Thursday, September 15, 2011

Change for the worse

By Don Klein

I find it difficult to recognize my country these days. I grew up in an America that honored the elderly and respected the law. Now there are those in power who want to cut benefits for seniors and legally manhandle people because they “look different.”

As a child I was taught that the US mainland has never been attacked by foreign forces since the British in 1812 and that we never had lost a war. In the 60 years since then we suffered crippling assaults in Hawaii, New York and Washington and were run out of Vietnam by local insurgents and are on the way to a stalemate in Afghanistan.

I lived through the exhilarating period when America showed the world how racial wrongs could be corrected and how cruel punishment of prisoners would not be abided, but now we have a substantial portion of the population that hates the president because he is not white and others who openly applaud the death penalty and shout “yes” when asked if the uninsured should be left to die instead of getting treatment when sick..

There was a time we built railroads into every nook and cranny of the country and cris-crossed the nation with highways the envy of the world. Today the railroads are a shadow of what they once were and our motor-ways are crumpling with age yet we have a Congress more concerned with austerity than with reality.

We are wracked with fear where we once gloried in our boldness and enterprise. We are becoming more like a banana republic every day as the rich are protected and get richer and the rest of us come closer to poverty. Already one in six America families are at the poverty level. But worse than poverty is the dearth of hope and the increase in fear.

The people have been so conditioned to fear that some passengers on a Denver to Detroit airline flight singled out a woman with Semitic features sitting in the same row with two men of Indian origin as surely up to no good. They reported their suspicions, and the flight crew radioed ahead and the plane was greeted by heavily armed police and the FBI. It was the day of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

The woman, who was half Arab and half Jewish, was an American mother of twins and lived in Ohio. She was dragged off the plane, handcuffed, held incommunicado for hours and strip searched, before the FBI accepted the fact there was no reason to arrest her. She had done nothing wrong other than appear to others as “suspicious/” Fear claimed another victim. She never conversed with the men seated next to her at any time during the flight.

The entire incident which took many hours to resolve and involved the deployment of dozens of police and FBI agents was all for naught because of fear among certain passengers. This is not my America where police are supposed to have reasonable cause to take someone into custody.

This are the ugly faces of Americans seen almost everywhere. Many were appalled at the open verbal support demonstrated at the first Republican Presidential debate when Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was asked about the more than 230 prisoners executed in his state during his governorship.

I still shudder at the small-minded behavior of a surly bunch of men berating a crippled man sitting on the ground demonstrating at a government rally. One particularly insensitive cretin took a roll of bills out of his pocket and peeled off a single bill and threw it at the invalid as he shouted some inane remarks. This is not the compassionate America I knew.

The country has been corrupted by a corrupt government. First we had eight years of governance by fear as the former president and his cohorts made one exorbitant mistake after another. Now we have a Congress that has been purchased like puppies in a pet store and trained to do everything that must be done to protect their masters – the very rich..

The ghosts of great presidents of the past are covering their eyes not to see what has happened to their prodigious dream of a great nation inhabited by a great people. To a large degree it is the people who bought the lurid Ronald Reagan line about government being the problem, not the solution, that started it all 31 years ago.

Now it has reached to point that some want to dismantle government altogether and allow the robber barons of the 21st century to take charge. The one percent at the economic top will get richer and the rest will face falling below the poverty line,

This is a complete reversal of all that government stood for when I was growing up. At present it is the Republican hardliners who hold the reins that are pulling the nation down and if they win the presidency next November it is hard to imagine what rollicking price the poor and middle class will pay to enhance the lives of the top one percent.

The way this nation is going at present makes it all the more a contrast with the way things used to be when people were willing to work together for the good of all. Back then the Republicans and Democrats competed with each other, today it is all out warfare with the public being damned.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wanted: a third party?

By Don Klein

I was never an advocate of a third party in the United States. I remember the hopeless attempts of Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats and Henry Wallace’s Progressive parties during the Harry Truman days. I also recall vividly the failed attempt of Ross Perot’s third party just two decades ago. None were very appealing, but all resulted in a Democrat winning the presidency.

I am beginning to wonder if it is time for another third party endeavor given the dysfunction we labor under in today’s Washington. If nutty Perot could corral about 20 percent of the vote in the last decade of the 20th Century would it be possible for a viable third party candidate to do much better today? I would guess maybe 30 percent of the vote or more – or is that just wishful thinking?

Today’s political affiliations are miserable. The country used to be divided between Republicans and Democrats and the two parties worked together for the benefit of the nation as a whole. Today neither combative party seems to hold more than 30 percent support of the body politic and the largest growing group of voters are in the independent category.

Independents seem to be multiplying like rabbits in heat as disenchanted members of both parties are finding no satisfaction among their political leaders. Grass roots Republicans do not like the fact that their traditional party has been hijacked by a bunch of ne’er do well dilettantes carrying the stubborn banner of the Tea Party.

The Democrats are not happy either. They elected Barack Obama to make changes in the disastrous policies born during two terms of the Bush presidency and discovered that he was mostly talk and not a very effective doer. He compromised away much of the good he managed to accomplish in health reform and new financial regulations and to the dismay of his adherents, extended too much of the bad from the previous administration.

The latest disheartening effect was his capitulation to the GOP on raising  the debt ceiling almost entirely under their terms. “We got 98 percent of what we wanted,” said a victorious Speaker of the House John Boehner after the debacle. Obama’s strategy of harmony does not work in Washington and he seems to be the only Democrat who doesn’t recognize that brutal fact.

If a third party can draw at least 30 percent of the vote in 2012 it could possibly win the White House. If not, it would certainly scare the pants off the other two parties that the public is ready to take drastic steps if they don’t start considering the needs of ordinary people over the greed of the wealthy.

At present Washington is inhabited by G-men – and I don’t mean agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When I say G-Men I mean the “greedy” Republicans personified by Boehner and Eric Cantor and the “gutless” Democrats embodied by Obama and Harry Reid.

The result of this dichotomy of power is that the little guys and gals of the country are not being served. Or to put it succinctly, they are being screwed. The wealthy are being cared for, so are the poor, but the middle class is being hung out to dry by a callous Congress and a gun shy president. Many Americans have had it. Democrats no longer have any faith in Obama’s ability to lead and many others have given up on the GOP as well.

A third party could be the answer. The question arises though, who will lead this new crusade to take back the country from such absurd political wannabies as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry or the punchless Democrats. My personal favorites are Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. But neither of them would abandon the Democrats.

Perhaps an independent like New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg could be convinced to make the run. Historically he has been a Republican and a Democrat during different points in his career. He is a smart man and could prove to be a national asset.

He has a number of serious shortcomings, though. Besides being short in stature and having a squeaky voice (important elements in modern day television candidacies)
he is a New Yorker, which will not go well in parts of the heartland, and he is Jewish, which could be a negative factor in a country that has never  nominated a non-Christian for president.

There must be others that are not well known and that, too, can be a problem. One thing is certain, however, if there is to be a third party challenge next year there is no time to loose. There must be action soon, very soon. Actually a third party is likely a dead issue for the next election, but the country cannot continue along current lines.

I’d hate to experience the troubles the Brits are having these days with a very unhappy constituency. I fear such a violent outbreak could occur here if the government doesn’t act for the people soon. We cannot continue to giveaway the country to the wealthy. We cannot continue as a corporatocracy.

We fought fascism and won. Later we fought communism and won. Now we have to fight corporate gluttony or the US goes down the drain. No one in Washington is willing to take on that battle today, so maybe a new force in the form of a third party will be the answer.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Are we our brother's keeper?

By Don Klein

I am not what some people would describe as a “Bible freak.” You know, those people who attribute all that happens to mankind being the result of God”s displeasure with the human race for not obeying every word in the scriptures.

I recall some religious kook proclaiming that the reason for the disaster of September 11, 2001 was God’s way of punishing us for tolerating homosexuality in this country. Similar absurdities were floated into the ether by fundamentalists after Katrina, the bombing in Oklahoma City, the Gulf oil spill and virtually every major natural or manmade disaster in recent years.

Just because these weirdoes use what they call the holy book as the grounds for their idiotic pronouncements it doesn’t negate everything we find in the bible. The most casual reader will find considerable wisdom in the book if he looks at it as a source of ancient sensibility.

Forbiding murder, theft and covetous behavior for example, are just a handful of biblical prohibitions that make civilized life a bit more civilized in enlightened societies around the world.

To me, probably the most universally ignored words among the thousands of biblical passages is the one Cain uttered after he slew his brother, Abel. According to the bible he asked God “Am I my brother's keeper?" That was a weighty question in ancient times and it still is today, maybe even more so than ever.

The evidence of self-centered irresponsible conduct, often purely criminal, is mountainous across every border of the globe. In Norway we have a young man driven by fear and hatred demonstrating his ire by blowing up government buildings in Oslo followed by mowing down youngsters at an island summer camp not too distant. Total dead: more than 70.

In Iraq and Afghanistan we read news reports of hundreds dying almost weekly by militants who blow up victims without so much of a second thought about the consequences or the impact this has on families and without apparent penalty to themselves if they manage to escape their suicidal designs.

In London we have Murdoch’s news minions digging into the private affairs of private citizens in search of juicy knick-knacks to be included in Sunday newspaper features. When exposed Rupert, the grand sultan of the gigantic media corporation, and his son, James, the grand vizier, rejected responsible for the breaches of morality and law and not only claimed innocence, but worse, claimed they are victims of their own manipulations.

Then don’t forget the Wall Street moguls who discovered a sleazy way to make tons of money by packaging and selling faulty real estate stock to gluttonous “get rich quick” buyers then purchasing insurance to cover their losses so when the stock crashed they make their money and others go down the toilet.

