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Sunday, October 31, 2010

I have to admit to being concerned about the upcoming mid-term election. I’m not so concerned about Republicans taking the House or gaining in the Senate. With what I consider to be - in this modern age - the ridiculous constitutional requirement calling for congressional elections every two years, it’s almost to be expected that a fickle, almost childlike electorate, unhappy with the state of the nation, will decide either not to vote or to "throw the rascals out" - only to repeat the same nonsense two years later. Of course it’s virtually impossible to throw some of the rascals out. Their districts are carefully constructed to avoid that possibility. Senate gains will make little difference. At 41 or 49 members, the Republicans there will continue to throw roadblocks in the way of any of the President’s proposals and under that body’s crazy rules, the way its been exercised almost from the moment Obama took the oath of office, the minority party has as much power as the majority. And if by chance Republicans gain a majority in the Senate, any unacceptable proposals they put forth will be blocked by the new minority. That kind of madness will continue unabated.

But what concerns me beyond the sorry state of affairs described above is the kind of Republicans who might be elected to the 112th Congress. I still have a vivid memory of a McCain rally during the presidential election of an elderly attendee expressing her fears of Obama because -among other things "he’s an Arab." And I think about the millions of low information voters like her who have presented us with Republican candidates for Congress like Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angel and Rand Paul and Ken Buck and the possibility that some - maybe all could get elected and assume positions of power in the upper chamber where a single senator can hold up legislation or a presidential appointment. We have some nuts in the Senate already - and some would claim they can be found on both sides of the aisle, though I challenge those claimants to find any positions taken by Democrats to match those of Jim DeMint of Jim Bunning or James Inhofe. But if some of the Tea Party favorites get elected, it will truly look like the inmates have taken over the asylum.

Among the bright ideas of the Tea Party candidates are such innovations as doing away with social security Medicare and unemployment compensation, making abortion illegal under any and all circumstance, removing the barrier between church and state, keeping gays out of the military and maybe revising some of our civil rights laws. And those may be just the tip of a radical iceberg. And you have to ask what is it that persuades anyone to vote for such people? Could it be that millions of us - and that’s what the total Tea Party candidates will garner in the general election - actually agree with the positions put forth by these nut cases? Do so many of us want to take the country back to another, darker time in our history - or to a fantasy land that only exists in the minds of madmen and bigots? Can they believe the garbage that their icons spout about government taking over our lives and comparing the Obama administration to fascists or nazis?

It’s one thing for us to have strong political differences. We’re no different in that way from other democracies. Our cousins across the pond are fairly equally divided between the Conservative and the Labour (English spelling) parties - supporters of each being absolutely convinced that their way is the right way and their opponents are totally wrong. And we’re very much the same. Staunch Democrats are going to vote for just about any candidate with a D after his or her name, even if they occasionally have to hold their noses while doing it. And staunch Republicans are the same. Witness the more than a million votes that Alan Keyes got in 2004 running against Barrack Obama for the Senate from Illinois. It was only 27% of the vote and Keyes was a drafted carpetbagger from another state, a perpetual and losing candidate for U.S. Senator and for President. There was no way he was going to win and everyone in the State knew it, but he had an "R" after his name and got the knee jerk support based solely on that identification.

There will be people voting for the Tea Party candidates this year based solely on that "R" after their names, perhaps some doing so while holding their noses. But unlike the foregone conclusion and outcome in Illinois in 2004, there will be enough people who actually believe and agree with the nonsense that they have been spouting to elect some and perhaps most of them to the House and to the Senate and I shudder at the thought of the damage they can do if they come to power. The Republicans already sitting in the House have given us some idea of what the next two years will be like if they gain control and it sounds like they’re ready to shut the government down to harm Obama. If they should hesitate in a moment of sanity, the Tea Party winners will be there to urge them on.

At Jon Stewart’s "Rally to Restore Sanity" in the nation’s capital yesterday, the comedian ended the event on a more hopeful note than that which I have described here and you can read his closing comments in full here. People who were at the rally were impressed with what they heard. Some said they were moved to tears. Others cited the irony of having to turn to a comedian to hear reason and truth. I hope that Stewart is right and that we are better people than the choices the pundits tell us we’re about to make would seem to portray. But I have watched our history as a nation unfold for more years than I care to admit to and while the people that he describes are indeed to be found among our friends and neighbors - the ones who elected Barrack Obama - there are still too many of us who considered the result of that election tantamount to a mortal sin and who would take us back to a darker time in that history if given a chance.

