Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Specter Switch -- a New Dance: I was absolutely thrilled by the momentous switch of the long time Republican Arlen Specter, to the Democratic Party. It was brave, it had foresight and it showed a pragmatic insight into the political realities of our time. It was brave because it is a difficult undertaking to switch parties when one has been a member of the federal legislative branch for such a long time. It was brave, too, in that Senator Specter knew the predictable risk of being accused that it was done simply because he saw the Republican primary polls for him in the next election were, as he stated, bleak. That fact, however, gave him the chance to be pragmatic, see the changing national demographics and with savvy represent the state of Pennsylvania and our country more effectively.

There is more to it, though, than that. The Democratic Party now has within it what the Republican Party lost. The Republican Party, sadly for it, lost its big tent and the Democratic Party, effectively constructed one of their own. Within the Democratic Party there is room for debate, dialogue and flexibility. This is, in my opinion, its biggest asset and has been one of the greatest reasons for its recent legislative and presidential success.

The Republican Party took the 1964 presidential Republican nominee Barry Goldwater’s memorable convention speech phrase “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue” and used it as its mantra to create over the past forty years a change in the Republican brand. Over time it served to work against itself as it eliminated a permanent Republican majority by eliminating differing views of its moderates. Clearly, extremism on either side of the political spectrum is the greatest vice and moderation the greatest virtue. The Democratic Party has developed a new dance and acquired what the Republican Party has lost and that is the ability to hear the other side, to rationally and less ideologically discuss the issues and to make more people feel their opinion counts.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I posted this on McClatchy blog at 10:30 p.m. August 23, 2009

To Much to Do: Let's see there is Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, the Taliban, the Taliban in Pakistan, Pakistan's nukes, Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Iran, bin laden, Israel, the economic disaster, no health care for half the country and the other half has inferior health care, our bridges, roads and infrastructure are crumbling, our education system stinks, and now tac on torture. No wonder Larry Summers fell asleep. We do not need one president, we need TEN. Oh yes there's the swine flu. I thought flu season was over. I'm tired. I'm going to bed!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Torture Legacy: It is unfathomable to me how an administration could commit the abundance of illegalities that we know for certain the Bush administration did and not think, with all the years of experience some like Dick Cheney possessed, that they would not have to account for their nefarious behavior most especially with respect to torture. For the first time former Vice-President Cheney is making the media rounds to try to explain his side of the story. No matter what Dick Cheney has to say it cannot and will not erase the indictments of so many, a significant number of whom are experts in interrogation tactics and others who will start coming out of hiding to expose the dastardly deeds so they can sleep at night and, most importantly, for their defense in the probable legal onslaught. History, of course, will be the final judge. My suspicion is the positive legacy the Bush administration allegedly so furiously covets will be one of the worst to befall an administration in US history and there is nothing they can do about it.

A footnote: Paul Krugman's article in the New York Times April 24, 2009, says it all more eloquently than I. Here is the link.

Another expert opinion -- Philip Zelikow, a former Bush administration lawyer interviewed on Rachel Maddow. He was asked to write an opinion on the legality of torture. For the Bush administration he wrote the opposite of what they wanted to hear and, of course, left, his opinions mysteriously vanishing. I suspect they may once be lost but soon, HOPEFULLY, found. He writes the following in the NYT as an Op Ed Contributor.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Folly of Fascism: Kudos to Scott Lehigh on his April 22, 2009 Globe editorial "The conservative cries of fascism." The vast pool of ignorance in which the American public swims astounds me. They simply do not know the definition and the difference between Fascism and Communism and its varying degrees of political thought which fall in between. Clearly the fascism of Mussolini of Italy, Hitler of Germany, Franco of Spain, or Hirohito of Japan were different from the politics of Roosevelt, Churchill and even Stalin no matter how many labeled all of these men interchangeably. It is inane to do so.

Nomenclature has meaning. The American public, generally speaking, would not know the difference between a fascist, a Communist or a socialist if they tripped over a Webster's dictionary explaining their essence. To understand all of it one would have to know where the term fascist originates. It had its etiological meaning as a bundle of rods or fasces tied together with an axe-like blade on the side which were carried by Roman soldiers. It signified a symbol of the power of the state. Mussolini used it as a symbol of the Fascist movement he tried to create. To understand Communism, of course, one would have to understand Karl Marx and his philosophy which made a vain, albeit unsuccessful, attempt at the humane equalizing of social class. These two extremes are quite different from one another. There is nothing about fascism one could label humane. They both, though, make the individual subservient to the power of the state.