In Washington we have the living hell of a government that cannot govern in the United States because politicians are more interested in their temporary political survival than the good of millions of non-politicians who will suffer dearly if the country defaults on its debts.

The most ironic twist of all is that the Republicans refusal to permit closing of tax loopholes and elimination of tax cuts for the wealthy because they claim it is wrong to raise personal costs (taxes) in a recession could be causing everyone to incur higher expenses when interest rates balloon after the country fails to pay its creditors.

Are they saying keep taxes low, but disregard the higher cost of living that will accompany default? I have to say they are not thinking of anything but their own reelection and their wealthy backers.

As the unprincipled successors to the biblical Abel, they have every right to ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” with a straight face. So are the Wall Street moguls and Rupert and James Murdoch. The only thing they keep close to their hearts is their wallets.

Whether you attain power threw the use of a gun aimed at unarmed individuals as in Norway or a bomb surreptitiously placed in front of a government building, like in Oklahoma City or because you own a large media conglomerate or you are just a thoughtless, closed-minded politician, you are dangerous to mankind. Your goal is to destroy others for you own purposes and to hell with the consequences.

So the ancient men who wrote the bible might have had the right idea. They called out many of the bad guys of religion and myths for all to note through eternity or for as long as people read the bible. In a sense they were the journalists of their archaic eras, and it is interesting that the journalists of today are kept busy reporting stories of people who still believe they are not their brother’s keeper.

Despite all the scientiific and technical progress of mankind through the ages, some things never change.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Whose ox is being gored?

By Don Klein

Ever since the Tea Party has emerged as a potent force on the American political scene the focus of their attention has been to reduce governmental spending. This has led to a Republican willingness to cripple important programs to attain these goals.

Reducing government spending is an honorable goal. The United States is the world's largest debtor nation and it spends much more than it can afford. Its debt payments alone are close to half of the funds it needs to operate.

In reducing expenditures the problem arises in determining what should be cut from a budget that runs along a varied path from important humane safety net costs to immense national defense outlays.

In addition to budget cuts, the Tea Party argues against new expenditures that are not accompanied by equivalent other budget cuts. On the face of it that is not such a bad idea but when you include the demands by Republican partisans, of which most Tea Party adherents are apart, the country faces a serious dilemma.

The Republican-Tea Party position evolves into a crisis mode for the middle class taxpayer. The RTP coalition wants to cut what they call “entitlements” and refuses to consider increases in corporate or personal income taxes even when exclusively directed to the wealthy class.

They would rather load the financial burden of recovery on the backs of the lowest economic element in society by chipping away at Medicare and Social Security while shielding the most affluent in our society from any additional tax costs. It should be noted that most senators and a large number of House members are in the higher income category.

There are tons of money the government can save if they really wanted to. First of all, you might ask why we are still in Iraq. The war is over but the Iraqi government still wants our troops there as a stabilizing force.

The solution: Since they need a reliable force to ballast their shaky democracy shouldn’t the Iraq government pay the cost of US troops on their territory. Bodyguards don’t come cheaply.

Also, we are spending tons of money to defend the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. The US had three goals in Afghanistan. 1, to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Done. He is dead, 2, to support the Afghans against the Taliban. The Afghan government is discussing an accord with the Taliban surreptitiously. Why should the US. stay?, and 3, to support the so-called next door ally, Pakistan. Since Pakistan is unreliable and untrustworthy as a ally, we have no need to support them any further.

The solution: Get out of Afghanistan.

The US maintains a force of 50,000 troops in Germany 66 years after the end of World War II, thousands more in Japan, Korea and many other locales around the globe. These countries have built up their own military and can take care of their own needs.

The solution: Close these garrisons and bring the troops home and then reduce the size of the military to a smaller but more efficient and deadly force, highly skilled in the task of defending the homeland.

There are scores of other vestigial projects left over from previous generations that cost billions despite no longer making sense or remaining viable. Let’s look at these residual federal fund guzzlers, identify them and ax them before we draw the curtains at the heart of current human needs like Medicare.

At the same time we should increase the salaries of members of Congress to at least a million dollars each to eliminate the chances they will be influenced by bribes and as a lure to get better people to run for office. It will also make the penalty for losing a seat in Congress of such financial magnitude that it could eliminate corruption in office.

The salary increase would cost the country about $450 million more than presently, but could save hundreds of billions in wasted funding of projects pushed by influential lobbyists.

Other cutbacks should be made in subsidies to profitable organizations, also ending individual tax shelters and eliminating earmarks as a device for congresspersons to enhance their districts as the costs to the rest of us.

Talking about earmarks, there is an interesting development among the Tea Party members. They have clearly stated publicly that they will not approve any government expenditures, that is, except those earmarks they want for their own districts.

They are willing to cut into Medicare funds which help millions of seniors at the same time they are trying to collect federal dollars for pet projects that favor their constituents. Another case of political hypocrisy.

The New York Times reports that Tea Partyers “have pushed for projects in their districts, including military projects opposed by the president,, replenishing beach sand lost to erosion, a $700 million bridge in Minnesota and a harbor dredging project in Charleston, S.C.”

The information was uncovered by an examination of spending bills, new releases and communications with federal agencies and from information gained through the Freedom of Information Act.

“...Nearly two dozen (Tea Party) freshmen have sought money for projects that could ultimately cost billions of dollars, while calling for less spending and banning pork projects” for others. The Times reported.

As an old friend of mind used to say, the budget cutting process depends on whose ox is being gored. If it affects the other guy it is all right. He also said we are all hypocrites to a certain degree but politicians make a career of it as they seek quick (usually poor) solutions to solve complicated problems.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Caylee's legacy

By Don Klein

To most of us it is inconceivable that a parent would not report the missing child for 31 days. It is unimaginable that during those 31 days that the parent would go out dancing and revel with friends and never saying anything about the child.

It certainly is the behavior of a irresponsible, self-centered and immature mother to act that way. But that does not prove her guilty of murder as so many sidewalk busybodies have concluded.

The Casey Anthony case is a sad one no matter how you look at it. To begin with it is the lose of the life of the sweet-faced, playful little two year old Caylee who deserved a lot better than she got. Looking at that pixilated little victim on TV screens is enough to break your heart.

It is also sad that the Florida prosecutor, who leveled serious capital charges against this foolish 25-year-old mother, apparently saw an opportunity to make a name for himself by setting in motion a trial that had no real evidence. He clearly was not seeking justice for Caylee he was seeking headlines for himself, which he got.

And finally it is sad to observe on cable television a street full of gabby gossipers crying their eyes out as they shouted their disapproval of the jury’s verdict in this case. Not only did they demonstrate the worst understanding of the American judicial system, they helped create a lynch mob atmosphere by their rage.

The blabbermouths who screamed into the microphones held by cable TV minions decided with outlandish conviction that the defendant was guilty without ever hearing a word of testimony in the courtroom. They completely disregarded the basic rule of criminal justice in this county – the presumption of innocence.

Listen to any judge as he charges any jury saying that just because the prosecutor brings charges against a defendant that does not mean the defendant is guilty. The case has to be proven by the evidence presented in court and not whatever is seen or heard anyway else.

The founding fathers knew that when they included due process in the nation’s basic law, the Constitution.

In this country you are innocent until proven guilty, yet to those meddlers outside the courthouse, Casey Anthony was guilty no matter how wanting was the case against her. They wrongly compared the verdict to the infamous Los Angeles trial of O.J. Simpson in 1995.

Admittedly I did not follow the Anthony trial during its lengthy and sordid telling on television but of course I could not avoid learning of the verdict and all the hubbub that followed. The recapitulations I heard and read left me with the feeling that the case against the errant mother was never proved.

Inasmuch as there was no cogent evidence of her guilt the jury did the right thing in finding her not guilty. This is a mystery which will never be solved. It could have been a case of getting away with murder, or a foolish attempt to coverup an accident, or possibly some other explanation. The only important issue here is that the prosecutors failed to prove murder and the jury knew that better than anyone else.

This trial, and others, have sharpened my feeling that journalists have to be restrained in their handling of capital cases. Pretrial publicity often is horrendous and nourished by devious attorneys eager to make their case before the public.

Although I believe strongly that trials should be open to the public and fully reported in the press I do not favor televising trials. That often leads lawyers and judges to showboating and leaves commentators like Nancy Grace, of HLN channel, and others to prejudge the case before thousands of viewers.

Although it is far from perfect, I like the jury system and rarely dispute its decisions. As far as I am concerned the key to any case is what motivates the prosecutor, not what motivates the defendant. District attorneys who take their oaths to represent the interests of all the people, which includes those accused of crimes, are unique in America. Most seek justice often in “hot” cases to enhance their ambitions.

In that regard I take my hat off to Cyrus Vance, Jr., the New York D.A., who handled the ticklish rape charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn as well as he could. He looked at the evidence against the Frenchman and found it weak and possibly unsubstantiated. He is considering decreasing the charges.

The foreign accusations of some branding the US judicial system as “rushing to judgment” in the Strauss-Kahn case are ridiculous. The man was on a Paris-bound flight and had to be arrested before the victim’s claims could be fully verified and he fled the country’s jurisdiction. Once investigation proved the alleged victim was not credible, the charges were lowered.

In both cases, Anthony and Strauss-Kahn, I think Americans can be proud of the action in its courts. More importantly, the Anthony case has spurred more than a dozen states to propose laws which in the past I think were never necessary. These laws would make it a crime for a parent not to report a missing or dead child within a brief time period.

