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 Suppose the US had withdrawn all it forces from Europe and Asia some time ago, would we be involved in all these so-called "humanitarian" issues?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.