These political philosophies are complex and can be discussed at length. Most of the American public cannot do that with ease so talk show hosts take advantage of ignorance by screaming that people are either one or the other when they are neither. There are underpinnings to these political ideologies but most do not understand them. Obama is to Fascism as an orange is to an elephant. It is ridiculous to compare the two. This is more evidence of the American public's slant toward anti-intellectualism. That is the saddest "ism" of all.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Fabric of American and other Life -- Tea Anyone? The latest teabag anti-tax (and many anti other things) mostly right wing inanity was an embarrassment. The threads of anti-government, anti-tax and the indictment of the latest fashionable ethnic group running through the historical fabric of American culture is chilling. The worst patch of the American quilt, in my opinion, is its traditional anti-intellectual assault on reason. THAT is the one I fear the most because through that all other extremist views are sewn. One can see it from the violent scourge of Fundamentalist Islam, Fundamentalist Christianity and, even among my own people, the popularity of Orthodox and Hassidic Judaism the most extreme and uncompromising forms of the faith.

The churches of change such as Unitarians, Congregationalists and other thinking Christian faiths as well as reform Judaism, in modern times, I think, take a hit as people want certainty. The Islamic faith, too, has a few moderate strains but many annihilate the disagreeing other by the most grotesque and bestial methods possible and, within the parameters of my limited knowledge of it, has no popular active liberal reform movement for obvious reasons. I have heard much of moderate Islam but nothing of reform Islam which would obviously encounter great risk to adherents. Dangerous times somehow advance the dangerous agendas of dangerous and often violent people incapable of listening to another side or questioning much of anything.

I hope man's divinely supreme intellect, proclivity for learning, and his love for rational thought ultimately prevail. It USUALLY does but, as history tells us, not always. It is my greatest fear because the stakes of annihilation from a nuclear reality by people who think they possess the ultimate truth is possible and terrifying. I am hoping smarter thought prevails and its attendant art form, compromise, not forgotten.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Civil Liberties and Domestic Surveillance: I have always had mixed emotions with respect to the NSA's collection of domestic telephone and email exchanges. Lofty principles are wonderful in an age when nuclear weapons are not a reality. That is not the age in which we live. Yet, what is more representative of the essence of our nation than its civil libertarian devotion. It is the reflection of who we are and, often, at least the verbal justification for our military and diplomatic intervention on the world stage. While I understand the grave existential threat of physical attack, I worry about the existential erosion of those very ideas that make us, as a nation, who we are. The body and the body politic consists of both ideas and biological realities. They are united. Can one live without the other?

While there is a certain amount of government surveillance which, I believe, is necessary, the dragneting of thousands if not millions of harmless citizens' phone calls and emails is a waste of time, money and surely is, I believe, ineffective in keeping the nation safe. We are wasting resources capturing email and phone calls of an elderly grandmother living in Boca Raton whose daily routine includes meals at her assisted living, bingo and phone calls to her daughter in law in Paris. Our country needs to be protected but the protection requires pin point accuracy of who is the real threat and who is not.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A New Sealing of Fate: When I first heard about the rescue of the captain of the Maersk by the Navy Seals my level of depression about the economy, more American soldiers killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and so many other problems facing our nation, went from ten to zero in an instant. Finally, an Easter/Passover metaphor -- the resurrection of hope in a sea of despair. Over the course of three days I thought the captain of the Maersk would be killed. That he was not reinforced a debate I had with someone recently over the competence of our military. I believe it to be the most competent in the world. My opposition, surprisingly a veteran, said he thought not. I decided Sunday my opinion was vindicated as I rehearsed in my mind over and over again what our modern military has been asked to do. Our professional all-volunteer military performs perfectly and have done what they have been asked to do every time. They are the military. They are NOT politicians nor are they members of the State Department or Congress. Their job is to protect and, if necessary, to kill for, American interests period. In my opinion, they do it with phenomenal bravery and incredible preciseness. What were the odds the captain and his crew would be rescued successfully? As each day passed the odds began to look slim.

