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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Full steam ahead -- to the rear

By Don Klein

The Temple of Hypocrisy, better known as the US Congress, is at it again. Now they are finding excuses for NOT passing a universal health bill because it might cut into their personal wealth and privileges. Their battle cry seems to be "Damn the people, full speed ahead back to the status quo."

The Obama administration was foolhardy enough to expect the universal health plan it is pushing to be partially underwritten by a tax on those people earning $280,000 or more. Mythologically speaking that’s the Robin Hood syndrome, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Some call it socialism. Opponents in Congress have labeled it "class warfare."

Oddly enough during the eight years of the previous administration when Bush gave the wealthy a tax bye and in doing so transferred a larger portion of the tax burden to the middle class, there was never even a whisper of class warfare.

In fact the stated Republican argument was that only the rich could finance new businesses and provide more jobs. That leads to a simple question: why are we today suffering under an almost 10 percent unemployment rate if the rich beneficiaries of these multi-year tax cuts were creating new jobs all along? Where did those juicy tax benefits to the rich go?

Why is Congress so interested is protecting the wealthy? Could it be that the overwhelming majority of members of the Senate are millionaires and that most members of the House of Representatives, if not millionaires, are earning more then a quarter of a million dollars annually?

Could that possibly be the reason?

There are those who rightly think that the argument of high cost in relation to the new health plan is as phoney as a pie in the face made of shaving cream. The fact is if you are truly concerned about the high cost of medical treatment just leave things the way they are.

Don’t change the current system of health care unavailability to nearly 50 million Americans so the cost of treating these people is simply tagged on to the bills of those who have health insurance. And the premiums keep rising for the middle class.

Or worse still, let the uninsured go untreated until their less expensive treatable ailments become critical and then require the most expensive of cures. Above all, let’s not tax those with assets who won’t even notice the extra financial burden and let the low income slobs fend for themselves.

The president is having a good year so far. He has reduced the US military commitment in Iraq by having troops withdraw from active patrols and promising to have them leave the country by the end of 2011. He has reinforced the troops fighting in Afghanistan where they should have been all along. His appointed choice of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice David Souter is well on the way to confirmation.

He has faced an economic downtown unimaginable just a year ago, including re-regulation of business, and has mended many foreign relations in Europe undermined by Bush. He has had a busy first six months. There is no denying that.

Now the major issue remaining in this notable first year is universal health care, the primary topic of the day. There is much discussion about this program and of course it faces the usual Republican opposition with assistance of fiscal conservative Democrats.

Most insiders predict the measure will pass Congress this year. The only question is how badly will it be watered down by a spineless Congress. Or will the men and women of Capitol Hill finally consider what is best for the voters back home and not the interests of the big insurance, drug and medical industries.

The Democrats have the clout to pass this health bill. They have a healthy majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. They have no excuses for not passing the bill. They must realize if they do not make universal health care a reality this year, the Democrats will be out of power after next year’s mid-term elections. And they will deserve it.

They have new allies they never had before on this subject. Most companies embrace national health care for simple economic reasons. If the government provides it the companies will not have to. That will lower American overhead and make products less costly and more competitive with foreign companies.
What a boon for the ailing Detroit auto industry alone.

Most needy persons in the country back the plan, even those with private insurance of their own. Opponents pound us with absurd television commercials which remind us of the $200 hammer and $600 toilet seat as examples of what happens when Congress gets involved in procurement. These are misleading ads in that those purchasing foul-ups were done by the Pentagon, not Congress. But antagonists will do anything to discredit the program.

Even Harry and Louis, the actors who participated in the underhanded anti-Clinton health campaign on television in the 1990s, have changed their tune and now favor the Obama health plan.

The key to passage is the Senate with its filibuster-proof majority. If the Democrats cannot – or will not – pass a viable and sensible health plan they deserve to be thrown out of office. It is time we found people to serve in government who have the people’s needs paramount and not be there just to protect their own selfish interests or to be bought off by lobbyists.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The worst times were his best

By Don Klein

I first learned about author Frank McCourt on television as he was interviewed by Charlie Rose on his popular PBS show. I will be forever grateful to Rose in finding such a unique person who told such a singular story when he wrote about his early life in Limerick, Ireland.

