What's All This Then?

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Some time in the future - perhaps in a thousand or ten thousand years, earth will cease to be looked upon by other beings as the lunatic asylum of the cosmos. At that time, there won’t be 195 or more separate nation states and in excess of 6,000 languages spoken by the people who will be living on the planet, almost all believing that their existence is due to an unseen divine being who they worship under the dictates of a variety of organized religions, the followers of those different religions believing that their version of a divine being is the true God on whose behalf they attack and kill believers of other religions - or kill and attack people of a different nation state for a variety of reasons - assuming that the human race will have survived. And at such a time there would be no need for some peoples living in different parts of the world to get together and decide to interfere violently with people living in some other part of the world because of violence in that part of the world which the aforementioned groups of peoples disapprove. In other words, in a sane world, there would be no need for the action in Libya that the President described on Monday night. Unfortunately, this is still the planet of the insane, so that action was necessary. And insane as we may be, we are still capable of acts of sanity.

President Obama has been criticized from the left and from the right for his efforts on behalf of what are being called Libyan "rebels." In Egypt they were called "protesters." Perhaps that was because the army did not attack them. Ed Schultz, on his progressive radio program , has started to call them "freedom fighters." Maybe he’s right, but without knowing exactly who they are, I’m not sure what to call them. Maybe dissenting activists. But as long as they are against and presumably want to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi, I think of them as the good guys.

Among the criticisms from the left and from the right is the plaint that we haven’t taken action against dictators in other countries who brutalize their own people. The President didn’t really go into the "why Libya and not other countries" in his speech so I will offer my own answers to that question. Few will question our involvement in the world wars of the past hundred years - or at least the last 97 years - from 1914 to now. But there are plenty who question our involvement in lesser wars - from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq, including me. But that’s not the subject of this discussion . Those conflicts are different from our involvement in Libya which, as the President made clear in his speech, has a lot to do with who we are as a people and as a nation. He didn’t add the bit about the earth being a lunatic asylum but I submit it very much relates to who we are as a nation. We are among the less insane of the world’s inhabitants and as such have an obligation to help those who are suffering under the weight of deeper degrees of insanity when it is possible to do so - or to put it another way - when it’s "doable."

I believe that most Americans are in support of a policy that, while not cited as an official policy of the United States - is one of offering whatever support can be offered to those seeking freedom from autocratic rule - a policy - again unwritten in most cases - shared by many of the world’s democratic, industrialized nations. There are of course limits to what aid we can give to people suffering under a brutal dictator. There are those who would like the United States to "liberate" North Korea and to invade Sudan or Iran and bring democracy to Syria and Saudi Arabia - but we are in no position to be the world’s self appointed policeman and declare war on any country we select for humanitarian reasons. If we did that, we’d be in a constant state of war and gas would be $15 a gallon. We can hope the people living under theocratic rule or other repressive forms of government will eventually throw off the shackles that restrict their freedom of thought and action - but in so many of those cases, military intervention to help them is not something we could consider for too many reasons to discuss here. But what we can do is help people in such a nation when it is practical and possible to do so, particularly people who ask us for help and who have more than a ghost of a chance of overthrowing a dictatorship and perhaps form a government "of the people" - if not democratic in the U.S. and European sense of the word - at least one that is not repressive.

Libya falls under the category of the practical and the possible - a conflict that we may well be able to help resolve in favor of the people who are in revolt against their dictator. In other words "doable." It won’t be easy. Libya is a far more difficult situation than that of her neighbor to the east, where regime change is slowly taking place after a massive peaceful protest movement that unseated Hosni Mubarak. But with help from the countries enforcing UN resolution 1973, including the next step beyond the no fly zone - the supply of weaponry to match that of forces still loyal to Gaddafi, success, while not a certainty is at least within the realm of possibility. The United States may have to become involved in training or organizing the rag tag group of rebels or freedom fighters into a cohesive military force. There will be an outcry by critics of the President against involvement beyond the operation we are now conducting from the air and sea - but any and all help that we provide to depose the madman who has ruled Libya for more than four decades will be worth the effort - more so in my opinion than our seemingly never ending involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. And if they and we succeed, perhaps our fellow inhabitants of the cosmos will look upon us as being a little less insane. Who knows, it may move us microscopically closer to a time when "they" will come..

