us who may need psychiatric help from time to time should be eternally grateful.

And in case you didn’t know and are wondering, while I am an atheist and of the belief that religion causes more harm than good in the world - I am of Jewish ancestry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Why would any Jew applaud?

It’s a headline that could have been written in the sixties - indeed one that I would have used had the blogosphere been in existence then. But the shame of America is that after what has happened over the months since Barack Obama was sworn in and began to tackle our healthcare problems and particularly after what happened in the halls of Congress the other day, it is an appropriate statement to make once again - all these years later. As is the sub-title.

The tactics of the Republican members of the House and Senate to stall and vote against absolutely everything that the president and the majority members have proposed can be attributed to politics. Lousy politics. Disgusting politics. But politics nonetheless. In their wisdom - or lack thereof - they have decided that the road back to power needs to be paved with the absence of legislation - any legislation. Not only the just passed health insurance legislation, the defeat of which the Republicans hoped would be the president’s "Waterloo" - but any Democratic proposed legislation and any Obama proposed appointment. Complain, condemn and filibuster. Those are the services that Republican members of Congress have provided to their constituents and to the country for the past fourteen months. But there is no clear evidence that the motivation of the Republicans has been anything other than purely political. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the motives and actions of many of their supporters to whom they offer reciprocal support.

There was nothing spontaneous about the crowd demonstrating against the healthcare bill as members of Congress walked by to take part in the debate and to vote. Theirs was no "voice of the people." Theirs were the voices of hatred and bigotry and ignorance as preached by the Rush Limbaugh’s and Glen Beck’s of the world and given tacit approval by Republican members of Congress. It was as though the last fifty years had never happened and it was perfectly O.K. to let black and homosexual people know exactly what they thought of them - goddamned niggers and faggots.

We’re going to hear that those were the voices of a few malcontents and in no way represented the feelings of the majority of those who were exercising their constitutional rights to assemble and petition. Just as we have heard that the disgusting signs we have seen at so called tea party rallies do not represent the beliefs of the majority of tea party members. Maybe not - but I think they represent the feelings and beliefs of a substantial minority of Americans - tea party members or not - who no longer feel it necessary to hide their bigotry behind a thin mask of civility. Not when millions of them are hearing that it’s just fine to be a bigot and then to have their bigoted beliefs reinforced and reflected back at them daily over the public airways by the above mentioned purveyors of hate.

Supposedly, what motivates the protesters is their anger at government intrusion into their private lives, chipping away at their freedom. There are calls to prepare for armed resistance. But I suspect there’s a great deal more to their anger than distrust of government and in particular of late, the health insurance bill which the sick men of the airways describe as a "government takeover" of healthcare. The bigots of the sixties have never gone away. They’ve just gone underground. But now they’re crawling out from under their maggot infested rocks and revealing their numbers and their disgraced philosophies - and elected members of Congress are cheering them on.

What both puzzles and saddens me about the strident voices of the right is that so many of them are Jewish. Jews like Michael Medved, Dennis Prager and Michael Savage on the radio - Jewish columnists like Charles Krauthmmer, Bill Kristol and Jonah Goldberg - and of course the Jewish inner circle members of the neocon movement - far too many to mention here. And in Congress, leading the cheering section for the mobs of bigots comparing the president to Hitler and describing the policies of the administration as socialism or communism - is minority whip Eric Cantor.

It’s been a long time since anti-Semitism was an overt phenomenon. Publicly proclaimed restrictive covenants are a thing of the past - as are other aspects of anti-Semitic discrimination. But there is no doubt that the sickness of anti-Semitism still exists.. Perhaps not at the same level as in some parts of Europe where it is on the increase and reaching dangerous levels - but alive and well in the USA nonetheless. It’s popular with a lot of young college kids who have taken up the Palestinian "cause" and have attacked Jewish kids and Jewish speakers - verbally and in some cases physically. And I don’t doubt for a moment that it is alive and well among the Americans who are marching in the streets with their hateful signs and with their call to arms. Theirs is a philosophy of fear, mistrust and blame. Someone or some ones are to blame for what they perceive as assaults on their "freedoms" and/or are responsible for their problems - unemployment - the high cost of gasoline - you name it. That "someone" at the moment is President Obama and the Democratic members of Congress. But irrational hate is fungible. The angry cries of the other day may have been "Nigger" and Faggot" but it doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination to predict cries of "Kike" or "Christ Killer." And who knows where it could go from there?