McCourt died over the weekend but will be remembered as a late bloomer among authors. His first book, "Angela’s Ashes" was written after McCourt retired as a New York City high school teacher when he was in his sixties. It won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize.

I was intrigued by McCourt that day I watched him on TV. He was a natural storyteller and when you combined his tales with his easy Irish brogue, the moment was too stimulating to ignore. I went out the next day and bought "Angela’s Ashes" not so much because I wanted to read it but because I wanted to reward McCourt with my exuberance for his personality.

Then, having already spent money to buy the book, I decided it would be cost effective if I read it. Normally it takes me weeks to read a book because I chew it in small bites – a chapter or two at a time – and usually am reading two or three other books at the same time. Not so with "Angela’s Ashes." I couldn’t put it down. I finished it in two days. (The only other book I recall reading so quickly was "Compulsion," the fictionalized version of the Leopold-Loeb case by Meyer Levin in 1956.)

I wish McCourt never would stop writing. His storytelling was spellbinding, his language lilting, his observations of people and events riveting. I rushed to buy his next two books "‘Tis" and "Teacher Man." They were not as good as his first, but they were better than many I read over the years.

Despite his Lincolnesque early life in terms of being destitute and self-taught he turned his dreary future around when he finally returned to the city of his birth, New York, and was able to matriculate at NYU and eventually get a job as a teacher in the largest school system in the country. He earned a master’s degree from Brooklyn College later.

His best years as an English teacher were at Peter Stuyvesant High School, which holds a particular warm spot in my memory because that was where my father attended almost a hundred years ago. He was a natural storyteller as so many Irishmen I knew were and his students suggested he put these stories into a book for others to enjoy.

Once he retired and in his mid- 60s, he began writing, but his first book was hardly the kind to entertain children at school. It was the book that eventually brought him fame, a grueling tale of painful early years in which three of his siblings died in childhood, where his drunken father squandered what little he earned as an unskilled laborer at the local pub, of his mother’s heroic and tragic efforts to provide food for a family of four growing boys, and of a pompous, uncaring clergy which dealt out charity so arrogantly as to make Scrooge seem like a philanthropist.

Yet McCourt told this story in a language that gave honor to letters. You couldn’t help feeling the poverty as if it was you own and for once, at least for me, I understood that food was the primary driving force in life. Hungry people will do anything for food. Angela’s tragedy was foisted on her by others – her ne’er do well husband, her relatives, her community, her church, and yet she managed to raise four boys, all of whom now live in the United States in comfortable circumstances before she died.

Published in 1996, "Angela’s Ashes" sold more than 4 million copies around the world and brought instant celebrity and wealth to McCourt. It tore at the hearts of many and won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography in 1997. Many of Irish extraction in the US took exception to the explicit biography and many more in Ireland despised McCourt for what they called maligning Limerick. Nevertheless, he was later awarded an honorary doctorate from Limerick University.

I am a contemporary of McCourt’s and grew up during the depression as he did. The difference was I lived in America while he lived in Ireland, and my father was not a drunken wastrel. Nevertheless, compared to what kids have today I was a pauper, but I never knew it. There was always a sufficiency of food in a protective home. Not so for McCourt, and reading about real desperation and poverty in the stylistic prose of a passionate and skilled writer was to make the pain of such victims a gut-wrenching reality.

He was an excellent storyteller, but like the best storytellers, the stories he told were about himself. He made me think of Ernest Hemingway and Khaled Hosseini, author of "The Kite Runner."

McCourt’s first book was a triumph about the turmoil of his early years in Ireland recalling the strife and pain of being hopelessly poor. The other books were about his life as a teacher, and was less popular with readers. In one of those life’s twists, it appears when writing books the worst of times are the most interesting for others.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It takes all kinds

By Don Klein

Cheney told us that torturing prisoners was necessary in order to protect Americans from more al Qaeda attacks. Today there is evidence that proves little valuable information was gathered and that normal non-debasing intelligence methods served the country best.

He also is identified by the current head of the CIA as the man who ordered the intelligence agency to not inform Congress of pertinent national security information that was normally due them.

Bush told us that warrant less eavesdropping of international telephone calls to and from the United States would keep us safe from future terrorist attacks. Now the CIA admits that little value was extracted from such methods.

