Monday, December 31, 2007

Good Bye 2007

*22 American soldiers killed in Iraq in December 2007.

Over all, politically, 2007 wasn't that great of a year. Iraq is quieter since the surge except for the families of the soldiers who are still being killed (including one on the last day of 2007). If you love someone who died, it probably doesn't help much to know that "deaths are down". And, still, no one can seem to articulate what our end goal is in Iraq or how we'll know when we've "won". We do know that when its over, we'll be left with an enormous, and enormously expensive embassy, larger than the freakin' Vatican!

We know that while the president vetoed the SCHIP bill, which would have given millions of additional American children healthcare on the grounds that we "couldn't afford" such generosity, we handed out cases of American dollars in Iraq (along with cases of American weapons) to just about anyone who came along. We "lost" enough unaccounted for billions of dollars in Iraq to pay for SCHIP.

We know that while Iraq is quieter, Afghanistan is deteriorating (you know, Afghanistan, the original home of Osama Bin Laden, the perpetrator of 911!)

We know that Pakistan, a country that definitely has WMD, is now in turmoil after the assassination of Benizir Bhutto.

We know one good thing -our intelligence agencies decided they wouldn't take the hit again for starting a war on bad information and released a National Intelligence Estimate stating that Iran had ended its efforts to build nuclear weapons some years ago. This was probably in the nick of time to stop us from bombing Iran as Vice-president Cheney and some of the well-known neocons are on record as wanting to do.

Another good thing - President Bush and Condoleezza Rice have decided to put their efforts (finally) into trying to negotiate a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. If they pull it off, there would be at least one check mark on the positive side of the Bush legacy.

Even if that happens, I think the conclusion that history will come to is that the Bushies went over to the smoldering powder keg that was the Middle East and set a match to it. Now, I'm just praying that we can all get through the next year until these people are gone and rational leaders take over our foreign policy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

pant suits

Robin Givhan, the Washington Post's fashion maven, wrote her column today about Hillary Clinton and her pant suits. She questioned Hillary's motives for wearing pants. (Was she trying to subtly "get us used to a female commander in chief?") She questioned Hillary's penchant for mixing and matching, saying that Hillary lived in the "grown up land of Garanimals". She questioned the style of her pant suits ("does Hillary even have hips?). She questioned her color choices ("Hillary, the human color wheel").

Ah, it was all very east coast elite and cuttingly humorous. It made me try to remember the last time I wore a skirt or dress. In 2004, unemployed, I bought a "power suit" for going to interviews. I thought it would make me look more professional and hireable. Let's just say the suit didn't suit me and the day I got another job, it disappeared into the back of the closet, never to be seen again.

I can't even remember when I wore a skirt prior to that. I'm 61. I've been through all the fashions. When I was in high school, we wore "wrap-around" skirts. What a stupid style that was. It was hard to carry books when you were also trying to hold down a skirt that flew open in the slightest breeze. (Of course, back then we had no choice about skirts and dresses because we weren't allowed to wear pants to school).

In the late 60's and early 70's, I wore mini-skirts. Thankfully, I was slender then although, fools for fashion that we females always are, even those who weren't insisted on being part of the in-crowd. Heavy girls with large thighs just looked sad and foolish in skirts six inches above the knee. I worked as a waitress in a bar and a secretary in an office then. Lowering a drink tray to a table or filing a folder in a bottom drawer in a mini-skirt were equally perilous endeavors. Oh, how carefully you had to lower yourself straight down instead of bending over for fear of showing your underwear. When you sat in a chair, you were always conscious of the need to keep your legs clenched tightly together. All in all, a pretty uncomfortable time.

After mini-skirts came midi-skirts. Midi-skirts looked beautiful on tall, slender, long-legged women but they lost something in the translation when the wearer was 5 feet tall and um, more stocky than slender by now. I was lucky to survive the midi-skirt era. My hems got caught in my high heels (speaking of a fashion statement that should be banished forever) and, more than once, sent me tumbling to the ground. I almost caused a wreck when my skirt bottom wrapped itself in a death grip around my gas pedal. I was glad to see that particular era fade away.

By then, pant suits were acceptable in work places and everywhere else. Gratefully, I filled my closet with them and never looked back.

Hillary is about my age. I expect she went through the same fashion transitions that I did and emerged on the same side of comfort and convenience. Can you imagine how uncomfortable she would be sitting on a stage with seven men at a debate, more concerned with desperately trying to keep her skirt down and her thighs together than framing an answer to a foreign policy question? Or walking down the freezing streets of New Hampshire knocking on doors with bare legs. Or frantically holding on to her skirt in a stiff wind during a photo op in Des Moines? And I'm sure that when you are constantly on the campaign trail, "coordinated" outfits are simply a matter of practicality.

Sometimes, things are just a matter of commonsense and have no complex psychological undercurrents. I suspect Robin Givhan simply used her column as an excuse to make fun of Hillary by showing off her own form of snide sophistication.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Presidential politics

This is my favorite time for watching television, reading newspapers, monitoring blogs. I follow presidential politics the way the most radical fans follow the Colts. I watch every debate on both sides. I go to all the candidates' web pages. I read their position papers. I view their ads. This is the only time I wish I lived in Iowa or New Hampshire. I envy those who get to see all the presidential hopefuls up close and personal.

Unfortunately, in Indiana the closest we normally come to presidential pols is when their planes fly overhead on their way to somewhere else. In Indiana, you have to go to YouTube to see candidate's ads. By the time, our primary comes around, our vote will be moot. The rest of the country will have already decided who the nominees are. Not that it really matters. It's highly unlikely that we won't vote for the Republican, no matter who that turns out to be.

For what it's worth, here is my take on the candidates:

Republicans

Front-runner (so far) Rudy Giuliani - Rudy's claim to fame is 9/11 but what is his record regarding that fateful day? He put his security headquarters in the World Trade Center, against the advice of all the experts, because it was within walking distance of the Governor's Mansion. He also had an apartment installed, which we now know, is one of the places he met his then mistress, now wife. He ignored safety officials' urgent requests to provide police and fire departments radios with compatible frequencies so that on 9/11, they couldn't communicate with one another. He put forth the name of Bernard Kerik to be the first head of Homeland Security, the same Bernie Kerik he'd been told had ties to the mob and the very same Bernie Kerik who is now under indictment on numerous felonies. He was one of the original 9/11 commission members but was asked to resign when he didn't attend any of the meetings because he was too busy making high dollar speeches about his expertise in handling terrorism.

Mike Huckabee (perhaps the new front-runner by now) - Huckabee is the most witty and amiable-seeming of the Republicans. My own biggest concern about Huckabee is the same thing that probably makes him popular with evangelical Republicans and that is his religiosity. He has stated that his religion informs who he is and it is why he doesn't believe in evolution and thought that AIDS victims should be quarantined (presumably on some deserted island much as we used to do to lepers). I don't want America to become a Christian theocracy. Huckabee has that same self-deprecating sense of humor that Bill Clinton has (what is it about politicians from Hope, Arkansas?) but he is better than Clinton was at sticking the shiv into his opponents' backs so subtly that they barely know they've suffered a mortal wound until the blood flows, such as his shrugging refusal to say whether he believes Romney is a Christian.

Mitt Romney - we shall see if the media believes "flip-flopping" is a fatal flaw the way they did when they used it against John Kerry last time. Mitt Romney strikes me as a plastic man who can mold his beliefs into whatever he thinks the voters want to hear.

John McCain - probably has the most integrity of any of the higher ranking Republicans. Of course, he's changed his stands on a few issues but I'm probably more tolerant of pandering than most people. Politicians have a certain constituency they have to please to gain the nomination and if they refuse to ever bend on even the smallest issues, then they are Ron Paul. That might be an admirable place to be but it means you've given up the idea of winning.

Fred Thompson - still has an outside chance if he kicks it into gear but it doesn't appear that he's interested in giving this race 110 percent, the level of commitment Americans expect from their candidates. We say we have contempt for the politician who'll go anywhere and say anything for a dollar or a vote but we really don't mean it.

Ron Paul - I doubt any but his most loyal supporters would really approve of his hard-line Libertarian views if he really had a chance of winning but good for him for sticking to his principles and shedding some light on a completely different way of looking at issues. He is actually closer to what Republicans used to say they believed in than some of the front-runners - fiscal responsibility, state's rights, no nation building, etc.

Tom Tancredo - only has one issue, immigration, about which he's a fire-breather.

Duncan Hunter - I've watched all the debates and I can't think of anything that distinguishes Duncan Hunter from the rest of the pack.

Over all, the Republicans are pro-war, pro-nukes, pro-torture, pro-Guantanamo, pro-bombing Iran, pro-depriving American children of healthcare. This is the most testosterone-driven field I ever recall. At every debate, I expect them to collectively lower their britches to prove who has the largest testicles.

The Democrats

Hillary Clinton - my first choice. Mainly because I see her as the candidate who "took a lickin' and kept on tickin'" She's experienced and level-headed and has the benefit of Bill Clinton's advice. The 90's were great for me. I'd happily return to the years of budgets in surplus and an effective military. It wasn't that Clinton refused to use the military but he put in place leadership that knew what they were doing, such a General Wesley Clark in Bosnia where we went with a real coalition and accomplished our mission with no loss of life. Hillary is a moderate who has worked with Republicans in the Senate to get things done.

Barack Obama - the media's sweetheart. If good press gets you the nomination, Barack is in. My concern is that he isn't tough enough to take on the Republican machine. He says he doesn't want to be the president of "blue state America or red state America but the United States of America". Does he think the Clinton's didn't come to Washington wanting the same thing? Why does he think that didn't happen? It was because "red state America" had no intention of letting it happen. I doubt if they'd agree to hold hands and sing Kumbaya with Obama either.

