Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The good, the bad, the ugly

by Don Klein

In a few days the new year will be upon us making it appropriate to look back on the noteworthy year of 2009. It was historic for a number of major reasons, but I also see a healthy (or rather, unhealthy) quantity of the good, bad and ugly when I recall the happenings of the past 12 months.

Let’s take the ugly first in order to end on an upbeat. We had more than the usual share of ugliness in the country this past year. Sadly I feel the prize for the ugliest goes to former senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. He was at the controls of his own woeful political train wreck.

I place him on the top of bad boys because he was the one who promised us the best for the future in public service and responsibility. He was a man who as a lawyer fought for the little guy all his life. He was a man of great ideals, was presidential in his bearing and spoke convincingly and intelligently about a new vision of national caring. In short he was beguiling.

But he had feet of clay and proved in the end to be much more than just a disappointment. He was deceitful in concealing an affair of passion with a film contractor who worked for him during the primary campaign and had apparent little regard for the public he would have served if elected by hiding the illicit relationship. All this while his ailing wife, Elizabeth, battled Stage IV breast cancer.

When it came to people with zipper problems, Edwards was not alone. There was Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who let everyone believe he was hiking in Appalachia when actually he had ran off sniffing after his Argentine paramour.

Even worse, there was Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who cuckolded his own assistant while pillow cuddling with the subordinate’s wife, who also worked for the senator. How low can you get having sex with the wife of a staff member, then try to buy them both off when the scandal broke. Ensign has to be the sleaziest of the sleazy.

Then there was the since-impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich allegedly attempting to sell the senatorial seat vacated when Barack Obama was elected president.

There also was what is becoming run-of-the-mill congressional criminal conspiracy and bribery cases as former Congressmen William J. Jefferson of Louisiana and "Duke" Cunningham of California were convicted and imprisoned for selling their legislative influence.

Perhaps the wickedest of all frauds were perpetrated by Bernard Madoff, the Wall Street insider who bilked scores of gullible people and organizations, including some giant well-known charities, out of billions of dollars in an elaborate Ponzi scheme. He is now where he belongs – in jail.

So much for the ugly, how about the bad. I can think of lots of bad. The recession was, of course, the worst. Then there was the wide scale unemployment that threw millions out of jobs. There was the inexcusable obstructionist behavior of Congressional Republicans who earned the title "Party of No."

How any self-respecting political party can hold its head up and be proud of being against everything, especially in these terrible times of stress and conflict, is beyond me. I must agree with the argument that not only did eight years of Republicans in power put this country in the ditch, but now the GOP won’t even lend a hand in digging us out of the hole they placed us.

And who is calling whom un-American?

On the good side of the ledger we can all be happy that George W. Bush was only president for 20 days during 2009. That was a positive for the rest of us. President Obama stepped into one of the worst times to be chief executive in the history of the US, probably only surpassed by Abraham Lincoln facing a civil war and Franklin D. Roosevelt starting off in the midst of an expanding depression.

Right after being sworn in Obama struck down torture as US policy, promised to close Guantanamo, signed into law a bill giving women equal pay and launched into hopeful solutions to the economic crisis with a monumental stimulus program. In the summer he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The most gruelling accomplishment was the passage of different health care bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The legislation raises a serious problem since there are some glowing differences – public option in the House and not in the Senate and a variance on abortion restrictions. The major battle on this measure is yet to come in 2010.

In the end, 2009 was not that great a year. Paul Krugman, of The New York Times, dubbed the entire first decade of the century "The Big Zero," but that’s not entirely true. Good things did happen, perhaps not enough to outweigh the bad. The decade ended with the historic election of the first non-white president of the United States and with the country on a moral rebound from eight years of deceit and international disfavor.

Unfortunately 2009 was the year of the emergence of absurd off-the-wall TV commentaries by Glenn Beck, the year they buried Ted Kennedy, the year of the phony emergencies like the balloon boy and Tiger Woods stonewalling himself into disfavor. It was the year that Kate and Jon Gosselin and their brood of eight gratefully disappeared from the TV screens, hopefully forever.

My vote for man of the year is Barack Obama. For woman of the year, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. My vote for scoundrel of the year, Sen. Joe Lieberman. Recurring Pest of the year, Sarah Palin. Dolt of the year, Rush Limbaugh.

It was a year (with apologies to Clint Eastwood) of the good, the bad and the ugly. Whether you agree or not with these assessments, standby. The new year is almost certain to bring another version of the same. It’s the human condition.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When did we lose democracy?

By Don Klein

The British Parliament enacted legislation that will tax bonuses to employees of financial institution to the tune of 50 percent. The French are planning to do the same. They refuse to allow banking leeches who were largely responsible for the financial crisis under which millions suffer to continue to draw blood from a suffering society.

Don’t expect any restrictive action vaguely resembling our overseas friends ever happening in the US. We have a Congress that doesn’t represent the people. The national legislature is bought and owned by the bankers and large corporations. It is not the land of the free and home of the brave we learned about in grade school.

Land of the free? Home of the brave? Really? If you think that describes today’s America, humbug. To Congress there’s a new definition. The term "land of the free" means that big concerns have the free use of the American economy sans penalty or restrictions. And "home of the brave" refers to the rest of us who have the painful right to suffer silently while the greedy bask in unearned rewards.

The parasites that inhabit Wall Street take their immense payoffs whether they make profits or not. They earn money with the thanks of the American taxpayer who bailed them out of tragic circumstances and then the ingrates raise interest rates on credit, boosts prices for services and pay their own flunkeys unconscionable bonuses.

They thumb their collective noses at the rest of us by using every bit of pressure (spelled: money) they can muster to impair corrective Congressional action. They payoff key members of Congress with campaign donations to insure they remain in office. That is their interpretation of the Constitutional right to petition the government -- also known as bribes. But they never use that word.

It’s a crime. It’s an injustice. But don’t expect anyone to go to jail for it. Why? Because Congress is in cahoots with the bankers, the insurance giants, the business barons who have as much public concern, community goodwill and personal honesty as a pile of rocks.

Not only do these bloodsuckers, who were on the edge of disaster when the taxpayers saved their skins, show no gratitude or restraint in overpaying themselves for not doing the right thing in the first place but they underwrite every campaign to destroy any hope for the country to improve life for the average citizen.

They oppose health care and fund the Republican political machine which opposes any reform in Congress and they fund the Blue Dog Democrats who see no reason to support their own party’s high minded resolve to help millions of the country’s uninsured. They underwrite the cost of fighting any effort to thwart global warming. All they care about is making as much money as they can no matter how many innocent people go without adequate medical care or how dangerous the world will be without pollution controls.

They are the most shortsighted people that ever existed. They don’t care about the future. They only live for the profits of the moment. They pay off Congress and fatten the wallets of government leaders in order to protect their bloated incomes. My desire is they live long enough to see how much damage they have done to their children’s and grandchildren’s worlds.

The Republican Party, with its antipathy towards any change in the way health care, is standing boldly shoulder-to-shoulder with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in opposition to anything offered in the realm of health care reform. They are joined by enough reactionary Democrats to stop meaningful progress.

When it comes to the area of stimulating jobs in our weakened economy all the Republicans can think of is their precious taxes. They keep singing that discredited song that tax cuts for business stimulates employment when we all know that the tax cuts given during the Bush Administration resulted in a near depression.

And the Democrats are not blameless. They cannot get together to write stiff new rules that would restrict banks and investment firms from hoodwinking the public in the future even after the financial chaos following the Bush Administration. It is difficult to believe there are realistic objections in the shadow of such a financial disaster. Even the watered-down bill passed by the House this week failed to gain a single Republican vote.

But neither party has serious objections to restricting entitlements to the poor and middle classes. It’s no harm if the lower income echelon of society cannot buy as much with food stamps as before, or afford a doctor’s regular care, or pay their mortgages.

It is all right for the lower income families to send their youths to fight and die in a questionable war as long as the investors in Haliburton (like Dick Cheney) and Blackwater make billions selling their inflated, non-bid services to the military.

The ugliness of the American political scene is heartless. We have a Congress hobbled into inaction by one party which can only say "no" to all proposals and by Senate rules that demolish the democratic concept of majority rule. We no longer have democracy in America, we have borderline anarchy fed by contentious politicians rejoicing in logjams and gridlock. The only time bipartisanship rears its head is when funding warfare.

And there is no relief for the electorate.

It is Christmas time and if you are looking for the traditional goodwill and peace of the season, you’d better look somewhere else. You won’t find it in the US Congress.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Depressed? Who me?

By Don Klein

A good friend of mind said he is worried about me. He thinks I am depressed. My wife disagrees. She thinks I am overwhelmed with stress. I don’t know who is correct.

I do know I am confounded, perplexed and bewildered. I feel some strange power has singled me out for a heavy dose of negativity over a very short period of time.

It all started a month ago when my dentist told me my teeth were in bad shape. Four of them had to be extracted. He yanked them out of the back of my mouth then informed me it would be some time before he could build partial bridges because he had to wait for the gums to heal. That immediately destroyed my eating routine. No steaks, no chops, no bagels – just soft food for a long time.

About that time my wife was diagnosed with an ailment that required surgeries in Baltimore by two specialists. We had to make arrangements for the trip and order referrals from our primary physician’s office. That’s the insurance imperative these days. The clerks promised to mail the sacred documents to the distant surgeons.