That, sadly for poor Caylee Anthony, would be her only legacy to the rest of us.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Let's talk about duopoly

By Don Klein

Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The New York Times, refers to the current political condition of the United States as a duopoly. He says he is in favor of a third party in the country.

I don’t know about the viability of a third party in America so I’ll put that subject aside for the moment, but he certainly is right on target with his duopoly label. The dictionary describes duopoly as “an oligopoly limited to two sides or the preponderant influence or control by two political powers.”

That aptly describes this country for the last several decades. It is a wonder anything gets done, and little has. As we look to the immediate future it appears less likely there will be much accomplished in the next 18 months unless the public acts up and demands a change.

It is a simple circumstance – or a deadly situation which could spell doom for the American era – on the one side we have a party dedicated to protecting the rich and powerful and the giant corporations that breast-feed them.

On the other side we have a political party that caters to the needs of the middle class, supports social relief programs, sees value in ordinary people, but like the proverbial Ferdinand the Bull is timid beyond belief about taking forceful action.

The Republicans are obstinate in their belief in small government with limited spending and the lowest possible taxes on people and businesses while the Democrats believe that only through energetic government programs can the masses be helped. They feel the well-to-do and corporations should pay more taxes to meet those needs because they have more to start with.

They are both stubborn in their beliefs and hypocritical in their actions. The Republicans like to label the Democrats as Socialists yet they support massive government giveaways to agricultural giants, oil companies and multi-billion dollar industrial combines. And, of course, they love tax loopholes and tax cuts for the rich. They’ll never admit it but that is their form of socialism.

The Democrats like to present themselves as the party of the people but lack any sense of urgency or stomach to fight to prove it. When they held a majority in both houses of Congress after the 2008 election they twiddled away the time until the death of a member deprived them of a cloture protection in the Senate and rendered the party helpless.

Whether they purposefully allowed the opportunity to escape them or really didn’t want to deliver on their promises to the little guy is not clear, but the Democratic Party cannot escape the charge of being incompetent and dysfunctional.

So here we have two parties which through the years allowed the government to tight walk at the edge of disaster inviting a financial catastrophe to finally turn the country into a debtor nation of extreme proportions three years ago without resolving even a portion of their differences.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats seem to realize that the current state of affairs does not allow them to continue in partisan upmanship. The nation is crying for leadership, needs hard decisions and all it gets is drivel.

President Obama, the ostensible leader of the country, seems to spend most of his time sitting on the sidelines like a sagacious Guru seeking consensus which never comes while the Republicans shuffle the deck of the most illogical backwater assortment of has-beens and unknowns to lead the party into the 2012 presidential elections.

The people are left to wonder if this is the end of the American dream?

Maybe it’s too much to hope for an Abraham Lincoln or a Franklin Roosevelt to come to our rescue in these dire times, but most voters will settle for at least someone who acts appropriately in their behalf. But none seem to exist in today’s world.

As much as many hoped Obama to be our national savior, he is no FDR. He doesn’t have the fight in him, nor the willingness to act, and seems to squander every political advantage at hand. His courageous approval of the Navy Seals attack on Osama bin Laden his sole achievement worthy of great leadership. Elsewhere he continues too many Bush programs he once abhorred as a candidate and otherwise fails the people who supported him.

On the other side, the Republicans have offered the public a bland salad of leftover hacks and dim-witted hopefuls as a counterbalance to the president. The traditional centrist Rockefeller Republican no longer exists and all that remains is Right Wing ideologues and fat cats trying to outdo each other for the minuscule Tea Party support by holding the budget hostage to their simplistic views.

The nation is stuck in neutral. We are going nowhere while living in the worst hard times in memory of most of us. Duopoly is the right word all right. Both sides are thinking of themselves and neither side is thinking of the people – and the people remain silent. That makes no sense.

We cannot depend on the current flock of politicians. It is up to the people to find representatives in both houses of Congress and in the White House who have more than good ideas, but also have the courage of their convictions and the boldness needed to push through legislation that is needed for the common good.

It is time for Republicans voters to throw out of office those party members who embrace Tea Party ideals and look for true conservatives and its time for Democrats to turn their backs on the wishy-washy types who only want to be re-elected and seek real progressives who want to serve the people.

The best results in American history was when reasonable conservatives and true progressives fought it out in the political arena. We have to get back to that. Then maybe we will know where the country is going?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Circus ludicrous

By Don Klein

David Vitter is a United States senator and a habitue of brothels in Washington and Louisiana. The Republicans think so highly of him that they ran a special get-together in a lobbyist’s fancy D.C. home recently to raise funds for his political future. The well-attended affair raised a minimum of $2,500 per guest.

At the same time this was happening Republican House Leader Eric Cantor and Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus declared that Representative Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, was unfit for service in the Congress because of his propensity to send lewd pictures of himself to women via Twitter.

This is not just the height of hypocrisy, it is circus ludicrous. I compare this to a visit to the zoo where irate monkeys fling defecation at visitors after a session with keepers discussing how best to behave in mixed company. You just cannot talk to primates and expect them to understand English. The same is true of Republicans.

That is only one aspect of the tragedy involved in the Weiner case. Congressional hypocrisy is no more shocking than waking up in the morning and discovering yourself in a bed. The other, and more important calamity here is the loss of another intoxicating voice in support of liberal causes.

We have all the fools any unsophisticated society would want on the Republican side. We have Sarah Palin, whose latest retelling of American history sounds more like an Abbott and Costello routine. They were hilarious, she is incredulous. When she talks about history – or anything significant – it reminds me of the “Who’s on First” skit.

I was going to start a litany of all the Republican scoundrels who made it to Congress, starting with those brazen-faced adulterers Newt Gingrich, currently running for president, and John Ensign who resigned minutes before be was to be expelled from the Senate for circumstances related to his unabashed and unethical relationship with a married woman who worked for him.

But I’d rather stick with Weiner because his aberration seems to be more of a loss to the country. We can do without Palin, Gingrich, Vitter and Ensign. Their value to the country, other than as comic relief, is at the bottom of the laugh meter. Not so with Weiner, a politician who seemed to have much to offer the country.

He was an outspoken champion of the little guy. He supported medical health for everyone, battled hardheaded opponents who tried to drown out liberal thought in the country. He was a bright man with a bright future. Now, thanks to his sophomoric need to expose himself to unknown women, he will never again be taken seriously, even if he decides not to resign from Congress.

Here was what seemed to be a brilliant political force who turned out to be just one more of the guys who used celebrity for no good. The public Hall of Shame is long and will get longer as the years go by. The result is the country will suffer for it. Just look at a quick list of public figures who talk like ethereal messengers of good but behave like dogs in heat with total lack of respect for themselves, their families and the public.

You have to lead every list of this sort with former President Bill Clinton and former Senator John Edwards, If only it could end there. Then there is Rep. Mark Foley, Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Gov. Mark Sanford, Gov. James McGreevey, Rep. Bob Livingston, Sen. Larry Craig, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and if we really want to dig deep into the past, there was JFK and FDR.

None of these men would ever be voted husband of the year, yet they were all elected by a gullible public that believed in great men, or in some cases, just men of stature. I have not listed here the public figures who went to jail for non-sexual crimes against the people. Power often leads to shame. Man is an eternal enigma.

Back to the current circumstances. For one we have a whoremonger being feted by his Republican colleagues while at the same time we have a Democrat unable to get anyone on either side of the Congressional aisle to speak up for him. And he, in most people’s minds, was the perpetrator of the lesser evil.

I don’t excuse Weiner for his outlandish behavior. He is a sick man and should get treatment, but I feel he fits in perfectly with the reprobates of Congress. In our democracy we leave it to the electorate to decide who they want to represent them and if they choose to reelect Weiner because of his faithfulness to liberal cause, that is their choice.

If the people of Louisiana can burden the nation for another six years with a man of Vitter’s low motivations by reelecting him despite his proclivities for prostitutes, so be it. But the damage is done. No one will take Vitter seriously in the future, as if there was much of a chance for that anyway, and no one in the future will take Weiner seriously either. His personal compulsion has muted his strident political voice.

That’s what you harvest once you have lost credibility and respect. It is a lesson for all of us, especially those who intend to seek public office in the future.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cool-aid for Republicans

By Don Klein

Remember when the Rev. Jim Jones convinced his religious followers at Jonestown in the South American country of Guyana more than 30 years ago to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Cool-aid. In the end 909 people died senselessly. It was an inexplicable tragedy.

Today we have a close replica of that bizarre act of insanity and it is occurred right before our eyes first in the House of Representatives, and now in the United States Senate, by a large number of suicidal legislators.

Members of the Republican Party, 235 in the House, recently voted to end Medicare as we know it today and replace it with an unacceptable plan to subsidize a privatized health system in an effort to reduce future budget deficits.

In contrast, shortly afterward they voted to continue multi-billion dollar subsidies to extremely profitable oil companies. There was no concern about budget-cutting here.

They did not realize at the time that they were sipping their own brand of poison flavored-aid. They certainly know it now. In a special election they lost a seat to a Democrat in upstate New York, in a district which had been traditionally held by a Republican for over four decades.

As if this was not bad enough, 40 Republican senators voted the day after the New York debacle to enact the same anti-Medicare legislation. Fortunately, the Democrats hold a majority in that body and the measure failed with only five members of the GOP defecting to the other side.

The curious element in this GOP maneuver was that everyone knew the legislation had no chance of enactment from the start because it could never pass the Democratic Senate. In essence it was a gesture, not lawmaking.

And what is even more curious is that the measure, which was included in the Republican version of their budget proposal, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was certain to enrage the 35 million or so seniors who depend on Medicare and want no changes.

