Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A few hopes for the coming year

Here it is: New Year's Eve and the end of 2008, thank heaven.

First of all, a heartfelt thank you to the steady readers of this posting. The thanks go double to all of you who have taken the time to write a comment about what I've had to say. I've agreed  with many, disagreed with some, especially about Israel. But I appreciate the fact that most have been honest and express true feelings.

Last year, I set down some hopes for this year. Some of them actually came true -- such as electing a president and Congress who will actually have the good of the nation at heart. I know, I know, it's early, but at least Barack Obama and the Democrats are talking a good game.
We also may get smaller, more efficient cars and $45-a-barrel oil  actually costs less than that now. The Arabs still think they can push Israel into the sea, and the Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, are still willing to die for that forlorn hope.

Finally, those in the mortgage industry are not being punished, as I hoped they would. The government is giving billions to those who didn't care or messed up. Those who kept up with their payments, no matter how difficult that was to have become and how much sacrifice that would take, are left to their own devices. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

So, how about next year. 

Hope one: President Barack Obama is as good as his word and all the Democrats in the House and Senate, plus a few Republicans who love their country more than their party, will get together and start to clean up the economic and political mess left them by Bush-Cheney and the do-nothing administration. 

Hope two: The rest of the world will forget the last eight years and remember that the U.S. has stood for what is good. We can again be a force for right and justice. The America Firsters were wrong in 1917, 1940 and are wrong now. We need to be the moral compass of the world...the United Nations certainly isn't doing it.

Hope three: That this nearly-trillion-dollar shot in the arm we are giving the economy spurs some improvement and fast. Those who saved for their retirement found that much of their savings has gone away because of the flight from the equity markets. The Roosevelt maxim that "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," is as true now as it was during the Great Depression. If credit is loosened, people will begin to buy again. If the investors who run the markets stop being afraid of this or that or the other, maybe some of the people who saved their whole lives to be able to enjoy their retirement will be able to do that, rather than have to choose between food and medicine.

Hope four: People start to realize that Thomas Jefferson was right: you cannot have a functioning democracy without a strong, free press. The right-wing ideologues who inhabit the radio and Fox News Channel are not a free, fair press.  

We have allowed big business to take over the news business. The Tribune Co., with real estate mogul Sam Zell at the helm, is down at the head and sinking fast. While Sam Zell's losing a fortune is him getting his just desserts, taking some of the nation's, and the region's, premiere news sources down with him is dangerous. 

Ditto to the Journal-Register Co., a group who thought their house of cards would never blow over. Well, it has. While the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register-Citizen papers limp along, newspapers in New Britain, Bristol and a number of weeklies have but days to live. Sucking down  longtime nameplates like the Hamden Chronicle, West Haven News, Branford Review, Clinton Recorder and others down as it sinks is indefensible. 
Look, news is special, it's important and where you get it is important. You can't count on bloggers who don't know the difference between fact and rumor for news. News must come from sources like The New Haven Independent, where each story is vetted by an editor. Facts must be checked, fairness analyzed and importance determined. Weak as they are, the New Haven Register, Connecticut Post, Hartford Courant and New London Day are important.

Hope five: And thanks for staying with it this long. We need to expect more from our leaders locally. Is the mayor doing the job for New Haven and not pandering to what he feels is his base? Is the Board of Aldermen fulfilling its mandate as an independent check and balance on the mayor and the administration? Is the school board doing its job, not pandering to the loudest voices? Are those who pay the taxes being heard and fairly represented and not being bled dry? Ask yourselves these questions. If the answer is yes, then fine. If not, then do something about it. Attend meetings. Don't be afraid of being called an "ist". Talk up. Run for office. 

Again, thanks for reading. Let's hope that this year is not as bad as predicted so that those of us who have worked hard and done the right things can start enjoying the fruits of our labor and those who have not can find the way, through education, to begin. 

Happy new year to all.

Until next time in the new year...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

When you defend yourself, you don't hold back

The Israelis have begun a long-overdue response to the unprovoked, dastardly and cowardly rocket attacks on its civilian population by Hamas from inside Gaza. 

For months, even while spouting propaganda about a ceasefire, the Iranian-backed Hamas has fired rocket after rocket into Israel. The latest bombardment used longer-range rockets that can target large population areas. Israel could not sit on its hands.

Most rational people will agree with those statements, but some are saying that Israel's response was disproportionate. Hamas fired off many rockets and mortars, and then Israel came back like an avenging angel, dropping bomb after bomb and firing missile after missile. It looks as if Israel will go back into the area that it left three years ago, at least for a little while.

Some people, however, say that Israel's response is disproportionate.

Let's look at that. 

Is it disproportionate to use whatever force you have available to stop an enemy from harming your civilian population? Isn't the protection of its citizens a primary duty of any government, be it city, state or national? 

A little runt goes after the big guy, kicking him in the shins, hitting him from the back, telling lies about him, making his life miserable or worse. When the big guy finally has had enough and hauls off and cleans the runt's clock, it is disproportionate?

When I was 16 and my sister was 10, she was being bothered by a kid a year or two older. He was bothering her at the school bus stop. One day, I made it my business to be at the bus stop because she had complained about this little twerp's bothering her. 

When I arrived, he was sitting on his bicycle and had her pinned up against a fence. I told him to knock it off. He asked what I was going to do about it. I told him I would throw him over the fence. He said he wasn't going to get off his bike, so I wouldn't be able to carry out my threat.

Well, it so happened that I had gone out for football that year and I was in pretty good shape. So, I picked up the bike, with him on it, and tossed both over the fence. As my sister and I walked away, he was crying and screaming threats. Needless to say, he never bothered my sister again.

Was that a disproportionate response?

The point is if you attack someone who can wipe up the floor with you, then you shouldn't be surprised if they do just that. 

What should Israel do? They tried talking. They used their own soldiers to pry its citizens out of their homes in Gaza and gave Gaza to the Palestinians. What did the Palestinians do? They used Gaza as a base from which to attack Israel.

Should Israel count the number of rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza and fire only that number back at Gaza. Most of the rockets used by the Hamas against Israel are not guided. The gunners have no idea where the rockets will go and couldn't care less. They have killed their own people in Gaza with errant rockets. They don't seem to care? Should Israel do the same?