Torture, wiretapping without judicial approval and withholding appropriate information from Congress violated American law, but the so-called, law-abiding Bush-Cheney gang didn’t give a hoot. They even got their flunky lawyers to legally approve many of these procedures.

In the 1980s, the GOP's much acclaimed Ronald Reagan told us that government was the problem and not the solution as he convinced Congress to weaken the ability of government regulators to protect the public served in various capacities by unscrupulous big businesses and greedy stock market manipulators.

Twenty-five years later we are experiencing the nearest thing to a full-fledged depression in our lifetime – worse than any economic downturn experienced since Herbert Hoover’s time. Lack of governmental regulatory control was a major factor. We certainly have much unsound behavior to attribute to the Republican Party.

But wait, we are not through. Today we have what might turn into almost unanimous Republican opposition to a universal health care plan for all citizens, including the 45-50 million uninsured Americans.

We have a heavy presence of Republicans among those who opposed any steps to combat global warming and the greening of America.

We have members of the GOP who vehemently oppose deficit spending --only when a Democrat is in office. These same conservative camp followers never made a peep when Bush turned an inherited Democratic surplus to a massive GOP deficit.

There are Republicans who love to accused the Democrats of being "tax and spend" activists when for eight years under Bush they were "tax cut and spend" twiddlers.

Then we have Governors Palin and Sanford. One quits when she has no reason to leave office and the other remains in office when he should quit. Palin abandons Alaska in mid-term so she can cash-in on her celebrity before it fades and Sanford keeps his adulterous behavior on the front pages by continuously explaining he love for a South American soul mate to the humiliation of his wife, four sons, and the people of South Carolina.

Then there is Sen. John Ensign of Nevada who kept a female underling as his private sex mate for more than a half year, even though the woman was married to another member of his staff. Having an illicit sexual relationship with an employee who happens to be married to another employee of yours is unmitigated depravity.

Then he decides to make things right by having both, the kept woman and her cuckolded husband, forced off his staff. Both out of work, the senator’s parents come to his rescue by giving the woman $96,000 as a "gift" – otherwise known as hush money. This is beginning to sound like a Giuseppe Verdi opera.

Ensign refuses to resign, too. Is it no wonder the Republicans are a minority party in the United States.

Of course, the difficulty is the Democrats are not much better. They watched as former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer squandered great political careers by slipping into acts of scandalous adultery. Then there was the impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich, of Illinois, and his curious Senate appointee, Roland Burris, who thankfully already took himself out of the 2010 elections.

The grotesque thing is that self-important, supercilious, pompous misfits similar to those I have mentioned will be on display this week and you would think these are people of the purest of standards. They will spend days exploring the judicial qualifications of New York Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

I always look at these Supreme Court confirmation hearings as if the inmates were in charge of the institution.

These same senators, who wallow in government provided privileges but cannot do the people's business most of the time, sit perched high on the rostrum like ancient inquisitors. Their judgments will count.

Just tell me this: Can anyone trust the perspicacity of a predecessor body like this which once approved Clarence Thomas for the highest court in the land? Can anyone trust a collection of people like this which not too long ago approved the outrageous congressional action in the Terri Schiavo case?

It can drive a commonsense person daft to realize who represents them in Washington.

So here we have it. A democracy, which American’s like to say is the best in the world. And yet we have deceivers like Reagan, Bush, Cheney, Sanford, Palin, Ensign, Blagojevich, Edwards and Spitzer running things. Like the onetime television comedian Marvin Stang used to say, "The world is made up of all kinds of strange people. I thank God I am not one of them."

But sadly we are one of them. There is no way of getting away from it. Power breeds abuse and contempt for others. In America, power is more potent than it has ever been anywhere, so we have to expect the worst from people in high positions.

Winston Churchill once remarked, "It’s been said democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other that have been tried." About this country, he also observed: "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else."

We have our work cut out for us.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The girls of summer

By Don Klein

"The Boys of Summer" was a chronicle of the victorious Brooklyn Dodgers of 1955. That was the year the perennial losers, known as "Dem Bums," finally won their first World Series after a hopeless 65 year history. Sad to note, the victory was a bit hollow in that a mere two years later the team abandoned their New York roots and moved to Los Angeles transporting their heartsick fans from Brooklyn to berserkland.