Friday, March 25, 2011

In a couple of weeks from now, we in Illinois and likely millions in other states - will be granted the opportunity to watch, listen and read about part two of the national soap opera called the United States of America vs Rod Blagojevich. Once again, the full might of the nation’s legal armamentarium will be amassed to convince twelve of our fellow citizens that the former governor of Illinois and a direct descendant of the original settlers from the planet Ikskobar, has committed grave crimes upon the citizens of this state and beyond and should thus be incarcerated for an unmentionable number of years in the dankest of dank Federal penitentiaries. We may not notice it in our property tax bills or in extra deductions from the paychecks of those of us who work for a living, but many thousands of taxpayer dollars will nonetheless be expended in this worthless endeavor. And as you might surmise from the previous sentence, I think prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald should swallow his pride, wash it down with a glass of ego and do the same with Rod as he finally did with his brother - drop all charges.

I would never suggest that Blagojevich is a paragon of virtue. From all indications, he seemed more involved in matters of self interest than in matters of governance. But try as I might, I can’t understand how his political and fund raising maneuverings amounted to crimes. He certainly did nothing to use his position to enrich himself even if, as the prosecution alleges, he talked about ways to do so in his post Governor days. As far as I can determine, the State of Illinois suffered no damage from his service as Governor. No individual or corporation or organization is claiming financial loss because of anything that Blagojevich did. Some may have felt that undue pressure was being used to squeeze them for campaign contributions - but in the end, there was no action taken against them - only words. If Blagojevich was guilty of anything it was talking too much and talking out loud about things that should only have been spoken in his head. I believe that he said something along those lines himself.

Fitzgerald may have thought he had a slam dunk in his case against Blagojevitch, but was frustrated by having someone on the jury who perhaps thinks like me and couldn’t see how braggadocio laced with a dash of stupidity amounted to criminal behavior. Yet even that juror succumbed to pressure and helped deliver an illogical verdict of guilty of lying to the FBI. If she could not be convinced that Blago was guilty of any of the many other charges in the indictment, why would she find him guilty of lying about any aspect of those charges? I have no way of knowing but I suspect extreme pressure was applied by the other members of the jury who just weren’t about to agree to a hung jury. They wanted a conviction on something and they got it.

But apart from the fact that there is nothing to be gained by re-trying Blagojevitch - that sending him to jail will be of no value to the State of Illinois or its citizens or to the United States of America and that the cost of a second trial will be a waste of taxpayer money, there is reason to drop the idea of a retrial that leaps from the pages of the indictment - and that is the absence of a defendant from the first trial. Blago’s brother Rob. Last summer Rod and Rob were presented to the world as a family of arch criminals - both equally guilty of horrendous crimes against the State. But in the trial, brother Rob, who almost nobody who wasn’t an Illinois political insider knew, came across as a decent guy who was willing - unlike his brother - to take the witness stand and deny any guilt. Of course that didn’t impress Fitzgerald. He knew Rob was as guilty as Rod and if he couldn’t convince a jury the first time around - by golly, he’d get him in the re-trial. Except he won’t be there for the second trial. All charges against one half of the Blagojevich crime gang have been dropped.

To me, the dropping of charges against Rob Blagojevich while continuing to press charges against brother Rod smacks of hypocrisy of the lowest order. Why was Rod charged in the first place? Surely Mr. Fitzgerald must have believed him guilty of the charges in the indictment. Surely, indicting someone for crimes that could lead to decades of prison time isn’t something done casually or for window dressing or to bolster the allegation that there was some grand conspiracy to commit great harm to the citizens of Illinois and the United States. He must have been convinced that Rob Blagojevitch had committed crimes. And now that he has a second chance to persuade a jury to share his conviction - pun unintended - he suddenly passes it up. "I no longer believe he committed crimes. I was wrong the first time and I apologize. Please forgive me. I know I put you through hell even though you were as pure as the driven snow. Forgive me. Please, please forgive me."

Or maybe there were different thoughts running through his head.

It was obvious that the jury in the first trial looked at the two brothers through different lenses. Rob was likable. His background was likable. He wasn’t afraid to take the witness stand. It was likely that reluctance to convict brother Rob helped Rod walk away untouched except for that nagging lying to the FBI bit. I suspect the Fitzgerald dropped the charges against Rob Blagojevich to make the second trial cleaner - less complicated by the appearance of the "good" brother. He also dropped some of the allegations for the second trial to make things easier for the jury to understand. What I hope the second trial jury understands is that Fitzgerald is a prosecutor who is building what he hopes to be the most feathered cap in feathered cap history and he is doing it by declaring that any and all elected officials must emulate the requirements of Caesar’s wife. Above all, he or she should never act like a politician, wheel and deal or shoot of his or her mouth in public. Particularly not on the phone or in the presence of anyone wearing a wire. In Fitzgerald’s world , any combination of the foregoing can be grounds for prosecution.