At the same time that Israel is targeting Hamas bases and rocket pods, it is allowing food, medical supplies and fuel into Gaza so the civilian population will be harmed as little as possible. This is not the action of a cruel tyrant state.

The Palestinian population must realize that its election of Hamas as the ruling entity in Gaza is the worst mistake it has made and  it must do something about it. It will take guts to toss out the ruling Hamas thugs. Until the Palestinians living in Gaza do that, however, they will continue to be the pawns in a chess game directed not by their elected representatives, but from Tehran and Damascus.

The Palestinians are the ones being hurt by the Hamas and its Iranian rulers. And they are being hurt disproportionately.  But only they can free themselves. 

Until next time...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Some hopeful signs for the new year

Happy Boxing Day. 

Well, Christmas is over, and with it those horrible Target ads with bad poetry and people gushing as if they swallowed too many happy pills. Target wasn't the only one with horrible ads urging people to give (read buy) for the holiday, but they were so frequent. I may boycott Target for a month or so.

It's part of what my friend The Rev calls the rank commercialism of a holiday meant to bring hope to the masses. 

The only hope we seem to read about is the hope by merchants that the weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of the year will bring in sufficient business to make up for a  lackluster year. Today, merchants are hoping that people will return gifts they didn't like, trade up for more expensive ones and buy things they had hoped to receive but did not. 

It looks as if those hopes will be dashed. In some cases, it's Darwinian -- extinction of those who are not fit to survive. Case in point: I was in a store buying a handmade gift for a Christian friend. I spotted something I didn't really need but would have liked to have. It was priced at $40...a bit rich for my purse, but within range. Three times, I mentioned that to the storekeeper...asking him how much the item cost. Now, this guy had a going-out-of-business sign in the back of his store. My wife and I were the only customers in the place.

In many societies, and in the minds of smart merchants, my bringing up the item and the price three times would have signaled a willingness to purchase the item, but for a lower price. It should have begun a bargaining process and likely would have resulted in a sale. But he didn't get it, and I didn't buy it. 

Page 2

In six days, it will be 2009. 2008 has been a horrible year for a lot of people, including those who were counting on investments to get them through their retirement years or enhancing their incomes. People with mortgages they could barely afford are finding that they can't afford them at all. People who had followed the rules, bought houses they could afford and who were struggling to keep up with their payments while paying $4-plus a gallon for gas, shelling out more for food and clothes and education for their families, are finding themselves left out of the freebie benefits pond. 

Money seems to be going to those who bought houses they knew or should have known they could not afford, or who took out the equity in their homes to buy cars, vacations or pay off credit cards with tax-deductible money, counting on the rocketing housing market to keep on going forever. 

But there is hope on the horizon. The election of Barack Obama should bring relief to those who don't own oil companies or know people who do. Fuel prices have come down, so you can now fill up your car for $20 (notice I didn't say SUV), heat your home without selling your eldest child and buy food at more reasonable prices (unless you need to eat kosher meat, then all bets are off.)

Among hopeful signs: The Lebanese Army found and dismantled eight Hisbollah rockets aimed at Israel. A couple of years ago, that would not have happened. One notices that the people at the nearby United Nations post did nothing. Useless United Nations -- that's a redundancy. 

Another very hopeful sign is the realization by banks and other mortgage holders that they need to be part of the solution after being a large part of the problem.

According to a friend who knows of these things, banks and others are taking the initiative to stave off foreclosures. In one example, a mortgage-holder lowered the interest rate on a trouble mortgage, lowered the payments and transferred the amount in arrears to the end of the mortgage period, bringing the loan current. That's not an isolated incident, my friend said. 

Congratulations to the banks involved. It's smart business. You should tell people you are doing's great public relations and corporate citizenship.

Page 3

I have stopped sending e-mails or letters to the editor to the New York Times. But if I did, it would read something like this:

In your well-reasoned editorial on immigration in the edition of Dec. 26, you used the kosher slaughterhouse at Postville, Iowa, as an example of how the current immigration strategy hurts immigrants. 

The people who ran that operation should suffer the worst fate that could be imagined. No thinking person could debate that.

But why is this one business singled out constantly? There are many, many other slaughterhouses that transport illegal immigrants into this country, but them to work in hellish conditions, offer attractive women better working condition in return for sexual favors, assign children to dangerous work. None of these nonkosher businesses are mentioned in stories or editorials. Why are Jews mentioned as the only examples of these travesties? 

Page 4

In a couple of days, Len'sLens will offer its second annual hopes for the new year list. Stay tuned and rest up. 

Have a great up from the shoveling, the caroling, the gift opening and the commercial-watching retching. And to those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos, and a happy Hanukkah .

Until next time...

Monday, December 22, 2008

That was the week it was

Happy Monday and Happy Hanukkah (the official AP Stylebook spelling) to all in the Tribe.

This past week, friend wife has been a bit under the weather, and then the weather was a bit under the weather. More about that later.

On Monday, my wife began what she called her never-ending birthday celebration, which actually ended on Friday. 

As part of the celebration, we saw the Capitol Steps on Thursday at the Shubert. It turned out to be a fund-raiser for Christian Community Action (CCA), which made it that much more special. 

If you haven't seen Capitol Steps, try to catch their act. It's political satire with a beat, and these folks are funny with a capital FUN. They harpooned everything from the Clintons to Sarah Palin to, of course, W. 

But almost as funny was one of the introducers. 

The Platinum Sponsor of the event was the Stratton Faxon law firm, which, by the way, also is the prime sponsor of the Labor Day road race in New Haven. These guys give away more than 10 percent of their fees to charity. That's great and they should be commended for it.

They should, however, spend a little bit for communications consulting (at the Word Hive Communications LLC, we'd be happy to help). 

Stratton Faxon's business is plaintiff's law. Some of the practitioners of this are known, somewhat uncharitably, as ambulance-chasers, and the public tends to paint the entire industry with a broad brush.

One of the partners of Statton Faxon took the stage, before the Capitol Steps came on, to help introduce the troupe and take a bow for being the prime sponsor. That's fine. There was a banner hung in front of the background curtains with the firm's name on it, at least as big as CCA's banner. So far, no problem. You pony up the big bucks, you deserve to take a bow.