Of all people, you would think that Jews, along with African Americans, would be sensitive to the dangers of mob hate and would be the last people to praise and encourage the mob action that has been taking place under the guise of democratic protest. In the past couple of days we’ve heard reports of threats against Democratic members of Congress. Their homes have been listed on line with suggestions that they be "paid a visit." There have been attacks on some of their offices. Bricks have been thrown through windows and glass doors. Shards of glass have been strewn in the street.

Remind you of anything Congressman Cantor? And these are the people comparing our president to Adolph Hitler and the actions of our Democratic majority Congress as Nazism, Socialism and Communism. You can’t praise and encourage them and at the same time distance yourself from the most overt of their despicable acts. They are the beast that you may not be able to control. John Boehner has said that these attacks are wrong, even if he said it without one hundredth of the passion he exhibited when he said that the Democratic members of the house should be ashamed of themselves for passing the healthcare bill. It was perfunctory but at least he said it.

So where are the words of outrage, passion and condemnation from the Jewish right?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

As I predicted in my March 10 post of a Jewish Telegraph Agency story, there has been no mention in the U.S. press about the Palestinians proposed naming of a public square after a mass murderer. The ceremony had been planned for a date that coincided with Joe Biden’s visit but they were smart enough to postpone it - maybe after learning of the badly timed announcement of plans to construct some new housing in East Jerusalem at some date far off in the future. It’ll be interesting to see if they go ahead with the ceremony and whether there will be anything like the reaction that the new housing announcement evoked from the Obama administration.

The reaction of the Obama administration to what unquestionably was a gaffe, has been astonishing. It’s almost as though Obama has decided to take a whole new approach to the never ending Israeli/Palestinian conflict - the approach of putting a very public squeeze on the Israelis, leaving the Palestinians unscathed - as if that stood a ghost of a chance of speeding up a resumption of talks between the two sides. I’m reluctant to call them "peace" talks after more than six decades of getting nowhere - but I guess talking to each other is better than talking past each other.

There’s nothing startling about Israel’s claim of sovereignty over Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been one of the pillars of Jewish faith for a lot longer than there has been an Islamic religion. The Old Testament is replete with mentions of the ancient city and for generations, Jews world wide have recited the wish "next year in Jerusalem" at the end of festival prayers - as they will later this month as they celebrate Passover at a Seder (last supper) dinner. The Bush administration understood this and I’m reasonably sure that Obama understands it. After all, two of his closest advisors in the White House are Jews. So you have to wonder what is going on when Hillary Clinton and others talk about their unhappiness with the announcement of "settlements" to be built in East Jerusalem. Even the network news anchors picked up on the word. Do you think of the house or apartment you live in as a "settlement?" Of course not. Neither are new apartment buildings or houses that have been built in Jerusalem for the past 42 years and may be built in the future "settlements." But it’s a buzz word and you have to wonder why it’s being used and whether it has Obama’s approval.

At the heart of the beef of course, is the Palestinian’s stated desire to establish the capital of their hoped for state in East Jerusalem and they are outraged at Israel’s plans to construct new housing there. Or at least they feign outrage. It’s not that easy to tell what their position is on all issues - if for no other reason that there is no one who speaks for all Palestinians - particularly Hamas, which wants no part of any attempt at a peace arrangement.

I have written about this conflict on many occasions, often offering solutions to the many aspects of the conflict. Of relevance to the current impasse - as if there was ever a time when impasse didn’t exist - is the fantasy solution I offered on October 10, 2003. In that piece I suggested that the Palestinians could have their capital in Jerusalem or any other place they selected - but contingent on them accepting the idea that the two sides work together as friendly neighbors. What was required for my solution to work was the abolition of the concept of continuous struggle and acceptance of a rational compromise. After all these years, that still seems to be something in the distant future - where it has always been.