Supporters of the bill kept telling everyone it did not effect those over 55 years of age, and in doing so they added even more opponents to the measure – the millions of 40 to 55 years olds who didn’t want to be shortchanged when their turn came to be seniors.

Here they were with a bill that made at least half the country angry with them and which they knew would never become law, yet in brazen arrogance, Speaker John Boehner went ahead with the proposal. It was suicidal from the getgo.

When many of these congressmen and women went home during the recent recess they got an earful from their constituents. That was the first indication the measure had hit a nerve. Then, all of a sudden, the special New York race for 26th House District took a turn for the worse.

This “safe” GOP seat suddenly showed the Democratic candidate within striking distance of the Republican candidate. Then it worsened as the two seemed to tie in the polls and then the Dem pulled ahead.

The campaign focused on the effort of the Republicans led by Boehner and Ryan, to attempt to balance some part of the budget on the backs of grandmas and her contemporaries while reducing taxes for the wealthy.

The Republican candidate started taking a defensive position saying that although she supported the idea of the Ryan Medicare approach it was not necessarily going to become law. What an argument? I would have supported this bill because I knew it would fail.

On election day the Democrat was swept into office by a four point margin with voters – Republican, Democratic and Independents – all rallying behind the save Medicare banner. Did the Republicans learn a lesson?

The day after the results of the election were announced the Senate Democrats forced a vote on the measure and 40 Republican senators stepped up to take their sip of the Ryan Cool-aid. Five other Republicans had the good sense to oppose the measure. Six of those senators who voted to kill Medicare are up for re-election next year.

So if you combine all the Republican votes in both houses of Congress, 275 of them voted in favor of cutting Medicare and only nine voted to save the law. It is almost the same ratio at Jonestown in 1978 where over 900 died and only some 30 survived.

It seems when you are arrogant with power – as members of an insane religious gathering or a modern day Republican -- you cannot tell the difference between the elixir of life and suicidal poison.

The Democrats now have an easy issue to exploit in the coming presidential election year. All they have to do is show the constituents in every district where an incumbent house Republican and senator is running, except those nine who jumped ship on Medicare, proof of their commitment not to serve the people’s interests.

We can hope for the best but the modern Democrats don’t seem to have the stomach for a real fight. They failed to show any smack in the 2010 election and took a beating. Will they fail again next year? The current Democrats have the distinct ability to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

I have a simple solution. The Democrats ought to let Bill Clinton and Howard Dean loose on the nationwide campaign trail if they hope to win back the House and improve their margin in the Senate. The rest can work their home districts.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sex entitlements for the privileged

By Don Klein

The turbulent combination of power and sex has ruined more political careers than oafish behavior or incompetence can ever hope to, but men of rank and authority never seem to be able to avoid an illicit fling when it presents itself.

They feel that because they are privileged people they have exceptional sexual entitlements.

In the last few weeks the cynics of the world were entertained by the ethical and professional demise of a United States senator, the marriage split of the former governor of the country’s largest state and most stunning, the arrest in New York of the head of the International Monetary Fund.

The hoi poloi could say good riddance to the bums but that would not be fair to all. The case against IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has not yet been resolved and he deserves the judicial benefit of the assumption of innocence.

Not so in the cases of Senator John Ensign, of Nevada nor former Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, of California.

Ensign had to resign in order to avoid expulsion from the Senate on sexual harassment charges. This is a man who refused to resign until the very last minute after facing the Ethics Committee for the sordid circumstances following an affair he had with a staff associate who was the wife of a long-standing friend, chief of staff and political sidekick.

That’s not even chutzpah, that’s beyond misconduct, it’s repulsive. What little respect or loyalty was there for his closest friend if he would schtup his wife behind his back. She said she feared losing her job, and her husband’s, if she didn’t give in.

Good riddance, indeed.

Then we have the Schwartzenegger case. The body builder who became the bad actor who married a Kennedy and who eventually ascended to became perhaps the worst governor of that large state, admitted misbehaving. His life has been marked by two words: infidelity and incompetence.

As governor he exploited with bravado and ignorance the idea that governing was easy. The voters bought the message thinking that a muscle-bound Kennedy-in-law could muscle away California’s fiscal problems. He did just the opposite.

When he took office the state’s debt was $22 billion and its deficit was $14 billion. When he left office just months ago those negative figures had increased to $34.7 billion and $26.6 billion respectively. He was a colossal flop and the people will have to pay for his blundering in the years to come.

One must wonder about the absurdity of the voters electing him after being forewarned about the great Arnold’s sexual propensities. They knew he considered any woman near him fair game for groping or worse. Now we learn that he sired a son by one of his household employees before he ran for governor and kept it secret all these years. His marriage now is in shambles and his renewed film career in question.

Another good riddance.

We can go back further on this sex-power connection to many others, the most notable recently being John Edwards’ fathering a child out of wedlock during his campaign for president in 2008 while his wife was suffering from cancer and New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, the scourge of Wall Street immorality, being caught in a Washington hotel room with a hooker.

Shameful hypocrites both.

All of those mentioned were personal acts of indiscretion and downright bad taste, but not criminal in any way. It falls in the category of what the French like to feel is their national credo -- a person’s private life is his concern and no one else’s. Political transparency is the only sustainable contrary argument

Now we come to what is probably the biggest fish of all. The man who was expected to become the next president of France – head of IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He has been charged with seven counts of sexual assault.

Even the French are not calling this a private matter. They know the difference between privacy and felony. French society is split in two with the women seeming to want to hear the facts coming out of DSK’s trial and the men demanding that he receive special treatment and not be handled by police like any other criminal defendant.

The alleged attack of a housekeeper in a posh New York hotel is completely out of character for DSK, an acknowledged womanizer but a non-violent man. His previous sexual transgressions have been winked at by the French public since none of his female targets summoned the courage to file complaints.

The New York case is different. The housekeeper was quick to report the attack, police were called and DSK was eventually taken off a Paris-bound flight by detectives who traced him there. The second blow was when the judge refused to allow bail, considering him a wealthy man and the likelihood of him fleeing the country.

Perhaps the Roman Polanski incident played a role in this decision. Polanski was convicted of having illegal sex with a minor – a 13 year old girl -- and fled the country while on bail. He relocated to Paris and the French refused to extradite him to California as a fugitive. The N.Y..court would not want a repetition of that.

No matter, Strauss-Kahn’s political future is in the toilet. He will be replaced as managing director of IMF and he will never be president of France. Ensign’s political career is in ruins, Schwartenegger’s future is cloudy as is Edwards’ and only Spitzer seems on the rebound.

All because of the belief held by powerful men that they had special license that allows them to sexually exploit others.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Aging is not just for wine

By Don Klein

Who ever would have thought that we older members of society, like fine wine or aged cheese, would be of more commercial value than our juniors. It took the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s to do it.

It turns out that those grey-haired seniors you see on cruise ships, in downtown restaurants and driving flashy new cars are more solvent than the great majority of working stiffs in America. If you don’t believe it then why are those television marketers so high on the over 55 set.

During the soon to be announced “annual preview of the fall television season, network executives are planning to introduce shows created to have broad appeal, including to older viewers, and the ad dollars they represent,” The New York Times reported last week.

I used to feel sorry for seniors unlike myself who did not plan for their retirement well enough to enjoy the final years of their lifespan in comfort and freedom. Living in a resort town like Ocean City, Maryland, I never observed many financially troubled seniors. Maybe we were the lucky ones, I thought, but now just about any senior is better off than non-seniors.

Just look at the facts. Seniors, after decades of reasonable solid income and steady employment, have usually paid off their mortgage, own their automobile outright, are receiving Social Security checks monthly and are covered for health breakdowns by Medicare and continuing health coverage from former employers’ health insurance plans.

In addition, a good proportion of the older set have income from pensions, stock and other investments and annuities plus a fair accumulation of savings accounts. We all benefited from the good years of the American economy that followed World War II  and lasted until the disastrous final year of the Bush Administration.

Besides we no longer have to support a growing family and all their growing expenses. We no longer have to underwrite the cost of college nor pay for expensive weddings that at one time was the bane of our existence.

In other words, our overhead costs have leveled off. If any seniors who retired ten or fifteen or twenty years ago are still around there is little change in their standard of living. I am not talking about the wealthy two percent of Americans. Until last year pensions and Social Security kept pace with inflation. Most investments, until the crash in 2008, held up and paid dividends.

Today, if they did not panic and sell off holdings during the drop, their stocks have mostly recovered with a few exceptions. Although rising costs in food and transportation have caused discomfort to many, virtually no seniors today are without food or shelter like in the days of our grandparents.

Besides the good fortune to have lived in America during the extended boom of the last half of the Twentieth Century, today’s seniors can credit two massive government programs for their years of relative comfort and ease.

Everyone knows they are Social Security and Medicare.

The acid test of financial status in the country is advertising. Clients research markets and advertise to potential customers based on demographics. The over 55 group was all but ignored in the past because of the assumption that those with money to spend were more youthful.

Stephanie Pappas, a senior planner for the advertising giant BBDO NY, said there was now good reason for ad clients to seek the mature audience. “In some ways, they are the ideal consumer. They have money, they consume loads of media, and they remain optimistic,” she told The Times.

The bimonthly magazine for American Association of Retired People has been pushing to attract new advertisers, according to Patricia Lippe Davis, the vice president for marketing for AARP media. Recently, products previously thought of as youthful — brands like Jeep and Shape-ups by Skechers — have advertised in AARP The Magazine.

“The grandkids say I’m ‘really cool now’ but what they don’t know is I always was,” reads the text of the Jeep ad.