John Edwards - I like a lot of John Edwards' ideas, maybe more than anyone else's. I'm a huge supporter of the working class. I like his attention to New Orleans. I like his emphasis on putting people ahead of Big Insurance, Big Banking and Big Pharma. But he's lived in Iowa for the last two years and he's currently third there and he isn't raising money like Hillary and Barack. I think his time passed him by.

Bill Richardson - best resume of the bunch. He's been a governor, an ambassador, a negotiator and effective in all those roles. In a normal presidential year, he'd have a better chance but he suffers from being in a field that contains a couple of superstars. Hard to get any attention when the they are hogging the spotlight.

Joe Biden and Chris Dodd. Smart, knowledgeable, effective senators. Same problem as Richardson. Over-shadowed by Clinton, Obama and to some extent, Edwards. This isn't a year when Americans want old, white senators.

Dennis Kucinich - The Democrats' Ron Paul. It is easy to say exactly what you think when you don't have the same goal as the others, namely, winning the nomination.

Over all, the Democrats have a deep field. If Hillary doesn't win, there isn't any of them I couldn't vote for with enthusiasm.

Comment: I wish we could get away from the Iowa caucuses having so much influence in choosing our eventual nominees. Only a relatively few Iowans participate. Iowa has almost no diversity to speak of, unlike the rest of America. It has no large cities so is unrepresentative of the urban experience. It is top-heavy with rural voters. And yet, mainly because of the media, their choice has a roaring head start for the nomination. There has to be a better way.

Iraq

*146 American troops killed since September 1, 2007

First, Iraq. The troop "surge". It has been judged by Republicans to have been a great success. And on one front, it has been a success. Violence is down. That in and of itself, is a very good thing. Only 146 of our American soldiers have been killed since September 1. I'm not sure I believe "only 146 deaths" is really a cause for joy but but it is better than some previous months.

My problem with the troop surge is that I don't understand what the point was. I know the stated reason President Bush gave. It was to "buy time" for the Iraqi government to have some "breathing room" to make political progress. And have they made political progress? Nope, not so's you'd notice. In fact, far from making use of the breathing room we gave them, the Iraqi government, en masse, has just gone on vacation - again.

Meanwhile, we are going to bring some troops home. We have to. We knew all along that we didn't have enough manpower to sustain the surge much beyond the first of the year. Still, I expect we will bring them home to great fanfare with the president proclaiming that they are able to return because of the success of the mission.

But unless what they've accomplished is a permanent change, one that can be maintained by the Iraqis themselves once our presence isn't so dominating, it may prove to have been a temporary fix.

Vice-president Cheney says that he believes that Iraq will be a self-sustaining democracy by January of 2009. He's never been right about anything before but there's a first time for everything, so maybe this will be that time. But if that's so, why is Bush trying desperately to work out an agreement with the Iraqi government that will guarantee our presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future, tying the hands of the next president, who may not agree with such an arrangement?

Republicans often accuse those who have been opposed to this war of "wanting America to lose". This isn't true, at least in my case. My bottom line is that I never believed we should have gone into Iraq and even if we "win" (the definition of which changes from month to month but let's take Cheney's vision of Iraq as a "self-democracy" as victory), I don't think it was worth it. I don't think the very best possible outcome that could happen was worth the lives of almost 4,000 Americans, the health of tens of thousands of other Americans, the lives of God only knows how many Iraqis, the total destruction of a country, a trillion dollars spent that we could have put to better use, was worth it.

I thought going to Iraq was a tragic mistake on Day one and I think it is a tragic mistake on whatever day this is - no matter what happens in Iraq and even if "only" 146 Americans die in the next three months.

Sick

I don't know whether it is even worthwhile updating this blog at this point. The last time I posted was in August. That's because I was sick. I'd actually been ill quite a while before that but, it happened so gradually, I didn't realize it until I began feeling better! My first "spell" happened when I was on the road driving to the writer's conference in New York. That was in June. It was bad enough that I seriously considered turning around and coming home but I didn't. It eased off. I knew I wasn't at the top of my game but I forged on although I eventually came home a day early.

One reason I put off seeing Dr Wenrich was because the insurance at my new job hadn't kicked in yet. (Ah, health insurance - I wonder how many major decisions by Americans revolve around insurance considerations?)

My main symptom were 1) feeling as if my heart was trying to beat its way out of my chest and 2) total lack of energy. I essentially worked and slept for several months.

Finally, I was driven to the emergency room by the fear that I was having a heart attack. From there I was sent, via ambulance, to Parkview in Fort Wayne. I was in ICCU one night, and then in the regular part of the hospital for four more days while being subjected to various tests. Turned out, it had to do with digestive tract problems. They started me on new medicine. I began to feel better.

And that's really all I want to say about illness. This post is mainly to explain why I've been away so long.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Every Man for Himself

Six miners lost thousands of feet underground after a cave-in in the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah. Three rescue workers killed and six wounded trying to save them. This is one more illustration of how little concern Americans have for one another as workers. One of my most frustrating issues as an American is how easily working class Americans are divided.

In January 2006, 12 miners were killed after an explosion in the Sago Mine in West Virginia. (In fact, in all of 2006, 47 miners were killed). This tragedy caused great hue and cry and a call for stricter mine safety laws. West Virginia quickly passed legislation establishing a mining emergency operations center and requiring miners to wear wireless communications devices. The state of Ohio debated similar legislation.

Robert E Murray, owner of the Crandall Canyon mine, said about the new safety laws, "they are seriously flawed, knee-jerk reactions". Ohio eventually passed a weaker package of mine safety legislation.

In case anyone thinks such information is relevant, federal mine safety regulators have levied $260,073 in fines against Murray since 1995. Since the beginning of 2007, this particular mine has received 32 safety violations. In 2003, four top employees of KenAmerican Resources, also owned by Robert Murray, were convicted in a federal court in Kentucky of conspiring to violate federal mine safety rules.

Robert E Murray asserts that an earthquake caused the mine collapse, something that is denied by geological evidence. Instead, it seems pretty certain that "retreat mining" was being done at Crandall Canyon. Retreat mining is a particularly dangerous operation that involves removing the last of the coal in a seam by blowing up the pillars of coal that support the ceiling and walls of the shaft.

In the same year as the Sago Mine tragedy, 2006, while there was all this discussion going on about mine safety, President George Bush was adamantly pushing his choice of William Sickler as his Mine Safety Czar. Naturally, in the way of so many Bush appointees, Sickler previously worked for the very industry he was now to be put in charge of policing, having managed mining operations for BethEnergy Mines, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel. As a coal company executive, Sickler had his own safety issues. Three workers died in BethEnergy mines during his tenure. In one incident, as reported in the Charleston, West Virginia, Gazette, one mechanic died and six others were injured when a portal bus carrying them to the bottom of a mine shaft derailed. A report regarding this incident issued alleged that the bus had not been properly maintained.

Sickler didn't have much support for his nomination as Mine Safety Czar. He was opposed by the United Mine Workers, the families of miners, and both Democratic and Republican congress members. President Bush first nominated Sickler to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration in in 2005. By May, it looked pretty certain that his nomination would be rejected. In July, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, hired Sickler as a consultant, while vowing and declaring that she had absolutely no intention of making an end run around the nominating process. In August and September, the Republican-controlled Senate voted twice to send Sickler's name back to the president. In October of 2006, Bush installed Sickler as the Mine Safety Czar as a recess appointment in defiance of senators on both sides of the aisle.

Arlen Spector, Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, said he didn't think Sickler was "the right man for the job." Rick Santorum, also a Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, said he was "disappointed". Isn't this whole process just so typical of George Bush? He will have what he wants and to hell with what anyone else thinks.

So now we have the perfect storm regarding mine safety - six miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon mine, an arrogant mine owner with a less than sterling record on protecting his workers, and a Mine Safety Czar who seems to be missing in action.

The larger question is: what will Americans do about this? Will they rally to the defense of the miners and other wage earners? Will they begin to insist with their voices and their votes that workers be given a voice at the political table when it comes to labor issues. Or will they just watch their pay and their pensions and their health insurance fade away without protest? Will we do as we have so often done and be more jealous than supportive of people who earn more than us or get more benefits?

I always find it laughable when pundits and politicians tell us we must not engage in "class warfare" when they mean the poor against the rich, but Americans have never been into that kind of class warfare - we're more into being at war with one another.

*Note - the latest news from Crandall Canyon is not good. A test of the air in the mine shows that the quality is too poor to support life. The owner now says, it is likely that the bodies will never be found.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

War and more war

* 48 American soldiers killed in Iraq so far in August - as of 8/17

Well, what have we found out in the last couple of weeks?

- The Pentagon can't account for 190,000 weapons that went to Iraq. We don't know who has them now. Could be our friends, could be our enemies. Could be people who pretend to be our friends, like Iraqi soldiers and police officers, who are really part of the insurgency or militant death squads. We don't know who they are being used against but it seems likely that at least some of them targeting our own soldiers. It is a heck of a situation when you just open the store houses and let whoever come in and grab up almost 200,000 weapons. But, typical of this administration. Think of thousands of trailers meant for Katrina victims currently rusting away in Arkansas.

- A new report states that soldiers are committing suicide at the highest level since Vietnam. Is anyone surprised? You can only put people under so much stress without expecting some of them to crack. But, somehow, the party that supports sending them back into a war zone over and over again is the one that has the reputation for supporting the troops. The Democrats offered legislation that would require that the active military have as much time off at home as they spent in combat and that the National Guard receive 3 years off between deployments so their lives aren't completely upended. The Republicans hung tough and defeated the bill. But this is the party that insists it is the one that supports the troops. Sometimes I feel like Alice in Wonderland. I've slipped behind the looking glass.