The book, written by Roger Kahn, in 1972 reflected on the exploits of many diamond heroes and is a symbol of eternal fan patience and athletic fortitude.
Now, in the era of equal gender rights, we seem to be living through a period which could be dubbed, "The Girls of Summer," although there does not seem to be a victory in sight. Neither of "the girls" who make this summer memorable (Sarah Palin and Katharine Weymouth) are winners. Despite that, they have drawn much public attention and professional scrutiny in their respective fields – politics and journalism.

The first "girl" in trouble this summer is the former vice presidential candidate on the losing McCain ticket and soon to be former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. Here we have a popular Republican, dear to the hearts of the dwindling hardcore of party faithful, deciding to quit in mid-term from a job she says she loves in a state she loves.

There seems to be no adequate explanation for her move since no clear motive was mentioned by Palin in her rambling and, thankfully, short announcement on July Fourth Eve. That should not be a concern since people a lot more skilled at this business than most of us have been unable to understand Palin since she was picked by Sen. John McCain as his running mate almost a year ago.

We heard her say she wanted to quit to better serve Alaska. Wow, what a confession that was. Could she have meant that Alaska would be better served with her not at the helm?

She associated herself with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who she said would not quit, then promptly she quit. She talked about basketball point guards like herself passing the ball off to others on the team, but failed to mention that they do not leave after making the transfer as she plans to do.

Did we hear her say she didn’t want to serve as a lame duck and "milk" the public? That makes no sense since the option to milk the public or not was hers. Besides she knew she was elected to a four year term, meaning if she did not run for re-election she would be a lame duck in a couple of years. How long did it take her to realize this simple fact?

Her malaprop-laden rhetoric leaves many shaking their heads in wonderment. Listening to Sarah Palin is like watching a moose on roller skates "it’s never graceful but always riveting," said Mark McKinnon, a former GOP advisor.

Everyone is speculating why she quit just two and a half years into her first term and there are a number of possibilities. Was there a personal scandal about to break that she could avoid by resigning? The FBI says no. Does she want to be free to roam the lower 48 in pursuit of support for a presidential run in 2012? Who knows? Does she intend to make lots of money by taking advantage of her celebrity on the lecture circuit? Probably. Would she write a book to cash in on her sudden short-lived, but still volatile, fame? Very likely.

And finally, maybe she just lost her taste for national politics and wants to avoid the spotlight. Hopefully.

I doubt it is the latter because in her resignation announcement she said she thought she could provide more effective service out of office than in. I can give her credit for one very important attainment. Her sudden and unexpected announcement on quitting the governorship bumped the up-til-then endless coverage of Michael Jackson’s death on the all-news cable networks for at least a few hours. For that she deserves thanks.

If we can accept the political demise of Palin with hardly a blink of the eye, the second "girl" of summer to misstep is a much sadder story of anguish. Katharine Weymouth, the granddaughter of The Washington Post’s great late publisher, Katharine Graham, was caught in the midst of putting together a dismaying case of influence peddling for a price that any newspaper has been known to try.

The highly influential and much respected newspaper which broke the Watergate scandal, was about to arrange for a series of dinners at Weymouth’s mansion where invited guests would have the opportunity to meet and discuss the day’s issues with high government representatives and a chosen number of The Post’s top reporters. Private firms would be invited to underwrite these meetings to the tune of $25,000 a shot.

The idea was to help improve the financial status of The Post, which like all newspapers, is facing tough economic times. This question arose: Is this the way to raise money for an ailing industry -- by selling influence? Weymouth blames the whole idea on the newspaper’s marketing staff, but if you believe underlings would have the steel to promote this event without clearance of top company and editorial brass, you are more gullible than Forrest Gump.

When the first flier announcing this numb-brained program appeared, the news staff broke out into apoplexy. Once revealed to the outside world, Weymouth scrapped the idea and tried to restore normal comportment. The idea was faulty from the beginning. A newspaper’s most important timber is its integrity. Weymouth was willing to risk that but more seasoned heads at The Post saved the day.