The picture of a retired individual sitting in his rocking chair on his front porch, smoking a pipe and sipping a cool drink is long gone. Today the retired crowd finds things to do. They play poker or bridge, they bowl, they go to the beach, they ride bikes, the women play Mah Jongg, they attend shows and concerts and dine out at fine restaurants several times a week.

Many have memberships at local gyms and find part time or seasonal work to keep themselves busy, but not too busy. They take up hobbies like carpentry and sculpting while others volunteer at hospitals, schools and libraries. They are an active, mobile group and live longer than previous generations.

And of course they attend every function open to them at their grandkids’ schools. These are the benefits of being solvent. It not just makes the oldster a happy, comparatively healthy, active person well beyond the years ever in the past. It also enriches the communities in which they live.

It would not be possible if not for Social Security and Medicare. We should all remember that. Any tampering with either of these programs by politicians in Washington will ultimately affect the quality of life not just for the retired but for the community as a whole.

A word of warning. Be happy about your personal status but don’t mention to others the reasons we seniors today are better off than most other age groups, because if you do, you might get stuck with the dinner check.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Empire strikes back

by Don Klein

The Empire strikes back. That’s the way I see the assassination of Osama bin Laden. What do I mean by Empire? And did I say assassination? Let me explain.

There is really only one empire that matters in today’s world and that is the United States. We have our tentacles in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas and Antarctica. The only continent beyond our direct influence is Australia, and even there, we have reliable allies.

Yet with all that power and influence, the US is still vulnerable to vicious assault. Loathsome unknowns, mostly Muslims, can cause great trauma and long-standing harm as the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 proved.

Historically America has been lucky. During times of great strife we have had the best to lead the country. We had Washington, Adams and Jefferson during Revolutionary Days, Abe Lincoln during the Civil War, Teddy Roosevelt during the period of America’s entry into global power and Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression and World War II.

Unfortunately in 2001 our luck ran out. We had incompetents in charge. The Bush-Cheney administration had the dismantling of the America we all knew and loved on their agenda when we were struck by members of the team of terrorists organized and trained by Bin Laden to carry out his awful scheme against us.

Our response was lots of fearless talk and brainless decisions. We gave up early on getting Bin Laden because Bush wanted to fight Iraq to avenge the failed assassination of his father and because Cheney had visions of controlling the vast reserves of Iraqi oil. In other words we used the excuse of the terror attacks in the US to line the pockets of the oil industry so close to Bush and Cheney’s cold hearts.

For the remainder of the Bush-Cheney term of more than seven years we fought an unnecessary war and never got close to striking at the heart of the problem – Osama bin Laden. He escaped a near trap in Bora Bora in December 2001 because Rumsfeld would not release the number of troops needed to encircle him. The Bush gang-that-couldn’t-shot-straight never got close to him again and the country earned the soubriquet “Paper Tiger.”

Then came Barack Obama with a new perspective, It took time to get the ship of state back on course after eight disastrous years, and by his second year in the White House things began to happen. In less than ten months the team under his leadership was able to track down Bin Laden, compose a plan to take him, and find a befitting force to get the job done.

In the end Obama sent in a relatively tight unit of bruising commandoes to do the job that Bush could not do with an army of hundreds of thousands at the peak of the war. The Navy Seals knew their task and never wavered. Nevertheless it was a risky venture.

They went into Pakistan on low-flying helicopters under the cloak of darkness, repelled themselves down into his compound, cut down all opposition and with precision took out the villain of 9/11 with two rapid shots. The wicked beast of al Qaeda was dead. The Empire struck back with exactitude....finally.

Why did I say earlier Bin laden was assassinated? To begin with the Americans we not going to trust a mass murderer like Bin Laden. He could have had weapons hidden in his Muslim robes, or a detonator for a bobby trap, and he was moving towards weapons lying nearby.

It was noted only if he was naked and standing with his hands up would they take his captive. Another observer made the powerful claim that you do not send Navy Seals to make arrests. At any rate taking Bin Laden captive would have given the US too many unnecessary snags.

There would be endless threats against the country while he lingered in jail awaiting trial. The trial itself would cost millions.

Finally, and most convincingly, he was a confessed killer who admitted his guilt to all while gloating over the chaos of the fallen Twin Towers so what kind of defense could he muster? By killing him on the spot we not only eliminated from the world a depraved piece of human trash, but saved the US the demeaning cost of treating him as a human while in custody.

So the Empire struck back and assassinated the leader of deranged plotters against peace. No more “paper tiger” appellatives. It took a courageous American leader who accepted risks his predecessor never considered to end a decade of failures during which the US expended too many lives – both American and Muslim -- and a heavy dose of its wealth.

There are a number of lessons learned during the decade:

1. The US military is extended much to widely and should be withdrawn from all overseas posts in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. We are not effective as an empire and we cannot afford the costs anymore.

2. If military action in necessary somewhere distant, instead of sending armies we should use small well trained and well equipped units to do the work and get out.

3. Focus vigilance at home with intelligent, workable plans.

4. Don’t allow anyone to think of this country as a paper tiger again. Attacking the US is not the way to amplify your life span.

5. And finally, only elect dauntless and intelligent leaders to the White House so when the next crisis arises, and it will, we have the right person at the nation’s helm.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Going to the dogs

By Don Klein

I was driving along a country road in Delaware the other day when I noticed the van in front of me was in the business of “Mobil Dog Grooming.” Across the top of the back doors was inscribed it’s clever motto: “Going to the Dogs.”

How appropriate, I thought. This company was going to the dogs while the country in general was also going to the dogs but without the tongue in cheek. We just experienced the exasperation of the president of the United States being forced to bow so low as to publicly produce his birth certificate.

At first I was exhilarated when I learned that President Obama released his long form birth certificate to finally shut up the growing political rabble who were making an issue of his legitimacy as the elected leader of this nation by attacking his birthright.

Such criticism was patently absurd from the start and was clearly not anywhere near the level of the real problems facing the nation. Yet it had to be handled because it absorbed too much of the public debate, thanks to a Republican barrage of lies, at a time when the nation could not afford it.

But after a time, I thought about it some more and the idea sank in and I became deeply dismayed that this sort of mischief-making and slanderous insinuations became such an issue that Obama had to stoop to silence the morons across the nation who embraced such inconsequential nonsense.

Jackie Robinson had his painful trials as the first black ballplayer in the major leagues and today is hailed as having changed the nature of America. Now Obama has become the equivalent of Robinson, but in the much more significant environment of the presidency.

The challenge to his legitimacy can only be explained as racism, pure and simple, although clumsily disguised by people like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin and silently indorsed by Republican leaders in Congress who stood to gain from any damage done to the Democratic leader.

Interestingly none of the previous 43 presidents of the United States have ever be asked to prove they were legitimate Americans. None have been accused as foreign interlopers trying to steal the American government from the people. John McCain’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone was never challenged. But he is white and Republican.

The weight of this embarrassing conclusion to this totally unnecessary revelation of Obama’s, lies on the Republican Party. It is their members who have launched and sustained this illogical and insulting campaign and none of the so-called sensible leaders of the party put the matter to rest.

Oh yes there was one. Mitt Romney declared openly that Obama is American born and Romney said he would not discuss that issue but rather would devote his campaign to matters of importance facing the nation. All the rest toyed maliciously with the birther lies.

John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, said he takes the president at his word that he was born in the US but would not counsel his caucus to drop the birther issue. He claimed it was not up to him to tell his members what to think even if he knew what they were thinking was untrue. With that Boehner became the first among many scoundrels.

What really hurts is the fact that polls showed that the majority of Republicans believed Obama was not born on US territory or were not sure of his citizenship even after the State of Hawaii released a certificate of live birth in his name. The American voter, not known for sharp intelligence, often dwells in knownothingism.

As the great political pundit of the early Twentieth Century, H.L. Mencken, claimed in a lecture at Columbia University in January 1940, most political candidates reach public office usually by their power “to impress and enchant the intellectually underprivileged” in the country. In the 71 years since he mutters those words not much has changed.

I hold the masses of Americans who listen and believe the most outrageous claims by half-baked candidates for office as the real culprits in this insidious drama. Fortunately they are not a majority of the electorate but they are a large enough minority to often affect close elections.

Who can forget the classic Ed Murrow CBS Reports program about the great American voter which opened with the lead character entering a Mississippi polling place and signing the register with a broad “X” while millions of literate blacks were kept by unjust laws and cold fear from ever thinking of voting.

Republicans have made an industry of weaning fear into political victories. Remember the Michael Dukakis campaign derailed by the Willie Horton story, remember Ronald Reagan and his onerous charge that the government is the problem, and remember eight years of terror fear during the George W. Bush years which robbed thousands of GIs of their lives and millions more Americans of their Constitutional rights of privacy.

The sad fact is that instead of Obama being hailed as the great American example of the triumph of a boy from the wrong side of the tracks making it as a brilliant student, as the editor of the Harvard Law Review, as an author and a Constitutional scholar, and then the ultimate prize, as president, his detractors will now try to debunk him as a scholastic fraud and the beneficiary of affirmative action.

There were political observers in Lincoln’s day (another success story of a boy from the wrong side of the tracks) who described him as a baboon. No one remembers their names today, but the world honors the memory of Lincoln.

Donald Trump take note. History will record you as a detestable charlatan, if it records your name at all, while Obama surely will earn the plaudits of time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Once in love with Amy

By Don Klein

I arrived at the local medical laboratory to have a blood test, It’s nothing special, I’ve been doing this routinely for years. Nevertheless the occasion this time brought back ancient memories.

It’s funny how life is. You are doing one thing and it reminds you of something completely unrelated and soon you are wandering in that pleasant old neighborhood: Memory Land. That’s what happened the other day.