- The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, has found that the U.S. has completed 2,797 rebuilding projects (schools, hospitals, power plants, etc.) in Iraq at a cost of $5.8 billion. Of these, the Iraqi government has accepted only 435 of them. Why? Because inspection found most of them to be shoddily built, crumbling and abandoned. Makes you wonder who got the $5.8 in rebuilding funds though, doesn't it? And why those construction companies aren't being fined and/or otherwise punished. Even when we got it right, the Iraqis managed to screw it up themselves. Example: we spent $90 million to refurbish two huge turbines at a power plant in Baghdad but they were ruined when Iraqi employees used the wrong fuel in them. You'd think electricity would be a high priority in Iraq, where residents usually only have power for a few hours a day. Are the people in charge, both Americans and Iraqis, simply inept or is it deliberate because of some profit motive? Will we ever know?

- "Wait for General Petraus", has been the mantra of the war supporters for months now. It was the touchstone for their continued backing of the war. Well, mid-September is rushing towards us and now it appears that the General's report isn't going to be his at all. It is going to be the Bush administration report with "input" from General Petraus. I have thought from the beginning that the Petraus Report was just a mechanism for buying yet for time for this war which has been sold to us in a endless series of "six more month" increments. I assumed the General would inform us that "some progress has been made" and the administration would seize on that as a device to insist on six more months to let the surge work. I still think that's what will happen. The surge will have to end in the spring, according to military experts, because our military will run out of bodies to keep it going. So, with great fanfare, it will be declared a success and we'll be told that we are now able to "withdraw" some troops. Then the numbers will settle in to what they were before the surge and stay that way as long as Bush is president.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Dead Dogs

Recently, there has been a situation at the Animal Shelter. I don't know the exact details but it involves dogs picked up from an allegedly neglectful home. As it turned out, some of these dogs had Parvo, an extremely serious and deadly disease. As a consequence of the Parvo, which I understand is quite contagious, all the dogs in residence were ultimately put down and the Shelter is in a state of quarantine.

I do the books for the Animal Shelter and am there quite frequently picking up their money and bills to be paid. Virginia Reahard, our long time Animal Control Officer, retired in May and Sherry Cox was promoted to the top spot. The last time I talked to Sherry, the situation at the Shelter had only recently occurred. She'd been in contact with veterinarians, the health department, other shelters and her board members. Not all the information she'd received in terms of symptoms, contagiousness and length of quarantine matched so it left Sherry in a quandary about how to handle this crisis.

Ultimately, she decided that, based on the varying information she'd been given, all the dogs in the Shelter should be euthanized and the kennels completely cleaned and disinfected and given some time before taking a chance on bringing in any more dogs. I completely agree with this assessment on her part. Whether or not that was the "right" choice, I can tell you that Sherry is a very caring and responsible person. If she decided to put down the dogs, it was because she believed it was the best option for the sake of the Shelter.

Some people disagreed with this decision. So be it. That is always going to happen.

The broader point I would like to make is that most folks don't have the faintest idea how many animals in Wabash County are euthanized on an annual basis. They may get personally caught up in the fates of these particular, possibly sick, dogs because they read about them in the newspaper. The situation is called to their attention. But, dogs in Wabash County are put down every single week. Hundreds of dogs. Perfectly healthy dogs. All breeds of dogs (although thank God for the rescue groups that now come to save the breeds they are involved with). Big dogs, little dogs and medium-sized dogs. Adult dogs and adorable puppies.

If people want to care about dogs, then please care about them every week of the year, not just in this particular instance. If people want to care about dogs, then please have your dogs spayed or neutered so the Shelter isn't flooded with puppies that no one wants. If people want to care about dogs, then don't buy puppies and then get angry with them when they aren't instantly house-broken or bored with them when they grow out of the cuddly stage.

In 2006, 1551 animals were picked up by the Wabash County Animal Shelter. Of that 1551, 1211 were euthanized. So, please, if you want to care about dogs (and cats), don't just care about the 20 or so that were euthanized last week, care about the other 1211.

42 More Days

* 80 soldiers kills in Iraq in July 2007 - 6 killed so far in August as of the 5th.

I just got an e-mail from Jason Truman in Iraq. He has 42 more days before he will be coming home - for good, I hope. I always list the the Iraq casualties because I want the figures to smack people in the face. These aren't just names speeding along the bottom of the cable news networks. They are our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, aunts and uncles.

Of course, when you have a personal connection to someone in Iraq, as I have to Jason, your thoughts tend to fasten on that particular person. So, please, whoever reads this keep Jason in your thoughts and prayers that his 42 days pass quickly and he comes home safely to Tammy and his three little boys.

Thanks.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Sicko

Brenda and I went to see Sicko last weekend. Sicko is, of course, Michael Moore's latest movie about America's pathetic excuse for a health care system. Moore uses dramatic techniques (some might even call them gimmicks) to draw viewers in. But the fact that he doesn't simply use a dry-as-dust recitation of the facts, doesn't mean his points aren't valid.

One thing to remember about Sicko is that it isn't about the 46 million Americans who are uninsured. No, these tragic accounts are the real-life stories of people who have insurance. These were Americans who felt secure until they discovered the various methods (talk about your gimmicks!) insurance companies use to not pay claims.

One woman was denied because her insurance company labeled her dishonest for not having revealed on her insurance application that she once had a bladder infection! Oh, they don't hunt for these things in the beginning. They go ahead and cover you and let your pay your premiums until it comes to the time when they might have to pay out big for the surgery such as in the case of the girl in Sicko, then they suddenly discover your supposed deceptiveness and use it as an excuse to deny your coverage.

Moore interviewed a man whose job it was to pore over insurance applications searching for the slightest hint of an error or inconsistency as a reason to reject a claim. He showed portions of a congressional hearing in which a doctor who worked as a screener for an insurance company told how she was encouraged to deny medical procedures on the flimsiest of grounds. One method was to declare even some relatively tried and true procedures and medications as "experimental" and therefore, not covered.

One wife in Moore's film actually worked for, and was insured through, a hospital. When her husband was diagnosed with cancer, she tried everything including begging the appeals committee, to allow the tests recommended by her husband's doctors to go forward. They refused, as they refused to approve the bone marrow transplant he required to save his life. "Nope," the insurance company said, "we consider that operation experimental". Her husband died a short while later.

Another girl featured in Sicko was in a serious accident and was rushed, unconscious, to the emergency room via ambulance. Her insurance company refused to pay the ambulance bill on the grounds that she hadn't gotten the ambulance transport "pre-approved". They did not explain how she was supposed to do that when she was unconscious.

After filming and interviewing all these people, Moore visited Canada, England and France, all of which have national health care, to talk to citizens and doctors about how they like their system. Here in this country, we are always fed horror stories about national healthcare - about the long waits and the supposedly inferior care. I'm sure he could have found dissatisfied customers but the people Moore talked to generally seemed to be perfectly happy with their health care. In fact, they thought Americans were pretty much nuts to allow themselves to be victimized by for-profit insurance companies and pandering politicians.

The doctors in these countries were also content with their rewards under universal health care. They lived in beautiful homes, drove status cars and took long expensive vacations. They all said that they would hate being dictated to by insurance companies regarding the care they were allowed to give their patients.

Toward the end of the movie, Moore highlighted a California university-associated hospital that simply puts its poor patients out on the street when their medicaid/medicare coverage said their allotted time was up. One elderly, disoriented lady was left on the sidewalk barefooted and in her hospital gown. Fortunately, a homeless shelter found her and took her in. A hospital representative didn't even deny what they did but said that they had to do something with these people and they'd found that Skid Row as the best place to leave them. Personally, I think they should leave them on the street in front of some senator's house who gets up in Congress and pontificates about the evils of socialized medicine so they can see first-hand the face of un-socialized medicine. Said senator would, of course, be covered by the best insurance plan in the country thanks to us taxpayers.

The most controversial part of Moore's film was the trip he made to Cuba with a group of people, including some emergency workers suffering from debilitating conditions as a consequence of their rescue work at the site of the twin towers. All have fought to receive the treatment they need but have been stonewalled by their insurance companies as well as the group created to distribute funds specifically meant to assist 9/11 workers.

Moore had heard from politicians in congressional hearings saying what wonderful medical care we are giving to the detainees at Guantanamo so he first took his group to Gitmo where, of course, he was denied entrance. Then he went on in to Havana where everyone in his group received thorough testing, diagnosis and treatment. (The breathing treatment that costs a former EMT over $120 in America costs a nickel in Cuba). Now, I don't doubt for a minute that both Moore and Cuba had an agenda in treating and filming the care received by the Americans but the fact of the matter is that Cuba, a tiny little raggedy-poor Communist island offers all of its people health care. In fact, Cuba ranks only one-step below us in the medical care its citizens receives. America, the richest country in the world, rates 37th.

Back when Hillary Clinton came up with a national health care plan, the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies kicked it into gear and spent about a gazillion advertising dollars to put the fear of God into us about how awful that would be, then they spent another gazillion lobbying our congresspeople. Their strategy worked and here we are today with millions of not covered at all and many more millions being shafted seven ways from Sunday by their insurance companies and managed care plans. Our premiums keep going up, our co-pays keep going up and our coverages keep going down. The largest percentage of the bankruptcies in the United States are caused by health care bills than any other reason.