Barack Obama said nothing while the ordeal was occurring. I suspect he worked with many entities in the utmost secrecy to make the operation work. We will probably not know the true extent of his machinations for many years but I know enough about our president to believe he is cautious, he is deliberate and he is very very smart. He is the exact opposite of the eight years of knee jerk militarism and paucity of intellect which was team Bush. Recently, when Bush's former UN ambassador Bolton was asked how he would resolve this difficult pirate issue his reaction was a military assault on Somalia. That would mean, of course, an escalation of war and possibly yet another occupational quagmire of an anarchistic East African entity in the Horn of Africa which cannot even be considered a nation state. We would add a third or some say even fourth war, if one counts some of Pakistan, as a target to our military's burden. We cannot employ that kind of foreign policy again and again and again. We do not have the lives to risk, the money to spend nor suffer the worldwide ill will it would engender if the US reacts with overwhelming military force to meet every threat we may face.

Terrorism whether from pirates or otherwise is worldwide. President Obama brings to his office precisely what our nation needs: meticulousness of thought, thoughtful preparation and slow but deliberate action which produces the optimum result but does not incur world-wide animosity in the process. The Obama Doctrine is smart and it is deliberative. The indictment many have had the past eight years has NOT been of the military but of the politicians who craft stupid poorly thought-out policy and then cavalierly play roulette with the lives and fortunes of those who would implement it.

Thankfully, the US has wonderful geographical coordinates. It is removed from many anarchistic forces who wish to destroy it. Technology, though, as 9/11 proved, makes all nations very close indeed. President Obama showed smart, deliberate poise while he monitored the problem and then gave his permission to those who could perfect the desired result. They, perfectly, surely did.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bribery Pirates -- Frontline April 7, 2009 -- "Black Money" international bribery: As usual PBS and Frontline presented an interesting broadcast. The program on international bribery made me reflect. If only I did not have to worry about money. I, disabled and suffering in this economic recession/depression, watch, as the economic conditions worsen and my own body from polio will no longer do at 60 what it did years ago no matter how hard I try.

I ask myself the very moral question that Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia and others talked about in this Frontline episode in relation to his being paid huge sums of money under the radar screen from the British aircraft company BAE in exchange, of course, for huge contracts in Saudi Arabia. Is bribery for enormous sums of money really that bad? After all as he stated so many do it, it's simply human nature and man is a fallen angel. Wouldn't it be so wonderful never to have to worry about money again? Life is so short, why not live it in style as one lives only once? Why not as, in the final analysis, we can only account for ourselves and no one really cares about me except for me.

There are laws against international bribery for a myriad of reasons. Arms sales between countries surreptitiously are dangerous by their very nature as today's friend is tomorrow's enemy sitting with your country's killing machines in its lap easily turned on you when the time is appropriate. The Iraq war was testament to that fact. What if our friend Prince Bandar and his father are either removed from power or what if both turn on the west as China and other nations become titanically powerful economic forces? Then what happens to the arms, the planes and the equipment the west sold to him? It is, though, not only EVEN about simply that, although that is surely important. It is about personal morality.

Even with my difficult position in life, even with my handicap, even with my fervent desire to not have to worry again, if I were in a position and someone came to me with an offer there is NO way on planet earth I would succumb. You may say that is easy for me to say now because no one ever has but truly I could NEVER be corrupted not by international finance, not by Wall Street, not by being a Congressperson (if I were one), not by anything or anyone. Why? Because it's wrong, it's unethical, it's not fair, it is illegal and it is downright dangerous. I would NEVER do one thing to compromise my integrity -- ever. No amount of money could make me do anything at any time to potentially hurt another human being, this planet or most especially my country. That is how much I value all of those things. I value those things more than my own difficult plight.

Some would pocket billions of dollars SIMPLY because, as Frontline indicated, they COULD, I would NOT pocket billions or millions (assuming I had the chance) simply because I COULD NOT. It's that simple.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Mystery of Mental Illness: Sent this to the Metro News responding to an editorial on mental illness.