The U.S. reaction to the badly time announcement or news release or whatever it was, seems to be way over the top and is more likely to push that elusive goal of a final peace/two state/border agreement even further into the future. It likely has given Abbas confidence that he can gain more by refusing to renew any kind of peace talks and just wait until Israel cracks under U.S. pressure. It won’t happen. The United States will back away from its harsh criticism and nothing will have been accomplished. Certainly nothing that will advance the cause of peace.

Just think for a moment of the scenario. Jerusalem is at the center of Jewish faith and ethnicity. Since the old city was captured from Jordan in 1967, the city has been united and has been open to all religious faiths. It is the seat of Israel’s government though not recognized as such by the rest of the world. TelAviv, about an hour’s drive from Jerusalem is considered the "legal" capital and is where the U.S. and other Embassies are located. Yet a part of Jerusalem is where Palestinians want to establish the capital of a future Palestinian state and not a peep out of the U.S. or the rest of the world about how much of a non starter this is unless and until the conditions I outlined in my 1993 commentary are achieved. Even if a real peace agreement is reached and the crazies among the Palestinians end their endless war against Israel and the fantasy of one city being the seat of two sovereign nations is achieved, it would be madness to think that the city itself could be governed by two entities. Whatever happens in Jerusalem, it will remain a single municipality run by an elected mayor and other officials and decisions about the construction of new residential housing, whether proposed by Israelis or Palestinians, will rest with those elected officials.

If the Palestinian leadership insists that there can be no peace talks unless the plans to build in Jerusalem are canceled, there will never be peace talks. Netanyahu has already made clear that while he is apologetic for the timing of the construction announcement, the plan will not be canceled. The Obama administration surely knew this, which is why the overly condemning reaction is so puzzling. It’s puzzling because they must know that the Palestinians also knew it - that all the protesting in the world wasn’t going to have any effect - so the effort to placate the Palestinians by using the iron fist to condemn Israel was an exercise in futility.

Obama is on record as opposing further Israeli building in the west bank, but whatever ones views are about adding additional housing to existing "settlements" or small towns and whether or not they stand in the way of peace between the two sides, Jerusalem is a totally different kettle of fish. It is a city of Jews and Christians and Muslims but it is and always will be a part of Israel under whatever agreement may be reached in the future with the Palestinians. Maybe Israel deserved to be chastised for allowing the question of building construction in Jerusalem to be made public while Joe Biden was in the country trying to treat both sides with equal respect and encouragement - but it’s time to back away from the public expressions of anger and displeasure and sure enough, Secretary of State Clinton seemed to do that yesterday.

Despite all the fruitless efforts of the past, the United States might still be able to help to get the two sides talking again, but publicly condemning building projects in Jerusalem is and will be more of a hindrance than a help - and hopefully won’t be repeated as the United States continues its efforts to help bring about a final acceptance of some version of the 1947 U.N. resolution calling for - of all things - what is it that the U.S. is pushing as the answer to the conflict - oh yes, a two state solution

Wednesday, March 10, 2010
And what about the Palestinian incitement?

The following comments were published by the Jewish Telegraph Agency. The first part of the story is already being reported in the American press. The second half won’t be so I’m reproducing it here for the few who visit this blog.

Ami Eden · March 10, 2010

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden sparked headlines Tuesday in Jerusalem by denouncing an Israeli decision to authorize new housing starts in eastern Jerusalem as "undermining the trust" that he needs to advance peace while in the region.
Several left-wing Jewish groups joined Biden in criticzing the move, saying that it would undermine the start of so-called Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

Ori Nir, Americans for Peace Now spokesman:

Announcing plans for East Jerusalem construction is a perfect example of what Israel cannot be doing if it is acting in good faith and wants to be taken seriously as a partner in negotiations. This announcement is a slap in the face of not only the Palestinians, the Arab states, and the Obama Administration, but of the entire peace effort.