As I was flipping through the talking head programs this morning - someone - I didn’t catch the name - was saying that historically, stressful times bring forth strange candidates for political office and at the moment I tuned in, he was citing "Every Man a King" Huey Long. But Long’s ideas of "sharing the wealth" was looking forward, not backward and his president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt - not the first black president in American history. There is a difference between those days and what we are facing today.

The pundits are expecting to be crowing after their predictions come true Tuesday night. One can only hope that instead they’ll be eating crow all day Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It seems that the never ending "peace process" is in danger again because, after a ten month freeze, building has resumed in some settlements in the area Israelis, particularly religious Israelis, call Judea and Samaria - commonly referred to as the "West Bank" - as in the west bank of the Jordan river. Mahmoud Abbas or Abu Mazen - I’m never quite sure which of his names it’s appropriate to use in any given circumstance - is saying that peace discussions can’t proceed unless the construction freeze is reinstated - despite the fact that no face to face discussions with Israeli leaders took place during the time when the freeze was in place. Of course that doesn’t seem to matter to the "International Community" - ready as usual to put the blame on any talks breakdown on the fact that the freeze has ended. But then, when did logic ever enter into the decades long conflict between Israel and Palestinian Arabs?

The aforementioned international community, including the United States, condemns the "settlements" as being illegal. It’s possible that they are, but there are also arguments to the contrary. To many Israelis and to many sympathizers around the world, the areas where settlements have been built are disputed areas - a dispute that can only be resolved by negotiations between the two parties claiming to have territorial rights. While it is easy to blame Israel for the lack of progress in reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, you have to remember that it was the Arab nations that, at the end of the 1967 war, refused to consider the idea of peace, as they did in 1948. At their 1967 meeting in Khartoum, Sudan, they declared "no peace, no recognition, no negotiations with Israel." Their attitude was war forever - until Israel was no more. Sort of the attitude of Hamas today as they continue to fire rockets from Gaza into southern Israel.

Perhaps in wasn’t a good idea to build settlements on the land occupied by Israel as a result of the 1967 war - but obviously the Israeli forces couldn’t just withdraw without some sort of agreement to end hostilities - and with continued occupation of land that many Israelis considered a part of Israel anyway, perhaps the ides of people moving and building there was inevitable. But again, one has to ask the question - what was the "barrier to peace" or to peace negotiations before there were any settlements? If you’re a rational person, you would have to conclude that all the hullabaloo about an end to the building freeze being a reason not to continue to have face to face meetings, is more propaganda than reason - to what end, only Abbas and his cohorts know.

Israel has not been without fault since it was recreated in 1948 on a fraction of the British mandated Palestine and on far less than the land originally promised for a "Jewish homeland" - 80% having been carved out to create "Transjordan." But it has not been intransigent when it comes to ceding land for a chance at peace. It did so successfully with Egypt and the Sinai. It at least tried with a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. And it can happen again. It is likely that if a peace agreement could be reached with the Palestinians , it would call for many of the settlements to be dismantled and territorial quid pro quo for the ones that remain. Israeli settlements have been dismantled by Israeli authorities in the past - some forcefully. But no peace agreement can ever be reached if the two side do not continue to meet and hammer out their differences. Both sides know the demands of the other going in to the talks, but if either side demands that the other accept one of its demands as a condition to talk at all - obviously no agreement can be reached. It is more than "unhelpful" - to use the language of diplomacy - to blame Israel’s refusal to extend the building freeze as the reason talks have broken off while Abbas considers "other possibilities." It is downright ridiculous. If the Palestinians truly want peace and a sovereign nation of their own - as they could have had in 1948 if they hadn’t chosen war instead - they will come to the table and negotiate. The Israelis are willing with no pre conditions. The next move is up to Abbas and the world should quit complaining about settlements and join Netanyahu in urging the Palestinian leader to return to the table.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I would imagine that Colonol McCormick is no longer turning in his grave. Those rotting bones must have been doing a whole mess of rattling since his beloved Chicago Tribune endorsed - gasp - Barrack Obama - gasp - for - double gasp - President!! But in the past couple of weeks, the renegades running the bankrupt newspaper have come to see the light or whatever you might call their return to blinkered tradition. They have informed their readers - of which I am one - of their choices for Senator and Governor – along with an assorted number of endorsements of candidates for a plethora of government offices.