But the lawyer took it bit too far. He launched into a long defense of plaintiff's lawyers and tried to explain and justify the famous case of a woman who got a multimillion-dollar judgment from McDonald's  over spilled hot coffee. 

Look, if you need to justify your business, maybe you shouldn't be in it. Any firm that gives as much of its income to charities as Stratton Faxon doesn't have to justify itself. People that good-hearted aren't the type who go to accident scenes and hand out business cards. 

Everybody knows, or should know, that plaintiff's lawyers have a purpose and the good ones do a service to people who are getting stepped on. 

A little free advice. Next time, take your bow, say you were happy to do whatever it was that you did, smile and sit down.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

Page 2

Another raft of news sources have been stilled and another diminished this past week.

The weekly newspapers owned by the Journal-Register Corp. will close, its staff out of jobs and another source of oversight over the doings of local government is or soon will be gone. 

No matter how weak they had become, these weeklies were a source of news people needed to know and news people wanted to know. You'll notice comments at the end of the Independent story, much of which is a lot of carping about the lack of hard news in the papers. 

Some of it, I'm sure, is justified, but a lot of it translates to, "they didn't report the news I'm interested in in the way I want to see it." Many Independent readers are local-news junkies who aren't interested in the chicken-dinner events that, like it or not, are what many if not most weekly-paper readers look for. 

The watchword in most newspapers, aside from the New York Times and national publications of that ilk, is for local-local news, and that's what weeklies give. Staffs work long, long hours for low pay and few benefits. There used to be satisfaction, but most of that is gone because so many weeklies are owned by chains that shouldn't have bought them in the first place. The chains bring in some hotshot from Kansas who tells you how to cover local news in Branford or Hamden or Guilford or Milford.

In addition, Channel 8, the local ABC affiliate that also does news shows for My9, a station that shares facilities with WTNH and does a 10 p.m. newscast, has laid off a number of  news staffers. The Late 8, as they have been known for decades, has been doing what many local TV stations do. The programming is: If It Bleeds, It Leads; Press Releases; Read the Local Paper; Localize Feeds From Network.

Add this to the problems being faced by the Tribune Co., which owns The Hartford Courant and the New Haven Advocate, as well as WTIC-TV, Channel 61 in Hartford, and you have a bleak future for news in Connecticut. 

Page 3

I know this is going to sound petty, especially for those who live on streets that have hardly seen a plow or evidence of one's passage, but I would like to thank all the plow drivers who work on wide streets such as mine. 

In fact, there was one who was so dedicated that he stopped his plow in front of my house, backed up, ran his plow the length of my yard, then backed up another time, just to make sure that enough snow and huge chunks of ice were dumped on my freshly shoveled sidewalk and driveway.

My street is as wide, if not wider, than major thoroughfares such as Fountain Street, Whalley Avenue, Whitney Avenue and The Boulevard. Why, in this time of restricted budgets, curb-to-curb plowing is necessary is beyond me. I once stopped a plow driver who had just dumped a bunch of snow into the driveway I was shoveling out and asked him that question. He said he was ordered to plow from curb to curb and told he could lose his job if he failed to comply.

I know the fact that my street is one that the mayor drives on his way home has nothing to do with this situation. 

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. 

Until next time...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Things are getting stranger and stranger

Just when you thought things couldn't get any stranger...President Bush goes grandstanding in Iraq instead of staying home and tending to the mess his party made on the auto bailout.

So what does he get for his trouble? The Arab version of the bird, you know, the finger -- a pair of shoes tossed at him. Serves him right.

A few years ago, while studying Japanese customs before writing a story on how to do business with the Japanese and preparing to greet a Japanese family we were "hosting" through a Yale program, I studied up on some international customs. In some cultures, it's considered a prime insult to show the bottoms of the feet. In others, shaking hands is taboo, while in others, extending the left hand is considered bad form. Some men kiss, while in some cultures, like Israeli, polite conversation involves a lot of yelling.

I came upon the shoe thing with many Arab cultures. I guess Bush now knows about that, too.

There are about 35 days left in the Bush presidency. He should sign whatever deal is made on the auto industry, then take himself to Crawford, Texas, for the rest of the time. He should return on Jan. 20 to hand over the keys to the executive washroom (yes, the Lowinsky memorial executive washroom).

He should also know with certainty about the applause he receives on Jan. 20. It's like the windbag speaker who finally sits down. The applause isn't for what he said, but only because he finished saying it.

Page 2 -- How dumb can you get?

President-elect Barack Obama asked the Bush administration for permission to move into Blair House, the official guest residence, on Jan. 5, so his children could start school with the new term. 

Bush administration officials said no. They had an explanation. It doesn't matter. It was a stupid thing to do. So what if the residence was promised to someone else? Move them into a hotel. When the new sheriff comes to town, you don't want to tick him off. It's true that these officials probably would have been out of a job anyway, but now they've ticked off the most powerful man in the world . Not a good move for people who will be looking for a job.

Barack Obama doesn't seem like a man who suffers fools or insults lightly.

Ask Alfredo Carrion. 

This guy was supposed to be secretary of housing and urban development. He then opened his big mouth at a Yale talk. You don't talk about a Cabinet appointment until after the big guy announces it.

Sure, he's getting a good job with the new administration. He has the president's ear. But what he doesn't have is a Cabinet appointment. He doesn't have a seat at the big table in the Cabinet room. He isn't in the line of presidential succession. He doesn't get to sit in the front row at the State of the Union. He doesn't get the big office, the big car and all the rest that goes with being a member of the Cabinet. I think he now knows to keep his big mouth shut. Tough lesson.

Page 3 -- You gotta have tzaichel

Tzaichel is a Yiddish word. It means common sense, or good sense. 

The cops in New Haven don't seem to have it when it comes to issuing parking tickets.

A couple of years ago, they towed some cars in Jewish neighborhoods on Jewish holidays during street sweeping. They posted the warnings during the holidays, when Orthodox and many Conservative Jews are forbidden from driving, then towed the cars the next day. 
Now they towed cars outside a church while an important service was going on inside.

Yes, cars at the church were double-parked, but, according to the story in the New Haven Independent, the practice had been going on for years. Blatchley Avenue is not one of the city's prime avenues, so a little double-parking isn't a threat to life or limb.