Meanwhile I got a call from my bowling team captain reporting that she had been hurt in a auto accident and wouldn’t be bowling that week and could I take over for her. I did. In the confusion of first finding a substitute bowler, then entering the names on the scorecard and the monitor screen, I noticed time was eluding me so I grabbed my ball for at least one practice shot. I landed flat on my face.

Why? In the rush to do everything in the briefest time allotted I forgot to put my bowling shoes on and threw the ball wearing my street shoes. Advice to bowlers: Don’t ever do that. No traction. Splat.

The next day we learn that the referrals that were supposed to be sent to Baltimore, were not. At that time it was too late to mail them and besides we didn’t trust the clerks and did not want to travel 135 miles only to be turned away because of no referrals. So I drove in exasperation to our Salisbury doctor’s office to pick up the referrals personally after first revisiting my dentist for a checkup on my gums.

On the way back somehow I drove my car off the road and smashed into my neighbor’s house. The car was totaled. Miraculously there was no injury to me or severe damage to the house. That initiated a whole series of gut-wrenching routines that follow all accidents. First, arranging for towing the damaged car, then renting a car and dealing with the insurance people and finally negotiating for a new car. All in three days time.

A day later my wife’s car stopped running. Again a towing – to the dealer this time. Diagnosed as an engine computer failure, it took several days to repair. At the same time my prize possession, the Bose radio and CD player, whose music always cured my tension, also stopped playing for no discernable reason.

Now we were ready for the Baltimore excursion. Great friends in rural Clarksville put us up for the three-day stay there. We had never been to their house -- or that area of Maryland – so we traveled on unfamiliar routes reading directions as we roamed darkened roads. It rained all three days to add to the strain of driving.

We had to be at the two different doctors on two succeeding days before dawn. There were no good night’s sleep as a result.

Getting to Baltimore was weird, inside the city the travel was familiar enough though stressful. Trying to find our way among the myriad of structures on the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus is like trying to escape the clutches of the Blob that ate California. Hopkins has wrapped its unwieldy embrace over a sizable chunk of east Baltimore and turned what once was one of the dumpiest neighborhoods of the city into a widespread, confusing technological health complex even an employee would have trouble negotiating.

When my wife’s treatment was over we were free to travel back to Ocean City. It was Thanksgiving Eve, the worst travel day of the year. I stopped for a snack on the approach to the Bay Bridge, my wife was not hungry, and found out that bridge traffic had been greatly retarded because of heavy fog.

A half-hour later, safely on the Eastern Shore side of the Chesapeake Bay, I had to stop and close my eyes for a nap while parked in a county lot off the main highway determined not to repeat losing control of my driving again.

When we got home it was still raining. No food for dinner. Went out for pizza and stained the back seat of my new car with its drippings. Then I learned our oldest granddaughter, an 18 year old who was in tears a few weeks ago when she left her boyfriend in Virginia because of his bad treatment of her, had recanted. They left together to return to Virginia after Thanksgiving despite parental and grand-parental advice to the contrary.

Then to top off everything else, our newspaper whose delivery had be discontinued while we were in Baltimore, was not delivered for five days after the reinstatement date. The responsible circulation people at the paper couldn’t figure out why.

The American Psychological Association reports that 75 percent of Americans are experiencing moderate to high levels of stress, demonstrated by symptoms of irritability and anger. Why should I be different?

Am I depressed? No. Am I stressed out? Maybe. I just want to climb into bed, pull the covers over my head and stay there until they start redelivering my newspaper. I joyfully will open the tardy news sheet and look at the front page – then I’ll really be depressed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hopefully, a winning formula

By Don Klein

Finally, the Democrats seem to have come up with a winning formula for the highly contentious issue of providing health care for all. Senate majority leader Harry Reid has announced that the bill which will be presented to the full Senate will include a public option with a contingency for states to opt out of the program if they deign to do so.

It is more than just a political victory for liberals in Congress who fought so ardently for a public option in order to give teeth to the pending legislation. It also puts the Republican opposition as well as those Blue Dog Democrats on the spot.

It has thrust the issue of health care into the final crucial crunch.

Permitting individual states the right to bail out of the program is a clear boost to the concept of states rights, a point the opposition often uses to justify resistance to the concept of the bill. Now we will learn if the opposition is really opposed to health care legislation because it is unpopular among the residents in their states or if it is because the solons are satisfactorily impressed (paid off) by the powerful, well-heeled insurance lobby.

The Reid compromise is attractive because it ultimately allows the people to decide the issue. In states that accept the public option, which will be most of them, we should start seeing the uninsured becoming insured and further, the insurance premiums for all others to begin to show cost reductions. If for some strange reason this does not benefit the public, the states can always opt out.

In those states that opt out from the start there will be a different consequence. Their rates may remain where they are or might even increase because there will be no public competition on costs. Eventually the residents of opted out jurisdictions will realize they are paying a surcharge that others are not and they will demand to be included. State governments will not be able to resist these movements and still remain in office very long.

My guess is that many voices will be heard and soon all states, except the most stubborn, will rejoin the program which includes a public option. Give them five years and the public option will be uniform throughout the country.

So the opt out clause is good. To begin with, it will be hard to oppose because if you don’t like it you don’t have to accept it. And more importantly, it will be the first step towards affordable health option insurance for the entire country.

But Reid’s plan is still not the law of the land. There is a question whether it will pass Congress because of recalcitrant Republicans. There is another problem that needed to be faced from the very beginning. The Democratic caucus is still not unified behind the bill despite having a filibuster-proof majority of 60. There are still three or four Democrats (Sens. Landrieu, Lincoln, Nelson or Baucus) who are uneasy with the public option and one of the two independents (Sen. Lieberman) is a holdout.

No one expects any help from GOP senators despite Olympia Snowe’s positive committee vote recently. If she backs down, as she has threatened to do, so be it. This issue will come down to the effort put into it by President Obama using his immense patronage powers.

He must invite each of the unsure Democrats to the Oval Office, or send his envoys to Capitol Hill, and use gentle persuasion on them, reminding each marginal senator of what the power of the presidency can do in each of their home states. No politician in his or her right mind wants the president, especially of his own party, angry with them.

They will have to balance the benefits of an insurance industry which can provide funds to support their next political campaign against the extraordinary benefits to their states possible through White House largesse. This might even move rebellious independent Joe Lieberman, who represents the insurance industry-based state of Connecticut, to a positive position.

All that is needed is 60 votes to clear cloture then a simple majority of 51 is needed to pass the bill. The Democrats are certain of the latter number.

The opt-out concept makes a great deal of sense but you can bet it will not impress the Republicans. Even though it illuminates their states rights position on so many other matters, the GOP is only interested in one thing – how to make Obama appear to be a failure. They are afraid if the president succeeds they will remain a minority party for years to come.

If health care reform fails, they see the Democrats on the ropes during the 2010 elections. Winning or losing elections are more important than doing what is right for the public.

This entire issue of health care in America is loaded with ruptured axioms:

1. America thrives on competition – except when it comes to health care issues.
2. Rationing is bad -- except when insurance companies do it for profit.
3. States Rights are all important – except when providing for the needy.
4. Senior citizens enjoy a single-payer health plan, as does Congress -- but it is not good for the general public.

If this health care effort founders or is substituted with a feeble, industry-favored substitute which does not include any method to insert real competition into insurance charges I would be hopeful every member of Congress – Republican or Democrat -- who voted against the measure is justly defeated in the 2010 election because they dismiss the personal well being of their constituency as not important.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Learning a lesson the hard way

by Don Klein

I was a rabid Yankee fan when I was a Bronx teenager. That was before George Steinbrenner took over the team in 1973 and bought pennants by corralling every available top free agent around. He became famous as baseball’s free spender who drove up player’s salaries to absurd levels.

That’s when I became an anti-Yankees fan.

Today I became a Yankees fan again. And I’ll tell you why. They took a prudent step to discourage ethnic aspersions by people associated with the team.

Irish tenor Ronan Tynan was scheduled to sing "God Bless America" during the opening game of the American League Championship series at Yankee Stadium last Friday. Amazingly he was told not to bother. That was extraordinary since Tynan had become a fixture around the team singing the patriotic song with great zeal on endless occasions for ten years.

But the day before the current series began he admitted making a stupid anti-Semitic remark. Tynan was introduced to a potential tenant in his Manhattan apartment house by an agent who said, "Don’t worry, they are not Red Sox fans." He responded with "I don’t care about that as long as they are not Jewish."

When word got back to the Yankees they withdrew the invitation for him to sing on this occasion. Howard Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Yankees, said Tynan apologized to the offended party, but the team said he would not sing the famous refrain for them the rest of the playoff series this year.

No one knows what was in Tynan’s mind when he made the insulting remark which could have been meant as a joke or it could have been his true feeling. I’ll give the tenor the benefit of the doubt and say he was trying to be cutesy and that he really doesn’t care if a Jew moves into his building or not.

Even if that was the case, the Yankees did the right thing by barring Tynan from singing under their auspices. Ethnic slurs may be funny to some people but it should never be tolerated. There are enough other innocent approaches to poking fun at people. It is especially unacceptable in Tynan’s case.

Here is a man -- once was an integral part of the famous Irish Tenors – who is loved and admired by all ethnic groups. He lost both his legs in a tragic automobile accident when he was 20 but went on to star in numerous paralympics and at 33 he took up singing. He was already a medical doctor at the time. He knew strife and conquered adversity at many levels.