You would think that having endorsed Obama for president, they would think very carefully about who to endorse to fill his former senate seat. Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, a friend and supporter of Obama would undoubtedly be a supporter of the White House agenda - but the big thinkers at the Tribune have endorsed Republican Mark Kirk, who they call "independent" but who is guaranteed to oppose any and all of Obama’s proposals as he has done as a member of the Party of No in the House. I don’t put much stock in newspaper endorsements and there is no way in the world that a newspaper endorsement could persuade me to vote for one candidate over another, but this endorsement is close to being insulting - almost as insulting as the campaign being waged by the two candidates for Obama’s Senate seat - and by the Gubernatorial candidates - current governor courtesy of Rob Blagojevich’s fall from grace, Pat Quinn - and the Tribune’s choice, State Senator and virtual unknown Republican Bill Brady.

In terms of radio, television, e-mail and snail mail campaign advertising, if this isn’t the dirtiest election season in the last few decades, I must have missed a whole bunch of them - and I’m someone who listens, watches and votes on a regular basis. Of these two races, the only non-negative advertising has been on behalf of someone running for governor who doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance of winning that office. That would be one Scott Lee Cohen, who ran for and won the Democratic primary race for Lieutenant Governor and then dropped out after some not so pleasant things were revealed about his private life. Now in the race for Governor as an independent, he’s running the same radio and television ads as he did in the Lieutenant Governor’s race - claiming that he’s been organizing job fairs around the state. The ads aren’t dirty. They don’t attack anyone. But they’re as stupid as the attack ads that try to steer voters away from a candidate’s opponent. Mr. Cohen wants voters to believe that organizing some job fairs qualifies him to be Governor of the State of Illinois - an assertion that, in my mind, automatically disqualifies him from consideration as a serious candidate. But he obviously has money that he’s willing to spend on running for political office, so he may be around for a while as a well heeled modern version of Lar (America First) Daly.

What are we to make of the kind of campaigns being run by the rest of the candidates - for Governor and Senator in Illinois - or for that matter by candidates for state and federal offices around the country? Virtually without exception, the major thrust of all the campaigns is negative - radio, television and print ads vilifying opponents. The ads are full of lies and distortions. There’s a local ad tying a candidate for Congress to Nancy Pelosi. It’s someone who is not a Congressman. He’s trying to become one. But that doesn’t matter to his opponent. He’s a Democrat running for office so he must be in lock step with Pelosi and if you don’t like her you don’t like him. And the attack ads of Democratic candidates are just as bad and just as stupid. I can no longer watch or listen to any of them. They sicken me. If I am watching television, I do so with the remote close by so that I can block the sound or change the channel when one of these insults to my intelligence fills the screen.

Politicians use these negative ads because - so we are told - they work. I find that hard to swallow but if it’s true - if it’s the attack ads that sway voters more than anything else, the answer to the question I pose above - what are we to make of these kinds of campaigns - is indeed a sad one. It tells us two things. That candidates think voters are stupid and the way to win their vote is to make their attack ads more vicious that that of their opponents and to steer clear of anything that smacks of substance. And it tells us that they are right. We are, in great part, an uninformed and unsophisticated electorate. Our reaction to the current state of the economy typifies our political naiveté. It isn’t doing too well, so many people can be made to believe that it can easily be turned around by voting against the current majority - and that’s what’s the pollsters are telling us is likely to happen

I suppose a campaign devoted to actual issues, with candidates presenting their positions on issues and how they differ from and are superior to their opponents’ would be boring and likely to leave some voters thoroughly confused. After all, if there are no ads to tell them who the bad guys are - how are they to know which ones to vote against? But our tradition of the vilifying campaign, coupled with the usual basket of non issues that are presented as issues - abortion, gay marriage, religion and the rest - has become so ingrained in our election process, that it would take something of a miracle to change it - and there is nothing miraculous on the horizon - indeed more of the opposite. Just the other day, John McCain, the Republican candidate for president in 2008, was out campaigning for a Republican senatorial candidate running against one of his current colleagues of whom he said
Barbara Boxer is the most bitterly partisan, most anti-defense Senator in the United States Senate today. I know that because I've had the unpleasant experience of having to serve with her.(emphasis added)
That from the man who wanted to be President of the United States.

How sad that we pride ourselves on being such a great country with such great traditions and such great freedom and this is how we elect our representatives - with lies, distortion and hatred.