The cops in New York have been ticketing cars during snow storms for violating the alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules. Those stupid rules mean that, for two hours every other day, cars have to be moved so street sweeping can happen.

The City Council finally had enough and is passing an ordinance stopping this practice, which does little except fatten the city coffers. 

Maybe it's time the Board of Aldermen pass a law that makes it illegal to ticket cars on holidays and celebrations. The city needs money, but doesn't need it that badly.

Page 4 -- Happy Birthday

I just want to publicly say happy birthday to my wife, Sue. My partner for the past 37-plus years in life and one-plus in business, she, of course, is celebrating by helping one of the kids. That's what she does.

Much love and many, many, many happy returns.

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Judge not lest ye be overpaid for judging

Most important, happy birthday to Tamar

Tamar C. Spoerri is 7 years old today. Happy birthday to her. 

Let me tell you a little about this young lady. First, obviously, she's cute. You can see that. Oh, did I tell you that she's our granddaughter...but I'll bet you figured that out yourselves.

She's also very, very smart. She is an instigator at her school, trying to get the teachers to do as she wants, not necessarily as they do. She also takes care of her two younger brothers when her mom, Malka, needs to focus her attention on other things. 

So, happy birthday to Tamar, who will be the guest of honor at a birthday party in her honor in the very near future. 

Oh, and did I say she's cute?

Page 2

Some time ago, last summer in fact, I did a rant about the state of justice in this nation and took television judges to task for it. Oh, it's tough being a pioneer.

In next month's Reason magazine, or right now in its Web edition, Greg Beato talks about some of the judges I ranted about, including Judge Judy, Judge Mathis and others.

I didn't know, for example, that Judge Judy, otherwise known as Judith Sheindlin, makes $38 million a year being snippy to those who enter her courtroom to get arbitration. She accuses them of wasting her time, being too liberal with their affections and having too many children they cannot afford or care for.

I'm not saying Beato copied me...I'm sure he never heard of me. It's never easy being a pioneer.

One of the judges he mentions, and about whom I have to chuckle every time I look in, is Judge Jeanine Pirro. 

Ms. Pirro is the former district attorney in Westchester County New York. A smart, determined woman, she ran for New York Attorney General and lost. She also considered a run for the U.S. Senate seat eventually won by Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

The problem is she kept tripping over her husband, Albert, who seemed to get arrested for something or other about the time his wife was starting a bid for an office.

Al Pirro is a force in Westchester politics and real estate, but was convicted of federal tax charges, fathered a child out of wedlock, was reputed to have mob ties. Read all about it in this New York Daily News story about her finally, finally kicking him out after refusing to do so because, as she put it, her son needs a father. 

So, it's kind of funny that Jeanine sits behind a fake bench in a fake courtroom and dispenses advice to those who come before her about their relationships with husbands, wives, girl and boyfriends and the like. 

I guess she knows what not to do, so she can pull advice out of a deep, deep well of personal experience. Like Greg Mathis, who tells of a history of gangs, jail and second chances, Jeanine knows of what she speaks. 

Page 3

The local chamber of commerce had a forecast breakfast Wednesday morning. It was held too early for me to attend, but the New Haven Independent has a link where you can download the PowerPoint charts the speakers used. 

There wasn't really anything surprising. We're in a recession, a bad one, and whoever doesn't know that may want to remove their head from the hole in the ground where it has been residing. 

We have been through downturns before, perhaps not as bad as this. For people of my age group, people who were born during World War II, the timing could not have been worse. A lifetime's worth of savings is diminished, at least temporarily. You have to be a lot more careful in your spending than you thought you would.

But, prices are starting to come down, at least on some of the things we all need. If you are careful, and didn't buy the Bimmer with the equity on your house, or didn't get into a mortgage the village idiot could have told you that you couldn't afford, you should be OK. 

It's not fair to lose a good portion of your life's savings because of the mistakes and greed of others, but who said life was fair? 

Until next time...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tribune files for bankruptcy protection: more bad news

Happy Monday. We had a nice weekend. A little more about that later.

I never thought I would feel bad about the Tribune Co. hitting the rocks, but I do.

The Chicago-based chain today (Dec. 8, 2008) filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Act. That means it will reorganize itself while protected from some creditors. 

Tribune owns, among other things, The Hartford Courant, WTIC and WTXX television stations, the New Haven Advocate, and major national publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Chicago Tribune. It also owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, but that's not part of the bankruptcy. The team has enough problems on its own.

Sam Zell, the real estate magnate who apparently ran the chain into the ground, sent a memo to staffers, telling them their pay and benefits such as 401(k) plans were safe. The employee stock option plan (ESOP), however, is another matter, the memo said. 

I worked for Tribune in 1990-1991 at the New York Daily News. Trib's management style can only be called Draconian, and the chain finally gave the paper away to British con man Robert Maxwell, who ran it for a couple of years, stripped money from it, and it eventually lost it. He also lost his life in a mysterious fashion on his yacht, or rather under it. 

The papers and television stations owned by Tribune contribute a large percentage of what stands for news coverage in the state, and it would be really bad to have that pared down, especially with the probable closing of the New Britain Herald and Bristol Press. 

Newspapers in Connecticut are in big, big trouble. That's not news to anyone who's paying attention. Much of the state is relegated to the tender mercies of Journal-Register, a horrible company employing some talented reporters, editors, photographers, artists and the like. Last week, the share price for its stock was 60 mills - that's $.006. These reporters and photographers, at least some of them, are talented and hard-working, but have little in the way of resources. 

The Hearst Corp. has taken over Fairfield County, with the exception of the Norwalk Hour. Gannett sold the Norwich Bulletin to a regional chain and the New London Day has been laying off people. The Waterbury Republican-American is hanging on, as are the Manchester-Rockville Journal-Inquirer and Willimantic Chronicle.

At a time when we need more and varied information, it's getting harder and harder to come by. The weakening of the Hartford Courant will take us in the wrong direction.

Page 2: A little break from the sweetness

If you are getting  little sick of the sweetness and buy-buy-buy ethos of the holiday season, a little weary of 24-hour Yule carols on certain radio stations and the injection of the season in everything, there may be a respite for you. 

