Sunday, September 30, 2012

The First Debate

In a discussion between fellow presidential debate moderators aired today on CBS Sunday Morning, Jim Lehrer told Bob Schieffer he would consider a successful debate one in which the things “that matter most to the voters, to hell with the candidates, to hell with the moderators and to hell with the handlers, to hell with the pundits, but the things that the voters care most about have been discussed and have been discussed in a way that they can now understand what the differences are. That's what these debates are really all about.”

With that in mind, here are some questions I would like Lehrer to ask, this first debate Wednesday night being restricted to domestic issues. (I’d also like to see Lehrer challenge Barack Obama or Mitt Romney if either skirts around a question and simply delivers standard campaign pablum. Let’s get some real answers.) I figure the 90-minute debate will include 15 questions at most. Here are 16, just in case the debate runs a little long:

1. Are Americans better off today than we were when President Obama took office in January 2009?
2. What are your specific ideas for job creation? 
3. To balance the budget and reduce the deficit, program cuts would have to be enacted and tax loopholes would have to be closed. Please provide specific areas that would be affected under your next budget?
4. Would you accept a “grand bargain” of spending cuts tied to a slight tax increase?
5. Do you believe in global warming? Scientists have charted the rise in sea levels? What steps should we take, if any, to protect our shorelines?
6. What is your view of evolution? Do you believe Creationism should be an alternative taught in our schools? Do you believe dinosaurs and man lived at the same time?
7. Explain your evolved positions on same-sex marriage (Obama) and the right to an abortion (Romney)?
8. Do you support the Dream Act? How would you deal with our illegal immigrant population?
9. What are your views on government regulatory agencies? Would you do away with any and why specifically those agencies? 
10. Do we need to raise the age eligibility for Social Security and Medicare? Should we means-test for Social Security and Medicare benefits?
11. Is it government’s obligation to provide all Americans affordable health care as a right? What specific changes still need to be enacted to health care?  
12. What level of safety net protection is appropriate for government to provide the unemployed, school children, the impoverished?  
13. Do you see any danger in the disparity between the earnings of the average worker and that of corporate management?
14. Neither of you is a hunter. Explain your position on the right to possess assault rifles and super-sized bullet magazines, both of which are not necessary or used for hunting?
15. What is the proper balance, if indeed there is any need for balance, between a comprehensive energy policy and protection of our environment?
16. Are we better off with federal-administered programs or with programs pushed down to the individual states to administer?

Gee, that’s 16 questions and I didn’t ask about their plans to end the housing crisis, or how they feel about the effect super-PAC money has on the political process, or the need, if any, to provide more regulation on the financial industry, or what is the proper role of the federal government in education. 

Let’s hope we get some real answers to whatever questions Lehrer poses. Let’s hope the candidates aren’t merely posturing or engaging in a sound-bite-off. We have too much at stake.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Slapping Down a Jester, a King, a Crowley

I’m a big fan of Jon Stewart, as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows. But someone needs to tell him that hosting The Daily Show on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, was unseemly. Though he’s not religiously observant, Stewart often refers to his Jewish heritage. Indeed, on his Thursday night show he bantered with Amar’e Stoudemire of the NY Knicks about fasting on Yom Kippur (Stoudemire has traced some Jewish roots). But to the casual viewer, seeing Stewart appear on his Tuesday and Wednesday night shows, both taped during the Day of Atonement observance period, was a discordant signal. Stewart should have emulated Sandy Koufax, and other professional athletes, who chose not to perform on Yom Kippur, even when it meant missing a World Series game. 

Perhaps Stewart’s guest list was limited Tuesday night because of the start of Yom Kippur, but I found it serendipitous to see King Abdullah II of Jordan sitting across his interview desk. Given Jordan’s strategic, or unfortunate, global position situated as it is on the borders of Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the West Bank and Israel, and just a missile’s lob from Iran, the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, King Abdullah could be expected to provide an insider’s perspective on the various conflicts in the region. He is considered a moderate among the Arab and Muslim community.

Yet, I was more than alarmed to hear him describe the root cause of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear program as a response to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. “The reason why they have a nuclear program is what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and the future of Jerusalem,” he said. He asserted if the Israelis and the Arabs solve their problems “then there’s no raison d'ĂȘtre for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” 

One problem with this reasoning is Iran is not an Arab state. Persians live there, Persians who have fought Arabs for some 3,000 years, including the recent 10-year war with Iraq. The Iranians have no love for Arabs. Now, the king might have couched Iran’s support for the Palestinians as one Muslim supporting another. But here again there is historical reason to question that argument: Iran is Shia; most Palestinians are Sunni. Those two sects don’t like each other. They keep blowing up each other, in their respective mosques, at funerals, in marketplaces. Anywhere. 

Furthermore, by King Abdullah’s reasoning, we would expect not just Iran but also other Muslim countries to want to nuke up their armaments to leverage a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Are we prepared for a nuclear Indonesia? Or Bangladesh? Or Albania? Or any of the other 45 majority Muslim countries of the world? 

Sorry, King Abdullah, but Iran’s nuclear ambitions have little if anything to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By implying they do, King Abdullah is following the example of dictators throughout the Middle East who have used the conflict as a pretext to keep their own people suppressed, economically and politically. King Abdullah might be considered a moderate, his British-educated accent pleasant to the ear, but his type of reasoning is what has kept tensions in the Middle East at the simmering point ever since Jews started reclaiming the land of their heritage.

There’s a lot of hand-wringing these days about the state of education in the United States. Apparently our educational standards have a long history of laxity. To wit, here’s what one of our Ph.D.s, with a degree earned from Columbia University, no less, recently wrote the day after our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked and four American foreign service officers, including our ambassador, were killed: 

“The Middle East is aflame, much of which is a result of Obama’s policies of helping to dislodge allies like Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Qaddafi and replace them with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. He may use the orchestrated violence as a pretext to act in order to get Americans’ attention off the economy.  I don’t know.  But in any case, Obama must be defeated on November 6 if we’re to have any hope of surviving as a serious world power. Maybe surviving, period.”