For him to sink to a reviling ethnic joke is inexcusable. Yet others have been punished more for what I think was a lot less.

Remember of 1988 case of Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder’s remark on CBS Sports. He said African Americans dominate sports because they were bred for strength. Snyder claimed that slave owners bred black slaves to be strong, that black athletes have bigger thighs which allow them to fun faster and jump higher.

Whether his comments were accurate is not important (there is so much inaccuracy flung around in sports talk) but certainly the comment in itself was not derogatory. Yet Snyder was dumped by CBS as it reacted too swiftly to the resentment felt in some black quarters.

That was a lot less offensive than the words of Jesse Jackson, a man who claims to be a great spokesman for minorities, when he referred to New York City as "Hymietown" during a 1984 interview with a black Washington Post reporter. He assumed the remark would not get into print because of his racial bond with the newsman. Hymietown was his way of demeaning the strong Jewish political influence in New York.

To this day many Jews never forgave Jackson for that remark. Neither has many members of the press who felt Jackson maligned them with his false argument accusing the press of deliberately misquoting him.

There is no way that should be the result of Tynan’s relations with American Jews or the press. He was man enough to stand up immediately, apologize to the injured party and take his medicine from the Yankees without passing the blame on to others.

The lesson here, given that Tynan was just joking, is we all must be a lot more sensitive to the feelings of others. I never quite got the point of indelicate ethnic jibing. Years ago in the Army I heard fellow GIs of Italian extraction call each other Wops and Dagos and who hasn’t witnessed black comedians, especially on cable TV, refer to themselves and others of their race as Niggers.

We have to make it clear to all that such language is not welcome in modern civilized company. I am sure Tynan is embarrassed by the whole incident and wishes he never had opened his mouth. It is certainly hard to understand since many of his Yankees admirers and top executives are Jewish and the song that thrust him to favor among Americans was written by a Jew.

We must remember in our criticism of Tynan that this is a man of great fortitude and courage. He never gave up despite his horrible youthful injuries and not only did he become a practicing doctor, a tough enough achievement for able bodied men and women, but also an accomplished performer and singer with an enchanting powerful voice.

So even though the Yankees were correct in disciplining him to the extent they could, he should be given the benefit of the doubt and be welcomed at future events as a man of considerable good nature and stature who made a puddingheaded mistake.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Catching up with a scoundrel

By Don Klein

What would you think of a man in his forties who plied with alcohol your 13-year-old daughter or granddaughter, then drugged her and finally took advantage of her impairment to have sex with her in numerous ways, including what many would consider to be unconventional?

Would he be candidate for Man of the Year? Or would he be a villain who you would hope the authorities would hunt down and send to jail?

Now let’s assume the rapist was not some back alley trash but an artistic genius, who was known near and far as the director of a collection great films in the US and around the world. Would his high esthetic achievements make him a figure of sympathy and admiration who deserves to be excused for his misbehavior and the recipient of your open support?

Sounds familiar? Yes we are talking about Roman Polanski, the peripatetic filmmaker who finally was arrested recently in Switzerland on a warrant from the United States in favor of the Los Angeles district attorney. He will soon appear in a Swiss court to fight extradition as a fugitive from American justice.

The announcement of his detention surprised many people, including myself, who concluded he had successfully alluded justice before sentencing on his admission of guilt in this 31-year-old case. Worse, it traumatize many of his admiring fellow creative artists. What was more shocking was the reaction of the Hollywood community and some preposterous European sophisticates who instantaneously came to the rapist’s defense.

British novelist Robert Harris, author of "The Ghost," which Polansky is making into a movie, said the news of Polansky’s arrest in Zurich on an outstanding international warrant made him "feel almost physically sick."

The news of his arrest made him sick? Not the crime to which Polansky pleaded guilty? What kind of man is Harris? "Mr. Polansky has become a good friend," Harris wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times. "Our families have spent time together. His daughter and mine keep in regular touch. His past did not bother me..."

Hollywood luminaries have expressed their support for Polansky, now 76. Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Michael Mann, Harvey Weinstein and 100 others are circulating a petition demanding Polansky’s immediate release.

Fortunately not all Hollywood is on this ridiculous bandwagon. Alison Arngrim, an actress known for "Little House on the Prairie," who had spoken out in the past about being molested as a child, said pointedly, "If Roman Polansky was a Catholic priest or a Republican senator, would these people feel the same way?"

Weinstein wrote a column in a London daily supporting Polansky and tried to whitewash the case. Apparently if the crime is more than three decades old it is no longer a crime in his eyes. "Whatever you think about the so-called crime, Polansky has served his time," he said.

Weinstein has got to be delusional. How could he define "served his time" if Polansky has been living in posh exile in France and traveling freely all over Europe pursuing his film career and basically thumbing his nose at the US judicial system? Is Weinstein saying that if you are a renown artist you have a right to flaunt the law that everyone else has to live up to?

Besides, as The Times reported, "there is nothing ‘so-called’ about the crime. The passage of years does not alter the allegations in the indictment, which included rape, furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, committing lewd and lascivious act upon a child and sodomy." Polansky pleaded guilty to the single charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. In other words, statutory rape.

The child victim, now in her forties and having received in the past a handsome settlement from Polansky, is no longer willing to prosecute. But when rape is committed it is a crime against society, not just a violation of one’s personal and protected rights. Besides Polansky already pleaded guilty and fled before sentencing.

I can’t help but wonder whether the writer Harris who noted that Polansky’s past as a rapist of a child did not bother him would be comfortable to leave his daughter, when she was 13, alone with the errant director. I would ask the same of Scorsese, Weinstein and the others who feel Polansky should not be extradited.

I look at this situation on two levels, neither one of which is favorable for
Polansky. Of course the first is the rape of a child. No one should ever get a free pass on that crime, but Polansky with his money and connections was able to flee and remain to ramble wherever he could as long as the long arm of the law did not reach out to nab him. I think he should have been collared years ago when he first fled justice and am not sure why he was not.

But later is better than never in this case.

The other unforgivable crime is his calculated brushing off of the judicial system of the country that made him a multi-millionaire. He thumbed his nose at every law-abiding American during the 30 years of making films outside the reach of the courts. And we Americans foolishly went to his movies in droves and made him richer during his self-imposed deportation.

Hopefully his flight will have finally come to an end and the scoundrel will pay for his crime by spending the rest of his sordid life in prison.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ghost of Leon Klinghoffer strikes

By Don Klein

It was one of the most depraved exploits in a century marked by appalling human evils. Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound 69-year-old American Jew on a Mediterranean vacation, was murdered and thrown into the sea from the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Arab hijackers on October 7, 1985.

The world was horrified at first, then exhilarated when US Navy jets later intercepted the aircraft transporting the killers and forced it to land at a NATO base in Sicily. Then the balloon burst when inept Italians, who took control the perps, let them escape into friendly Arab confines.

That incident of 24 years ago was all but forgotten by most of us when Farouk Hosny, Egypt’s minister of culture, decided he would like to top off his public career by running for director general of Unesco, the world body’s educational, scientific and culture organization.

At least the Arabs were hoping everyone else forgot about the Klinghoffer murder and its aftermath because Hosny, 71, in the past had boasted of his role in helping to organize the escape from Italy of the Achille Lauro killers.

This was not an isolated xenophobic moment on Hosny’s part. On another occasion he demonstrated his anti-Semitism when he told the Egyptian parliament that he would personally burn every Israeli (Jewish) book in the library in Alexandria, his country’s most important depository of literature.

It is an interesting look into the Arab mind. Here was a man who admitted publicly to being complicit in helping hijack-murderers of a helpless old cripple to escape justice and later in his career declared he would gladly be a book burner if given the opportunity, was thought to have the proper credentials to become the director of an international cultural organization.

What a curriculum vitae! And yet until the last vote was taken this past week he was within a hair’s breath from getting the plum assignment. It was like someone who lived on a diet of beans and potato chips applying for the job of top chef at a leading gourmet restaurant.

Fortunately people did not forget. When the nations squared off in Paris to choose a new Unesco director the vote eventually came to a 29-29 tie between Hosny and Bulgarian diplomat, Irina Bokova, 57, a former Communist, now of the Socialist Party. Bokova picked up two votes from countries which switched from the Egyptian. The final ballot was 31 to 27 and Hosny was vanquished.

Hosny’s defeat was certainly not by any means justice for Klinghoffer or his family because in a moral world he would be behind bars for being an accomplice in the escape of cold-blooded murderers. His book burning propensity, further, would also be enough to bar him from such a UN role.

But we do not live in a moral world. Too often we willingly ignore criminal activities and nauseating behavior. Sometimes we even reward the criminals. That’s why you have to be of a certain discernment to work in the diplomatic corp if it means having to operate side-by-side with villains of this nature.

The Bokova victory came on the fifth ballot when the Bulgarian benefitted from the switched votes of the Italian and Spanish delegations, according to The New York Times. I’d like to know what took them so long to see the light since both nations have been victimized by Arabs for decades?

Ask yourself why the Italians would ever consider supporting an Egyptian after being so insulted and embarrassed over the scandalous escape of the hijackers a quarter of a century ago. Do they have short memories or are they just cowards seeking to avoid commercial counteracts from the oil rich Arabs. I buy the latter reason.