Two friends, plus friend wife and I, went to Bridgeport yesterday and took in "The Santaland Diaries and Season's Greetings" by David Sedaris at the Playhouse on the Green on State Street. 

This two-act, double soliloquy is irreverent, biting and funny in the black-humor sort of way. The first act is Scott R. Brill, telling of his adventures as an elf at Macy's Santaland.  He pulls it off beautifully, a droll wonder of an actor playing an actor playing a seasonal elf.

Kim McGrath is a wealthy, well-established housewife whose recent tragedy would not be allowed to interfere with the joy of the season. It's a prime example of black humor.

Go and enjoy. The seats are $27, $25 for seniors, $15 for students and less if you belong to TheatreMania or other discount groups. It's presented mostly on weekends, but the site will give you specifics.

My friend Al, who, with wife, Cheryl, accompanied us, said Bridgeport is trying to reinvent itself downtown with restaurants, theaters, clubs and the like. It's a few years behind New Haven in that regard, but many of the wonderful, old bank buildings have been reused.

Al says the Bridgeport plans include condos and apartments, so that people could live downtown, like New Haven. The skeleton of one such plan sits at a corner, the victim of the current financial crisis, but I hope this renaissance continues. 

Page 3: Three cheers for Barack

I watched President-elect Obama's interview with Tom Brokaw on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning. 

One of the questions Brokaw asked is that if the price of gas is coming down to where people can fill up for less than $20, aren't they going to go back to the SUV's and large trucks that are anathema to the move for more efficient transportation? If so, why not raise the tax on gasoline so that people are paying $4 a gallon, which people had been paying anyway until a month ago or so? Would that not raise money for infrastructure and help the drive toward greener cars?

This is the same theory that Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times has been plugging.

Obama said no. He said because there are so many people who are hurting through no fault of their own, it wouldn't be right to penalize them even more by artificially raising the price of gas. These are people who had lost their jobs, whose houses were being foreclosed upon, whose savings had been trampled, and who may need their cars to seek out work.

Good common sense prevailed over theory. At some point, it might make sense to hike the price of gas, but not now. 

I think he's right. I don't want to see people selling pencils on the street corner, with signs saying "Homeless due to a theory."

Page 4: Happy birthday, Tamar

The day after tomorrow, a cute little girl named Tamar Spoerri will be 7 years old. She's very smart and very determined. Let's all wish her a very happy birthday. 

Until next time...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How not to build up Goodwill

Good Thursday. 

Before we get started on today's rant, a little unfinished business. 

The last time I raised the subject, I said the Kosher Express Chinese restaurant was all but out of business, but that some people were trying to breathe life into the moribund Amity business.

Forget it. All efforts have failed and the Kosher Express is officially dead. The shopping center has taken down the sign at its entrance. There is no Chinese restaurant now between New Rochelle and Boston. 

My wife, Sue, and I yesterday were driving back from New York (more about that later) and stopped at Eden Wok in New Rochelle for some kosher Chinese.

The meal was fine, well-served. The waitress served water and nibbles as we sat down. The proper plates were served with shared appetizers and main course choices. Requests were fulfilled quickly. The food was OK -- the soup was a little salty and the lo mein noodles a little dark, but the vegetables were crisp and fresh.

If only Kosher Express could have mounted that level of service....well, it was not to be. 

Page 2

Driving in New York, even away from Midtown, is a challenge. 

Driving on 181st Street near Broadway is maddening. Bus drivers think they have the right to drive into traffic at will. Pedestrians stroll across the street, not only at corners but as if the cars were only figments of somebody's imagination. Other drivers seem to feel the same way.

The axiom that two solid objects cannot fit into the same space at the same time is lost on most of the drivers and walkers.

Yesterday was worse than average. At about 5 p.m., we headed for the Cross-Bronx from Broadway. Traffic wasn't crawling. It just wasn't moving at all. We followed a couple of cars that were trying to work their way around the mess. Finally, we found the source of the stoppage. It was a bus, loading passengers. The rear end of the bus was in the travel lane, halting everything. The dozens of passengers boarding the bus took what seemed like forever to get on board.

But, you may ask, why did the rear end of the bus stick out into the travel lane? Well, I'm glad you asked. It was because half the bus stop was taken up by a box truck, standing illegally as it was being loaded with rolling cages of what looked like shmatas (rags). 

The bus was finally loaded and lumbered along on its way and we finally were able to draw even with the truck. 

It was from Goodwill.

Sorry, but if I have anything to give away this year, or next for that matter, it's going anyone but Goodwill. Yes, I know these were probably volunteers loading the truck. But  there was a Goodwill center nearby and if you are responsible manager, you don't allow one of your trucks to inhabit a bus stop during rush hour on a busy street.

No shmatas for you.

Page 3

Things are really getting nasty out there in work land, or rather, lack of work land. 

At my former employer, about 36 people were laid off in Westchester at The Journal News. One guy, my former immediate boss, learned he no longer had a job when his key card didn't allow him access to the building as he reported to work Tuesday. Nobody deserves that. 
Jacques LeSourd, the well-regarded Broadway critic, no longer has a job. Neither does the woman who was running the Rockland Journal News after her former boss got the ax a few weeks ago.

Closer to home, there is a move to save The Herald (formerly the New Britain Herald) and the Bristol Press from being closed by the Journal Register Co. That's the outfit that brings you the New Haven Register.

I hope they succeed in keeping the papers going. JRC has threatened to close them if nobody buys them by early next year. Unfortunately, there may be a Greek tragedy at work here. That's when something that was done in the past brings an inevitable bad result in the present for future.

More than 20 years ago, JRC's ancestor company, Ingersoll, bought the Register for debt. In other words, little cash changed hands, but the company used junk bonds to buy it. It bought much of its chain for promises to pay. It kept on buying newspapers, hoping that some of them would bring enough capital to pay off the debt. It bought a bunch of papers in the Midwest fairly recently. 

The gamble didn't pay off. The stock is worth $0.006 a share at last look. Blame the economy. Blame bad management. Blame an ill wind. Whatever. 

It's a shame. There are some talented and dedicated people working at the Register. I run into them from time to time. There are good reporters and photographers who should only have to worry about getting the news to the reader, instead of whether they will have a job next week or month. 