I agree with Dr. Gordon's April 7, 2009 editorial "Don't Stigmatize the Mentally Ill." I believe, though, some critical comments about mental illness and its treatment are in order. It is true mental illness should not, of course, be stigmatized. We are advanced, at least SOME of us are advanced, enough to know that the brain is an organ just like any other in the body. Sometimes as one's pancreas, for example, it does not function effectively for a variety of reasons. However, the stigmatizing, I think, that is accorded mental illness is that it is behavioral and not simply systemic in nature. Unlike other illnesses mental illness CAN produce threatening behavioral manifestations. I submit, it is the nature of how mental illness presents itself that is often the reason people fear it, stigmatize it and isolate people who show symptoms of it. We can clearly, I think, state that the man from Binghamton who killed so many innocent people was mentally ill. That does not preclude the fact that he posed a very clear and present danger to the community and no one knew it. When people present with bizarre behavior or speech people often do not know and fear what they will do.

Dr. Gordon and others in the mental health field will say that there are treatments for people with mental illness as there are treatments for people with diabetes and that is true. I though, maintain, the treatment offered to the mentally ill is sporadic at best and ineffective at worst. The treatment for mental illness shown in the panoply of medications offered for it are delivered often by trial and error. Treatment is haphazard as medications for certain diagnoses are seemingly thrown into a hat and then selected. Even the diagnosis itself is subjective. There is, in my opinion, no effective scientific measurement yet to determine which mental illness one has and which treatments are proper for it. We can only guess. That is not the case with diseases such as diabetes. Much of mental health care is, I submit, guess work and it often does not achieve the effective result. Drugs seem to work for a time, then medications must be increased and finally stopped as they become ineffective or cause unacceptable side effects.

Further, to complicate matters, drugs to treat mental illness can get expensive. We know the record of insurance companies paying for the average disease is often less than desirable but it is worse than that when it comes to mental illness. It is NOT treated by insurance companies with the same procedural equality as other illnesses may be. Co-payments are often large and sustained treatment sometimes not available ESPECIALLY for people who fall into the middle of the socioeconomic strata who have a difficult time -- especially in a down economy -- of getting treatment for anything much less for mental illness.

In my opinion, mental health professionals must work most especially on developing scientifically precise measurements of the brain and blood chemistry of mental illness. Insurance companies, too, should be forced by law to pay for the necessary treatment as they should for any other disease. It is only then, by the successful treatment of mental illness and the patient's ability to pay for it that its behavioral ramifications will be ameliorated and the public stigma reduced.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bill Maher -- I have seen better shows: Wrote this to HBO and Bill Maher

I have been an avid fan of Bill Maher for years. I will continue to watch his show. I do, however, want to convey my irritation lately about his shows. Last week, Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens and Mos Def were the guests. Rushdie and Hitchens are significant intellects with much creative thought to offer. I believe Mos Def, whom I have seen on Maher's show before, yet again was not only out of place but obstructionist as he, in never ending fashion, interrupted the other guests and had little well thought out ideas to convey. He was, I thought, inarticulate noise and prevented my enjoyment of the other two intellectual giants. I thought this was an extraordinarily incongruous choice of guests by Maher and HBO.

This week Bill Maher had on the conservative journalist David Frum who is absolutely humorless and boring. Sam Donaldson, Reihan Salam, and Carol Liefer were interesting. Bill Maher himself was, I thought, obnoxious, disrespectful and crude to both Sam Donaldson and Carol Liefer. First, he forgot Liefer's book which I am sure was an important part of her appearance on the show, next he used insulting words about her body as she described her scare with breast cancer. If that were not enough he used a disgusting reference to her about female genitalia. She, I thought, did NOT deserve that. Moreover, Sam Donaldson, a cultivated journalist, was insulted, too, by Maher when he made reference to his hair. Bill Maher should have refrained from making reference to his "rug." It sounded insensitive, crude and ignorant. Mr. Donalson was a gentleman about it. I thought, however, he was embarrassed by the insult and that Maher's treatment stifled Mr. Donaldson's thought. He, it seemed, did not give the audience enough benefit of his vast experience on the world stage. Surely Mr. Donaldson deserved better treatment than he was given. I, too, in my opinion could have easily done without Joe the Plumber. I believe he has NOTHING to offer. He has no intellect, no achievement, no well thought out ideas and has been merely a media creation with no purpose.