And what about Spain? Think of the 191 Spanish commuters killed in that Madrid train bombing on March 11, 2004. Muslims were out to kill in brutal calculation men, women and children innocently riding a train one day. How could they have ever considered voting for Hosny? But both countries apparently were in his corner in early voting as they were later identified as having changed their stand on the last ballot.

Is it no surprise that so many Americans have no respect for many West Europeans. They sit around allowing themselves to be targets of terrorists and Arab miscreants and never act forcefully when they have the opportunity to do so. They are slaves to oil.

Let us not forget one thing. The defeat of Hosny at Unesco will never make up for aiding Klinghoffer’s killers to escape justice. Nor will the millions in settlement dollars paid to his family by the Palestinian Liberation Organization years after the incident. Money can never make up for murder.

It is good to know that the ghost of Leon Klinghoffer hurled a shadow over the Egyptian’s effort to move up the UN ladder. That perhaps is the biggest flaw in the United Nations. People with dirty hands benefit in many ways when the UN should be more discerning about who they put into key positions.

Bokova doesn’t come without demerits, though. "Those who do not like Communism in (Bulgaria) are not happy about her promotion," a political critic told The Times. "For people in this region, her appointment sends the message that the West can swallow someone’s Communist past very easily but cannot abide an Arab who is anti-Israel." Wrong. One protected assassins, the other did not.

At least we can relish small victories. The relatives of Klinghoffer (an American not an Israeli) and those anonymous 191 Spaniards who died at the hands of Arab terrorists can take some solace in Hosny’s trouncing. It’s better than nothing, but not much.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Strange priorities

By Don Klein

Now imagine this scenario. You have a thriving business but you are not satisfied with the returns. Your greed tells you there will be additional profits if you invested in and sold risky widgets. Your key business advisers encourage the idea. You go ahead and fall flat on your face, but you have an ace up your sleeve.

You know your business is too important to the country to fail and as you are sinking into the quicksand of oblivion you hear the cavalry bugle call for charge and before you know it there is Uncle Sam with all the resources of the country to keep your head above the slime. Hurrah! You are financially restored and decide to offer bonuses to all those employees who advised you to sell widgets in the first place.

What have you learned? Most people would not go near such a scenario again. They would stay clear of shady deals and bad business plans. That would be the wise thing to do. No one likes to feel the pull of quicksand, do they?

Maybe not, but that is if you are talking about normal people, not Wall Street bankers and manipulators. They seem to think they are too important to the nation’s economy for the government to allow them to go under. And the government at this point is doing nothing to give them a contrary thought.

So here we are one year since Lehman Brothers went under and the start of the worst economic free-fall in the country in 80 years and the guardians of our freedom and economy – the US Congress – has done absolutely nothing to change the rules that run Wall Street. They have imposed no new regulations to avoid what happen last year to happen again.

To be fair neither has the president.

Just take note. It is one year after the most disastrous economic plunge in decades crippled the country where millions have lost their jobs, millions more have lost the value of their property and stocks and millions have been swindled by stock market sharpies, and nothing has been done to curb these excesses except to bailout the bad guys and give million dollar bonuses to the rodents who got us into this mess in the first place.

We have 435 members of the House of Representatives, 100 senators, a president and his cabinet, and none have acted with any urgency on this matter. We pay each member of both houses of Congress a minimum of $174,000 annually and the president is recompensed at $487,000. In addition almost half the senators (40 to be exact) are millionaires.

They are paid by the people of this country but it is clear they do not work for the people. If they did they would have enacted legislation by now that would put a crimp in the ability of the swindlers and bottom feeders of Wall Street to squirrel away all that money while making risky deals which took them to the brink of bankruptcy only to be saved from financial calamity by the taxpayers.

It is hard to believe that as the economy sunk into the bottomless pit it was heading for last year that responsive and responsible elected government officials would still be picking lint from their $800 suits and scratching their noggins 12 months later like the classic slapstick artist Stan Laurel. If it weren’t such a serious problem it would be laughable.

This is what President Clinton's secretary of labor, Robert Reich, said recently:
"The mega-bailout of Wall Street accomplished little. The only big winners have been top bank executives and traders, whose pay packages are once again in the stratosphere. Banks have been so eager to lure and keep top deal makers and traders they've even revived the practice of offering ironclad, multimillion-dollar payments -- guaranteed no matter how the employee performs.

"Goldman Sachs is on course to hand out bonuses that could rival its record pre-meltdown paydays. In the second quarter this year it posted its fattest quarterly profit in its 140-year history, and earmarked $11.4 billion to compensate its happy campers. Which translates into about $770,000 per Goldman employee on average, just about what they earned at the height of the boom. Of course, top executives and traders will pocket much more."

Was it Obama who said he would chase the lobbyists out of the halls of government when he became president? That was before he tried to appoint lobbyists to his Cabinet and other high positions. And before he tried to control the rich on Wall Street and in the insurance industry. We need a fighter on our side, and we need him or her now.

Isn’t it about time we faced the reality of Washington. It is no longer our government, nor the government that Thomas Jefferson envisioned. It is the corrupt creation of what big money does to good intentions.

For more than a year we could not find the language to curb Wall Street excesses, for eight months now we cannot find the language to provide a decent health plan for ordinary people but we can act within hours to declare as president a man who lost the popular vote in 2000 and keep a husband from relieving his decade-long comatose wife who was "living" with the help of tubes and electronics in a vegetated state so he could bury her in peace and dignity.

We certainly have strange priorities in this country.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How low can some senators sink?

By Don Klein

Once upon a time there was a collegial attitude in the United State Senate. Yes that is true, although it might be difficult for you whippersnappers under the age of 60 to know it.

During the twenty years of uninterrupted Democratic rule between 1933 and 1953 and the eight years between 1961 and 1969, there was a Republican Party that actually behaved like the loyal opposition acting seriously to debate and solve public issues and to work in the bipartisan spirit.

There were senators like Styles Bridges (N.H.), Robert Taft (Ohio), Owen Brewster (Mich), and Warren Austin (Vt), all Republicans in a Senate that had a two-to-one Democratic majority. Yet they were all cordial to their opponents. They often disagreed with measures proposed by the majority, but refrained of behaving scurrilously or being ruthless.

After all the Senate was the most exclusive gentlemen’s club in the country. Everyone was well behaved. In later years there were other GOP gentlemen, Everett Dirksen (Ill) and his son-in-law, Howard Baker (Tenn), politicians who battled the Democrats tooth and nail but retained their civility and sense of respect for their opponents. Good demeanor was reciprocated by the Democrats. These were true gentlemen working on needed legislation.

So what happened?

Why are many of the current Republicans acting like they just escaped from the lunatic asylum? Why are they committed to block any measure proposed by President Barack Obama and the Democrats? Why do they question Obama’s birth status? Why do they openly lie about the non-existent "death panel" in the proposed health plan?

Why are they defaming the good name of the party which boasts of titanic presidents like Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt?

It is always sad to watch great institutions die. It is worse to watch them commit suicide. I feel that is exactly what the Republicans are doing to their party these days. They make it very unappealing to be on their side on any issue because they are loaded with more nutcases per square foot than barbaric Bedlam, the old English confinement center for the insane.

Here are a few examples of the insanity raging among Republicans currently holding senatorial rank.

Let’s start with an outright lie. Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, who allegedly was working with the Democrats on the Finance Committee to work on bipartisan legislation on the health bill told a meeting with his constituents they ought to be concerned about a government program which would "pull the plug on grandma." That was a lie and he knew it especially since he didn’t mention he voted for the end of life counseling clause.

That’s as demagogic as you can get.

Then there is Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who said there ought to be the death penalty for abortionists, that the so-called gay agenda is the "greatest threat to our freedom today" and who managed to sneak an amendment to an unrelated bill allowing visitors to openly carry guns in national parks.

Three questions to you senator. 1. How can you punish someone for acting legally, 2. How does being gay threaten the freedom of anyone else? and 3. Why would anyone need a gun when visting a park?

James Imhofe, the other Oklahoma senator, said global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public and further accused the Weather Channel of scare-mongering about the problem to increase its television ratings. Best of all, he said that the attacks on 9/11 were God’s anger at the US for its policies in favor of Israel. Apparently he speaks with God on a regular basis.

We have Jim Demint, of South Carolina , in one sweeping remark he compared the president to Hitler, Hugo Chavez and the Islamic Republic of Iran. He sees efforts to stimulate the economy and to provide universal health care as Obama’s way to subvert the Constitution. Huh?

Finally there are the two leaders who exemplify the often stated GOP mantra of "family values." For social purists we have David Vitter, of Louisiana, and John Ensign, of Nevada. Vitter fought for an amendment to the Constitution to dictate that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman and often chirped that anyone who committed adultery should resign from public office.

That was before his name and telephone number was found in the records of a prominent Washington brothel keeper.

Ensign is one of those charmers you should never leave alone with your wife, or any woman, especially if you are a close friend. This leader of society converted a female staff member into his personal lady of pleasure even though she was married to another member of the Ensign staff . How’s that for loyalty and friendship? Later he tried to pay off the wounded couple employing his wealthy parents to provide cash.

What a family they are!

There was a time when both these masters of disrepute would have to resign on grounds of what was once termed "moral turpitude," but today they are nothing less than standards for many in the Senate.

The Democrats have their queer duck as well. There is Roland Burriss of Illinois. He was appointed to Obama’s senate seat by disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich before he was impeached by the state legislature. Burriss insisted he never made a deal with the damaged ex-governor. Later a deal to raise money for Blago exposed Burriss as a fraud.