Could be I was sleeping through these last 30 years or so, but when did Qaddafi become an ally of ours, much less a “key ally,” as Monica Crowley further elaborated on her written comments during a sit-down with Sean Hannity of Fox News September 12. During the Bush II years America championed the idea of democracy in the Middle East. Now that a democratically elected leader (not to her liking) is seated in Mubarak’s old chair, Crowley is all agog, yearning for those good old days of tyranny and torture, all for the good of the U.S. of A, mind you. Let’s not pretend to care what the Egyptians get out of this change of circumstance.

I also didn’t know America was in jeopardy of losing its status as a serious world power. Can you think of any other country people around the world are clamoring to enter, legally or not? Can you think of any other country even remotely as powerful as we are? Yes, our economy is still in the doldrums, but so is almost every other country’s. Even China is in flux. 

Every time a Democrat is president or running for the office conservatives raise the specter of our own annihilation. Yet they remained silent when the Neocons dragged us into two wars (and ran up the deficit by not funding them on the books). I am despondent to think the viewers of Fox News don’t recognize the absurdities they hear from that channel. Here’s another example: recently Fox News polled its audience to ascertain their election choices. Guess what? 90% favored Romney, 10% Obama. Duh!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Religion to the Nation's Rescue

There are lots of theories as to why Mitt Romney’s bid to unseat Barack Obama is slipping further and further away from fruition. No need to recount them here. Rather, I’d like to proffer my own—in a country increasingly religious, many voters are turning to their Bibles to find reasons to support the incumbent and question the sincerity of the challenger.

As I was sitting in temple Wednesday during Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) services, I listened as the following excerpt from the Book of Isaiah 58:3-7 was read (in Hebrew, but here’s the English translation from our prayer book): 

3 “Why, when we fasted, did You (God) not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?” Because on your fast day you see to your business and oppress all your laborers! 4 Because you fast in strife and contention, and you strike with a wicked fist! Your fasting today is not such as to make your voice heard on high. 5 Is such the fast I desire, a day for people to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, a day when ADONAI (God) is favorable? 6 No, this is the fast I desire: to unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. 7 It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe them, and do not ignore your own flesh.

Surely, there are religious men in the Republican Party. Perhaps House Minority Whip Eric Cantor read these words while he was in his temple on Wednesday. He might well interpret them to mean individuals have the obligation to help the less fortunate. Charity is a noble endeavor. But it would hardly balance the inequities and inequalities we currently face as a nation. 

In my readings of Scripture, I’ve never come across any capitalist manifesto. Yet time after time the Bible, the Old and New Testament, exhorts us to care for the needy, to make them whole again. Catholic bishops have weighed in that the proposed Romney-Ryan budget cuts too many dollars from social services and even some total programs. Romney might believe a budget that supports social welfare initiatives comprises income redistribution on a national scale. He would be right. He could find justification for such an idea in the Bible. During each jubilee year God commanded land be redistributed to original owners. If that’s not income redistribution, what is? 

So my reading of the political winds these days is that after hearing, in his own words, what Romney stands for and his true, unfiltered lack of compassion for the “47%,” religious Americans are having second thoughts. They may not like Obama, but they believe his compassion is real, his values are ones they find in concert with their own. Over the next six weeks their conviction will be sorely tested by the withering assault Republican Super Pacs will unleash against the president. They’ll have to keep in mind verse 4 from Isiaiah 58. 

I’m apparently not the only one to believe religion will help swing this election. Pastor Rick Scarborough of Texas, a big supporter of Rick Perry’s aborted bid for the GOP presidential nomination, is launching a 40 Days to Save America crusade tomorrow. He’s asking for prayer, fasting and action to change the direction of the country. 

I don’t normally hear about the good pastor’s ideas, but Stephen Colbert’s Wednesday show enlightened me about the plans to sway undecided voters, including, according to Colbert, “the biggest undecided voter of all, God. He may be all knowing, but He’d still like to know a little more about Mitt’s tax returns.”

Colbert suggested Romney might have an edge is appealing for God’s vote. He does, after all, fit Romney’s “core demographic—old, male, vengeful and lives in a gated community.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Seeking Consistency

Predictably, my softball team lost its playoff game Sunday. The season is over, a season of consistency if you consider lack of hitting, lack of fielding, lack of smart baserunning, lack of solid pitching and, most importantly, lack of sound baseball sense, traits to applaud for their game in-game out consistency. But was it fun losing 14 of 17 games? Overall, I’d say it was worth the effort and enjoyable enough to get out of bed early Sunday mornings from April through September. 

It wasn’t pretty watching a reincarnation of the 1962 NY Mets (or the 2012 Mets), but I can’t say my teammates didn’t try. After all, if they tried their hardest, isn’t that all you can ask for? My only real regret is that somehow, in one of the few games we won early in the season, somehow I twisted my left knee and it now pops and cracks every time I exert myself (I’ve self-diagnosed it as a medial collateral ligament sprain). Softball season might be over but last night my indoor tennis season began and I immediately felt constrained by my inability to pivot on my left leg. 

For months Gilda has been telling me I needed to exercise to strengthen the quad muscles surrounding the knee. She’s right, of course. She’s consistently right about the need to exercise and I, unfortunately, consistently resist. Well, I’ve gotten to the point where it’s either exercise or stop playing tennis. I think my exercise program begins the day after Yom Kippur, a day in which I will atone for not listening to her sooner.