And meanwhile, our health care situation affects other parts of our lives too. How many people keep working when they'd like to retire because they can't afford to go without health care and they can't afford private insurance until their Medicare kicks in? How many people stay in jobs they hate because they can't get health care if they leave? How many lay-offs in America have been caused because companies have fled to countries where they can escape onerous health care costs for their employees? I don't know all the answers to these questions but I know it is....lots.

In one part of Sicko, an English man asks - "why do Americans allow this to happen? They live in a democracy. They have the votes to vote themselves health care. Why don't they?"

Why don't we?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Memories

I had an article printed in the Logansport Pharos-Tribune last week. It was motivated by Cass County being one of the counties I cover in my job. Going to Logansport was a journey back through time for me. I lived there in the 1950's and attended a couple years of elementary school and then the 7th grade before moving to California.

I spent part of one afternoon driving around Logansport to see the various landmarks of my youth there - the houses we'd lived in, the schools I went to, the library, the parks, downtown. The most significant quality that stands out from those years was the freedom children of that era had. My two cousins and I are all within one year of each other in age. We had bikes which we named Red Bullet, Green Bullet and Blue Bullet (we were nothing if not creative!) During summer vacations, we would be up early and off on adventures on the Bullets. We ranged far and wide - to the parks and down to the river, through the alleys and across town to the library.

Parents of our mothers and father's generation didn't believe it was their responsibility to entertain their children so we were mostly left to our own devices. We owned a television set and sometimes at night, we sat around with the adults and watched (although the only program that comes to mind is The Hit Parade) but what kid would want to be stuck inside watching t.v. during the day with the great world of adventure outdoors?

We were actually quite interested in science in an unsupervised kind of way. One corner of the wide front porch was dedicated to our science projects. It held various shapes and sizes of jars containing various and sundry specimens. For instance, we were curious about all the stages of caterpillar metamorphosis. Some jars held the caterpillars themselves - different and interestingly colored, which we hoped to watch spin their cocoons. Some jars had just the cocoons, waiting to hatch into butterflies. We had bowls of tadpole and pollywogs which we monitored faithfully, counting the new little legs, until the full-blown frogs and toads emerged. We had ant farms and jars of lightning bugs and pails of minnows and crawdads.

Sometimes we lost interest and our specimens died and the porch got to looking (and smelling) so junky that our mothers emptied out the buckets and bowls of dead minnows and fireflies. I realize that kids today have access to the marvels of television. On the nature channels, through the miracle of time-lapse photography, children can see the life of a butterfly from start to finish. They can watch as tadpoles evolve in a matter of minutes. All of that is much more efficient in terms of learning than our frequently-failed real life experiments. But, still, I wonder if there isn't something more awe-inspiring about the hands-on approach. I can see us now, three little girls, crowded around a container on a wide, over-hanging porch watching the slow development of a tadpole into a frog, a pollywog into a toad.

We collected other things too. We loved the cinder alleys in Logansport (cinder because most of the homes then were heated by coal, as ours were). We loved those alleys because they contained trash and what is trash to adults can certainly be treasure to children. For example, we snagged up old magazines to cut out pictures for our scrapbooks. (These scrapbooks were voluminous chronicles of the lives we hoped to live someday and were filled with lovely homes and gorgeous furniture, handsome husbands and beautiful wives (us) and precious children and adorable dogs and cats). Once, I remember, we were lucky enough to find a cache of love letters, from which we read the juicy parts aloud to one another, giggling all the while. Other times, we found fish bowls or (slightly chipped) teapots or an old rug for our garage clubhouse (furnished with two old automobile seats). Back then, as I recall, the flowers most frequently seen along the alleys were Hollyhocks and Bachelor Buttons.

We rode to the library and came home with bike baskets full of books. Reading, we would while away long summer afternoons on the front porch. The library gave out small orange-covered notebooks in which we wrote short book reports. At the end of the summer, we got stars and certificates for reading a certain number. My cousins and I were voracious readers and always read far more books than the required amount.

We went poking around down at the river and clambered up and down the ravines and scrambled across the creek at the far-away Dykeman's Park. We were fascinated by all aspects of our world, constantly on the look-out for slimy snails and sparkly rocks, odd-shaped sticks and bright-red cardinal feathers. (Would pre-teen girls today be interested in such things?)

Lacking chalk, we scratched out hopscotch games on the sidewalk with jagged rocks. On Saturdays, the folks gave us a quarter a piece to go to the movies. Ten cents to get in and a nickel a piece for a Coke, a bag of popcorn and a box of Good 'n' Plenty. If we were very lucky, they gave us enough extra for a chocolate soda at the Blue Front Drug Store afterwards. If one of the adults gave us a dime, we'd walk down to the corner store but instead of buying a 10 cent ice cream cone, we'd buy two 5 cent ones so we'd get two cones! At that same store, we could get a flavored Coke for a nickel - cherry for Shirley, vanilla for Reenie and chocolate for me. Flavored cokes disappeared for a long while about the time I got out of high school but I notice they're all the rage again now.

We would wander through the cemetery where I would tell my cousins long, drawn-out stories about the people under the interesting tombstones. It was never hard for me to close my eyes and imagine all details of the lives that matched each name.

I don't remember anyone asking us where we were going or when we would be coming home. I guess they figured we'd show up when we were hungry. It never seemed to occur to them that some predator might nab us (and why would they think that when they'd never heard of such a thing?) They also never seemed to worry that we'd get hit by a car or drown in the river. Those were idyllic years to be young and free. I feel sorry for today's children who must guarded and kept involved in supervised activities to keep them safe.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

On the Road Again

So far, I've driven back and forth to Lafayette every day for training in my new job for Indiana Legal Services. Trust me, this is not a commute you want to make on a daily basis. Wabash to Logansport isn't so bad now that it is all four-lane and bypasses the towns en route but Logansport on into Lafayette is a pure bitch. (I can just see the parents of Purdue students nodding their heads in agreement to this observation).

Highway 25 is two-lane and curvy. There are probably as many miles bound by single or double-yellow lines as there are that aren't. Lots of big trucks use Highway 25, especially lots of big tanker trucks, and the other day I was behind a hazardous waste-carrying truck that came to a complete stop at each railroad crossing (of which there are several although you probably wouldn't notice if you weren't behind a vehicle that came to a full stop at each one).

There are some tiny towns on 25 between Logansport and Lafayette, all with their slow-down speed limits. Not that I blame them. If I lived and had kids in Americus or Burrows, I'd want people to slow down too. But, as a commuter, having to constantly slow down and speed up gets frustrating. As it does when you get behind a slow-moving vehicle that you simply never have the opportunity to pass. It ambles on, going 45, seemingly oblivious to the stack of impatient drivers behind it.

You can tell the drivers who are either running late for work or simply have a nervous constitution. They swerve in and out, checking to see if the road ahead is free so they can pass. One kid was so frustrated, he passed three cars on a double-yellow line, evidently having decided that poking along was a fate, literally, worse than death. I know I was holding my breath to see if he would make it and I assume everyone else in our line was too.

There is one larger town on this route, Delphi. Delphi is the county seat of Carroll County and is typically midwestern with a town square facing the four sides of an impressive old Courthouse and some lovely homes bordering the downtown. I am always on a quest for good bakeries when I travel. There is a bakery on a main corner in Delphi called The Stone House that has great cookies and cinnamon rolls and pies. Something else I look for is a convenience store where you can get a fountain drink in styrofoam cups. I want styrofoam because I can nurse a 32-ounce pop for hours and the ice lasts that long in styrofoam. Seems like a small thing, I know, but there you go, it's important to me.

Another bad thing about this trip is that there aren't very many good radio stations available. I mean non-music radio because I haven't ever got into the newest rock and roll but after all these years, I've finally o.d.ed on classic rock. I think I can't stand listening to Stairway to Heaven one more time. And so, I have two choices. I can listen to National Public Radio. Sometimes NPR offers interesting political pieces but other times, their programming can put you to sleep right there on the road as you drive. I know I should care about the inflation in Zimbabwe but the fact is, I just don't. I can get one talk radio station on my trip - 1350 out of Kokomo. Depending on what time I'm on the road, I get to listen to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or Tim Heck, conservatives all and pretty much in lock step with one another on every issue. There is no hint that there could be another side to any story, no attempt at real discussion of an issue. Either believe them or you are an idiot, or worst a traitor to the United States! This Johnny-One-Note programming gets almost as boring as inflation in Zimbabwe or Stairway to Heaven for the umpty-millionth time. I think I am going to have to invest in satellite radio.

The upshot of this trip is that you flatly cannot predict exactly how long it is going to take you to reach Lafayette from Wabash. It can vary 15-20 minutes depending on traffic - anywhere from a hour and 15 minutes to a good hour and a half. Luckily, my boss, the managing attorney, is understanding about this, telling me to leave at my regular time and whatever time I get there is what time I get there. (He's traveled Highway 25 many times too).

Everyone at the office says the politicians have been promising to four-lane 25 between Lafayette and Logansport for many years. I tell them I can relate because of how long we had to wait for 24 to be widened from Wabash to Huntington. In a way, I'm surprised that we got our four-lane first because Lafayette is a bigger city with more political clout and then there is all that Purdue traffic. But still, we Lafayette commuters plod along, slowing down even more for towns and trucks and tractors.....

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Two-track System of Justice

* 23 American soldiers killed in Iraq so far in July 2007

I wrote last week about how Republicans have done a 180 degree turn on how they feel about the filibuster and up or down votes since they're the minority. They've done another 180 on the matter of the president commuting Scooter Libby's sentence. If this keeps up, they'll begin to feel like the girl in The Exorcist whose head went spinning crazily round and round.