These preposterous characters run around Capitol Hill making laws for the rest of us to live by. They are an insult to the memories of former senators like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Hubert Humphrey and Arthur Vandenberg – all of whom must be twisting in their is Honest Abe and tough Teddy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Obama needs some old FDR grit

By Don Klein

August was a bad month for the health care debate and for President Obama. I gather the White House staff is breathing easier now that it is over. But should they feel relief now that it’s September? I don’t think so unless the president changes his ways.

So far, the way Obama has handled the health care issue is hardly reassuring. I’m not certain he has it in him to do much better.

That’s a shame because Obama, the oft-described 21st Century reincarnation of Franklin D. Roosevelt, needs to take some lessons on passing tough legislation from the old master himself. Perhaps Obama has too high an opinion of himself to deign to take lessons from the greatest American president since Lincoln. We hope not.

FDR knew there was no real bipartisanship in Washington when you want to shakeup the establishment and try something new or revolutionary. Obama apparently still grasps at that silly straw. There never was an intension on the part of the Republicans to work with Democrats on health care reform. They just payed along to delay the process, offering endless amendments and succeeded in leaving the Democrats panting for breath over the issue because Obama failed to take charge the way FDR did during the New Deal.

Before an audience in Madison Square Garden in 1936, FDR called his opposition for what it was. He laid it out without mincing words. "We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace: business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering, They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs." he said.

"We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred," he exclaimed.

Can you imagine Obama saying anything liked that today? Did FDR’s comments sit well with the electorate? You might conclude it did. FDR won every state in the union except Maine and Vermont in the most lopsided presidential election in history that year. I am not saying that speech was the sole stimulant for his one-sided victory, rather it was his wide-ranging programs for the people and his fighting style that did.

Obama has similar circumstances with programs that appeal to ordinary people, exemplified by the broad appeal of the health care bill but he hasn’t shown any semblance of the fighting nature that successful presidents like FDR exhibited.

President Harry S. Truman, a virtual unknown outside of Washington when he succeeded FDR in death, caught the imagination and excitement of the nation when he launched the famous 1948 "Give ‘Em Hell Harry" campaign.

Commentator Michael Lind writes online "Can anyone imagine President Barack Obama saying anything like that?" He goes on "As the Republican minority, backed by an avalanche of special-interest money, mobilizes to thwart the health reform agenda of the Democratic majority, maybe the time has come for ‘Give-'Em-Hell Barry.’"

Lind goes on, "The most dangerous deficit that the United States faces is not the budget deficit or the trade deficit. It is the Democrats' demagogy deficit. Franklin Roosevelt, looking down from that Hyde Park in the sky, would not be surprised that conservatives are seeking to channel populist anger and anxiety, not against the Wall Street elites who wrecked the economy, but against reformers promoting healthcare reform and economic security for ordinary people."

As Roosevelt told his audience in 1936, "It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them." That’s what has been happening these days as Obama blithely chases the unreachable bipartisanship balloon. FDR would be shocked by the inability of his party to mobilize the public on behalf of reform.

Even Obama’s supporters are beginning to wonder if he is the leader we need at this point in time. They wonder how George Bush with an even less of a majority in the Senate managed to push through much criticized tax cuts and the unpopular war in Iraq while Obama can’t even keep his party behind him on the health care issue. It is time for the president to step up to the plate and start slugging.

During last year’s primary campaign, Hillary Clinton charged that Obama was a man of great words but of little experience to lead the nation. The argument was that campaigns are poetry but running the government is prose. We are starting to wonder if Obama is simply a great poet.

Now is the time to take the gloves off and to inform the intransigent Democrats in the Senate that a health bill without a public option will mean the end of the Democrat majority in Congress. That their jobs are at risk. He should offer deals to those in his own party who are willing to bargain away the public option for fictitious GOP support that will never evolve. It is time to twist arms, a la Lyndon B. Johnson.

As far as the Republicans are concerned, Obama should forget seeking their support. Single out one or two or three who might be marginal on the issue, like the two senators from Maine, and offer them presidential windfalls that would persuade them to crossover to his side of the issue.

The sad fact is Obama wasted valuable time when the Democrats had the numbers, before Ted Kennedy’s death, and now lost the 60 votes they need for cloture. Now they must make the best they can without further delay. Oh if Obama just had a little of the pluck of FDR or the zeal of HST.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Taps for health care or for Teddy

By Don Klein

The passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy brings to mind the inaugural address of his older brother, John F. Kennedy. On January 20, 1961 he said, "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans."

With the last of the Kennedy brothers gone that "new generation" is history.

The question is what happens with today’s generation? The American era that started with JFK brought Olympian changes to the American scene – a period of nearly a half century of social, political and emotional upheaval in the history of the country. Sadly it also brought virtually endless military conflicts of ignoble and nasty circumstances.

Ted Kennedy played an important role in those years and even might have been president if it weren’t for the fact he was perceived as a womanizer and an inebriate. When he first entered the Senate at the minimal age of 30, he was considered a lightweight riding on the broad shoulders of his more accomplished and influential bigger brothers, Jack and Bobby.

Still many looked at him as the heir to the Massachusetts senate seat and possibly even presidential timber. Then there was the Chappaquiddick incident in which a young woman died in his car after he drove it off a road and it sunk into the harbor. They had just left a party of former Kennedy campaign volunteers at which much boozing occurred.

But the new era to which Jack Kennedy envisoned was kept alive and Teddy played important roles along the way. Civil rights legislation was passed, the Supreme Court knocked down school segregation, there was abortion relief, laws helping the disabled and aimed at improving educational opportunities were enacted. New acts on immigration, minimum wages, women’s issues, mental health care and children’s health insurance came into being.

Teddy may have started out as a lightweight and got himself into a lot of unnecessary and unwise troubles associated with a spoiled rich kid but he eventually straightened out. One can only guess what kind of country we would have today if Teddy had won the Democratic primary against Jimmy Carter in 1980 and went on to defeat Ronald Reagan for president in the general election.
The new generation his brother Jack talked about in his inaugural address went on with the first Bush moving into the White House following Reagan and Bill Clinton coming along after him. Then there was the calamitous second Bush presidency, making a mockery of the high ideals Jack Kennedy had aimed at 40 years earlier.

But the Kennedy generation was still alive as long as Teddy was alive.

Today there are no successors to the Kennedy dream now that Teddy is gone. There are no senators, Democratic or Republican, who can carry the title of a bona fide political leader. And we have a president who has yet made his mark on the public, let alone history. With Barack Obama, however, we have the hope a new generation of leadership which at this point still needs definition.

Obama won a stirring victory in the primary and the general elections last year, true, but had a rocky first seven months in office. It is hard to imagine this is a new era of great accomplishments unless an achiever emerges. There are none in Congress at the moment, so we will have to settle for Obama, the only potential mover of the body politic, the only current inspiration for a new generation.

It is never fair to compare leaders from different times. The Jack Kennedy and Obama circumstances were and are different. The problems were and are not the same. The opposition was and is dissimilar. It may be just that Obama may not have the intestinal instincts to go after his opponents like a Kennedy would.

Obama has been soft-selling his health plan even though he had a filibuster-proof majority. He has been seeking bipartisanship that doesn’t exist. Tragically he has lost that trump card with Teddy’s death.

Now the Republicans hold the trump card. We all knew the 60-40 majority was in danger with Teddy’s mortal ailment yet the White House diddled the time away and is now in grievous straights with the bill. If this period is to eventually be called the Obama era, the president has to move quickly and start twisting arms of resistant Democrats and making deals with disobliging Republicans.

We will soon see if this new president is all promise and little clout.

The Kennedy era will fade away as they lower Teddy’s coffin into the earth near his assassinated brothers in Arlington National Cemetery. Army buglers will play the plaintiff strains of Taps and a major question will remain: Are they playing it to honor Teddy’s nearly five decades of public service or are they playing it for Obama’s failed drive for a national health plan.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Curse the dark or light a candle

By Don Klein

If universal health care for Americans is weakened because of an honest discourse between the people and their government representatives,
that would be democracy in action. No dispute from me.

If on the other hand health care gets diluted to the level of being eyewash rather than a substantive reform because of fear, misinformation and downright lies, that’s a national disgrace.

What is going on now is a strange combination of both these propositions.

Fear seems to be playing the biggest part, though. When Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley put himself in the same box with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin suggesting old people might be euthanized there is only one explanation. Spreading fear.

Grassley knows better and should be ashamed of himself. I’ve given up on Palin. I can’t figure whether she is a demagogue or just plain stupid. She fits both personas.

There will be no medical coverage for illegal aliens nor will abortion seekers be handed free care, as many believe. But there are legitimate other concerns on the part of many people and even though I don’t indorse these worries, they are real.

For example, older folks feel that in order to do all that must be done to reform health options and to pay for it, Medicare recipients will have to accept reduced services and possibly higher deductions and co-pays. Obama said he wants to eliminate waste in Medicare and that raises the alarm bell for many seniors who love the program just the way it is.

Then there are the veterans who fear their health benefits will be severely altered to save money needed to fund the new health program. Obama swore their benefits will not be touched.

There is the fright that the government can’t run a complicated program like health care because government doesn’t run anything well. That is generally true, but it is not an axiom. The government runs Medicare well enough to please most seniors. It also does a fairly decent job with the military, although at an awfully high cost. And any retired person will attest to the dependability of Social Security.