Chutzpah: Not sure how many of you read the business section of the NY Times, but if you’d like a real-world example of chutzpah, read this article about the choice of Tim Pawlenty to be the new president of an influential Wall Street lobbying organization:

It’s the latest example of a politician’s lack of principles, in this case, how the former governor of Minnesota, who for years consistently criticized the financial industry during his erstwhile run for the Republican presidential nomination, has decided to go for the big bucks and become his supposed arch-enemy’s mouthpiece. We’ve often seen ex-senators and congressmen from both parties become lobbyists, so it’s not a head-spinner that Pawlenty has turned to the dark side. What is news is that almost all his predecessors to the lobbying trough had experience dealing with their new clients through Senate or House committee assignments. Pawlenty has no background in the financial industry. Another example of how politicians consistently never fail to amaze.

Football Frenzy: For years I consistently avoided wasting my money on football pools. I prefer losing money the old fashioned way, in a poker game where I have direct involvement, rather than letting ballplayers or game officials determine the outcome. Nevertheless, this year I joined a Football Frenzy pool, the object of which is to pick as many winners each week as possible. Through three weeks I can say I have been consistent, picking seven winners each week. That record of accomplishment has placed me 20th out of 22 participants. I’m only seven points behind the leader (shout-out to Gregg), but there are 14 more weeks of play so there’s still time to recoup my investment.

Don’t look to me for a definitive call on the last second touchdown or interception on the final play of the Packers-Seahawks game Monday night. I’ve seen videotape of the play and heard numerous interpretations of the rule book. Suffice to say, the replacement refs are consistently challenged to work up to the standards set by the regular officials who are on strike. But like my softball teammates, they are trying, they just don’t have the experience or skill sets to police a game that whizzes by their competence levels. Let’s be honest, however. In the past there have been plenty of controversial calls from regular officials. It’s just easier to complain, and more visible, when replacement refs blow a call.

A Pet Peeve: I consider myself a fairly well educated person, with good vocabulary skills. I wonder, however, why some writers purposely include words that the average, nay, even the elite, would never deem to use in normal prose. Here’s an example from a recent NY Times Book Review by Mark Lewis of “The Fish That Ate the Whale”: “At times, (Rich) Cohen waxes almost Kiplingesque as he celebrates the man and his myrmidons.” 

What the hell are mymidons? Was it the Lewis’ intention to have me put down his review and open a dictionary to ascertain that a myrmidon is “a faithful follower who obeys orders unquestioningly”? After gaining that knowledge, am I supposed to include myrmidon in my next conversation or blog about Assad or the Ayatollah? 

I’d say it is a certain consistent conceit that infuses the literature of some writers. By the way, The Fish That Ate the Whale sounds like an interesting book. It’s about Samuel Zemurray, his leadership of the United Fruit Company, and how “Sam the Banana Man” affected American foreign policy in Central America as much as any elected official.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Bachelor

Here’s a line that could just as easily have been said back in 1633 by the Vatican to Galileo as it was to CBS News correspondent Alan Pizzi in Rome Wednesday when he sought comment on the possibility Jesus was married: “Let the scholars say and think what they like, the Church stands by its doctrine which goes back to the earliest Christians,” a Papal spokesman said, which Pizzi said translated to, “Jesus was a bachelor.” 

It’s been a rather fascinating several days, what with the leaking of Mitt Romney’s secretly taped 47% speech and the revelation of a fragment of Coptic Church literature that puts into question two of Catholicism’s central tenets—celibacy of Jesus (and clerics) plus the male-only church hierarchy.

It’s always dicey chiming in on someone else’s religion, but I can’t help but being fascinated by the married or not married status of Jesus (I also find it rather humorous that this subject comes up the same week as Romney’s travails, Romney, of course, being the scion of a religion that for many years advocated polygamy). 

To understand the rest of this post you’ll have to take a few minutes to read the Op-Ed piece at the end of this link:

Okay, now that you have The Rev. James Martin’s opinion, let me chime in with some thoughts on his analysis. First, Rev. Martin claims the four familiar Gospels were written much earlier than the Coptic manuscript which he dates from either the second or fourth century (the Gospels were written in the late first, early second century). Therefore, he gives them more credence. But there are inconsistencies even among those Gospels, so their complete credibility is open to question.

Second, he asks why there is no mention of Jesus's wife among family members who make a surprise visit to him in Capernaum. The simple answer is, she already was with him when he left Nazareth. Third, he suggests that since no wife was mentioned during Jesus’s public ministry days, ergo he had no wife. But we know the story of Jesus in many ways paralleled that of Moses. From the time Moses arrived back in Egypt to free the slaves and begin his ministry, his relationship with his wife Zipporah is barely mentioned in the Bible.

Fourth, Rev. Martin cites the Rev. John P. Meier’s hypothesis that Jesus “remained celibate on religious grounds.” But Jesus was Jewish; religious Jews and prophets were not required to be celibate. Only the prophet Jeremiah, among all Jewish leaders, is believed to have been a bachelor. Since we know celibacy among Catholic priests was not a strictly enforced canon requirement until the  second millennia, and some say only then mandated to circumvent any inheritance claims against church property, perhaps the male church leadership of today doth protest too much about the egalitarian view of its leader and his marital status.

Of course, all these comments are the views of a fascinated outsider. But if Jesus was indeed married, did his wife get along with her mother-in-law? Since Mary remains a central part of the religion, perhaps they didn’t see eye to eye on all things Jesus and she influenced the writers of the Gospels to keep his wife out of the sacred texts. Far-fetched, you say? Not if you’ve heard as many stories as I have about Jewish mothers-in-law. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Back to the Stone Age

In the wake of the killings of four American diplomats Tuesday night in the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, now thought to be perpetrated by adherents to or sympathizers with al-Qaeda, and angry mobs in several Moslem countries protesting against the United States and other Western countries over a less than flattering depiction of the prophet Mohammed in a movie produced by right wing Christian conservatives, it’s time to ask a fundamental question—would we all be better off reconsidering monotheism in favor of good old-fashioned polytheism? 