All this debt is preventing legitimate companies from buying profitable parts of JRC. For example, the Register makes money. But it also carries millions and millions of dollars in debt. 

So, although local and state politicians are trying to keep the papers open, the chances of success are slim to none. It takes a lot of money to start a paper. A Web paper is a good idea. In New Haven, according to the New York Times, the New Haven Independent is competing with the Register and beating it with some regularity. 

Page 4

Something must be said about the tragedy in Mumbai.

The real tragedy is that nothing has changed for a thousand years. You have a problem with a neighbor, kill the Jews. You are upset about something, kill the Jews.

Some terrorists from Pakistan were upset about something, maybe Kashmir, maybe they couldn't raise the money to get to Mecca for the hajj, maybe their girlfriends laughed at them, whatever. So, they shot up a railroad station and a couple of hotels where foreigners stay. 

That's illogical enough. But then, they had to go kill some Jews. And the Indians could not prevent the slaughter. 

So, what has changed. The names of the innocent, the locations, but little else. It was Munich, 1972, or Poland, 1940, or any one of a thousand, thousand other places. 

So now, we pick up the pieces. We mourn the dead and promise to look after the 2-year-old orphan. We make the older child as comfortable as possible, the older child who has Tay Sachs disease, a horrible, fatal genetic affliction for which there is a blood test that every responsible Jewish couple should take.

We mourn and go on. What else can we do?

Until next time...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sadness and outrage

Things are sad this Friday for a number of reasons.

First of all, five Hasidic Jews were found murdered by the people who took over two hotels, a Jewish center, and some other buildings in Mumbai, which used to called Bombay, India. The  couple who ran the Chabad center, Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivky, were killed, but their child, 2, was rescued by a cook. 

Nearly 200 others were killed, including three more at the Chabad center, in the  massacre that also took place at two hotels frequented by Westerners. At least two Americans are said to be among the dead.

We spent a wonderful Thanksgiving at the home of our daughter and son-in-law, Andrea and Mike, in Amherst, Mass. One of the other guests was a man named Sam, who had lived in Mumbai and knew the Holtzbergs. He said they were warm, giving people who spent their time trying to make the Jews who had to be in Mumbai feel a little less strange. They also worked with the Jewish community in the city that was the financial center of India.

We know the Holtzbergs and the others who died are with God this Shabbos. We hope those who killed them get their just desserts in this life and the next. 

Closer to home, there's the unbelievable story about a man who was killed by a mob who couldn't wait to get into a Wal-Mart on Long Island. They literally broke down the doors in their rush to spend money, and the part-time worker was trampled to death by the mob.

Not only that, but the mob (I don't know of any other word for those people) tried to push aside a group of police officers who were trying to revive the victim in their rush to get a bargain on whatever thing was so important to them. 

Their only just punishment is that whatever it is that they just had to have never works properly, that the recipient of the bloodstained gift doesn't want it and that the store, who should have thrown this mob back into the street but lusted after their money, doesn't stand behind this bloody gift.

Attention, shoppers. If you believe in the teachings of Jesus, what would he say about this scene?

One more note of sadness. Bert Resch was buried this morning. He died Wednesday afternoon after a long series of illnesses, with his father, Sol, by his side.

Bert was a man whom I didn't know well, but instinctively liked. He lived with and took care of his father, who, if not 90 years old, is knocking at the door.

A father should not have to bury a child. Sol is a likable old man who goes to synagogue every day, twice a day, no matter what. 

May God turn the sorrow felt by Sol, his other son, Tom, and family quickly into pleasant memories of their son, brother and uncle.

Have a great weekend. The stock market is up for five days in a row, but we still have a long, long way to go to dig ourselves out of this financial quagmire. 

Again, have a great weekend, and for those in the Tribe, have a great Shabbos.

Until next time...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No egg drop soup for you!

After being on life support for a couple of years, the only kosher Chinese restaurant between New York's and Boston's suburbs packed it in last month. 

In fact, Kosher Express was the only kosher Chinese restaurant, absent the Boston suburbs, between New Rochelle and Montreal, Canada. With that much territory from which to draw, one would think the place would be a rousing success. 

No such luck. 

There are some efforts going on to revive the business, located in the Amity shopping plaza on the New Haven-Woodbridge town line. I don't think they have much of a chance. 

The reasons the place failed, well, let's not go into that. It serves no purpose. You do a post mortem to learn why something died, to learn from your mistakes. We in New Haven won't learn, so why bother.

If you are a masochist and want to open a business, then running a restaurant is for you. It's a business with ridiculous hours,  impossible customer-service goals and few rewards. Running a kosher restaurant is all that to the 10th power. 

Not only do you deal with personal tastes (or lack thereof), but you are dealing with the myriad requirements of kashrut as interpreted by myriad "experts." Add in the fact that it was a meat restaurant and the odds of success dwindle to a precious few. 

In this case, the owners really never got it as far as service was concerned. 

Restaurant service is more than slapping food down on a table. As a source said many years ago, a restaurant meal is an entertainment experience as much as, or even more than, a way to assuage hunger. Not so at Kosher Express. 

The food was quite good for kosher Chinese. I threw a birthday party for my wife there a couple of years ago and the food was really good and there was plenty of it. Nobody complained about the food. There needed to be more of those experiences for the general community for the place to succeed. It just couldn't get itself together.

It's too bad. I'm sorry to see it go. 

Page 2

Here's an idea for a sharp city alderman who is a regular reader of this posting. It's free.

Once of the ideas police circulate for prevention of burglaries is not to advertise that you've gone away for a while. 

The cops advise residents who will be away to suspend newspaper delivery and mail service if you have an outside mailbox and not a mail slot. Don't order items to be delivered while you are away. 

But there should be a law against others advertising that you are away. That's what people do when they shove advertising fliers in your storm door handle or leave them on your porch where potential burglars can spot them. 

That should be illegal and if a homeowner returns to find such a flier, the business promoting itself in this fashion should be liable for a hefty fine. 

Page 3

Kudos to Alderman Sergio Rodriguez and the Livable City Initiative. 

There is a house in my neighborhood that is clearly abandoned, probably due to foreclosure. It was getting really ratty -- the lawn not mowed and the rest of the signs that screamed: burglarize me. 