What I see as the most consuming problem when universal health care becomes available will be the lack of adequate numbers of health care providers. There are simply not enough doctors to handle the health needs in the country now. Try to get a doctor’s appointment today without having to wait three or four or more months. I have to call my specialists for annual check-ups in November for January-February sessions or I have to wait months longer.

What is going to happen when we add the 46 to 50 million Americans who currently are uninsured. Even if only half of those who will be brought under the new health plan need to visit a doctor, the medical work load will more than just bend, it could fracture. This is especially so if we begin a new era, as Obama has said many times, of preventive medicine.

As of now doctors only spend a few minutes with each patient and in that time they are supposed to give you the full benefit of their medical expertise. We spend more time explaining the problems of our automobile to the service manager at a car repair shop than we do with doctors.

There is no excuse for the mechanic not making the correct repairs, but the doctor may fail your diagnosis because he has little time to thoroughly evaluate your problem and if the symptoms are not obvious it might be overlooked in the crush of his schedule. Add millions more to the patient pool and the situation could become disheartening.

That doesn’t mean we should not bring those in need into the medical insurance program. The worst thing we can do in do nothing because that invites even worse circumstances. We need portability of insurance, we need protection from being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, we need other procedural updates outlined many times by proponents of the plan.

We must expect a disruption in the way things proceed for the 80 percent of the country who are already covered by insurance. The change will not be smooth, change never is, but change is necessary and inevitable. Given these factors, I have a simple question to ask those who oppose universal health care.

Please tell me why you are championing the multi-billion dollar insurance industry which currently is pushing the nation towards bankruptcy to feed its own greed? There is absolutely no advantage to leaving things the way they are. None of us will benefit except the big insurers. So opponents should stop worrying about "death panels" that were never considered in the first place nor an Orwellian future of an all powerful government running our lives.

Today’s insured will loose some conveniences and the uninsured will gain coverage under a new system which will include everyone. It is a good trade off. We will still have our favorite doctors (although we will have to share their services with a larger clientele), we will still get our emergency care, our preventive medical treatment and no one will deny grandma her medicine when she turns 80.

Health care in this country now is more expensive than it should be. The costs get worse. We deserve better. So what’s the big deal in changing it and hoping for better. When it comes to health care the choice is clear: We can either curse the darkness or light a candle.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Horrifying road images

By Don Klein

The tragic death of eight guiltless people, including four children, on New York’s Taconic Parkway on a recent July Sunday brought back a troubling nightmare which to this day – more than a half century later -- reoccurs in my thoughts.

I am talking about the incident in which a mother of two was driving her offspring plus three young nieces back from an upstate lakefront campsite when for some unknown reason she ended up driving the wrong way on a busy Westchester County road. After a miraculous 1.7 mile flight of accident avoidance as others swerved around her, she plowed her minivan into a SUV occupied by three men.

The driver of the errant vehicle, Diane Schuler, 36, her daughter and nieces, ranging in age from 2 to 8 years, and the three men all perished. Only her five year old son survived and will spend weeks in the hospital recovering. This disaster reminded me of what happened in 1955 when I was a young reporter just out of college at my first newspaper job.

I can remember it as if it happened yesterday and that’s the worst part of it. I was finishing off my morning rewrites at about 11.30 when the editor of the The Journal-News in Nyack, NY, came over. "There’s been a bad accident," he said, "Why don’t you grab one of the cameras, run over and get some pictures for tomorrow’s paper."

My boss, Norman Baker, was an experienced and easy going leader who helped shape the early years of my career. As a 9,000 circulation community paper in the shadow of the giant New York city dailies, he had to focus on local news to hold readers. Norm, an instinctive newsman, was always thinking of tomorrow’s front page.

I was eager to cover a breaking story. After all wasn’t that the reason I wanted to be a journalist and weren’t those the skills they tried to instill in us at NYU’s journalism school? The breaking news I had envisioned were major stories in New York, or big time politics in Washington or crucial stories of conflict and wars around the world, not a traffic accident. But you had to start somewhere.

I grabbed one of the paper’s two archaic Speed Graflex cameras and headed for the scene. When I arrived it was clear there was a calamity unfolding. Emergency vehicles with flashing lights were all over the place and as I approached the crash site with camera in hand I could see what happened.

A giant tanker-trailer had crossed over the center line and crushed a private sedan against the opposite side railing. The crash had occurred on an elevated portion of the road where it passed over a small hamlet in the valley several hundred feet below. The cab of the tanker had been propelled over the edge and crashed in a field many feet below. The tanker itself was crunched against the squashed car on the road.

The auto looked as if a King Kong-like creature had stepped on it and as the volunteer firemen were working feverishly to free its inhabitants I couldn’t understand why they were still at it some 20 minutes after we had learned of the accident by police radio.

Later I learned that the rescuers feared using acetylene torches to cut away the roof of the car to get to the trapped souls because they did not know the contents of the tanker and feared a spark could cause an explosion. Instead they used giant hand-powered saws to cut off the roof.

When they were close to hacking through the roof I positioned myself a few feet up a lamppost for a better view, focused my camera on the car and watched as the rescuers bent back the shattered remains of the car. I then saw a vision which has haunted me ever since.

There were six people inside, all members of one family. There was a father and mother, two children and two grandparents. They were jumbled up and entangled like the sorriest collection of discarded dolls in a child’s closet. The difference was that these were human beings. The first one out was the young mother. You could see she had a terrible head wound and was dead. Her eyes stared sightlessly at the sky as they carried her body passed where I was standing.

The elderly couple also were crushed beyond life as was the little girl. Their bodies were horribly contorted by the crash. Blood was everywhere. The father and son recovered, and were hospitalized for many months. The truck driver died inside his fallen cab many feet below. I took many pictures which appeared in the next edition and wrote the story. Made sick by the experience, I couldn’t eat dinner that night.

The investigation found no obvious cause for the accident and in the end police concluded that the truck driver, who had been on the road for a long stint, apparently fell asleep as his rig entered the bridge, crossing into oncoming traffic and caromed into the car crushing the family coming in the opposite direction.

The final toll: Five people died, two were seriously injured. Two families – those in the sedan and the truck driver’s wife and children – were decimated.

The conclusion: It didn’t have to happen if only the truck driver had rested.

The Taconic accident also didn’t have to happen. A toxicology report revealed that Ms. Schuler’s blood-alcohol level was twice that for determining drunken driving and there was a high level of marijuana in her system.

Less than 30 minutes before the fatal crash she had spoken to her brother by cell phone and complained of having trouble focusing. He told her to pull off the road and he would come get her. She didn’t.

If only she had heeded his advice.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ramirez-Ortiz out, Vick in

By Don Klein

Isn’t it ironic that Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz who tested positive for taking illegal performance enhancing drugs are still allowed to play baseball in the major leagues and Michael Vick who after completing a 23-month sentence for promoting dog fighting can’t find a job in the National Football League.

Here we have two men who evidence proves cheated other players and the public are blissfully allowed to continue their exorbitant life styles while another athlete who made a horrible mistake and paid for his blunder by serving his full prison time is treated like a pariah.

Is it fair that cheaters get a bye while thickheaded behavior is forever punished?
Face the facts. Vick made a error in judgment, a serious error true, but he paid the price. He went to court, received a fair trial, was convicted and served his term of incarceration. He handled an extremely difficult situation like a man. He deserves a second chance in a profession at which he was a stellar performer.

Vick was one of those rare individuals in sports who could draw a crowd just by his appearance on the field. There are not many contemporary quarterbacks who are as exciting and innovative as Vick. He is a credit to the game. As far as we know he never cheated the fans. He did not use steroids nor did he ever throw a game or bet on them. These are capital crimes in sports.

If it wasn’t for foolishly arranging dog fights, his life would have been without regret. Who among us have not made regrettable mistakes. In a New York Daily News recent poll 56 percent of respondents favored Vick's return.

Of course, drawing a crowd means nothing to the NFL which packs them in at every game wherever played and collects multi-millions in television fees. No one today is as relevant to football as Babe Ruth was to baseball in the pre-television, pre-million dollar contract days. People paid money at the gate to see Ruth and that made team owners rich. Now stars are seen for free on television every week and the owners are even richer.

Vick, 29, was not to football what Ruth was to baseball. No one is. But Vick was not a pedestrian player either. During the six seasons in the NFL he played for the Atlanta Falcons and completed more than half the passes he attempted in five of those years. He pitched 71 touchdown passes and scored 21 others running the ball in on his own. He made the Pro Bowl three times.

Most importantly he was a crowd pleaser. Fans who rooted for his team, or against them, never knew what to expect from Vick. A chill would run up the spine of all when the center snapped the ball to him. Would he step back and pass like most quarterbacks or would he take off in one of those unpredictable, unorthodox scrambles in the back field that often ended up with a massive yardage gain on the ground. In short he was a sports delight.

Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, acknowledged that Vick, suspended roughly four months before beginning his prison term, has been partially disciplined. But he gave no hint on how much of a bearing that might have on potential reinstatement.

When asked if Vick will be reinstated for the 2009 season, Goodell said: "I haven't sat down and looked at his case. I haven't met with him. I haven't understood where he is. I'm not going to try to guess."

