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.