Seems to me the ancients fought wars just for the sake of conquest, not in the name of religion. It was a whole lot easier back then to know your enemy and to defend yourself. Nowadays, at least from the time Jehovah told the Israelites to rid Canaan of the seven nations who lived there, or maybe even before that when He smote the Egyptians with 10 plagues so the Hebrews slaves could be freed to worship Him in the desert, societies have been killing each other over which one has the one true god. 

Back in those idolatrous times, gods didn’t move around. They had territorial boundaries. Only when monotheism expressed a universal presence did the concept of a singular god residing everywhere take hold, with the inference that He could be conjured up to save the souls of Indians, Black Africans, Asians and other indigenous peoples not privileged to have been touched by the grace of Jesus or Mohammed. 

Of course, even those so graced have not been immune to religious warfare. Catholics have fought among themselves. Catholics have fought Protestants. Russian Orthodox have fought among themselves. Christians have fought Muslims. Muslims have fought Muslims. All of the above have fought Jews. Religions that espouse peace and love for all are guilty not just of denying peace and love to outsiders but also to sects within their own religion. In the name of god, how could we allow such a defamation of religion to occur?

Muslim extremists have usurped their religion’s embodiment to the world. The West is appalled by Sharia law practices. In Northern Mali, thieves had hands and feet cut off in public demonstrations of justice. Accused of adultery, men and women have been stoned to death in Afghanistan. Honor killings are still common in backwater villages. Western nations are powerless to stop these practices. Indeed, many Muslim extremists welcome a return to the era of the Caliphates, back to the 7th to 12th centuries. 

Perhaps we should let them go back in time. It is futile and foolish to believe we will ever be able to soothe the savage breast of a people who reject Western culture and codes of behavior. As insulting and provocative as the film “Innocence of Muslims” may be, it fell within the bounds of freedom of speech cherished by Western societies. This wasn’t the first time the Muslim world has reacted violently to the alleged slander of Mohammed. Nor can we expect it to be the last, given our tilt away from censorship except in extreme cases of national security. Perhaps the answer is disengagement.

Let’s put aside for a moment the West’s collective need for oil buried under the sands of Arabia. Let’s consider how we might disengage and assist the Muslim world in its quest for yesteryear. Let’s start by not supplying them with any modern convenience—no TVs, no cars, no cell phones, no computers, no radios, no modern medicines, no irrigation projects, no aircraft, no trains, no Internet, no indoor plumbing, nothing but handwritten books, no modern military equipment. You get the picture. 

Naturally, this idea has more than its share of problems and hyperbole. We’d never get the industrialized world to embargo its goods to Muslim countries. And we still need its oil. But we really must figure out a way to stimulate a culture war within Islam, forcing its citizens to choose if they’d like to live in the 21st or 10th century.  

During the Vietnam War, General Curtis LeMay suggested we bomb North Vietnam “back into the Stone Age.” I’m not comfortable with that game plan. I think we’d have a better shot at world peace if we voluntarily return to idolatry. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Woman's Place (Is Up to a Man)

Ann Romney Blinked: Post-conventions, there was lots of talk about which candidate’s wife conjured up a more touching, if not so truthful, remembrance of the tough financial times she and her husband had starting out their lives together. 

Ann Romney pictured their struggle in a basement Boston apartment, eating tuna casseroles and pasta off an ironing board doing its best impression of a dining room table, while Mitt studied for his Harvard law and business degrees at a desk made from an old door propped up on two sawhorses. 

Not to be outdone, Michelle Obama related how she could see the pavement whizzing by from the holes in the floorboards of Barack’s car; his best pair of shoes were a size too small. 

Oh, how far the seemingly destitute have come!

I’m not sure if the First Lady has retracted any of her depiction, but Ann Romney fessed up to David Gregory on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, “We have not had a financial struggle in our lives, but I want people to believe in their hearts that we know what it is to struggle.” 

For sure they did, as Ann began suffering from multiple sclerosis in 1998. Good thing her husband can afford quality health insurance, or to pay for her treatment out of pocket in case a new insurance company would deny her coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Unless, of course, she’d choose to be covered under provisions of Obamacare that requires insurance companies to extend coverage even for pre-conditions. 

For the record, I was less than impressed by David Gregory’s big moment with Mitt. I watched Meet the Press after returning home from my weekly softball game. Gregory’s questions were softer than the pitches I hurled. What a wasted opportunity to pin Romney down to specifics. He tried once or twice, but for the most part he failed to ask probing questions. 

It also was interesting to hear Romney talk about the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage, considering many Christian sects don’t consider Mormons to be part of their faith. 

A Woman’s Place: Recent articles and events struck me as indicators the world is far from accepting women as equals with men. First there was the controversy in Missouri generated by Rep. Todd Akin on the issue of “legitimate rape” and the ability of a woman’s body to fend off uninvited sperm. That an elected congressman in this day and age could harbor such nonsense is beyond the pale. He’s a deeply religious man. I wonder how much his ignorance is engendered by his religious teachings.

Which brings us to the first article, (, a depiction of a woman’s place according to the new rulers of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood. In case you haven’t yet clicked on the link, here’s how the writer, Mona El-Naggar, started her article, “Women are erratic and emotional, and they make good wives and mothers — but never leaders or rulers. That, at least, is what Osama Abou Salama, a professor of botany at Cairo University and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told young men and women during a recent premarital counseling class.”

The Muslim Brotherhood apparently does not believe such women as Margaret Thatcher, Indira Ghandi, Benazir Bhutto, or Golda Meir were good leaders or rulers. It doesn’t look promising for the women of Egypt, many of whom protested last year in Tahir Square in the hope they would achieve equal status from a post-Mubarak government.