Yes I‘m given to hyperbole in suggesting the way Mr. Fitzgerald thinks and acts - but I am blown away by the thought that he could put someone through the hell of a criminal trial that could have resulted in a multi-year jail sentence if he’d been able to get a conviction - and then drop all charges against him because that would - in his mind - make it easier to convict his brother. In a rational world, what should happen would be for Rob Blagojevich to sue the pants off Fitzgerald and win a gazillion dollar verdict. But this is not a rational world and Rod Blagojevich will be facing a second trial alone. I just hope there will be one or more jurors who will think long and hard about why Fitzgerald indicted and tried his brother - didn’t get a conviction on any count - and then decided to drop the charges against him. Maybe discuss it in the jury room. And then I hope they will look at each and every "count" in the indictment against Rod Blagojevich and ask themselves - is this really criminal behavior? Who was damaged by his actions? Were the people of this State harmed and if so how? Maybe they’ll decide he did commit crimes - but at least if they ask themselves if what he did was criminal - if he really was looking for someone to buy a seat in the U.S. Senate - and decide that for themselves instead of taking Fitzgerald’s word for it, Blago will have a chance to go free and celebrate with his fellow Ikskobarians.

Friday, March 18, 2011

If you want to know if bigotry, hatred, intolerance and ignorance are alive and well in this great bastion of democracy with a small "d" - you need to look no further than the Congress of the United States where it is periodically manifested for the world to watch, listen and wonder. Within the memory of many of us are two prime examples. The House Un- American Activities Committee and the Joseph McCarthy (R. Wisconsin) Communist witch hunts which culminated in the infamous Army-McCarthy hearings. Now we have a third that promises to match or perhaps even out-demagogue the first two - New York Congressman Peter King’s hearings on radicalization of American Muslims.

As readers of this blog know, I am concerned about the influence of all religions on the affairs of man - particularly with Islam which, in many parts of the world is as much a way of life as a religion. In England and in some European countries, the Muslim populations have become virtually nations within nations - not that much unlike Hezbolla within Lebanon - though not with their own armed militias. I made reference to this phenomenon while commenting here about the "New Egypt" on February 16 - and its recognition as a growing serious problem in England, Germany and France by the leaders of those nations.

The problem isn’t the same in the United States. The number of Muslims as a percentage of the U.S. population is far less than in France and Great Britain - and we have more home grown Muslims than they do, where immigration from Pakistan and other majority Muslim nations resulted in a rapid increase in their population percentage of Muslims. Nonetheless, I see nothing wrong with a need to be aware of what can result from a disconnect between religion and citizenship. We have seen terrorist attacks by British born Muslims who side with their co-religionists in any conflict between their country and a Muslim country. We have seen what happens in a European nation when there is a perception that the Prophet Mohammed has been disrespected. And now we have seen mass murder committed by a Muslim member of the U.S. military and an attempted car bombing in New York. Obviously we are not immune to what is commonly referred to as "Islamic Terrorism,"

Of course, as many who object to the idea of the Peter King hearings have said in their criticisms of what they consider a witch hunt, we have had terrorist attacks committed by U.S. citizens who are Christians - so why don’t we hold hearings on the radicalization of Christians? A tongue-in-cheek criticism of course - but one that actually supports the proposition that there is a difference between Islamic terrorism and most other acts of terrorism in that the latter has rarely to do with the religion of the terrorists whereas most if not all such acts by Muslims is because of their religion.

However, I see absolutely no value in holding Congressional hearings for the stated purpose of discovering if, where and how followers of the Muslim religion are being radicalized. In European countries and in the United States, there is intelligence gathering aimed at the prevention of acts of terrorism - and that’s where efforts should be concentrated and where they can do the most good. I have no doubt that there are Congressional hearings that are necessary and are of value - but the kind of hearing being conducted by Congressman King is nothing more than a charade being conducted in public for political purposes.

What would this committee expect witnesses to reveal, particularly Muslim witnesses? That they have terrorist tendencies because of their faith? That they know of fellow Muslims who have terrorist tendencies? Does Mr. King expect Feisal Abdul Rauf - the Imam of the so called "ground zero" Mosque project to testify that it is being funded by Hammas and Hezbollah for the purpose of recruiting terrorists? And most important of all, does he expect or want police and intelligence authorities to testify in public about their knowledge of potential radicalization of Muslim Americans? That could create an atmosphere of fear - which some nuts on the far right ply as their stock in trade - but would only harm the efforts of those who are sworn to protect us.