You could google Republican quotes about the rule of law back during President Clinton's impeachment and get enough to fill an encyclopedia. Back then, the rule of law was sacred, it was revered. People, such as Clinton, who lied under oath were the worse sort of criminal, undermining the very foundation of our nation's greatness. Perjury was, to say the least, a high crime and misdemeanor, deserving of overturning an election and impeaching a president.

And, yet, how do the majority of Republican politicians feel about perjury and obstruction of justice now? The rule of law? Why, that little old thing, it's no big deal at all. Poor old Scooter, he's one our ours, you can't actually put someone like that in JAIL, not like all the lowlife's, like Martha Stewart and 1000's of other everyday perjurers!

And it seems like the tougher they were on regular people, the more sympathy they feel for Scooter. President Bush himself, for instance. As governor of Texas, he gave fewer pardons than any Texas governor since the 1940's. He turned down the appeals of 152 of 153 death row inmates, including those who were underage and retarded. He turned down Karla Faye Tucker, although everyone who had known her agreed that she'd made a spiritual transformation in prison and even the Pope begged him to reconsider. He not only said no but he mocked her plea for mercy to journalist, Tucker Carlson. He turned down defendants whose attorney's slept through most of their trial. "No excuses," said Bush, "the jury has spoken." It is reported that Bush spent less than 15 minutes each reading the appeal summaries before using his "DENIED" stamp. Fifteen minutes for a person's life, sounds about right, huh?

In addition, the Bush administration has argued before the Supreme Court for harsher mandatory minimum sentencing laws, not wanting the Judge to have any leeway to consider mitigating circumstances, such as defendant's past spotless record or the contributions he or she may have made to society prior to their crime. But, wait a minute, isn't that what the whole Scooter Libby commutation is supposed to be all about - Scooter's being such a good man and not deserving such a harsh sentence? Never mind.

Or consider Mitt Romney. He proudly flourishes his record as the only Massachusetts governor in history never to have given a pardon. He rejected Anthony Circosta's request for a pardon. Anthony Circosta shot another boy with a b-b gun when he was thirteen, a shot that never even broke the skin. Nevertheless, Circosta was charged with assault and convicted of a felony. Since then, he's worked his way through college, joined the National Guard and led a platoon in Iraq. In 2005, he asked Governor Romney for a pardon to be able to become a police officer back home in Massachusetts. But Romney said no, not once but twice. Because he's tough on crime, don't you know?

But how tough is Romney on Scooter? I'll tell you. The tears practically run down in face in describing how brutally the judicial system has mistreated this heroic figure. Give me a break.

And Rudy Giuliani? His whole reputation is based on Rudy the crime-fighter, Rudy the former prosecutor who brought safety back to the streets of New York, Rudy who never saw a criminal he didn't want to take down hard. Prosecutors live or die by the testimony of witnesses so probably Rudy takes perjury and obstruction of justice pretty seriously, wouldn't you think? Well, not exactly. Like the others, Rudy puts Scooter in a completely different category.

And all this is what rankles. It is this belief they seem to have that there is one legal system for all of us peons and another for the likes of them. It is that when its one of their group, they will ride rough-shod over rules they have assured us were hard and fast and couldn't be bent for the Anthony Circostas and Karla Faye Tuckers of the world.

And, in fact, the rules are very firm about commuting a sentence. There are three main elements: 1) the person must have served at least some of their prison sentence; 2) the person must have exhausted or given up any further appeals and 3) the person must have accepted responsibility for their crime and expressed remorse. Bush ignored all of these when it came to Scooter.

And while we're at it, let's get one thing clear. No, President Clinton did not do the same thing. Some of his pardon's may not have passed the smell test but he didn't pardon anyone whose testimony had a direct bearing on his vice-president or his own actions in a criminal case. He let Susan McDougal sit in jail, even though she was being punished by Kenneth Starr for not testifying that Clinton did something illegal, which she said wasn't true. If George W's commutation of Libby's sentence is to be compared to any others, it is his father's pardons of the Iran-Contra figures.

And although it has angered his base, of course, it had to be a commutation and not a pardon. A full pardon wipes out a conviction so the person pardoned then has no excuse not to testify before a congressional hearing and/or in a civil case brought against him. By contrast, a commutation preserves Libby's right to appeal and thus, his right to take the fifth amendment.

But do you have any doubt that George Bush will pardon Scooter Libby before he leaves office? Because I sure don't. I believe the fix has been in since day one. Libby's attorneys initially said they were going with the "Scooter as Scapegoat" defense and would be calling on the vice-president to testify. Suddenly and remarkably, however, they changed tactics and went with the much less effective "I just don't recall the sequence of events" defense. Scooter is found guilty and sentenced but no action is taken until it is determined that he has to report to prison even before his appeal. After that, Bush swings into action within hours. There is no way they are going to let Scooter sit in jail with all the time in the world to dredge his memory bank and possibly, give Patrick Fitzgerald a call to "revise" his testimony and cut a better deal for himself. But to preserve the fifth amendment option, he can't be pardoned. Therefore, he gets half a loaf now in the form of a commutation, and he'll get the other half in January of 2009 with a full pardon.

All their bases are covered. You have to give them credit for cleverness in an obstruction of justice-ish kind of way.

Monday, July 2, 2007

New Job

I have been working at my new job as the Indiana Legal Services Area V Pro Bono Plan Coordinator for two weeks now. Area V encompasses Wabash, Miami, Cass, Fulton, Howard and Tipton Counties so I will be on the road a lot, which is something I enjoy.

Indiana Legal Services exists to try to bring together low-income people who need access to the legal system with attorneys who volunteer to do pro bono (unpaid) work. Most of us know that poor people who have criminal charges filed against them have a constitutional right to a court-appointed public defender. What is not so well known is that the same is not true for citizens involved in civil proceedings (divorce, custody, landlord-tenant disputes, debt collection, etc.) Our society may not consider that poor people have a guaranteed right to a lawyer in civil cases, but it does acknowledge that it desirable for them to have equal access to justice under the law, and that is where Indiana Legal Services comes in.

The big difference is that public defenders in criminal cases are paid by government funds so it is relatively easy to ensure that there are enough attorneys to meet the needs of the justice system. Pro bono lawyers volunteer their services for free. Their only motivation is the belief that poor people deserve legal representation too and the satisfaction of knowing they've help make our legal system as fair as it can possibly be.

I will be going regularly to each of the courthouses in Area V to do intake interviews with low-income people who have legal problems, then sending a summary of their case back to the Lafayette office where an acceptance committee made up of staff attorneys will screen it to see if they meet the criteria for referral to a pro bono attorney. If it does, I will then try to match the case to a volunteer lawyer. That is the gist of what my job will consist of.

Anyone who has had any contact with the legal system knows that people who come to court without the assistance of an attorney face a real disadvantage. Attorneys know the laws, the forms, the process, the precedents to inform their argument. Lay people know none of these things. They simply have to throw themselves on the mercy of the court. And though judges may want to be sympathetic, their job is to rule based on who proved their case legally. Judges, I have found, are some of the most supportive about expanding the legal services program in their counties. Ideally, judges would prefer that all who come before them, either as plaintiff or defendant, are represented by an attorney so each has a fair shake at pleading their case.

I got involved in a situation rather like this once. I rented an apartment in Zionsville and when I wanted to move back to Wabash, I called the management to see what the penalty was for breaking my lease. I was told I could give them a 30-day notice and pay an additional month's rent for the month after I left which would give them a "cushion" in case the apartment didn't rent right away.

Exactly the opposite happened. The manager called to ask if I could leave earlier than my notice called for because they had tenants eager to move in. This I did. The new people were hauling their possessions in as I was carrying mine out.

I moved back to Wabash and thought everything was fine until I received a court notice informing me that I was being sued by the apartment complex for $650 in "refurbishment fees". I barreled off to court on my own, confident that I would win because I had done everything right.

But the representative of the complex brought in receipts that proved how much they'd spent on paint to repaint my apartment and carpet shampoo to shampoo the carpets and bug killer and sprays to deodorize and kill my germs. They also had job orders to prove how much they'd paid a crew of workers to do all these things.

"But," I protested to the judge, "I know none of this was done because the new tenants were bringing in their furniture before I was even moved out!"

The judge told me he frequently had these people in his court with the same kinds of cases. He said he believed me and he really hated to rule against me. He pointed out (to dirty looks from the representative for the complex) that the company owned a whole string of complexes in the Indianapolis area. They also owned warehouses full of paint and carpet cleaner and wrote their own "receipts". They also employed the maintenance crews and produced their own job orders. He said that legally, they had proven their case. I ended up having to pay them the additional $650.

I don't know if an attorney could have helped me in this particular situation but at least, they might have advised me that the apartment people had the case so well wired that I was wasting my time to drive all the way to Greenwood to appear in court.

There are laypeople who volunteer as advocates for low-income people in other areas but it is illegal to practice law without a license So no one can do what a lawyer does except a lawyer. Low income people who need legal assistance are dependent on the good will of volunteer attorneys.