It doesn’t look too rosy to the northeast of Egypt, either. Israel made the desert bloom, but it cannot cultivate tolerance among its religious zealots. Even with their lives at stake, Haredim, the ultra Orthodox, adhere to dictates that endanger the Jewish state. A long-time deferment from compulsory military service has been lifted, so Haredim are now being drafted. The Israeli military has long been an assimilator and equalizer, but the Haredim are offering stiff resistance to modernity, as can be seen in last Sunday’s Review submission in the NY Times by Shani Boianjiu, “What Happens When the Two Israel’s Meet” ( 

No, the world does not look very egalitarian these days. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stories of Resilience

Coincidence? Serendipity?

While lying in bed this a.m., as I was doing 11 years ago in a Phoenix hotel room on the morning of September 11, oblivious early on to the horror unfolding back east, I checked my iPhone and noticed an email from my cousin Herb, the chronicler of Forseter/Kletter family history and general information on Eastern European Jewry. His email came under the following subject title: A STORY WORTH WATCHING - WHEN YOU HAVE TIME - THIS IS A MUST SEE

Naturally I was curious, though cautioned by Herb that the accompanying video link was rather long but well worth the effort. “It shows,” said Herb, “the indomitable courage and greatness of our people in spite of adversity.”  

On a day when we remember the tragic loss of life at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, and the ensuing two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is inspiring to view the accomplishments of Felix Zandman, a survivor of the Holocaust whose contributions to the way we live our lives today are mostly unknown. Almost every time you use a cell phone, travel in an airplane or ride a car, you are benefiting from the genius of Felix Zandman, one of only about 100 survivors of the 30,000 Jews who lived in Grodno, Poland, before the Nazis conquered his homeland. Zandman died a little over a year ago, but this one-hour film, produced in 2004, provides some background on his extraordinary 83 years of life and ultimate success: 

Perhaps because I was in Arizona, I find it hard, sometimes, to relate to the catastrophe of September 11. It was an attack on innocents and I don’t begrudge the families of the dead their continued anguish, their sense of loss, their bereavement. Yet, when I place in context the inhumanity that has befallen thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of others, in Cambodia, in Rwanda, throughout Europe during the Second World War, I find myself enthralled by the resilience of the human spirit, by stories such as Felix Zandman’s. I hope some of the orphaned or widowed of 9/11 are able to rise to the heights attained by Zandman.

Camp of Our Dreams: September 11 commemorates the 88th birthday of Yaakov Halpern, a native of Krakow, Poland, also a Holocaust survivor and another giant who overcame personal and collective evil. Among his numerous contributions to Jewish education and culture in the United States and Israel was his founding and leadership of Camp Columbia in Elizaville, NY, where I spent six summers during the 1960s, first as a camper, then a counselor. The camp closed in 1968 when Yaakov emigrated to Israel with his family. 

If you’ve never spent summers at a Jewish sleepaway camp, eight weeks back then, perhaps you’d have a hard time identifying with the immersive experience it could be. Jewish summer camps of that era impressed upon their campers and counselors a richness of heritage and culture that could not be replicated or duplicated, not in Hebrew schools or synagogue services. One need only look at Yaakov’s forearm to see tattooed numbers in blue ink to be reminded we as a people were barely two decades removed from bestiality beyond belief or reason. 

Yaakov and his wife Gilda created an environment where youth could frolic freely and dream about creating a better world. A bond was forged among those who spent summers there, probably no more unique than any fashioned by similar summer camps. It’s a bond enshrined in memory, so perhaps a bit of it is hyperbole. But it is very real to those who summered in the Catskills. 

About 12 years ago I accompanied my wife to a nurse practitioners’ meeting in Kingston, NY, in late spring. While she sat through her conference I ventured out to find the long-shuttered Camp Columbia, some 20 miles away. It took about 30 minutes to find Elizaville and then the real fun began, looking for the road leading to camp. 

I came across an old country store I recognized as the one on the road near the camp. I knew from instinct where the camp road should be. It no longer was rutted dirt. It was paved, with houses dotting its sides. 

About half a mile up it dead-ended. I got out of my car and started walking on a trail. This clearly was the way, but the trail was closed. I was close, not close enough to see the camp’s lower lake, but close. My choices were to proceed and find a camp that I had not seen in 30 years, a camp that probably had fallen into disrepair, a camp that I knew had been taken over by new owners who had filled in the pool, or to stop and reflect on what Camp Columbia looked like in my youth. 

Camp Columbia was not a beautiful camp. But it was the camp of my formative adult years, the camp I will always remember in the words of the alma mater Marty Kellman wrote to the music of Brahms, as “the camp of our dreams.” I turned around. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

With All Due Respect, David Gregory

David Gregory’s big moment comes Sunday when he interviews Mitt Romney on NBC’s Meet the Press. Gregory will be tested to determine if he truly is a worthy successor to the late Tim Russert.

Romney has been adept at deflecting questions, refraining from answering them with specifics, if at all, about his post-election plans should he win the presidency. Gregory’s challenge will be to offer respectful resistance to Romney’s obfuscations. He must pose follow-up questions to get specifics and if necessary challenge the veracity of Romney’s attacks against President Obama and claims about his own programs. Perhaps Gregory’s most important phrase throughout the interview will be, “With all due respect ...,” which is code for, “stop bullshitting me and the American public, answer the question, this is an interview not a stump speech opportunity.”

Just in case Gregory needs help formulating questions, here are some I’d like to see posed:

The time has come to give specifics, Gov. Romney—what cuts to specific programs would you make to balance the budget?

President Clinton in his speech to the convention said more manufacturing jobs were created under President Obama than in last 50 years. That doesn’t sound like failure. How would you characterize it?

If Obamacare is repealed, specifically what would be included in your replacement program, or would the American public go back to a time when insurance companies could exclude you from coverage because of a pre-existing condition? Would your plan cover non-working children through age 26? Would you cover the donut hole for prescriptions for senior citizens?

