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.