Monday, June 25, 2007

News of the Week

* 102 American soldiers killed in Iraq in June 2007

* I work with a girl whose brother is in Iraq. He joined the Army right out of high school. As soon as basic training was over, he was sent to Iraq for a year, then came home for a year. When that year was over, he went back to Iraq for 15 months, then came home for nine months. Now he is in Iraq again for 15 months.
His family is distraught about his continued deployments. For one thing, they believe that every time he is is sent into a war zone, his odds of being killed or wounded go up. For another, it is obvious to them that each time he comes home he is quieter and angrier, less sociable and more depressed. They wonder who he will be by the time he comes home for good.
I told her that I thought her generation should do what mine did during the Vietnam War, which was to take to the streets. "Why," I asked her, "aren't families like yours shouting from the rooftops that what they are doing to your brother and the others is wrong?" She simply shrugged as if she thought it was impossible to fight the system.
I don't know. Maybe it is impossible in the environment we live in today. During Vietnam, there was a draft so millions of American families had a vested interest, through their sons, in what was happening there. Today, we have an all-volunteer military (although you have to question the definition of volunteer in light of a stop-loss program which says the military can retain soldiers beyond the time they'd been led to believe their commitment was over).
I've had people tell me, "well, they knew what they were getting into when they signed on the dotted line, so they've got no right to bitch". End of collective responsibility.
But, did they know what they were getting into? They may have been prepared to put their lives on the line to support their country's policies but did they read the fine print that said they could be sent back again and again, like my co-worker's brother? I doubt it. They probably assumed that at most, we would do as we'd done in Vietnam - if you made it through your deployment, you were home free. And did the National Guard volunteers realize that the entire non-military part of their lives would be disrupted again and again as they lost families and businesses and jobs due to multiple deployments? And were they aware that though we would find the money for everything else, including no-bid contracts for corporations like Halliburton, we would somehow run out of funds when it came time to buy the body armor or the armored vehicles that would save their lives....or the dollars needed to completely and fully fund the medical care that tens of thousands of them would need to be rehabilitated to the fullest possible extent? Somehow, I doubt it.
To me, how the country is treating this young man and others is the farthest thing I can imagine from "supporting the troops".

* As we all know from the wall-to-wall television coverage, both the London and Glasgow airports were hit last week by, luckily, rather unsuccessful attempted terrorist attacks by means of using vehicles containing gasoline and nails and a cellphone ignition system which didn't work very well.
An article in the New York Times stated that "the idea of multiple attacks using car bombers is a departure from the backpack suicide attacks of the London bombings of 2005 and raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to Al Qaida may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq".
In other words, what we did by invading Iraq was to create an enormous terrorist university where jihadists from all over the world go to learn and then take the lessons learned back to other countries. Are we safer now than we were before there were so many alumnus with degrees in Terrorism from the U of T-Iraq roaming the world in search of opportunity to cause us harm?
The weakness of the "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" theory was always that, of course, they are capable of maintaining their training programs in Iraq while still sending the graduates of those programs to other parts of the world at will. There is no way to keep them all "there" and we are teaching new classes of terrorists quicker than we can kill the old ones.

* In our "it all depends on whose ox is being gored" segment, it seems that principles once dear to the hearts of Republicans have become so much nonsense. For instance, 239 bills have passed the House of Representatives but have not passed the Senate. The Senate is, of course, the branch of government with arcane rules meant to slow down or bottle up legislation. The founding fathers planned it that way. The Senate is supposed to be less political and more considerate of larger issues than the House. (Since House members have to run for re-elections every two years, compared to a Senator's six years, they tend to be more sensitive to hot-button political issues). It is for this reason that the Senate is called "the world's greatest deliberative body".
If you remember, back during the the discussion about President Bush's Supreme Court nominees, the Republicans were livid about Democratic threats to filibuster and not allowing "up or down votes". In fact, they were so incensed by the very idea of the filibuster that they threatened a "nuclear option" to do away with it altogether. When a few Democrats and Republicans came together in a bipartisan way to come up with an alternative, the nuclear option was taken off the table. I bet the Republicans are really happy about that now, because it turns out that now they are the minority party, they flat out love the filibuster and use it at the drop of a hat to kill legislation they don't like, even though a majority may approve of it. And the up or down vote? The Republicans mantra is: "We doan need no steenkin' up or down vote."
Trent Lott, Senate Minority Leader is up front about the the Republicans use of obstructionism, "so far it's working for us." Don't you just love politics?

* And discussing filibustering and up and down votes and obstructionism, recalls those long ago fights about Supreme Court nominees. George Bush may have the lowest percentage of popularity of any president. With the defeat of the immigration reform bill and the number of people turning against the Iraq War, he may be the lamest of ducks. But he has had one huge success, as far as his base is concerned, and that is the way his nominees have been able to swing the court right.
In case after case, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito have sided with the other conservative justices, Alito and Thomas, with an assist from Justice Kennedy, in moving the court toward decisions beloved of the evangelicals. They have made it more difficult to get an abortion, more difficult for employees to prove job discrimination, more difficult for defendants to appeal injustice in their cases. They have made it harder for students to prove that their free speech rights have been violated but easier for organizations to to prove the same.
Do you notice something about all these decisions? In every instance in which a single citizen has gone up against an institution, the individual loses. Every abortion involves first of all a decision by a woman. It may later include support from a doctor but the initial decision is made by that single woman. That woman's choices are now fewer because of this Supreme Court.
The court ruled against Lilly Ledbetter although it did not deny that she had been systematically discriminated against in the pay which she received compared to the men in her company. It found against her because she did not file her claim within 180 days of the discriminatory act although she didn't know about the pay disparity that soon. "Too bad, so sad," said the five conservative members of the court. In other words, if your company can successfully hide it from you long enough, they can discriminate at will. Who is the power player in this kind of situation? Why I believe that would be the employers. (I have worked for more than one company that forbade discussion of salary among employees).
The Supreme found that the school that suspended a student who unfurled a banner saying, "Bong Hits for Jesus," at a school-sponsored outing, though not at the school itself, was proper in limiting the student's free speech rights, with Justice Thomas, in particular, arguing that students have no rights at all and that we should probably go back to the days when teachers could take a hickory stick to their impertinent pupils. (Well, no, he didn't actually say that in so many words but he may as well have).
On the other hand, the justices knocked down a part of Campaign Finance Reform that limited the contributions third parties, such as unions and groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, can make toward our political discourse. Upshot: get ready for the hordes of primarily negative ads you'll be subjected to as the presidential campaign gets closer.
These particular justices seem to have an obsession about a rigid adherence to time. As in Lilly Ledbetter's case, it was the all-important consideration. The death-row defendant filed his appeal one day too late, even though he'd been instructed about the timing by the lower court judge, the justices ruled that even though a man's life and/or freedom was at stake and even though he'd been given incorrect advice, such measly consideration were as nothing compared to that all-powerful 24-hour sweep of the clock. What the hell kind of thinking is that?
So, if you are a conservative who believes that when it comes to the lowly individual American versus any power organization, the organization should always win, then you're probably thrilled with George Bush's Supreme Court.

* Another decision made the by Court considered what remedies school systems may engage in while trying to maintain some level of diversity in their student body and actually involves individuals on both sides - blacks who may have an interest in attending a non-segregated school and whites with an equal interest in being able to attend a school of their choice without being denied that choice in the interest of greater diversity.
Scalia, Alito, Roberts and Thomas wanted to throw out Brown vs Board of Education altogether (so much for precedent, something all the justices promised to honor during their confirmation hearings). Justice Kennedy, however, insisted on a more nuanced ruling. He essentially said school boards should go back to the drawing board and try to find other ways to encourage diversity besides taking race into consideration, for instance, where they build schools or how they draw school borders.
There is little doubt that this ruling will result in more segregated schools and perhaps that is what whites, at least, desire. But it is difficult to tell if white parents resist integration in the 21st century because of an inherent opposition to their children going to school with black kids or more because, primarily black schools have tended to be inferior - in infrastructure, in school resources, in teacher pay.
I personally think the schools should be federalized and financed by a school tax instead of property taxes (which let renters completely off the hook for their children's education), with every school district given exactly the same amount of money per student. Instead of inner-city schools with crumbling buildings and not enough books and large class room sizes versus suburban high schools with huge new gyms and auditoriums and state of the art libraries and small, responsive classes, each school would have the same resources to give their pupils the same opportunities. That isn't likely to happen any time soon and even if it did, it wouldn't solve the segregation problem but it would be a big step in the right direction toward scholastic equality.
Furthermore, No Child Left Behind, would be a lot fairer if every school were compared based on the same criteria.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

*78 Americans killed in Iraq so far in June 2007 - updated a day later to 81 killed

Well, while I was gone to New York, we discovered that our vice-president truly is a law unto himself. He is neither quite part of the executive branch nor quite part of the legislative branch of government and, apparently, doesn't have to abide by the laws of either.
This all starts with an executive order issued by President Clinton in 1995, and revised by President Bush in 2003, establishing a uniform system of safeguarding classified information. As part of the order, each office in the executive branch is supposed to report on how it handles classified information to the National Archives and Record Administration's oversight office. Vice-President Cheney complied in 2001 and 2002, then simply began disregarding the directive. When the oversight office of the National Archives and Record Administration attempted to do an on-site inspection, Cheney got it stopped. This year, Cheney even made an effort to have the oversight office eliminated! (And can anyone doubt that if the Republicans were still in total control of Congress, they wouldn't have gone right along with rubber-stamping Cheney's egregious attempt at over-reach?)
In blowing off the regulations for the handling of classified material, Cheney's office has declared that because the vice-president is also the president of the Senate, his office is "not an entity within the executive branch". Of course, when Cheney is fighting any request by Congress to get information from the Veep's office, such as the names of the people who populated his Energy Task Force, Cheney based his refusal to comply on "executive privilege" so it seems he simply moves his office around wherever it needs to be in order to justify whatever it is he wants to do....or not to do.
Naturally, the White House agrees with the vice-president. Dana Perino, the president's spokeswoman, said, "This is a little bit of a non-issue because the president gets to decide whether or not he (Cheney) should be treated separately, and he's decided that he should."
Furthermore, the president has declared that he too is beyond the reach of his own executive order although the directive itself clearly includes both the president and the vice-president.
At various times in our nation's history we have debated the question: "is the president above the law?"
In this administration, it appears that both the president and the vice-president consider themselves above the law.