If Congressman King believes that a Congressional hearing is the best way to find out that something that at the moment exists only in his imagination also exists in reality, surely the best way to do it is in executive session - away from the television cameras - where specifying and political posturing would be wasted and thus not likely to occur. He might even uncover some information that would justify convening the hearing and remove it from what now seems to be the third member of a trio of Congressional shame. But of course that isn’t going to happen. The hearings will be public. There will be posturing. There will be fear mongering. And, like HUAC and McCarthy, more harm than good will result.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

I must apologize for the last sentence in my post of February 25, wherein I described the crusade being led by Scott Walker as "political posturing." I must have been paying too much attention to the complaints of so called "progressive" pundits who have been attacking Governor Walker and some other Republican Governors for trying to do away with public employee unions as though it was a bad thing. After thinking about it for a while, I have come to the realization that this is just an introduction to what SOME Republicans are trying to accomplish - to do away with ALL unions. Along with Social Security, Medicare, public education and income taxes. I just watched an interview with Ron Paul in which he said that if it was in his power, he would do away with personal income tax and run the country the way we ran it in 1913. No wonder he’s always coming out on top in straw polls. But note that I’m only attributing these desires to SOME Republicans. I wouldn’t want to paint all of them with the same brush.

One thing I’m sure Republicans and so called Progressives agree on is that our high rate of unemployment is unacceptable. Both sides keep talking about jobs. Before the Republicans took over the House, it was John Boehner who kept asking "where are the jobs?" I’m not sure to whom the question was being directed. Maybe to anyone within earshot. But it was an appropriate question to ask - and now the pundits on the left are asking it of Mr. Boehner. He isn’t answering, but I will volunteer to give at least a partial answer as I recognize the brilliance of the Governor of Wisconsin for seeing what I see as the solution to high unemployment.

The "jobs" - or a hell of a lot of them, are overseas. In China and Indonesia and in the Philippines and a lot of other places far from the shores of the good old USA. The jobs are in these places because the people who fill them work for peanuts. Not literally, but for sure for very little money. And they don’t have unions to march into the bosses offices to demand a better class of nut. Maybe more than a couple dollars a day or whatever pittances they are being paid. And because they don’t have the unions and because they work for peanuts, we are able to buy what they produce at a much lower cost than if it was produced in the United States. As a matter of fact, we almost have to buy what they produce because there’s little else available. I wrote about this a while ago, listing things in my house that were made anywhere but in the United States. And over a couple of nights last week, the ABC evening news did a feature on the topic - removing everything from a family’s home that wasn’t made in the USA - leaving them with no furniture, no appliances -"No nothing." The wrap up for the feature was to replace everything that had been removed with made in the USA products, which they were able to do - but how many of us could buy that many American made products without the resources of a major television network?

But while all these products are being made in other countries and shipped here, millions of Americans who could be making them are out of work - many with little chance of ever finding work again. But what if we could bring these jobs back home? What if, instead of closing factories by the thousands, we started opening new factories to build what we’ve been importing from other countries? It’s not something that couldn’t be done. We used to be the world’s leading manufacturer. We used to export to all the places that are now exporting to us. So what’s standing in the way? Governor Walker could tell you. In fact he is telling you just about every time he approaches a mike to explain Wisconsin’s budget problems. You have to be able to interpret Republicanese - or perhaps Kochbrotherese. The languages are interchangeable. What is standing in the way of full USA employment is UNIONS. Not just public employee unions. All unions.

Just think, if there were no unions, employers would be able to hire people at whatever pay scale they decide would be good for their bottom lines. If anyone complained, they’d just be kicked out the door. No unions to complain. No unions to negotiate. We’d be able rival the pay scales in China and Indonesia and the rest. There’d be no need to ship jobs overseas. We’d have full employment in no time. Of course there’d be very little of what the non-union work force produced that they’d be able to buy - but there’d be no problem. The ruling class - excuse me - the managerial and ownership class would have no trouble picking up the slack. It would be a much neater national arrangement. Just two kinds of people. The rich and the workers. No middle class.

That Walker’s a goddamned genius . Those lazy, blood sucking bottom feeders who are trying to bankrupt the State of Wisconsin should be grateful that the sensible people of the state have elected a man who is able to see the future and lead us all there and quit complaining like a bunch of spoiled juveniles. As for me, I can’t wait to hear what he has in mind for us to buy with all that Social Security Trust Fund money that will become available with the new order. Maybe a couple of wars closer to home? So those non-union arms factories won’t have to ship their products so far. Just think of the cost savings there. The new world people. The age of the Walkers. The only thing that can stop the coming of the new order is if Charlie Sheen starts his own all nude news broadcast on YOUTUBE and Lindsey Lohan actually goes to jail. Then there’d be no room on newscasts for the goings on in Wisconsin and Ohio - maybe even not on Fox "News!!"

It could end up being a case of "The best laid plans o' mice and men Gang aft a-gley. And no. I’m not calling Governor Walker a mouse. What would make you think such a thing?