The Falcons who own Vick's contract rights don’t want him back. Too much bad publicly, I guess. Perhaps figuring prison has diminished his talents they are attempting to trade him.

Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith believes Vick deserves a chance to compete for a job but added he is committed to Kyle Orton as his existing quarterback,
"I would look at Michael like I look at every other prospect that's available. He goes back into the pool," Smith told reporters. "That's what everyone in society does. Martha Stewart went to prison. She paid her time. Now she's back in society.

"Mike made a mistake, and he's paying the price for that mistake. Once you've paid your debt to society, you have to say, 'OK, let's go on from there.' "

Meanwhile there is almost no noteworthy reaction to the fact that Ramirez, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and David Ortiz, still with the Boston Red Sox, tested positive for illegal drugs in 2003. Ramirez and Ortiz were critical components of the Red Sox victorious World Series winning season in 2004.

It may be sacrilege to Boston’s insane Sox fans but the Ramirez-Ortiz scandal besmirches the Red Sox victory that year and should lead to the possibility of an asterisk being placed next to the team’s 2004 record. The only sound argument against such action is that there had been so much steroid corruption in baseball these days that all the teams were equally at fault in allowing their stars to take drugs. There should be an asterisk against all teams.

Every year baseball fouls itself with more drug scandals. Its players continue to insult the public and downgrade championships while baseball’s hierarchy does little about it other than give lip-service to its inadequate attempts at reform. Baseball is headed for the dump heap thanks to its greedy players aided and abetted by its even greedier and inept owners.

If the 1920s and 1930s where baseball’s golden years, the 1990s and 2000s has to be its contamination years. Ramirez and Ortiz should be thrown out of baseball as should all other ball players who cheat. It should be a dire warning to future players if the game is to continue in good faith.

Ramirez-Oriz out, Vick in. That's my formula for sports this year.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Still 'The Comeback Kid'

By Don Klein

They used to call him The Comeback Kid. Recent events proved that he still is. The Obama team thought they left him vanquished in the dust after trashing him mightily for the crime of supporting his wife’s candidacy for president during last year’s primary race. Bill Clinton proved them wrong.

He has what no living ex-president has – the golden touch – and is still the most successful Democratic leader since Harry S. Truman. Overseas he is the most honored and revered American leader even though he holds no high office nor any power except for the high regard with which he is held in the international community.

Even President Obama can’t match him on that score at this point in time.
Ronald Reagan spent his post-White House years making speeches at $2 million a shot. Bush-41 couldn’t draw a crowd if he sat on top of a 100-foot pole and sang all four roles of the Ode to Joy. Bush-43 is exiled to Texas from where most hope he never emerges. Jimmy Carter travels around the world putting his foot in his mouth and often defying US foreign policy.

None of them are preferred for their uniqueness or specialties.

Bill Clinton is the exception. His stature makes him a welcome American emissary wherever he travels. His charisma is what eventually led to the release by North Korea of two American journalists arrested and convicted of entering the country illegally and sentenced to 12 years at hard labor.

No one else could have accomplished the deed.

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il made it clear to the US that if they wanted the captive women back, it would take a visit by Bill Clinton to fetch them. Acting as a private citizen on a humanitarian mission he made the trip. Spent less than a day with the Korean potentate and the release was accomplished.

Kim Jong-il wanted to meet Clinton for more than a decade. When Clinton was president he sent condolences when Kim’s father died and the tyrant never forgot it. He invited Clinton to visit when he was still in the Oval Office but it never could be arranged.

Clinton’s goodwill gesture never was forgotten by Kim and when the Swedes, representing the US which has no relations with North Korean, urged the released of the held reporters Kim jumped at the chance to fulfill his desire to meet Clinton, his unrequited hero. The deal was eventually made to everyone’s satisfaction.

I liked Clinton when he was president. I liked him in his post-presidency years. I still like him. I obviously am not alone. Kim likes him also, as do many other political leaders of all stripes around the world. He is a known factor and an accomplished international leader, a role that the present president, in office only six months, has yet to attain. In time Obama could surpass Clinton in world eclat, but he has not yet reached that level.

There isn’t a soul who watched the arrival of the freed correspondents, Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, at Burbank airport the other day and the reunion with their loved ones who would not be touched by the significance of Clinton’s accomplishment. Big Bill is back on center stage which he relishes like Teddy Roosevelt once did and is in a role he should be destined to play for the rest of his life.

Way back when Obama was elected last November I flat out contended that the new president had an advantage that not many other beginner presidents had. Bill Clinton was available as a worldwide trouble shooter and if used intelligently would be a great asset. Obama insiders rejected such a role. Clinton would suck all the oxygen out of Obama’s glory and foreign policy, they believed.
At the time there was no way to predict the situation that evolved in North Korea with the two journalists, but it was exactly where the Clinton role would be best used.

Back then I saw Clinton as an envoy without portfolio who would be a natural American of influence to be sent to worldwide tinder boxes and brewing trouble spots that needed the uppermost attention. I saw him as a peacemaker among the Israelis and Palestinians or as a mediator of Pakistani-Indian tensions or as a goodwill ambassador in the Persian Gulf.

Who would be more effective in rebuilding American stature in Europe which was so badly weakened by eight years of the Bush-Cheney regime? Which American would have more influence in just about any region of conflict in the world? The answer always seemed to be Bill Clinton, and the North Korean incident was vivid proof.

Clinton and Kim met at the latter’s insistence and a terrible situation was neutralized within hours. That’s what makes past presidents of repute so important. Presidents never serve more than eight years. If they are young enough and physically able to travel and handle the work, as Clinton obviously is, they should not be put to pasture. Like retired generals and admirals, they should always be available to be called to active duty for spot opportunities.

Even though Clinton had to deal with a degenerate foreign leader like Kim he served America with dignity and correctness. Although Kim beamed in Clinton’s nimbus, the former president never gave the dictator anything but a grim and determined gaze. Kim got the photo opportunity he wanted but Clinton walked away with the cool victory of freed Americans and no reciprocal rewards for the tyrant.

The vision of Ms. Lee upon her return to California freedom hugging her four-year-old daughter, Hana, gave the innate value of Clinton’s feat. Americans should be proud we have Bill Clinton to stand up for us.

Monday, August 3, 2009

An irreversible racial future

By Don Klein

Let’s face it. There has been tremendous racial progress in this country in the last four and a half decades. That, however, does not mean there is no racism in today’s America. To me the problem is that too many critics throw around racism charges when they should not and thereby water down those legitimate cases of bigotry.

Evidence: When the Obamaphiles accused Bill Clinton of making racist
statements during the primary battle between his wife and Barack Obama in South Carolina last year. That was an abomination and all those guilty of intemperate charges should be ashamed of themselves. They fired blanks that deeply injured the only decent presidential candidate the party had in three decades up to that time.

Just recently we witnessed another instance where too many were quick to label the arrest of Harvard Prof "Skip" Gates as being the result of racial profiling. As the professor, the arresting officer and Obama sat down last week to enjoy a beer together at the White House many of those accusations have been withdrawn as more facts came to light.

But these are moments not worth lingering over when there are real hateful activities are smoldering on the airwaves. According to Fox TV’s Glenn Beck, the racist is Obama. He sees a "deep-seated hatred for white people." Why? Because Obama’s instincts were to stand up for a black Harvard friend before he knew all the facts. It’s certainly probable that if Gates was a white friend, Obama would have supported him as well. That’s not racism, but fellowship.

A more insidious form of prejudice in the country is this ridiculous campaign to question whether Obama is a naturally born American. There is an element of unpleasant people propelling an absurdity insisting that Obama prove he is an American. If it can be proved he is not a native citizen he is unqualified by the Constitution to be president.

The question of Obama’s citizenship has been answered time and again yet the self-appointed guardians of our democracy keep harping on the negative message as if the powers that be are withholding evidence. Isn’t it great to know our nation is being protected by the vilest all commentators, people of the Beck and Sean Hannity ilk?

Lou Dobbs, another cable news broadcaster who years ago did yeoman work in debunking illegal alien supporters, has now turned his attention to the Obama birth issue. He described critics of his asinine arguments demanding evidence of Obama’s presidential legitimacy as "limp minded, lily livered leftists." If anything is "limp" it’s Dobbs alliteration, if anything is "lily livered" its his incomprehension of clear fact.

All this is nothing less than raw demagoguery disguised as an alleged serious point of law.

This is not the first time Obama’s "Americanism" has been challenged. Remember during the presidential campaign there were Republican crowd pleasers who were happy to imply that the president-to-be was a Muslim. They drew that farcical conclusion because the president’s middle name is Hussein. That’s like assuming I am a cowboy because my friends once called me "Buck."

Several years ago there was a Time magazine cover which carried a artist’s version of the American of the future. If was a tan-skinned young woman with mildly Oriental eyes, dark hair and physical qualities of every race in the world. She was beautiful, and Time called her the American of the future. It was the realization that the land, known as the home of exiles, was rapidly becoming non-white as time passed.

There is no challenging that fact. Soon enough there will be more non-white Americans than there are whites. That means power will shift. Already there are many blacks and Hispanics in Congress and in other important elective offices. But the inevitable shift is on and many of the old white establishment don’t like. They feel it is their country and Obama sitting in the White House is the symbol of their worst nightmare.

Look at the figures: As of 2007 the US had a population of slightly more than 300 million, of which 221 million were white, 44 million were Latino, 41 million were black, 13 million Asian and 19 million other and mixed races. These figures do not add up to the total number because there are millions who fall into more than one racial category and are counted more than once.