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak has said cooperation between his county and the U.S. is the best ever, so why do you say Obama threw Israel under the bus? What more would you have done? As for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, even George W. Bush never moved our embassy, so why should we hold President Obama to a higher standard than all previous presidents?

Do you support legislation for equal pay for equal work for women?

If Planned Parenthood closes down because you defund it, do you have an alternative where women can get screenings and other medical services they could not afford to get in traditional health care facilities?

Since cabinet secretaries must reveal several years of tax returns to get confirmed, why should the public not expect to see at least the same from someone seeking the highest office in the land?

To combat what threat do we need the budget increase you have proposed for the Pentagon when the Joint Chiefs of Staff haven't asked for it?

Many of your foreign policy advisors counselled President George W. Bush. Why should that make Americans confident in your foreign affairs leadership considering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan we entered when they advised President Bush?

Would you intervene in Syria? To what degree?

Many European countries implemented fiscal restraint programs, government cutbacks, similar to what you advocate for the United States. Given their problems and your repeated comments that we don’t want to be another Europe, why should we have confidence government cutbacks would work here to help stimulate the economy?

Your campaign has said it won't be bound by fact checkers. Specifically, fact checkers have disputed your campaign’s claims about President Obama’s welfare reform program, the timing of the closing of the General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, the $716 billion in Medicare savings proposed by President Obama and included in Congressman Ryan’s budget proposal. Are the fact checkers wrong or will you continue to say what you've said before?

Your wife portrayed your early years together as if they were a struggle, eating tuna and pasta off an ironing board serving as a table, using an old door as a desk. Were you indeed living a typical student’s life, or were you buttressed by a sizable trust fund from your parents?

After six years of running for president why don't more Americans say they know you?

You ran for governor of Massachusetts as a moderate. Is there any specific event that prompted you to shift your governing philosophy to conservative? 

In defending your record at Bain Capital you have said not all businesses succeed. So why do you criticize the administration’s failed investment in Solyndra? What is your position on solar energy?

Bain Capital relied heavily on leveraged debt to acquire companies. Since you obviously know a lot about debt, and that the interest in borrowed money is at an all-time low at present, why would it be wrong to borrow money today to invest in rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure?

The General Motors and Chrysler bailout has been successful. Why would a managed bankruptcy, as you preferred, been better for the auto workers employed by GM, Chrysler and the other companies that supply the automakers?

Scorecard: Obama gave a rousing speech last night, but it lacked specifics just as Romney’s did. And he didn't push for the election of Democratic Senate and House candidates. In other words it was just words, not a call to action. I rate his and Romney's speeches a draw as they appealed to the party faithful, not to independents. Any bounce Obama gets will come from Michelle and Bill Clinton.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Kpow! Holy Batman

President Obama’s nomination acceptance speech in Charlotte, NC, Thursday night has been moved indoors to the Time Warner Cable Arena from its originally planned venue, the outdoor Bank of America Stadium. Democrats made the move, they say, because of the threat of rain, thunderstorms that frequently drench the city during the afternoon this time of year, that would have dampened any spell the orator-in-chief might have spun over a crowd his re-election staff estimated would have been at least 65,000. 

You’d think they would have checked out Charlotte’s weather history before making plans for an open-air event. That’s what Gilda did 17 years ago when we planned a tented party on our lawn for Ellie’s bat mitzvah weekend November 12-13. She researched the average weather conditions going back five years and determined we would be in the clear. In my mind I went along with her thoughtful planning, but my body, specifically my ankles, considered the risk and reacted accordingly—I developed severe psoriasis starting around Labor Day and lasting through mid-November. Psoriasis, as you may know, is an itchy skin condition often brought on by tension. It was the first time I ever had a psoriasis attack, though not the last (you’ll be happy to know Ellie’s recent outdoor wedding ceremony did not precipitate a recurrence). Though it rained several days before Ellie’s bat mitzvah, the weekend weather was glorious, with temperatures in the 70s. 

Republicans say the stadium crowd would have been far, far fewer than 65,000, leaving great gaps in the seating, thus giving the impression enthusiasm for Obama was not as strong as hyped. 

You can pick your explanation, depending on your political leanings (though the actual weather tomorrow night will go a long way toward validating one side’s claim of foresight or fear). 

What is not in dispute, however, is the fact that in Charlotte, as in Tampa last week at the GOP confab, conventioneers cannot bring umbrellas into the arena. Umbrellas are confiscated by security. You see, they could conceal a weapon.

Holy Batman! Somebody must have seen Batman Returns, the 1992 flick where Danny Devito as Oswald Cobblepot, alias the Penguin, uses an umbrella to machine gun a mayoral election crowd that turns against him. Way to go, Secret Service!

Which Way To Go? Listening to public radio as I was riding around delivering meals to the elderly today, I was struck by a discussion that parsed government into two strands. The Republican thread bore the story line: government (e.g., regulators) gets in the way of personal success. Democrats spun a different tale: government (through incentive programs) paves the way for individual and collective success. 

No doubt, there are regulations that stymie growth, especially ones that remain on the books long after their need has been dissipated. But, on the whole, I’d rather live in a nation where my government has my back and protects me from the insidious acts of greedy capitalists who would exploit workers, distribute tainted food and drugs, sell shoddy, dangerous merchandise, and take advantage of the ignorant and misinformed.

Nixon’s the One. Again: Did you see the article in today’s NY Times, “GOP Shift Moves Center Far to Right” ( Eduardo Porter made the case that Richard Nixon was “a more liberal, more pro-big government choice” than Barack Obama for left-leaning Democrats to embrace.

I can’t argue with that analysis, particularly since I made the same argument back on May 30 (!