After a short wait a receptionist called my name and led me into the catacomb-like sanctum of the hospital lab. She took me to a small room with a desk and a computer and pointed to a young woman who was waiting for me, The escort said, ”This is Amy. She’ll take care of you.”

At the sound of the name Amy I broke into a silly rendition of that old favorite of mine, “Once in Love with Amy, Always in Love With Amy.” The clerk behind the desk who was preparing the papers for me to sign before having my blood drawn was much too young to have remembered Ray Bolger in “Where’s Charley,” but she started to laugh at my singing. That happens a lot. I asked her, “Have you ever heard that song before?”

“Many times,” she answered pleasantly, but with a hint of the forbearance of a person who was listening to a repetitious old joke. I decided I had to better my status with her by asking, “Do you know where it is from?” She had a puzzled look on her face, “What do you mean ?” I responded “What show the song came from?”

She was about 30 years old and of course didn’t know. It was a hit song in show that was last performed on Broadway some three decades before she was born.

“It was sung by and danced to by Ray Bolger. Do you remember him?” I said. Her answer was expected “I think so. Wasn’t he the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.”

Of course she was right, but my memory of Ray Bolger is a bit different and her name resurrected memories. It goes back to Christmas time 1950 when I was a recruit taking basic training at Camp Edwards army base at the foot of Cape Cod near Hyannisport.

Because it was holiday time rigorous basic training was suspended and half the recruits were on leave during Christmas for a few days and the other half got New Year’s off. Since many of my Christian buddies wanted to spend time with their families during Christmas I volunteered to wait for a New Year’s leave.

At the same time “Where’s Charley” starring Ray Bolger was in the midst of it’s pre-Broadway run in Boston and someone associated with the show thought it would be a good idea to invite a group of GIs as guests during the holiday season. I guess there were many empty seats at that time.

“Where’s Charley” was a spoof about college life at the turn of the century in which someone had to impersonate an absent rich aunt. This version included music by the famous Frank Loesser and was destined for Broadway fame. “Once in Love with Amy” was a show stopping sequence performed by Ray Bolger, who won a Tony for his efforts.

When word got out I joined about thirty soldiers for the free show. We had early chow and left before 5 pm for the 2-1/2-hour drive to Boston. Curtain was at 8.30 in those days.

As luck would have it we started off in cold clear weather but we weren’t on the road very long when it started to snow. Soon we were in the midst of a mini-blizzard which covered all road signs and left crossroads unidentified for our half-witted driver, a farm boy for central Pennsylvania.

I figured we would not only miss the show because of the driver’s ignorance of the terrain now blanketed in snow making his written directions useless, but surely we would end up stranded on the side of the road for most of the night until the state police found us nearly frozen in our seats.

Despite all obstacles about four hours after we left Camp Edwards, the driver miraculously pulled the vehicle up in front of the theater. We had no idea how he got there, nor did he. Anyway they rushed us into the theater to the seats reserved for us and Ray Bolger was on stage in front of the curtain. The show had not started and he was going through some impromptu routines to keep the audience entertained while everyone had waited for us.

He saw us enter and said something like, “A-hah, there they are. Now we can begin the show.” We learned later that Bolger had refused to get on with the show until we arrived. He said there were a bunch of young men, most of whom were away from home for the first time at Christmas and the least he could do was wait for us. He then went on stage telling jokes, sharing stories and even dancing to keep the audience from getting restless because of the delay.

I was grateful he delayed the start of “Where’s Charley” until we got there but never gave it much more thought at the time. But when I got out of the army years later I remembered Bolger’s thoughtfulness and couldn’t help admiring him for being a willful man who was considerate of people who, while away during the holidays serving their country, thirsted for an enjoyable night out.

It was not a momentous act, but from then on every time I hear the name Amy I think fondly of Ray Bolger and what a big heart he had. He was no strawman to me.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Are we the chosen people?

By Don Klein

The headline in Saturday’s New York Times said, "Libyan Intervention Is Costing the U.S. Less Than Expected, Analysts Say." Yippee. I suppose we should all cheer. A fighter jet in action costs a mere $13,000 an hour and a Tomahawk missile is priced at a rock-bottom $1.4 million apiece.

What a bargain! At these rates we should consider engaging in two or three more wars. Of course we could be spending nothing if we kept our noses out of the Gaddafi upheaval. But no, we are super Americans and problems around the world become ours eventually.

The cost is minuscule in military terms. Imposing a no-fly zone should amount to anywhere between $400 and $800 million. In the first days of attacks on Libyan forces the US fired 178 Tomahawks, costing the American taxpayer some $250 million.

I remember Sen. Everett Dirksen’s remark many years ago. "A billion here, a billion there, and soon we are talking about real money." There are those who believe that such expenditures during a period of economic strife is absurd.

We are cutting down on teachers pay, taking cops and firefighters off the line, slimming medical costs and unemployment funds and our infrastructure is falling apart, all because we have no funds and suddenly out of nowhere we are concerned with the welfare of a bunch of strangers whose fate has no impact on our lives.

Shouldn’t we be spending money on the well-being of American citizens rather than worrying about the welfare of unapproachable, illiterate, undependable, disorganized outlanders who probably will turn against us at first opportunity.

The first question that must be answered affirmatively before going to war should be is there any national interest of the United States in the fate of Libya? The answer is an emphatic NO.

Think of this for a change. Suppose the US had withdrawn all it forces from Europe and Asia some time ago, would we be involved in all these so-called "humanitarian" issues? If we didn’t have bases in Europe would we bother with Libya? It is easy to contemplate intervention when you have aircraft carriers cruising nearby and air force bases a hop, skip and a jump away from the troubled areas.

US troops should not be based in Europe and Asia any longer. The big war ended 66 years ago, the Soviet threat is gone, foreign nations can handle their own defenses, why do we remain there at great cost to taxpayers? But that’s a subject for another time.

The American military should have one purpose only, One and just one. To defend Americans from attack at home. To stop an enemy from doing harm to us. Not to act as the world’s protector and conscience. We have no more business in Libya than we do in providing advanced dental care for the Eskimos in Antarctic.

For 42 years the Libyan people endured under Gaddafi and we stood aloof from their plight. Even when the dictator was behind the killing of Americans in Europe all we did was a single bombing sortie over Tripoli and that was all. Today Gaddafi has harmed no Americans, has made no threats against us, and we launch an all-out attack.

It is senseless, except to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we are the moral leader of nations. That’s a tired old argument. Quoting the frustrated poverty-stricken Tevya in "Fiddler on the Roof" when speaking to God asked, "You say we are the chosen people. Why not choose someone else for a change?"

Alas, He did choose others to help. The British, the French, the Arab League. Hah. In the past only the British has shown any real support for US in the Middle East. Remember the French introduced the UN no-fly over Iraq resolution, then reneged after it was passed and implemented.

The Arabs? Having Arab allies reminds me of my cousin Herb. He lived in Arizona and dropped by Baltimore years ago when my daughters were kids and promised them both stylish cowboy boots once he returned home in a couple of weeks. My daughters now have children of the age they were when the promise was made and still have not received the boots. Herb was as reliable then as the Arabs are today.

Qatar promised to send four (yes, you read it right, FOUR) jets to the combat area weeks ago. We are still awaiting their arrival. Whatever we get from the Arab League will be too little and too late. Suicide bombing is their forte, not a stand-up fight.

The biggest surprise here is that President Obama agreed to this brutal incursion in the first place. He ignored his own words opposing such interventions when still a member of the Senate and Bush took us into Iraq. Another promise broken.

Whoever said that women are the peacemakers and men the warriors got it all wrong. The reluctant Obama was persuaded to enter the fight by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security Advisor Samantha Rice despite calls for restraint by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen.

As Maureen Dowd writing in The Times said, "...everyone is fascinated
with the gender flip: the reluctant men — the generals, the secretary of defense, top male White House national security advisers — outmuscled by the fierce women around President Obama urging him to man up against the crazy Gaddafi."

This war – or whatever the president wants to call it – is wrong and should never have been mounted. If one American is killed (none so far reported) it will be blood on the hands of Obama the same way that more than 4,400 American deaths in Iraq remain eternally on George W. Bush’s bloody hands.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Truth AND consequences

By Don Klein

Remember the popular radio program called "Truth or Consequences." It started in 1940 and ran for 17 years and was succeeded by a television version that continued for many more years.

It had a simple format: a contestant was asked a question and if answered incorrectly, as most were, they were require to perform a zany stunt for the benefit of the studio and at-home audience.

If that game existed in today’s combative political environment the show would be called "Truth and Consequences." The "or" would we replaced by "and" since telling the truth these days can get people fired.

I always thought that telling the truth was the best policy. That you could not get into trouble if you were honest in expressing your heartfelt thoughts. Recent events in public broadcasting have proven those sophomoric beliefs not to be valid anymore.

Thinking back to last October when Juan Williams was sacked by NPR for claiming that the sight of Muslims waiting to get on the same plane he was about to board made him queasy.

He was talking on Fox News to Bill O’Reilly when he said, "... I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

Williams added he did not blame all Muslims for "extremists," saying Christians shouldn't be blamed for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Nevertheless NPR brass sent Williams packing claiming his remarks "were inconsistent with (its) editorial standards and practices." Many people disagreed with that decision because Williams was not a reporter but an analyst and further he was not talking on NPR but on another network. The difference is that reporters are not expected to express opinions, but analyst are.

In any case many people have the same feelings about Muslims in public transportation not because of bigotry but because the overwhelming majority of recent terror aimed at the US was by Muslim radicals. The fear may be unfair and disproportionate but it is a real and understandable component of current thought.