But look at the forecast for 2050 by the Census Bureau. Non-Hispanic whites will be 46 percent of the population, Hispanics will be 30 percent, blacks will be 15 percent and Asians 9 percent. If you don’t believe these projections, take a gander at these figures, and swallow hard: 45 percent of today’s American children under the age of five years are non-white. The shift is on.

It is clear that a certain portion of the landed white gentry which have ruled this country since it inception more than two centuries ago are unhappy. Some of them see the writing on the wall and are fighting it. It is a senseless battle. Nevertheless Obama as president represents this monumental change in the country and there are those in government who are not going to make it easy for him.

They will fight his legislative programs not because they are bad governance but because they are his. They will oppose the bailout and health care measures for the same reason and oppose his Supreme Court selection even if by doing so they guarantee the loss of a significant portion of the fastest growing electorate.
And in a final hopeless thrust, they will launch bigoted accusations as if that can slow down the foreseeable and irreversible racial future.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Et tu Baucus?

By Don Klein

What Marcus Junius Brutus was to Julius Caesar, Senator Max Baucus is to the public option in the universal health care legislation proposed by President Obama.

Baucus has wheeled and dealed the public option out of the health plan desired by the majority of Americans polled so far and thereby has plunged a knife into the back of legislation which was the hope of so many. And the real crime is he did it with a filibuster proof Senate majority on his side.

Will the voters of Montana remember Baucus’s treachery the next time he runs for reelection in 2014. The 50-year-old Democrat in his seventh Senate term made concessions to the Republican members of the committee because he claimed he wanted a bipartisan bill. He knows full well that the GOP will not support the bill no matter what he deletes from it in committee.

Important to politicians, he is jeopardizing the Democratic members of Congress who are up for re-election next year. Fortunately for him, Baucus doesn’t face the electorate for another five years. But all is not lost. It is unlikely that the final bill will get to the full Congress without the public option included.

"Health care reform without the public option is not reform," said Howard Dean, former head of the Democratic National Committee, it will do nothing but add to the cost, he claimed. Dean is a doctor and the onetime governor of Vermont.

In contrast, Bill Frist, another doctor and former Republican Senate leader, sees the public option as having the potential to bankrupt the country. They both agreed the current system is not working but Frist believes that the government can bring down costs of medical care by working with the existing insurance companies.

The interesting thing is that although Frist does not think the government can run a health program he admitted that Medicare, the government run program for seniors, is doing very well. On the Charlie Rose TV Show he said he would not vote to repeal Medicare if he was still in office. Neither would any of the current health plan opponents. Today they embrace it but when Medicare was being debated in Congress in 1965, Republicans were as opposed to it as they are opposed to today’s universal health plan.

It is clear to all that Republicans, who almost unanimously oppose the health plan offered by Obama, are reaching for straws to kill it. They are now passing around the claim that the government intends to euthanize seniors who are chronically ill in order to save money by not having to pay for treating sickly people in their later years.

This is a distortion of a clause in the bill to provide coverage to people who choose to consult with professionals when they wish to prepare a living will. This would be covered by the new law, as it already is in Medicare. Some Republican opponents have maliciously suggested that government personnel will visit people and ask them how they wish to die if the bill becomes law.

The GOP doesn’t have Harry and Louise this time around as they did with the Clinton health bill back in 1993 so they are inventing new outrageous fears. They want to preserve the exorbitant profits of the medical insurance companies which ply them with all sorts of campaign funds and fear that a public option as part of this planned legislation will bring down profits of their insurance company friends or possibly put them out of business.

That’s sheer lunacy but they’ll use any underhanded tactic to hurt the bill.
Unfortunately for the nearly 50 million without insurance in this country there are a number of rogue Democrats who are willing to play along with the plan’s enemies. The committee Sen. Baucus runs and which dropped the public option is only one of two in the Senate and three in the House of Representatives working on this measure. Chances are the public option will find its way back into the bill before or during the conference committee session to be held in the fall.
Obama said he would not sign a bill without it. The Democrats are aware they would be committing suicide if there was no public option in the end version, especially since 72 percent of Americans have indicated they favor that clause in recent polls.

No one said that passing a universal health plan for the country was going to be easy. Nothing that favors ordinary people ever comes easy in the House of Hypocrisy, otherwise known as Congress. It is a wonder people haven’t reacted with more ardor than they have during the current session over the shenanigans on Capitol Hill.

It seems certain that the House of Representatives will muster enough clout to pass the legislation. Speaker Pelosi has just about guaranteed that and she should know the head count. The question mark is the Senate, and that chamber's leader, Sen. Harry Reid appears determined to find bipartisanship where it doesn’t exist.

At best he will only be able to count on two or three Republicans and is bound to loose as many conservative Democrats. But Reid has an ace in his back pocket if he invokes the maneuver known as "reconciliation." Under such rules the threshold for passage is reduced from 60 (the filibuster proof level) to 50 ( a simple majority).

Without any real support from the GOP we have to depend n the Democrats to do the right thing and give the country a much-needed health care bill of which all can be proud. Even Sen, Baucus.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A case of class & privilege, not race

By Don Klein

If I was arrested for mouthing off to a policeman who came to my house to investigate a suspected illegal break-in no one outside my family and friends would know about it – or care. But when a renown Harvard scholar gets hauled in for the same reason it becomes an issue for presidential comment.

That’s what gets my blood to boil. What gets me even more riled is the fact that everyone immediately applies the wrong reason for the incident in the first place. Of course I am talking about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the professor, by Sgt. James Crowley, the cop.

Gates and all of his defenders, including a disappointingly erring President Obama, claimed that this was a case of racial profiling. My ultra liberal friends are quick to jump up and down derogating a police officer in the rightful performance of his job. They quickly spell out the history of police harassment and abuse of blacks as a justifiable cause for Professor Gates’s extraordinary misbehavior when confronted by the cop.

As I see it what really propelled the brouhaha had nothing to do with race. It was a matter of privilege and class on display in its most blatant configuration. Just take a look at the two main characters in this unhappy scenario. Here is my version:

On the one side we have a distinguished, highly acclaimed man of erudition and stature, the professor himself. Gates, an American literary critic, educator, scholar, author, intellectual, sometimes called "the nation’s most famous black scholar," had just returned home from a long foreign trip only to find his front door jammed.

You can imagine the vexation as the poor guy just wanted to get home, kick off his shoes and relax but frustratingly could not even get passed his front door. He forced the malfunctioning portal, even asked the cab driver who brought him from the airport to help, when a passing neighbor notices the ruckus and calls police. She feared a crime was in progress.

A few minutes later Sgt. Crowley responds to the call and confronts the professor now inside the house. The cop doesn’t know the homeowner once won the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship and was the holder of numerous honorary degrees and awards for teaching, research and development of academic scholarship of black culture. No, all the cop saw is what all cops see upon reaching a possible crime scene – a victim or a culprit. He doesn’t know which at this time.

What is more important is what Professor Gates sees. That’s simple. No one more insignificant than an anonymous street cop banging on his door with inconsequential questions about a break-in that never happened. All Gates wants to do is put an end to a rigorous day and this macho peace officer is pestering him with vacuous questions as "do I live here" and "can I prove it."

Race has not entered anyone’s mind at this point. The cop is doing his job by the book. He is investigating a report of a crime. The professor is at home after an exacting day of travel, being denied the peace and quiet he so readily seeks by the officer. No doubt he might have thought – why is this cretin bothering me with this folderol.

The professor lets loose with a stream of invective he usually reserves for dim-witted students and uses his superior position in the social ladder to demean Sgt. Crowley. "Do you know who I am?" he demands. The officer backs off initially, apparently realizing by now he is dealing with an irate non victim. Gates, overflowing with bravado at Crowley’s retreat in emboldened and continues with a stream of abuse, when his bluff is called. He is arrested.

It is a clear case of social class, not race, at this moment. The superior intellect of Gates was being employed to bulldoze an ordinary cop. But in this case the cop was no pushover as Gates thought he was. Crowley had no racial demerits in his background a la Mark Fuhrman, the Los Angeles detective in the O.J. Simpson case. Crowley possessed an exemplary record, instructed other policemen on the perils of racial profiling, even tried to save a dying black athletic on a basketball court with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Once arrested Gates no doubt realized that superior intellect was not an adequate defense for disorderly conduct. That’s when he drew the race card and claimed he was hauled in because of his skin color. Unfortunately, the president was dragged into the case and everything skyrocketed out of control because of Obama’s instinctive response in favor what he thought was the black "victim."

It is so easy in this country for a black man to claim victimization. But it was not true in this case and the public concluded it a lot quicker than the black president who still remembers his own experience as a racial target.

When the professor’s lawyer claimed publicly that the case had nothing to do with race, it became clear to me that it was what I suspected from the very beginning. It was a matter of a distinguished Harvard professor’s belief that he stood higher on the social ladder than an ordinary police officer. A modern incarnation George Bernard Shaw’s Professor Higgins or the bitterly
intemperate Sheridan Whiteside, of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" fame.

Everyone now seems to believe that if both parties to this dispute had used cooler heads, none of this would have made the headlines. That clearly is true. What is also true is that when a prominent man uses his blackness to cover up for his behavioral faults he weakens every legitimate claim by other blacks who are truly victims of racism.