Hadar Susskind, J Street's director of policy and strategy:

J Street joins Vice President Biden in condemning Israel's announcement of new East Jerusalem construction that only serves to hinder Middle East peace efforts, particularly as the Israelis and Palestinians begin proximity talks. As Vice President Biden said, this is "precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now."

In response to claims that they are picking on Israel by focusing so heavily on settlements, the White House and left-wing Jewish groups often counter by saying that they are equally concerns about areas where the Palestinians need to do better, particularly on ending incitement.

Well, it turns out that the Palestinians have their own timing issues: On Thursday, according to Palestinian Media Watch, the Palestinian Authority is planning to go through with plans to name a public square after Dalal Mughrabi, who led a 1978 bus hijacking in which 37 Israelis, including 12 children, were killed. Thursday is the 32nd anniversary of the attack. Biden will still be in town. So it'll be interesting to see if he weighs in, as he did on the Israeli housing starts.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, has more:

The record shows that within the PA, few opportunities are missed to glorify a terrorist, celebrate a suicide bomber, or inculcate Palestinian youth into worshipping cold-blooded murderers. The record also shows that all aspects of PA life -- the schools, youth movements, sports teams, newspapers, TV, even the names of streets -- are made vehicles for honoring and praising terrorism. This in turn breeds more terrorists and bloodshed.

The ZOA has long maintained that Mahmoud Abbas, the PA that he heads and the Fatah party that controls it and which he co-founded, are unreconstructed supporters of terrorism and not genuine moderates and peace makers. In fact, it is incumbent upon all civilized people to call Abbas and Fayyad as evil leaders of an evil regime.

A Palestinian leader who neither arrests terrorists nor ceases to honor them is not one who will lead Palestinians on a new path of peace and reconciliation.

Given this shocking record, we renew our long-standing call for the Obama Administration to desist from ignoring the incitement to hatred and murder within the PA and to insist in talks with Abbas and other PA officials that the PA takes immediate action to comprehensively end this glorification of terror. Only when Palestinians reject the idea that it is a religious and national duty to murder Jews and to celebrate those among them who act on this instruction will there be any prospect of peace."

Friday, March 05, 2010

You can’t get away from them. Like Tennyson’s Brook, commercials go on for ever. Some are amusing. Some actually provide worth while information. But too many simply insult the intelligence. I’ve listed four examples below and I would be willing to guarantee that anyone who arrives at this blog on purpose would agree with my comments about them - probably most accidental visitors as well.

If National Car Rental was a NYSE publicly traded company, its stock would likely have been removed from the big board by now. That’s what happens when a stock price falls below a certain figure - and with the kind of business operation it presents in its television advertising, I could see it selling off until it was trading for a dollar or less. But of course it doesn’t trade on any stock exchange. It’s a private company, owned by the Jack Taylor family of St. Louis, which also owns Enterprise Rent-a-Car - a company that I’ve used on many an occasion. Enterprise advertises that it will "pick you up." which I look upon as an effective piece of advertising and a useful perk for the renter. National however, shows how you can steal one of their cars by walking past the rental counter - hopping into any car that tickles your fancy and driving away. And you are encouraged to do so by someone - presumably a National employee - waiting for you in the parking lot. One commercial, which reflects my reaction to this unbelievable, money losing offer, features former tennis champ John McEnroe exclaiming to the National employee - "Choose any car. You cannot be serious."

It doesn’t work quite like that of course. You have to be a member of something they call The Emerald Club to take a advantage of this no stopping, no paper work rental experience, but that’s not the impression left by the ad. It leaves you wondering how they keep track of their cars and how many get stolen annually.

I might come to the same conclusion about Broadview Security and what could happen to its stock based on what it presents in its commercials because the parent of this company - Brinks Home Security Holdings - does indeed trade on the big board. Broadview is one of those companies that has your home secured with equipment that sets off a loud alarm and alerts the company when someone tries to break into your home. You’ve seen the commercials. In one, a young girl is saying goodbye to her parents who are going out for the evening. They disappear off camera and a bad guy appears and smashes in the door, setting off the alarm. The alarm scares him and he runs off just as the phone rings. At the other end is a Broadview employee who wants to know if the young lady is "all right." She says someone tried to break in and the Broadview guy says he’s sending "help" right away.