So Williams, exercising his analyst’s right to free speech, spoke the unvarnished truth about his feelings which I fear represented the majority thought in America and lost his job. He was immediately picked up by Fox receiving a more lucrative contract than he had at NPR.

Let us fast forward to a more recent occasion when another employee of NPR spoke the truth and ended up without a job. Ronald Schiller, a high ranking fund raiser for NPR was lured into a luncheon meeting with a group posing as representatives of the non-existent Muslim Education Action Center Trust. The bait was a phony donation of $5 million.

The set up was arranged by James O’Keefe, the Republican provocateur, who trapped Acorn last year in embarrassing comments aimed at disqualifying them from receiving federal funding. Schiller foolishly spoke openly to the people he thought were Muslim philanthropists.

He said the Republican Party had been "hijacked" by the Tea Party and that many of the Tea Party supporters were "white middle Americans...gun-toting racist people." Hidden cameras videotaped his remarks and when released it gave the GOP majority in the House of Representatives additional fire to justify cutting off federal funding to public radio and television on the grounds they are politically biased.

What the Republicans have overlooked in their zeal to paint NPR as hostile to them is that Schiller had absolutely no ability to influence editorial content of the networks. The GOP was arguing against NPR’s alleged editorial prejudice and using Schiller, a non-editorial functionary, as an example of that so-called bias.

It was as if you disputed a large corporation’s stance on truck traffic in residential neighborhoods and quoted negative remarks of the plant’s gate guards. The man at the gate had no authority or responsibility over truck routes.

In Schiller’s case he was wrong to express such personal opinions to a group of people he did not know and never met before. He was guilty of poor judgment, but he told the truth about the Republicans and the Tea Party. He has since left the employ of NPR.

The facts that enrage Republican critics is that NPR is scrupulously fair in its news coverage and that fair coverage reflects poorly on the GOP, a party that is doing everything to undermine established American policies that stand in the way of their obvious war against the middle class.

The money saved by eliminating NPR funding of $445 million for 2013 is minuscule in the face of the horrendous deficit the nation faces. The Republicans have not touched gigantic budget items like tax cuts for the rich, or subsidies for big oil and big agriculture or defense cuts, but have focused on smaller items that provide them with control over sources that work to the natural benefit of the Democrats.

In an effort to preserve its federal award which goes to 1,300 public radio and television stations throughout the country, NPR has forced those who openly speak the truth to the detriment of the Republicans and Muslims off their payroll.

It is a sad state of affairs when telling the truth has such negative consequences.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Enough is enough

By Don Klein

Let’s go hypothetical and make some extravagant presumptions. Let us assume you are being paid $1.4 million a week for about a half-year’s work and your employer expects you to adhere to a few simple work rules.

1. You have to show up for work at the appointed time.
2. You have to be prepared to do the work assigned to you.
3. You are expected to behave on and off the job in a manner that does not reflect badly on your employer or yourself.
4. You must be respectful to all who work with you at all times.

That’s not too severe, is it? I’ve know people who make a lot less who live and work under a lot worse work rules.

Assuming that you are talented enough to skillfully carry out the details of your work, wouldn’t you accept these rules? Or would you conclude, in view of the fact you are the most highly paid of anyone at this job, that the rules do not apply to you?.

There is no question what I would do even if I was paid a lot less than the approximately $33 million annually. I would follow the work rules as if my life depended on it. Wouldn’t you? It is good to have a steady-paying job, especially these days.

I would never have more than one alcoholic beverage with meals and would never over indulge. I would never touch illegal drugs. I would report for work on time – all the time. I would make sure I knew what I was suppose to do once on the job. I certainly would never abuse my fellow employees, and most studiously not those in responsible positions.

I would want to preserve my good fortune in having such a good job and wish to protect the advantages the work brought to my family.

Not so in Charlie Sheehan’s case These are all of the things he ignored and thereby jeopardized his cushy employment and fat salary.

Let us continue with this now not so hypothetical circumstance by saying that if I had ignored all the above and went my own way to the detriment of my employer and was reprimanded, would it make sense to blame everything that went wrong on others.

What would you conclude in this situation?

How would you describe someone who blamed all his misfortunes on others? How would you react to someone who described himself as a superior human, a superman with inexhaustible appeal and magnetic attractiveness?

You would probably say that person was in need of some serious therapy. Well that’s the status of the Charlie Sheehan story, an actor at the height of his career blowing it all because of a bloated self-importance distilled through pervasive infusions of alcohol and drugs.

Anyone who endangers a great career is the author of a very sad tome. I felt that way about Michael Vick and John Edwards, two men of great potential receiving self-inflicted wounds. Vick has managed to redeem himself, but Edwards seems forever doomed to dishonor. Then there are lesser lights like today’s Lindsay Lohan to Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle of silent movie fame.

I feel that way about Sheehan If I was fortunate enough to have a job like his I would certainly tow the line. Like most people, I like to be the recipient of loads of income and it wouldn’t be hard to obey the rules of his employment which did not appear to be very severe or onerous.

He does not have to creep through someone’s crawl space to make household repairs at slightly better than minimum wages nor be outside during all kinds of bad weather nor dig ditches nor climb telephone poles. No, all he had to do was show up at a film studio and act out a silly little weekly 30-minute situation comedy.

Now he has lost it all – job and fat income. It is a sad story of human frailty. The question that remains is will be have the strength and inclination to recover and rebuild his reputation as others like Robert Downey, Jr., did, or will he continue to be obstinate and abusive? Only time will tell.

The other disturbing element of the continuing Sheehan drama is the media coverage. I think it has gone a bit overboard and perhaps it even innocently prods Sheehan on to keep this nonsense going in front of the public almost daily As usual, in its pursuit of viewers and higher ratings, television news that has made the most hay over this sad, sad story.

You don’t have to be a psychologist to recognized that the poor man is ill. He needs professional help and to exploit his situation with television clips of his sorrowful behavior is in bad taste. I know the television assignment editors will say that Sheehan is a legitimate news story because of his celebrity and his open battle with the powerful networks. But isn’t enough, enough?

Give the guy a break and send him the phone number of a good therapist.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Eisenhower, the sage

By Don Klein

The United States is a debtor nation, yet it sustains the most portentous and feared military force in human history. Oddly this phenomenon exists when it is not challenged by any enemy of comparable awesome power – not by a long shot (pardon the pun). Further there is no nation anywhere threatening it or on bad terms with the US. Not the Russians, not the Chinese, none at all.

To add to the absurdity of the scenario, the US is broke and owes hundreds of billions of dollars to other nations. It also suffers the burden of a crushing deficit which must be reduced.

Is there something in this package of facts that makes sense?

How can such an economically bereft nation maintain such a military monster for virtually no reason at all? Strangely enough President Dwight D. Eisenhower spelled out the reason more than a half century ago. The United States is afflicted with what may be a fatal malady. Ike warned us about it in his farewell speech. He described it as "the military-industrial complex."

Eisenhower was not a great president, but he was an honest man who knew all about war. During World War II he was the commanding general of millions of Allied forces in the European Theater. He might not have known much about social issues or other civilian matters, but he was an incontrovertible expert on the military.

This dichotomy reminded me of the fact that my whole life has been spent under the cloud of war. I was barely 10 years old when wars broke out in Asia and Europe and I was happy after WWII that there was no one left to fight. I was wrong.

There was the Korean War soon afterward, in which I served, then the tense near war over the Cuba missile threat, then Vietnam and Cambodia campaigns, the aborted war with Iran over the hostage situation, and the Reagan invasion of Grenada, the Lebanese Marine barracks debacle, the air attack on Libya, the Iran-Contra affair and deploying defensive missiles to Europe, followed by the Bosnian war and now for more than a decade, the Iraq and Afghan wars.

Almost every post-WWII president during the last six decades sent US forces into harms way on questionable missions. They seemed to act on the premise that we are the superpower, and have to demonstrate it by flexing our might.

I don't believe there has been a similar period of history that has had more wars affecting a single nation. War is an awful waste of humanity, of resources, of industrial clout, of intellectual potential. It is interesting how history seems to write its story despite all else.

Suddenly, after all these decades, Eisenhower, a bourgeois military man, comes away appearing to be a farsighted political sage. This country's future has already been derailed by the false belief that overwhelming military superiority will keep us safe from attack. Remember, it didn’t stop 9/11?

There is no major military power threatening us, yet we spend more on arms and military operations than all other nations combined. And if anyone suggests we slowdown we get the usual fear-peddling nonsense about being soft on security. The nation's gullible voters buy it hook, line and sinker and we continue casting ourself as the most well-armed pauper in the world.

In all fairness the US was not the only nation afflicted by wars. There were dozens of hostilities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America during what became the bloodiest century of all time. And that’s not even counting the two most lethal European conflicts – World War I and World War II.

In too many of these wars the US has played a part – if only as a materiel supporter of one side or another and, in others, like Iraq, WWI and WWII, as the principal adversary.

But with the decline of the Soviet Union in the last decade of the 20th century there is no substantial military power facing the country, and none are on the horizon. So why do we maintain such an awesome, and expensive, military force?

Eisenhower warned about it. Big industry makes tons of profits selling arms and other military supplies. The arms makers influence Congress with donations and high ranking professional warriors parrot fearful consequences to keep up the spending for wars that are not at all likely. Members of Congress in turn sell their warlike programs employing large doses of frightful dire consequences to the public and tamp down all political opposition by branding them "soft on security."

So the carousel keeps twirling with the US screwing itself into the ground. The thought of reducing the immense military drain on the budget to ease the economic crisis now facing the country is hardly ever mentioned, and when it is it is, it is couched in modest terms.