Big News: Did you know all the electioneering is for naught, that there won’t be an election November 6? I didn’t either, until I read an email from a business acquaintance. I don’t normally reproduce loooong emails, but I’ll make an exception in this case because it demonstrates the danger of the Internet and the lenghts to which some conspiracy theorists can go. Enjoy (I hope):

What I’m going to report here is only a rumor that presently can’t be confirmed. But it is of such magnitude that it must be made known if only to prepare America for a possible terrible eventuality. And while it has not been confirmed, neither can it authoritatively and convincingly be denied, certainly not in a United States where our Constitutional rights are under constant attack.

This rumor involves an agent of the Department of Homeland Security who allegedly informed a reporter at the Canada Free Press of a “false flag” or faked event to be initiated by Obama administration operatives in the hope of preventing the November presidential elections.
Canada Free Press (CFP) is an independent, conservative, electronic daily newspaper, updated several times a day. It boasts more than 100 writers and columnists who file stories regularly to the newspaper from all corners of the globe.

According to the newspaper’s coverage of this DHS “whistleblower,” the event would be a staged assassination attempt on the life of President Obama that would be blamed on “white supremacists” and subsequently used to enrage black and Hispanic communities driving them to rioting all across the nation.

The faked assassination, says the CFP report, would be carried out through the assistance of DHS agents, and “other colluders” taking their orders from the White House. The objective would be to stir up enough racial unrest to justify the imposition of martial law in major urban cities, including erecting DHS checkpoints, restricting travel, and delaying (possibly indefinitely) the November 2012 elections.
Doug Hagmann, reporting in the May 8, 2012 edition of the Canada Free Press wrote that his informant works in “the upper-echelon of DHS”, which he described as “effectively under the control of Barack Hussein Obama.”

Hagmann’s contact said, “The DHS is actively preparing for massive social unrest inside the United States .. He then corrected himself, stating that ‘a civil war’ is the more appropriate term. Certain elements of the government are not only expecting and preparing for it; they are actually facilitating it.”

The DHS whistleblower mentioned a recent meeting at the Department of Homeland Security where plans were discussed to use pawns to simulate the rioting seen in the Arab Spring countries that would bring on a “controlled chaos” for the benefit of the Obama administration.

“Envisioned by these conspirators are riots starting in urban areas such as New York , followed by a disruption of business and commerce,” the DHS source added. “They want to restrict travel, if not through high energy prices, then by checkpoints and curfews mandated by the rioting and unrest. The whole purpose is to keep Obama in office for another term, no matter how unpopular he is, as he is not finished changing our country from a Constitutional Republic .”

This certainly isn’t the first rumor to surface about Mr. Obama’s intention to subvert the U.S. Constitution, by manipulating economic, racial and social issues that would polarize Americans and bring on enormous conflict. But the full measure of this contrived event, if true, involves total suspension of our democratic rights, and repression on a scale never thought possible in the America we’ve known and cherished all our lives.

It’s a rumor that bears watching … and is worth spreading because the more people who know about it and understand the high level of deceit and treachery that confronts us daily in Washington , the less likely it is for the rumor to become a reality.

The lesson here is that if people are aware of the possibility, even remote, of some great calamity befalling them, they’re on guard. They’re prepared. Their defenses are up. Those who would commit evil will back down fearing a confrontation they can’t win.

The more we talk about the potential for a staged, bogus presidential assassination that would trigger massive civil unrest and possible martial law, the stronger is our defense against it actually occurring. The nation will be watching. Patriots everywhere will be on alert. The Obama administration will be under scrutiny more intense than ever before. It doesn’t have the guts to take on millions of Americans when we’re ready for anything. Sometimes rumors are a good thing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Who's to Blame and The Dems' Giant Problem

Here’s an example of what I just can’t seem to understand about the American electorate:

On the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley Monday night, Chuck, an independent North Carolina voter, explained why he was volunteering to help elect Mitt Romney after working for Barack Obama in 2008. He lost his job as a salesman for a plastics company in 2009. He blamed Obama for making unspecified decisions that have left him unemployed since then. He blames Obama for losing his house and for being temporarily homeless. “I don’t feel I would have lost my career and so many others would be struggling if they would have made different decisions and our country was in a better state,” said the 46-year-old. 

He was obviously pained. Byron Pitts, the CBS News correspondent, pointed that out. But was Chuck kidding or just numbed by his experience? The economic stresses that cost him his job and home were deeply in play before Obama took office. Businesses rarely lay off salesmen if there’s a hope of getting fresh business. Yes, more people lost jobs after Obama was sworn in, but over the last 30 months there has been a net gain in jobs every month. 

Are Chuck and like-minded voters happy that even as corporate profits soar, even as they pile up cash, companies are not eager to hire back workers? Are they content to watch the earnings power of the working class and middle class erode as the corporate elite fatten their bank statements? Do they really believe in trickle down economics? Have they forgotten what adherence to that mantra meant during the Bush years? Have they not watched as Republicans in Congress stomped on any jobs initiative proposed by the president? 

Earlier in this campaign season it was explained that many hard-pressed workers don’t vote their wallets but rather vote their religious conscience. If they oppose abortion, they’d rather see a Republican in office because they would rather have the reward of a good hereafter than a good material life. But that doesn’t explain Chuck et al. I just don’t understand ...

Tackled: It is widely reported Democrats have the advantage among women and minorities. Republicans have more loyalty among white working class and middle class male voters. Last week Mitt Romney & Company tried to appeal to women. This week the Democrats hope not only to solidify their appeal to women and minorities but also to change some minds among the GOP-leaning faithful and independents, especially those men. Wednesday night they will feature Elizabeth Warren, candidate for Senate from Massachusetts and the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and former president Bill Clinton. Clinton is sure to wow the audience in Charlotte and for that matter, many who tune in to the convention coverage.

Only problem is, many of those desired white male voters will not be watching. They will be glued to their TV sets taking in the season opener of the new National Football League season pitting the Super Bowl champion New York Giants against their arch-rival, the Dallas Cowboys. The game will be carried on NBC, so forget about seeing Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw provide live convention coverage and analysis. Warren and Clinton will be speaking from 10 to 11 pm, during what probably will be the third quarter of the game. Even a lopsided score at that time won’t drive viewers away from the gridiron. 