A couple of weeks ago, an LCI crew came by, mowed the lawn, cleaned up the outside of the place and made it look respectable.

I'm sure my Westville neighbors join me in thanking you for the effort.

Until next time...

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's Christmas, not the holidays

Happy Monday. I hope your weekend was as good as mine.

Thanksgiving is coming up Thursday, a day to be with family and friends and, for some people, a day to plan the next day's all-out shopping extravaganza.

On Friday, the news media, especially television reporters, will breathlessly report on people who lined up before dawn to be the first to grab that gotta-have gift for the kids. After all, how long does it take to cover the semi-annual feast given for the less fortunate?

Hey, I'm not picking on anyone. Just last year, at the urging of friend wife, I found myself standing in line around midnight to get into the late and much-lamented CompUSA for first crack at the bargains. It was fun to do. Once. 

So now starts the time of the year when it is impossible for someone to enter a store, walk in a mall, turn on many radio stations and the rest without hearing Christmas music.

You'll notice I didn't say holiday music. I nearly puked last year every time I heard Rachel Ray talk about the holidays this and the holidays that when doing Dunkin Donuts ads. 

It's not the holidays. It's Christmas. It's a Christian holiday in a Christian country and I don't understand why people have to try to make it inclusive. 

Cards and wrapping paper with reindeer and trees and snowmen are Christmas decorations. The Muslims, Hindus, Shintoists, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists don't have a winter holiday. Jews do, but there are no reindeer, trees and candy canes associated with Hanukkah. 

It doesn't snow much where the first Hanukkah took place, so snowmen have nothing to do with the holiday. Hanukkah gifts, with the exception of small amounts of money called Hanukkah gelt, are just a reaction to Christmas gift-giving. 

Christmas hasn't been too good to me, so I'm a little bitter. For example, I got my head handed to me at my last job because of Christmas. 

There was a fire in an apartment building, I think it was in Mount Vernon. Nobody was hurt and few people were made homeless. 

There was a lot of other news that Sunday, about two weeks before Christmas, so I put a picture of the fire on Page One and referred to a number of pictures and a big story on the Local News page. Wrong move.

The next day, I was taken to the woodshed but good. How could I not lead the paper with the fire.? Why? Christmas gifts were destroyed. It was the end of the world. Some kids would have to go without all their gifts. Their parents were unhurt, they had a roof over their heads, food to eat and the rest. But their gifts were destroyed and their parents might not have enough money to replace them all. Horrors.

I didn't get what the big deal was then and I don't get it now. I deal with it.

For those who celebrate Christmas, my question is: Why don't you claim it as your own. Call it Christmas, not the holidays. Clasp it to your breast. Enjoy it. Store clerks should wish people a merry Christmas, not happy holidays. Talk about Christmas the tree, not holiday tree, in Rockefeller Center. 

Seriously, if I have to deal with the barrage of music, decorations, television programs, "A Wonderful Life" and the rest, at least you who celebrate the holiday could do is to  embrace it and enjoy it. 

Until next time...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Before starting out to take revenge, dig two graves

There's a certain satisfaction to seeing the fall of someone who's disappointed you.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman has disappointed me. It would have been somewhat satisfying to see him sitting in the back benches of the Senate, with no power and little influence.

But in the long run, that's not why we sent him to the Senate. We could have sent Ned Lamont and gotten the same result.

I didn't work for Lieberman to see him sitting on the back benches with little influence and unable to do anything for Connecticut. Again, we could have sent Ned Lamont.

I worked for Lieberman because he heads a powerful committee, and can bring jobs, federal dollars and the rest back to Connecticut. Our other senator, Christopher Dodd, can do the same as head of the powerful Banking Committee. 

I am disappointed that Lieberman abandoned his job as junior senator from Connecticut to go traipsing all over the world, carrying the bag for Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee. I was embarrassed to see him speaking at the GOP national convention with that idiot from Alaska. 

But that's all over now. President-elect Barack Obama is a man who thinks things out, a chess player who thinks many moves ahead. He knows it's better to have a Joe Lieberman who owes him big-time in the Senate when Obama is trying to get his Cabinet choices past that body, with its cadre of Republicans whose pride is hurt and who are out for revenge.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Democrat leader in the Senate, spoke through clenched teeth today when he announced the decision to keep Lieberman. He'll not forget that, and if Lieberman doesn't mind his p's and q's, Reid'll take another run at Lieberman.  And if that takes place a year or so down the road, you can bet he'll have Obama's blessing.

In the meantime, it's better to have a beholden Lieberman working for Connecticut than a ticked-off Lieberman working against the administration.

Yes, the Democrats in Connecticut feel they got screwed by Lieberman, and they might be right. But this is not the time for a divorce, but a reconciliation. After all, Lieberman became an independent because Howard Dean, the former head of the Democratic National Committee and his brother, Jimmy, were parading Lamont around the Jefferson Jackson Bailey Day dinner in March 2006 while another Democrat speaking, warning the assembled Democrats not to split the party by backing Lamont over Lieberman.

That speaker was Barack Obama.

We should have listened to him them. Let's listen to him now.

There will be ample opportunity to punish Lieberman if he messes up in the next four years or, if he is silly enough to run again, in 2012. 

Believe me. I won't be out standing in the rain for him then.

But for now, remember the Chinese maxim in the headline space. Hopefully, Lieberman will perform for the party as well as the people of Connecticut.

If not, there's always time for the bum's rush.

Until next time...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Another one bites the dust

The Journal-Register Co. didn't leave the New Haven area untouched in its campaign to rescue itself from its bad decisions.

In addition to closing two daily papers and who knows how many weeklies in central Connecticut, leaving many communities with no local news coverage, fired five members of the tiny New Haven register staff. One of those is Abram Katz, the science writer and staff intellectual.

The paper also laid off a part-time copy editor. Hey, who needs copy editors -- they're only the last line of defense against little things like libel suits, horrible mistakes or embarrassing misspellings and the like. 

They also closed Play, an effort to compete with the New Haven Advocate as the arts journal. The Advocate, owned by the beleaguered Tribune Co., isn't the force it used to be in that world, but why go reinvent the wheel?

Page 2

Abe Katz is a smart guy with a big moustache and with a soaring sense of the ridiculous. Here's an example.