Surely, Bill Maher, a talented man, with many gifts for comedy, political satire and criticism does not have to resort to vulgarity and insult to guests who deserve better. I will give The Bill Maher Show some more viewing time but, truly, if more thought is not put into the congruency of whom Maher has on as guests and WHAT vulgar verbiage Maher uses I just may not view him any more. Time will tell.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Place of the Jewish Holocaust: A letter appeared in the Metro West Daily News, April 1, 2009 from an Armenian gentleman, Mr. Demoorjian, whose opinion was essentially that all genocides were the same in that they were important to the individual group which was the subject of the onslaught and equated the Armenian genocide to the atrocity of the Jewish Holocaust. In fairness to him he did not belittle the Jewish Holocaust BUT he did create what I saw was a rather egalitarian concept of the 20th century Jewish Holocaust in Europe with respect to all others. I took issue, in part, because I do not believe all genocides, while horrific occurrences in and of themselves, to be the same. Thus, I wrote my own editorial to the News commenting on it. It stated as follows.

What Mr. Demoorjian's says has, without doubt, merit. One cannot calculate the human suffering of genocide whether in Armenia, Cambodia, Sudan, the slums of Mumbai or of the Jews of Europe. I as a Jew and as one whose politics have been shaped by the Holocaust, have long advocated for world admission of the Armenian genocide. There is no question about its reality and no question of its horror.

While, in my opinion, the near complete eradication of the Jewish people in Europe reigns sadly supreme among man's inhumanity to man, the Armenian genocide comes close to equaling its scope. Still, as horrific as other attempts at genocide are, in my opinion, nothing on planet earth rises to the Olympian heights of the Jewish Holocaust. It was unparalleled in its length, in its scope and in its near successful completion as man used all his technologically sophisticated machinations to arrive at the German self-proclaimed Final Solution.

What does the word Final mean? I believe we must look not only at the deaths of the six million innocent men and women -- a million of whom were children -- but we must look also at the progression of Jewish history throughout the ages to see what the word final really means. Final means, to me, the end, the last, the climax of the 2000 year historical orgy of anti-Semitism born from Judaism's early schism with nascent Christianity.

Throughout generations, Christianity, uncompromising and extreme, laid a claim no other genocide ever did. The New Testament accusation against the Jew for the crime of deicide -- the actual killing of God --, in fact, made centuries of cruel, restrictive and brutal treatment of the Jewish people possible. Its orgasmic climax became the Holocaust and Europe's attempt to finally rid itself of a people the indictment of whom was a part of Christian doctrine for two milenia.

No other hatred has been as long, as wide spread, and as continuing as the hatred of the Jew. Moreover, while that kind of anti-Semitism we may consider now obscurantist (even though we do see some of it in modern Europe today), the baton of it has been relinquished to other Middle Eastern peoples who often use identical anti-Semitic spewing heard in the ghettos of yesteryear's Europe to justify the violence they spread.

It is with that historical milena in mind that I make my argument. I DO, though, understand the horrific nature of the Armenian atrocity and my thoughts, I hope, in no way diminish its historical importance to the world.
Watching the Wolves: Jeff Jacoby's April 1, 2009 op ed "Beware of wolves in suits" is a superior piece. I agree with every sentiment as my blood boils over the egregious abuses of the partnership between government and the people's money irrespective of political party. In circular fashion our money ends up often in our elected officials' or their appointments' pockets. They at times give back little and even sometimes nothing to the job they hold or to the people they represent. Much of the behavior such as collecting salaries and pensions at the same time, which Jeff Jacoby illuminated, is or should be illegal and if not illegal is certainly hugely unethical. As Jacoby says, it is especially unethical given our severe recessive economic times. Whether it's Wall Street bailouts and bonuses or pension funds and salaries for public employees, in the final analysis, it is the taxpayer's money. There must be strict oversight and intense regulation of those who could breach the public trust as human being's natural proclivity for greed is taken by some to Herculean heights.

We are, indeed, the sheep who do not have even a chance against the wolves who guard the hen house too because, often, the public's memory, unfortunately, is short. We read an occasional editorial exposing corruption one day and the next day it is forgotten. Perhaps it is because we feel powerless against government corruption and because there is so much of it. If we do not have our governmental officials to protect us then who do we have? In that case, it is up to the press to relentlessly pound the drum exposing the slime under the rock. It is then up to the people in a democracy to demand clean-up and watch ever so closely exactly what the wolves are doing. If our elected officials and their cronies breach the ethical divide we can use our power by giving them either the prosecutorial or electoral boot.