* Poor old Rudy Giuliani - his judgment about the people with whom he surrounds himself is beginning to look somewhat impaired. The most notorious case is, of course, Bernard Kerik. Beginning as the Mayor's driver, Kerik eventually became the New York Police Commissioner. Then, when Rudy left the Mayor's office, Kerik followed, going to work for Rudy's new business. Kerik was sent to Iraq to pull the Iraq police force together but left after two months, having accomplished absolutely nothing. Then Rudy pitched his name to the White House to be the first head of the new Homeland Security Department. The Bush administration bought it too and announced Kerik's name with great fanfare.....until his many ethical lapses started coming to light, whereupon, his name was withdrawn. (I still see him on television sometimes because it is a rule with the media that no matter how wrong you have ever been on every issue, once your name has been added to their rolodex as an "expert", you will remain there forever.)
After Kerik, came Thomas Ravenel. Ravenel was Giuliani's South Carolina campaign chairman. He was recently indicted for distributing cocaine.
Now there is the case of Monsignor Alan Placa, a consultant with Giuliani Partners. It seems that in a Suffolk County, New York grand jury report in 2003, Monsignor Placa was listed as "Priest F". In this guise, he was accused of sexually abusing minors as well as covering up for other priests as part of the team responsible for handling allegations of molestation within the diocese.
Giuliani says that the Monsignor was "unjustly" accused. Perhaps, but what amazes me is that as a former prosecutor himself, and one who was known for being a hard-ass in so far as defendants were concerned, when a grand jury actually finds evidence that his friends have committed crimes, such as in the case of Placa or Scooter Libby, he is ready to turn against the legal system he defended as a law officer.
Sorry, Rudy, but the rules should be the same for everyone. Either we believe in the rule of law and our jury system or we don't. You can't simply pick and choose based on whether the accused are your friends.

*Well, poor little Paris will be getting out of jail this week. Poor little Paris? Yes, the media has actually caused me to have some sympathy for this spoiled, self-centered, vapid-headed little rich girl. Because the media is responsible for Paris Hilton. If they had not covered her like a blanket, hanging on her every statement and movement, splashing her picture across every television screen and magazine cover, there would not have been a Paris Hilton phenomena. Even when there was serious news to cover, they chose to go with Paris. They made her their pet and, you know, she gloried in her fame. She pranced and preened and smiled, secure in their adoration.
Until, she fell... and then they went into a feeding frenzy of viciousness. They criticized her and made fun of her and embarrassed her and showed ugly pictures of her. Because it is what the media does. They worship at your alter when you are riding high and then fall on you like a pack of hyenas when you stumble, although you'd never have been riding so high in the first place if they hadn't boosted you up there.
Probably, Paris didn't understand this. She thought she would remain the media's fair-haired girl no matter what. But now she knows. The press is never your friend. They can make you but will happily break you without a morsel of conscience.
They do the same with presidents. I'm not a George Bush fan, as anyone who reads this blog knows, but George Bush was never as good as the media painted him when he was popular and neither is he quite as bad as they portray him now that he has an approval rate in the 20's.
George Bush and Paris Hilton are only two of the most recent media darlings to discover how quick they are to kick you when you're down.

Home from New York

I just got back from the International Women's Writing Guild Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York and I have jet lag. This will be my last hoorah for a while so far as traveling goes. I've been lucky this year to go to Charleston, South Carolina, Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Saratoga Springs, New York but now the funds and available time off work are gone so I'll be staying pretty close to home for the next year or so.
Saratoga Springs in upstate New York is one of my favorite places, a place that loves art and horses in equal measure - a great combination. Home of Saratoga Race Track, one of the most graceful of the old historic tracks, it also features blocks of huge and fabulously beautiful Victorian homes. In the past, on one grand weekend, the weekend before the racing season opened, the houses went from bare to flower-bedecked. Suddenly, millions of blossoms appeared along streets and sidewalks and in hanging baskets on verandahs. And when the lawn jockey appeared on the tree lawn in front of the house, that was notice that the owners of the mansions were in residence and ready to receive guests (most of them only living here during the short racing season).
During the season, the horse people could be seen traveling to the track in fancy carriages pulled by immaculate Hackney ponies, the women in fantastic picture book hats. A special visit during this time of year was breakfast at the track where you were served fresh strawberries and thick cream on linen tablecloths as the exercising horses pounded down the track in front of you.
The historic downtown features art galleries, some of which specialize in horse pictures and bronzes and jewelry. But Saratoga is also known for the ballet and the opera and writing and fine food and grand old hotels and the healthful waters of the spa.
For a writer, the IWWG Conference is a feast of inspiration and ideas. Workshop Directors are a mixed bag. They range from purely professional novelists and poets and children's book authors who offer practical advice about both writing and publishing to those who are more in tune with a writer's spiritual side whether that takes the form of expressing your innermost self through intensive journaling or casting your horoscope or learning to tell a story with fans.
The conferees too are a diverse bunch. They come from all over the country, even all over the world, although the most well-represented location is New York City. They are old and young; fat and thin; of all different races and complexions. They are straight and gay, worldly and spiritual. Their political opinions range to liberal to ultra-liberal. (It feels strange to me, who is usually accused of being a bleeding heart, to be on the conservative fringe here.)
All of Skidmore comes down to one woman, Hannelore Hahn, who conceived of and brought into being, the International Women's Writing Guild many years ago. The Guild has conferences all over the country but Skidmore is the biggest and her particular pride. Hannelore took me under her wing many years ago when I wrote my very first Newsweek article and I still consider her a mentor who encouraged and inspired my writing, as she has encouraged and inspired so many.
Skidmore College, where we stay, is a beautiful campus....but, it is a college campus, meant for youthful students who jog from student union to class halls to dorms with great sacks of books resting on their backs, not for older ladies with bum knees and arthritis hips.
I never noticed when I went to Skidmore last about 20 years ago that the narrow dorm beds were quite so lumpy, nor the distances between cafeteria and halls quite so far.
And this is what I learned about myself on this trip: I am spoiled. I was ashamed of myself for my weakness. There were women older than me who never complained, nor even seemed to notice the deprivations of uncomfortable beds and bathrooms down the hall and being coffee-less until the Student Union opened at 7. Meanwhile, I awoke each morning between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. with a belt of pain across my back that drove me out of bed. And there I would sit, reading, miserably waiting for time to pass. I could not smoke unless I got dressed to go down three floors to sit outside on a bench; I had nothing to drink except water out of the tap; I had no computer nor television to catch up on the news and the blogs which is an elemental part of my normal daily routine.
And so, as much as I enjoyed and appreciated the workshops and meeting new people with all kinds of writing experiences, I was not sorry when the conference was over. I stayed my night on the road on the way home in a Sleep Inn just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. When I opened the door with my keycard, I positively reveled in the great soft king-sized bed. I schlepped barefoot across the deep, colorful carpeting. I luxuriated in a long shower, knowing that no one else would walk into the room. I caught up on all the news that had happened in the world in the last week via the t.v. I got the coffee pot ready so all I had to do the next morning was turn it on and wait 3 minutes for a wonderful hot cup.
Would I go back again next year for more of the same. You bet I would!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Week in Review

*29 Americans soldiers killed in Iraq so far in June, 2007

- The powers that be are indicating that big decisions about Iraq will be made in September when General Petraus gives us his report. I don't believe it. We have been suckered along with - "as soon as this happens, as soon as that happens" statements for years now. Some of the blogs track these pronouncements by various government, military and media people. But it is always a moving target. They indicate a time by which we will need to see real improvement in Iraq When that times comes but the improvement in conditions haven't occurred, they simply move their timeline out anther six months or a year. In fact, the liberals blogs call a period of six months an "FU" or "Friedman Unit" after the number of times the famous columnist has extended the period in which he believes we will have to see progress in Iraq.

So what makes September any different? The Important People are already starting to waffle. First, they begged us to give the surge three months but when that three months was up, they explained that they didn't mean from the beginning of the surge as we'd first taken it but from the time the surge had all the new troops on the ground. That happened at the end of last month. That would mean August. Oh, okay, September then. September is the Magic Month. But now General Odierno says probably it will be more like December and General Petraus agrees.

I've read countless times by pundits "in the know" that congressional Republicans are giving the President until September and then if Petraus doesn't give a good account of what the surge is accomplishing, they will ready to force his hand in starting to wind down the war. But does anyone think that Petraus isn't going to put the best face on what he is achieving...at least a good enough account to give the Republicans cover to hang in there for at least another F.U.?

Meantime, American soldiers keep dying

- Over 11,000 gay military people have been kicked out of service including 78 Arabic linguists, a skill we desperately need. Other industrialized nations, among them Canada and Britain, have enlightened policies about gays in the military. They have had no problems integrating homosexuals into service. And yet all the Republican candidates stand firm in not allowing soldiers to be openly gay. Rudy Giuliani totally avoided the question about the Arabic linguists, instead going off on a schtick about how we couldn't make these drastic changes, during a time of war. Excuse me, Mayor, but isn't when we are at war with an Arab country exactly when we most need these people? Rudy lived with a friends, a gay couple, when he was getting a divorce so obviously, he is not personally homophobic. He just plays a homophobe on teevee for the sake of sucking up to the right wing of his party.

Meanwhile, back at the Democratic debate, Hillary quoted Barry Goldwater saying, "you don't have to be straight to shoot straight." Sounds about right to me.