Do you see anything wrong with this scenario? The commercials show that in all situations, that noisy alarm bell scares the bad guy away. So what would be the point - after the fact - to "send help right away?"
The danger has already passed. But in a real life situation, where a bad guy isn’t scared off by a noisy alarm bell and takes a moment or two to commit a crime - what "help" or what protection is actually being offered other than the noisy alarm bell? Even if the victim is able to answer the phone call from the concerned Broadview employee and is told that help is on the way - the crime has already been committed. Isn’t it a little disingenuous to be offering to send "help?" This company needs a new commercial that makes more sense.

Another "protection" service , the heavily advertised "On Star" featured available on certain GM cars is undoubtedly something worth having if you get into an accident on the highway or on a lonely country road - but does 911 always answer on the first ring and is information always conveyed and a response put into action into a matter of seconds as it is in every On Star commercial? I understand that hyperbole is part and parcel of advertising , but I think its use is misplaced when it is used to give a potential buyer a false sense of security in life and death situations.

If your last name begins with the letters A through M, you’re "allowed" to call this advertiser’s telephone number "today." If you’re name begins with N through Z, you can start calling at 9 a.m. "tomorrow." You’ve probably heard the commercial. It begins with a stentorian voice proclaiming that THIS is a PUBLIC announcement - as though it was coming directly from the White House - or at least from some authorized governmental body - and the "product" is a list of foreclosed homes that you could buy for peanuts. And not too long ago I heard yet another commercial using the same "you’re allowed to call today or tomorrow" depending on your name. I can’t recall the product but the unbelievability is the same.

The announcer doesn’t say that "this is a commercial for morons" but who else are they aiming at? What happens when I call today and say this is Mr. Smith and I’d like that list of foreclosed homes? Are they going to say you’re calling too soon? You have to call back tomorrow after 9 a.m? Or will I hear chuckling in the background and one boiler room con man whispering to another about another sucker on the hook?

What could be more ridiculous than telling listeners that they are "allowed" to call either "today" or "tomorrow" depending on their last name initial when the commercial airs day after day and it is ALWAYS either today or tomorrow


Finally, what more disingenuous commercials exist than those trying to convince you that you are paying too much for your automobile insurance and that you can save money if you switch because company A can save you $400 over company B, $460 over company C and $610 over company D. It sounds persuasive until you see the commercials of company B promising savings over the charges of companies A,C and D and those of company C telling you that you are throwing money down the drain if your insurance is with company A,B or D. And so on, ad nauseum.

The only conclusion that you can reach is that they are all lying, even though they may each be able to produce an instance where one of their policies cost less than a specific policy issued by another company. In other words a technical get out of jail card in case they get asked to put up or shut up. Of course, since they all do it, no company challenges another to provide proof that they can sell their insurance cheaper. They simply make the same claim.

Two comments about two companies that don’t make claims of specific savings over other companies but whose commercials drive me nuts. One is Progressive Insurance - the one that portrays itself as the inhabitant of a magical land of white where visitors are greeted by an annoying sales agents dressed entirely in white who presents magical insurance policies that are magically priced and are exactly what the visitor needs. It’s not something you want to watch too close to finishing a meal. The second is GEICO and the omnipresent cockney talking animated Gecko. O.K. - the idea of a GECKO as a spokes thing for GEICO is kind of cute and even the idea of giving it a cockney accent is kind of cute. And they don’t make outrageous claims. Just that they could save you "15% or more" if you’d give them 15 minutes of your time. Over what they don’t say. But my beef with GEICO is their overuse of the cockney voice. As the voice of a cartoon character, it’s reasonably acceptable, though it is coming perilously close to becoming overused and thus annoying rather than cute. But using the same voice for radio commercials is an insult to the intelligence. The cuteness is gone and all that is left is an annoying sound that couldn’t convince me of the day of the week even if I was listening in the control center of a calendar factory.