Women might seek refuge from the football game to watch the convention speeches. Perhaps Warren and Clinton might swing some more of them into the Democratic column. In a tight race, that could offset the wattage lost by having Democratic star power tackled by a Giants-Cowboys football game. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Summer's Over

Another summer gone by, another summer I didn’t learn how to swim. Can’t blame anyone but myself this time. I only dipped into a pool once, despite Ken’s entreaties that he had not yet completed his self-appointed task of teaching me to frolic in deep water. 

I didn’t ride a bike again, either. And from the following headline my reluctance has been validated: 
“Meijer Stores Recalls Bicycles Due to Fall Hazard”.

The accompanying report said pedals were detaching or coming loose during use, 29 times, causing 16 minor injuries. I stopped riding some 10 years ago, not because my bike was coming apart, but rather because I kept falling. 

Softball Update: One more game in the regular season coming up next Sunday. We’ve won three games so far (out of 15), which in this league qualifies for the playoffs because, believe it or not, there’s a team more challenged than we are, and all but the last place team gets into the post-season.

I’m not a Roger Clemens fan, but it’s nice to see a geezer trying to make a comeback. I can advise him from personal experience it’s no fun discovering new injury points. My left knee, which I sprained during the last inning of one of our early wins two months ago, still bothers me and now seems to “crack” all the time, especially when I turn sharply to the left (I know, don’t do that, but it’s hard not to when the staircase to upstairs in our home veers left at the raised living room landing).

As long as we’re talking sports, the NY Yankees lost again today, 4-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yanks’ lead over the Baltimore Orioles is just 1 game, just 2-1/2 over Tampa Bay. A month ago New York had a 10 game margin. 

Throughout the year it’s been either home run power for the Bronx Bombers or futility in hitting with men in scoring position. Though they knocked in three today without the benefit of a home run, in the critical ninth inning when trailing by the tie-breaking run given up in the bottom of the eighth, they twice failed to drive in the tying run in from second and then third base.

Even more of a problem is their batters have come up with an imperfect solution to their puny performance. Over the last month they’ve had so few hits that they place relatively few runners in scoring position. 

Age coupled with the long baseball season seem to have caught up to too many of their players. I can't blame injuries. All teams have them. But few teams are as vulnerable to being tired at this time of the year as the Yankees. I am getting myself mentally prepared for October baseball without pinstripes.

Horse of a Different Color: One of my conservative buddies during the Olympics sent me an email about Ann Romney’s dressage horse. Here it is:

“So the Romneys are selfish for keeping a horse? 
- Employing a groom with a family to support 
- Paying for feed that’s sold by someone with a family to support 
- Transported in trucks by someone with a family to support 
- And manufactured in a factory by people with families to support 
- From stuff that’s grown by farmers with families to support
- And having a barn built by construction workers with families to support 
- With materials trucked by drivers with families to support 
- From factories with workers with families to support.

“Sounds to me like that one horse has done more to put Americans to
work than that horse’s ass in the White House.”

Can’t fault those conservatives for not being imaginative in their attacks. Here’s how I responded: 

“By that reasoning passing the massive Obamacare bill gave work to all those lobbyists, all those typists and collateral people who trucked the bill to Congress, all the commentators who wrote and talked about it, etc., etc., etc., and their families. 

"In the end, Romney’s horse was like him. All show on the outside, but soft inside.”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What I'd Like to Hear, Part II

Having been disappointed by Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech, I thought it only fair to delineate what I expect from Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats this week during their national convention. Yes, Obama inherited a blown up economy, two quagmire wars and mounting deficits. It won’t be enough to recount his successes in bringing home the troops from Iraq and setting a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. It won’t be enough to say he ordered the mission that killed Osama bin Laden and many other drone strikes that have decimated the leadership of al-Qaeda. It won’t be enough to say he saved the auto industry. It won’t be enough to say unemployment would be a lot worse without the stimulus package he pushed through. It won’t be enough to say Obamacare was passed. 

It won’t be enough because Americans always choose to look forward with nary a glance in the rear view mirror. So, Barack, what will you do for us in the next four years? How will you work with Congress? Will you vigorously stump for a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, or will you fight just for the Oval Office chair Clint Eastwood parodied last week? How will you convince us you would not squander a majority in both branches of the legislature if you’re lucky enough to get them? How will you show us you wouldn’t be an emasculated president if Republicans win control of the Senate? Or even if they just retain their House majority? 

Let’s be brutally honest. The last two years amply demonstrated that being chief executive vouchsafed your war powers and your foreign policy visions. But Republicans in the House and Senate effectively stymied your domestic initiatives once Democrats lost working majorities in both chambers. So as they say in Texas Hold ‘Em poker, are you going to go “all in?” Will you appeal directly to the American public and make the case for Democratic congressional and Senate candidates? Congress’ approval rating is at an all-time low because nothing, nothing is being done under the present configuration. 

You need to sell the total Democratic package. You need to set forth a vision and a program, a specific program, to get more people back to work. To create more jobs. To reduce the deficit. To prosecute white collar criminals in the financial industry with the same vigor that ordinary people face when they violate the law. To rebuild the infrastructure of our country, not with lofty words but with real projects that put people on the payroll. Will you fight for an increase in the minimum wage so working families can gain some additional purchasing power? How will you protect the solvency of Medicare and Social Security? How will you project American strength versus China and Russia? Romney has chosen belligerency. You must show strength, not appeasement. 

Romney tried to sell disappointment in Obama offset by trust in a largely unknown challenger. Obama must emerge from his convention as a battler, a leader who will fight not just to retain his job but as someone who will champion the middle and working classes with specific programs. Programs to create jobs. Jobs. Jobs.