- Scooter Libby sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying to the grand jury and obstructing justice. As someone who works in the judicial system, it seems good enough for him to me. The Republicans complain that Bill Clinton lied and didn't spend a day in jail. That's true - because our remedy for presidents who commit high crimes and misdemeanors is impeachment. The Republicans did impeach Clinton but couldn't make the case that his transgression was high enough to pitch him out of office so he wasn't convicted.

So, do we believe in the rule of law or not? If we do, then Scooter got what he deserved, although in the tradition of other Republicans who violated this concept (see Colonel Oliver North and Admirable Poindexter), I wouldn't be surprised if some judge doesn't find a hook to hang an appeal on.

- The Immigration Bill goes down and that's probably okay. It was such a complicated piece of legislation, it was hard to know if the good outweighed the bad. I think they should begin with one piece of immigration reform - securing the borders. After that, we can move on to what to do about the illegal immigrants who are already here. I'm pretty sure I'm opposed to a guest worker program unless it ensures decent pay and conditions for the workers and cracks down on employers who employs immigrants, not because they are offering jobs that "American's won't do" but because they can get those jobs done with cheap wages and no benefits. You can say what you want about today's Republican party being driven by the evangelicals but the fact is, this administration's biggest constituency is Big Business and it is Big Business that loves the idea of slave labor flooding our borders.

The Filly Wins!

Rags to Riches, the chestnut filly with the blaze face, was a last minute entry into the Belmont Stakes, the longest and most grueling race of the Triple Crown - 1 1/2 miles. The last time a filly won the Belmont was in 1905, 105 years ago. I mostly don't care much for sport competitions for the very reason that there are more losers than winners, and I feel sorrier for the losers than I feel happy for the winners. I know, I know, that's a disgustingly bleeding heart view of it but I can't help it.

Mom loves the Olympics but I rarely watch them with her. Olympics coverage always includes vast amounts of "up close and personal" information so that everyone there seems to be a hero and heroine who deserves to win. I always feel terrible for those who put in so much effort and come up short.

It's the same way with racing, the Triple Crown in particular. If you watch all the pre-race shows, you find out a lot about the trainers, the owners, the jockeys and the horses themselves. Many of them have extraordinary stories. I usually cheer for the underdog in any athletic event, like the Louisiana jockey who quit school in 8th grade to ride horses and finally won a Kentucky Derby with Streetsense this year and then got to go meet a President and a Queen. His joy was so unbounded that you couldn't help being thrilled for him.

On the other hand, once a horse has won the Kentucky Derby, then I want him to win the Triple Crown. To be a Triple Crown winner, a horse has to be better than good, he has to be great. It hasn't been done since Affirmed did it in 1978. These are three huge races in a five-week span that grind down the physical and mental stamina of the best of horses. Only the strongest, with heart to spare, can stand up to the punishing schedule. Streetsense couldn't do it this year and in the Preakness, he came in behind Curlin.

Then came the Belmont and the entry of the filly, Rags to Riches. The race was slow at the start, which was good for her, since she stumbled coming out of the starting gate. She righted herself and galloped along on the outside until the last half mile. When she and Curlin moved together, it was obvious that the race was going to be between these two. The rest of the pack fell behind as they battled it out, neck and neck. Curlin gave it his all but the crowd roared when Rags to Riches crossed the finish line a head in front. I think even those who'd bet on Curlin were rooting for the filly to beat the more-than-a-century record.

She was cool, calm and collected as they put the blanket of carnations across her neck. And this is why horseracing is my favorite sport. In all other athletic events, the desires and needs of humans are in the forefront. Whether the payoff is in glory or money or simply the driving ambition to be the best, humans push themselves for some reward. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, just that horseracing seems a purer competition between animals who strive to win only because it is built into their DNA. The only motivation that drives a Curlin and a Rags to Riches to be the first across the finish line is guts and heart.

In a time when so many of our sports figures have been sullied by one scandal or another - doping or betting or shaving points or drinking or fighting - there's something special about the integrity of the horses. Not that the humans involved with them aren't capable of corruption. Oh, no, they will do whatever they can get away with to win, just like baseball players, bicyclists or boxers. Horseracing has certainly had its share of dishonest members but this is the people, not the animals. The champions of the track give it their all simply because it is in their nature.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Things that Make You Hmmm

* 3475 of our military people have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war - 131 were killed in May 2007, the 3rd deadliest month of the war - 9 have been killed so far in June 2007.

- There will be a hearing by a military panel in Kansas City on Monday to determine if Marine Corporal Adam Kokesh should be discharged from the Marines and if so, what type of discharge it should be. Actually, Corporal Kokesh had already been honorably discharged from the Marines but he is still part of the Ready Reserve. Should his discharge be changed to one that is less than honorable, he would risk losing the benefits, such as pension and healthcare, that flow from being a veteran. Corporal Kokesh's crime was appearing in uniform at an anti-war rally. He wore fatigues from which the military insignia had been removed.

The government says this is unacceptable but the VFW, (not a left-wing organization, I presume), disagrees. Gary Karpius, the VFW National Commander, says, "trying to hush up and punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic rights we're trying to instill in Iraq is not what we're all about." He goes on to say that the military needs to "exercise a little commonsense before this turns into a circus."

Excuse me, but don't I see military people all the time in their uniforms serving as a backdrop for President Bush and his views? If they can be used as props for a pro-administration political campaign, then they surely have the right to to be visible as veterans on the opposite side. We are still a democracy. Aren't we?

- Our new Iraq embassy is due to be complete this month and guess what? It is the only building project in Iraq that is on schedule and on budget. The U.S. has spent $592 million so far to build the largest embassy in the world and the most expensive! It is 104 acres (which translates into 80 football fields - the average embassy is 10 acres) and will contain 21 buildings, including 2 enormous office buildings, a school, 6 apartment buildings, a gym, a pool and a food court. It will be completely self-sufficient with its own power generator system and water purification treatment plant. It will have 1000 employees, almost none of them Iraqis (because we can't trust them, don't you know). The primary contractor is a Kuwaiti company.

This doesn't sound much like we are going to be leaving Iraq any time soon, does it?

- Here we go again. I seem to remember that back during the Bush/Gore campaign, the media consistently characterized Al Gore as "wooden" and "inauthentic". Now they are doing it to Hillary. It seems that if the Liberal Media (ha!ha!) decides they are going to frame a candidate a certain way, they just beat that horse until its lying dead on the track. In the same way, Al Gore never said he invented the internet; he never said that Love Story was based on him and Tipper; he never said he discovered Love Canal, but the press reveled those stories and presented them as if they were gospel, labeling Gore a "serial exaggerator" at best and a "pathological liar" at worst but who was actually the serial liar here? In many cases, it was the media itself.

Meanwhile, that good old boy, cowboy hat-wearing, pick up truck-driving, chain-saw-wielding George Bush was portrayed as the candidate you'd most like to invite to your barbeque. I heard this over and over - "who would you most like to have a beer with?" And the answer, "why ole gen-u-ine George Bush, of course."

Competence? Intelligence? Intellectual curiosity? Those were qualities the media thought were boring. So they made Gore, the candidate who represented those things, boring and negative as well. They thought it was cute to have a presidential candidate who couldn't pronounce nuclear (and even all these years later, Bush persists in saying "nucular", as in "I'll damn well pronounce it the way I want to pronounce it because I'm the Decider!") They thought it was charming that, even though he was rich enough to travel anywhere he wanted to go, George Bush wanted to run the world even though he'd never been interested enough to want to actually see the world.

And so now we've come to the 2008 presidential campaign and once again, the media declares Hillary as wooden and inauthentic but who are they falling all over as the authentic candidate? That would be Fred Thompson, who drove a old red pick up truck around on the campaign trail in his candidacy for senator from Tennessee. Except that Fred was caught leaving the pick up behind with an aide, while he switched to a luxury sedan after the parade was over. Oh, yeah, that's authentic all right. We're talking the same Fred Thompson who was a Washington insider during Watergate, who left the senate to work as a lobbyist for eight years afterwards, Fred Thompson who is going to run as the outside-the-beltway candidate and will probably get away with it too (maybe its the southern accent that so enthralls the media).

And remember the last presidential campaign? Remember how Kerry was labeled a flip-flopper? Remember, "I voted for the $87 million before I voted against it?" Flip-flopping was the kiss of death in 2004 but does the media care about flip-flopping in 2008? Nah, not so's you'd notice because flip-flopping is an epidemic among this current group of candidates. Changing your position is old hat now and not anything the media takes seriously.

Hillary has also been accused of being "ambitious" and "calculating". Wow, imagine that - a presidential candidate who is ambitious and calculating. Don't you think anyone who is running to be President of the United States is, by definition, ambitious and calculating? Seems to me I detect some sexism here. Why is it only a woman who gets attacked for these particular qualities? And for being shrill and grating, which I've also heard it said about Hillary. Don't believe I ever remember a male candidate characterized as being shrill or grating.

- Doesn't sound like the latest terrorist plot to blow up JKF airport was very serious (as seems to be the case with most of our home-grown plotters). Not that the people involved might not have been serious but they seemed neither smart enough nor sophisticated enough to know what they were doing or how to go about getting the allies or resources they would have needed to try. Still, we should all be glad that our law enforcement people - NYPD and the F.B.I. - were on the ball as the next group might be both brighter and more well-connected. Oh, what did I just say? Our law enforcement people! Because, yes, discovering and stopping terrorists is primarily a law enforcement operation and not a military one, just like John Kerry said.

* Okay, Rick, here you go!