At the current rate we will be nation no different than a larger version of many third world countries which have a well-financed military supported by an undernourished, unskilled populace controlled by a puppet government owned by the biggest of all industrial claques, whose top executives live in pure luxury.

What we need to do is break the cycle. The first fiscal cuts should come out of an over-bloated military budget, cutting it back to the size a little bit larger than the tradition peacetime force maintained for centuries by the US. Cuts in other programs affecting civilians can follow once we correct the military-industrial imbalance.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sex and the old man

By Don Klein

They were back at KFC-Taco Bell, the winter haunt of retired men at seaside. Sam munching on the usual chicken breast, original recipe, and Mario enjoying his bean burritos with the enthusiasm of an epicurean dining at a Waldorf feast prepared for gourmands.

"What would you think of an 84-year-old, twice divorced, guy who is marrying a shapely 24-year-old blonde saying, 'This is it. This is a very, very special one. I expect to spend the rest of my life with her’?" Sam asked.

"I’d say the rest of his life is not going to be very long," Mario snapped back, adding after a pause, "Is this a hypothetical question or are you talking about someone you know?"

"This is not a fictional character. We all know him. You know him also." Sam started to chuckle as he considered the prospect. "Who do you know who would marry a gal 60 years his junior?"

"Most of the guys I know these days would consider marrying a woman 60 years of age as robbing the cradle." then challenging his friend, Mario asked, "You are almost as old as that guy you are talking about, would you marry someone that young?"

"I said you knew him, aren’t you interested in who he is?" Sam ignored the question about what he would do.

"Yeah, who is this nut who plans to end his life in the saddle earlier than otherwise?"

"Why none other than your good friend Hugh Hefner, the founder and recipient of the Playboy fortune."

"Hef’s no friend of mine."

"Sure he is. I guess you were a Playboy devotee in your wayward younger years, slobbering over those buxom young playmates month after month. We all were." Sam claimed.

"I’ll admit I read a few copies of the magazine, but I didn’t pay much attention to the Playmates in it. I spent my time in reality. I preferred real live women and will admit I was a bit of a ladies’ man in my day." Mario confessed.

"Yeah, you told me you were a bit on the wild side before you settled down with your wife for good. I suppose you didn’t have time for Playboy. Now it was different with me. I'm old fashion, I'm a one woman guy and have been married for over 50 years. But I was a regular Playboy reader for a couple of years."

"So Hef is getting married you say. And the bride to be is only 24 years old?" Mario noted.

"That’s correct. I thought Charlie Chaplin was stretching things when he hooked up with Oona O’Neill in 1943," Sam said, "He was 54 and she was only 18 when they were married. And despite the age duifference they had eight children."

"I don’t remember anything about that. I was just a child at the time, but I read somewhere that Oona’s father, Eugene O’Neill, the playwright, was not very happy about the union."

"He certainly was not -- in fact he disowned her and they never spoke to each other again."

"Well who is marrying Hef?" Mario asked.

"Her name is Crystal Harris," Sam said, "There was a picture of the two of them in The New York Times magazine a few weeks ago. He was seated on a throne-like chair in black silk pajamas and a red silk robe looking like an ancient potentate and she was standing next to him like a teen concubine dressed-up to look older, with long blond tresses and a too short skirt." Sam tried to be explicit.

"I thought it was laughable. I am younger than Hef by a few years and have a granddaughter almost as old as Crystal," Sam continued, "In fact Hef has a daughter who is 58 years old. She could be Crystal’s mother."

"Imagine a 58 year-old woman with a 24-year-old stepmother," Mario laughed,
"only in Hollywood."

"It sounds like you think Hef has never grown up and still thinks of himself as a young buck ready to sniff any female that comes by like a dog in heat," Mario suggested.

"Don’t get me wrong I give the guy all the credit. What other octogenarian do we know who can still command the interest of those young birds," Sam said, almost with admiration, "But I am not ready to concede that his appeal to the kitty crowd is sexual. He cannot be much of a partner there, but he pays well. He has to realize they wouldn’t be there if he didn’t. That must be his real allure."

"How do you know that?" Mario asked.

"Well the story said he pays the young things that agree to stay at his luxurious Hollywood mansion keeping him in a sensual Valhalla $1,000 a week and picks up virtually all their expense, like autos, clothes and so on. The mansion costs over $3 million a year to run."

"I sort of feel sorry for the old geezer," Mario became very thoughtful suddenly. "As they say there is a time in life for all things. Time to be born, to grow up, to get married, to raise a family – and a time to enjoy the autumn years relaxing and reviewing the vicissitudes of life."

Then he pondered, "Poor Hef he tries be appear debonair but never grew out of the teenage years. He still hangs out with chics. An old man, who will be 85 in two months, cannot find adult things to do with his life so he pays young women to parade around his bedroom without clothes on and occasionally join him in Viagra-buttressed sex."

"That’s an avocation reserved for young men." he declared wistfully.

"Dammit," they simultaneously agreed.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What’s in a name after all?

By Don Klein

“Flozell, Crezdon, Atari, Diyral." It was Mario speaking before he carefully bit down on a plump bean burrito at the KFC-Taco Belle outlet. It had become one of the winter destinations when the Boardwalk was no longer fit for human hanging out for the weekly meeting with his retiree buddy, Sam.

“What are you talking about?” Sam looked up from the fried split breast he was about to lift to his mouth and stared at his luncheon partner with a puzzled expression.

“My God, what strange, strange names.” Was all Mario said, appearing to be talking out loud to himself.

“Sounds like you know some of the rebels in the Cairo uprising? Or are you just overwhelmed by the aroma of those gaseous beans you’re eating?” Sam never missed an opportunity to slander his friend’s obsession for beans.

“Do you think I really give a damn about those Arabs rioting some 10,000 miles away? If it were not Egypt now, it would be Iran or Tunisia or Lebanon or some other God forsaken country in the Middle East in the past and probably in the future.” He growled, “After centuries of oppression they finally noticed they are living in the modern era.”

“If not the demonstrators in Egypt what did you mean by those strange words you just uttered?” Sam asked.

“It’s all about the Super Bowl. How those irritating Arabs managed to move the greatest sports event in America off the television screens and front pages of the country.” Virgil was fuming.

“You really think the Super Bowl is more important than the sudden overthrow of a dictator of a country of 80 million people?”

“Of course,” he answered, then added, “at least to us Americans.”

“I still don’t know what you were talking about when you blurted out those weirdo names,” a bewildered Sam said.

“See what the demonstrations did to you. You don’t even recognize the important names coming up in the news two days hence.”

Sam was now irritated, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“If the riots hadn’t distracted everyone you would know that Flozell Adams and Crezdon Butler play for the Steelers and Atari Bigby and Diyral Briggs play for the Packers.” Virgil explained.

“So what, I know there are lots of unusual names among professional football players. We all know about Haloti Ngata and Ladarius Webb of the Ravens, for example.” Sam added.

“Well that’s my point.” Virgil was near the end of his first bean burrito and was already eyeing the next one on the table lying passively on a wrapper in front of him.

“You know something? I can’t follow you.” Sam said, “What’s your point besides blaming the Egyptians for bumping the Super Bowl from the top news slot this week.”

“Well if they really wanted to change their government by massive demonstrations couldn’t they at least have waited until Monday afternoon so Americans would have time to relish the Super Bowl at least 24 hours before being brought back to the ugliness of international politics?,” Virgil moaned.

“Is that all you have to say about it?” his friend asked.

“Well I really wanted to talk about the weird names we gotten used to in football. Listen to these, for example. How about Maurkice Pouncey, the young center of the Steelers. He just started this year and will be around for a long time. What a crazy name!”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“To begin, the name seems to be a misspelling of M-a-u-r-i-c-e. Why is there a ‘k’ after the ‘r’?” Virgil emoted like an English teacher. “Then on the Packers there is Korey Hall. I’ve never seen that name spelled with a ‘K’ and Jarius Wynn. I heard of Darius, but never Jarius.

“Sadly the Packers have three players with no first or second names – they only have initials. Are you aware there is an A.J. Hawk, a linebacker; B. J. Raji a nose guard and C.J. Wilson a defensive end? Elsewhere there is a T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the Ravens. All I can conclude is ‘J’ is a very popular middle initial.”

“What’s in a name anyway,” Sam said, “How did Shakespeare put it? ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.”

“I doubt if any of these guys smell very sweet, certainly not at the end of a game. Getting back to my point. There is a Ziggy Hood on the Steelers. Sounds like he should be a jazz musician.”

“I know what you are talking about. During the regular season I noticed the Jets had a couple of strange sounding ones on their roster. LaDanian Tomlinson for one and the strangest of all was D’Brickashaw Ferguson,” Sam continued, “I couldn’t figure that one out. Not only is his last name Scotch and his first name has an apostrophe, but it sounds like his name is a phonetic description of a two-wheeled street cab pulled by a coolie in ancient China.”

"A couple of years ago there was Plexico Burris on the Giants. He is now serving time on gun charges," Sam interjected.

“Well when you get right down to it names shouldn’t matter that much. Do you have a favorite player?” Virgil asked.

“Yeah, I like Anquan Boldin of the Ravens, despite his name” Sam confessed, trying to be humorous. “Who do you like?” he asked.

“I don’t have a favorite football player, but I like Hosni Mubarak,” Virgil answered with a sardonic chuckle.

Sucking the last of the chicken off the breast bone Sam answered, “If we are now talking politics, I like Barack Obama.” He paused, “ Yeah, what’s in a name after all?”

“What happened to great athlete's names like Babe, Duke and Mickey?” said Virgil as he finished his final bean burrito and burped.