Incidentally, the generic "we" as it refers to voters, does not apply to this or millions of other voters. I voted early for all the good guys. I hope the other sane millions did or will do the same.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The first reaction that I had to President Obama’s September 20th town hall meeting - or whatever else you might want to call it - was that his advisors - or whoever it was that persuaded him to expose himself to what turned out to be an ammunition trove for his next opponent - assuming he runs for reelection in 2012 - and for Republicans trying to regain control of Congress - should be fired or at least moved to a job where he can’t influence presidential decisions. Can you imagine Bush doing something like this - appearing before an audience that hadn’t signed a loyalty oath and without sworn assurances that no tough questions would be asked and for sure that no hint of disappointment or criticism will be voiced?

Yes, you can compliment Mr. Obama for having the balls to take on a crowd without knowing in advance who was there or what they might ask - but I think more harm than good may have come out of it. We’ve already seen how the meeting is being reported by the electronic media. They’re featuring what could best be described as "awkward moments" - like the African American woman who said she was exhausted from "defending" him and why hadn’t he made things better for the middle class!!! He tried to answer her with a list of all the things he has been able to do that should help middle class Americans - but none of what he said was what she and others who apparently were expecting miracles and rewards for having voted this man into office wanted to hear. Then there was the recent law school graduate who said he had been inspired to vote for Obama but who found that inspiration dying away because he couldn’t pay the interest on his student loans, couldn’t find a job and wanted to know if the American Dream was dead for him. Obama should have told him that self pity wasn’t going to help him achieve any kind of dream.

If Rush Limbaugh watched any of this, I’m sure he did it with an attitude of self satisfaction - and with a few belly laughs. After all, it was the Rush Mouth who dreamed up the mocking reference to Obama as "The Messiah" - an appellation quickly picked up by his information deprived acolytes and spread derisively around the Internet. But it wasn’t a joke to millions of Obama supporters - particularly young people who became involved in politics for the first time because they indeed came to regard him as some kind of Messiah.

Let me be clear. I too am disappointed in what has and hasn’t happened in the first 21 months of the Obama presidency. I wanted to see him fight for a public health insurance option and not resign virtually total control of healthcare to a handful of for profit companies. I wanted him to do something about "don’t ask don’t tell" by executive order. I wanted to see Gitmo shut down. I wanted an early major effort to remove existing tax incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas. And I didn’t want to see an increased involvement in Afghanistan - though it shouldn’t have been a surprise considering his emphasis on that misbegotten nation during the campaign. And that’s just a handful of things I had hoped for in his first 21 months. But I didn’t think he was any kind of Messiah and I knew he was a politician - and that politicians make a lot of promises when they’re campaigning that may not be that easy to keep once they’re elected and learn first hand the limitations of the office they’ve achieved.

If the President continues to have these kinds of town hall meetings between now and the November election, I hope he’ll stay away from trying to explain all the things he’s accomplished that should be making things better for the middle class. People aren’t buying it. Things aren’t better for far too many people. He needs to tell them that he’s trying as hard as he can to bring the kind of change that they’re looking for - that Republicans in Congress are doing everything in their power to stop his efforts and it will make it even harder to accomplish anything if people who voted for him in 2008 sit on their hands this November and let the Republicans take over. And he should quit telling people to "buck up" and tell Joe Biden to quit talking about "whining." Both of you are well versed in the English language. Choose some other words to inspire people to vote. If you need an example, don’t look to Carter’s "malaise" speech. Look to anything FDR ever said. Anything!!


I can’t think of any other circumstance where I would be lumping Stephen Colbert and the President together on the same page - other than them both making "unfortunate" appearances within days of each other. And again, as on occasions in the not too distant past, I find myself agreeing with people with whom I rarely agree - conservative pundits and conservative members of Congress. Colbert had no business testifying on a topic on which he has no expertise and about which he has expressed little or no interest in the past. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren who extended the invitation for Colbert to make a mockery of Congressional hearings should be ashamed of herself. There’s nothing wrong with celebrities testifying on serious matters before Congressional committees if they have been long term advocates of some cause and have some genuine expertise. Colbert doesn’t fit that description. His non-comedic "expertise" - if you can call it that - is self promotion - at which he seems to be embarrassingly proficient.

I’m not going to waste time criticizing Colbert for some of his antics that I find questionable - among then accepting Congresswoman Lofgren’s invitation to make a fool of himself. I am questioning the dedication of members of Congress to the serious business of governance at a time when it is perhaps more needed than at any other time in recent history. I don’t know how "safe" the Congresswoman’s seat is in California’s 16th district, but if it’s in any way a swing district, she needs to hope that there’s a large contingent of "The Colbert Report" fans among her constituents.