Weymouth has inherited wealth, was a magna cum laude at Harvard and a Stanford law graduate, has everything going for her except she is running a newspaper without real experience in journalism. That’s a prescription for calamity. There are things that should never be for sale. Hopefully Weymouth has learned an ethical, albeit painful, lesson.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A good day for the courts

By Don Klein

Two major court actions occurred on the same day and uniquely both were the right calls. It is almost enough to reestablish the faith we once had in the American judicial system before it was nearly fatally damaged in the muffed O.J. Simpson murder case.

The uplifting two cases were unrelated but the results of both were deserved and correct. The first was the Bernie Madoff sentencing in New York federal court. There was speculation that with all his money and influence there was a chance that the disgraced Wall Street bilker would get off with a slap on the wrist and a few years imprisonment.

Not so this time. Madoff’s 150 year term would be tantamount to life behind bars if he was born last year, let alone 71 years ago. He will die in prison and it seems no one will mourn his passing. His sons have disassociated themselves from him for months, his brother is nowhere to be seen and his wife said he is not the man she knew during their more than 50 gilded years of nuptial togetherness.

No one stood up to say a good word about Madoff when the judge invited comments before sentencing. You could almost feel sorry for the poor bloke – with not a friend in the world to speak up for him – if he were not such a scoundrel. Even his lawyer begged Federal District Judge Denny Chin for a 12 year sentence.

It is estimated by authorities that $170 billion passed through Madoff’s hands during his reign as a money manipulator. Much of that amount went into payoffs, a necessary ingredient of a Ponzi scheme. In other words he paid old investors with the cash that came in from new clients. The authorities reportedly have traced between $1 and $2 billion of the loot. However some $13 billion has been identified as "lost" money. No one knows what happened to it.
The only remaining question is where is the $13 billion? Did Madoff make off with it? It is still unaccounted for. Madoff’s personal assets do not calculate for any portion of the missing loot.

So where is the money? Some of Madoff’s victims claim the money is hidden in secret offshore accounts. What good will that do Madoff while sitting in prison for the rest of his life? The hope is that federal investigators will solve the riddle of the missing booty given more time working the books. It could take about a year or two. But that is only possible if you believe the feds are that smart. I am not sure they are. So they may never solve the mystery.

The other quirky aspect to the case is the battle that is now forming between the various victims all vying to get a piece of the confiscated Madoff assets. It seems a small proportion of the victims are showing their own special brand of greed in trying to get as much of the confiscated funds as they can for themselves even at the expense of other Madoff victims. These people are certainly victims, but they act like jackals fighting over the spoils of a kill. They got burned looking for a special market advantage in the first place and now are determined to muscle others to the side while they grab theirs.

Many of the other victims are just pathetic sufferers. They range from the hardworking little guys who scraped and saved to put away a nest egg for their later years to giant charities and universities who should have known better. Madoff’s clients were a cross-section of Americana.

The remaining questions are where were was the Securities and Exchange Commission, which was supposed to protect investors from such frauds? They were not just asleep at the switch, they apparently weren’t even on the job. They were warned several times that the Madoff figures didn’t make sense, but did nothing.

The SEC’s failure in this case plus the stock market crash has permanently damaged the image of the stock market in the eyes of many. It will take generations before the market will regain the trust of most of its middle class investors. Some will hide their money in fire-proof vaults instead of going to Wall Street in the future.

Speaking of fire brings us to the second happy achievement of the day. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the New Haven firefighters who claimed to be victims of reverse discrimination. They passed the test for promotion but was denied the step-up because no blacks passed the test and the city feared this would bring a suit from the black firefighters charging discrimination. Instead the city decided to discriminate against those who passed the test, who happened to be white.

The disturbing aspect of the court’s 5-4 ruling was the vote breakdown with the four conservative justices in favor of the plaintiffs and the four liberals against and the swing justice, Anthony Kennedy voting with the conservatives. To me it was a simple case of justice, yet to the liberals it became an ideological contest.

I thought the inscription on the facade over the entrance to the Supreme Court building, "Equal Justice Under Law" meant strict impartiality and no other ingredient.

Justice was on the side of the firemen who passed the test and the liberals should uphold that value. I believe if the case was reversed and the only candidates to pass the test were blacks and they were not appointed for the same reasons the whites were not, the court liberals would have found that ripe for overturning.

On the whole the courts did the ideal of American justice proud this past week and we should all be happy. It doesn’t happen that often.