In the late 1980s, the newsroom of the New Haven Register and recently deceased Journal-Courier was not a happy place, not like a few years earlier. Then,  Lionel S. Jackson Jr., known as Stewart, had taken over the reins of the paper from his father, Lionel Sr. 

For a few shining years, Stewart had run the company as a company should be run, and the news staffs had responded, winning just about every regional and state excellence award that was offered.

Then Stewart Jackson sold the company to a fast-talk artist with too much money named Ralph Ingersoll II and his buddy, junk-bond king Mike Milken

It took some time, but the wheels soon started to come off the bus. Morale plunged like, well, like the stock market during the past few months. Yeah, that bad.

Tom Geyer, the man Ingersoll sent in to run the Register (who turned out to be a pretty moral guy), saw the lack of morale and suggested some kind of a project.

In stepped Abe Katz. In short order, he wrote a play called "Lost in the Bucket." It may have been "Lost in a Bucket." I can't remember.

In any case, it was just what the morale doctor ordered. Members of the staff decided to put on this play and televise it through the then-new medium of community-sponsored television.

Joe Amarante, who is still the Register's television editor, was sent off to take classes at Citizen Television in how to use the camera, microphone and other equipment. We were then able to borrow the equipment. I had a small part. Steve Hamm, who was the business editor, was a star and the set was Phil Blumenkrantz' apartment. (Blumenkrantz was a reporter, strictly anti-establishment, whom I heard is now working for the IRS in New Jersey.)

I can't remember who else was involved. In any case, we did the play, which had to do with two guys eating a bucket of chicken. It was full of allegory, symbolism, great puns. 

Geyer staked us to an opening-night party and the thing ran a few times on a local citizens' television channel. 

That was Abe Katz' role in trying to buoy morale. It lasted a few months, but then came Ralph Ingersoll's abortive attempt to start a tabloid in St. Louis, of all places. The Register purchase was financed with junk bonds, and as the wheels came off that wagon, the Register and its parent company, now Journal-Register, began heading for the bottom of the financial ocean.

And now Abe Katz, the man and the legend, must move on.

Just remember, Abe, if you should happen to read this, Post hoc, ergo propter hoc -- After this, therefore because of this. In other words, what goes around comes around. They'll get theirs.

Best of luck, Abe. I know you'll land on your feet.

Page 3

Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. It's a trial balloon, running it up the flagpole to see who salutes it. 

We could do worse.

Speaking of worse, the weather is supposed to be horrible tomorrow. Try to stay dry and despite the weather, have a great weekend. Hey, the new Bond flick is out. It's not Sean Connery, but it is a Bond flick. 

Have a great weekend and, for those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos.

Until next time...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fewer voices means less freedom

Well, here we go again.

The Journal Register Co., the corporation that owns the New Haven Register and a bunch of weeklies around New Haven, is threatening to close two of the daily papers it owns in central Connecticut by the middle of January unless someone buys them before that.

I'm talking about the Bristol Press and the Herald, formerly the New Britain Herald.  I know they haven't been independent sources of news for some time now, but they did cover their local towns. 

I grew up with the New Britain Herald, a local paper that covered the city and towns around it like Plainville, Newington, Farmington, Kensington and Berlin. At one point, each town had its own page, staff, photographers and the like. Local sports were covered like a blanket and the weekly games of the New Britain Golden Hurricanes were major events.

That's what a local paper does, or rather, what a local paper did. 

It was an afternoon paper and many households got both the Hartford Courant and the Herald. Judith Brown, the publisher of the Herald, was involved in journalism causes and served on the panel that chose the Pulitzer Prize winners for a couple of years.

I don't know much about the Bristol Press except that it served the same function as the Herald in Bristol, Forestville, Plainville and other towns in central Connecticut. 

Neither was the New York Times or even the Hartford Courant, but they didn't need to be.

Then the families that owned the papers sold out to the same sad chain, just like the Jacksons in New Haven sold out to Ralph Ingersoll II and the bunch of pirates who became the Journal Register Co. 

I don't know what the Courant will be able to do in covering New Britain and environs because of  the weakened condition of its parent, the Tribune Co., brought about by the greed and ego of Sam Zell, a real estate mogul who apparently knew little and cared less about the newspaper game. 

It's going on all over the place. I hear that the Poughkeepsie Journal, owned by Gannett, will be printed in Westchester at the Journal News plant in Harrison. That's more than an hour away in the best weather, a lot more in snow and ice. The paper will be transmitted electronically one way, but the physical papers will have to be trucked back to Poughkeepsie over some bad roads.

That means deadlines will have to be set back. Therefore, night meetings and night games will not appear in the next morning's paper. That'll set off another drop in circulation and advertising. It's a vicious cycle. 

I don't know what the folks in New Britain, Bristol and their satellite towns will do for local news. 

Government works best with a bright spotlight on it. As weak as they had become, the Press and the Herald still shone that light on local elected and appointed officials. Nobody is saying those who govern those communities are a bunch of crooks or ne'er-do-wells. I'm sure they're the same overworked and under-appreciated folks who run towns all over the nation. People in those jobs, most of them at least, try their best.

But when that light goes out in January, who will make sure?

It's just one more case of freedom being sacrificed on the altar of corporate stupidity.

Until next time...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's not that he's black; it's that it doesn't matter

Happy Tuesday. To all veterans, thank you for your service. This holiday, Veterans Day, is for those who served, not necessarily for those who gave their "last full measure of devotion," as Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address.

This is a holiday that started as Armistice Day, the time when, at 11 minutes after 11 on Nov. 11, 1918, the guns of the Great War, later to be called World War I,  fell silent and that sad conflict finally ended, at least for nearly 21 years, until it morphed into World War II.  

I decided to mark the occasion by becoming a charter member of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans in honor of my father and father-in-law, both of whom fought overseas in that conflict. It also will give me a reason to return to that fabled city. You may want to join.

Page 2

Last week, I had the privilege of working on Election Day, reporting some small part of the event that, I sincerely hope, brings back thinking as part of the president's job description. 

One of the highlights was watching President-elect Obama's (boy, it feels good to be able to write that phrase) first speech after he won with the group of people who covered the election for the New Haven Independent, as I did. This is a group, some young, some not so young, who report the news with few resources save their ingenuity, hard work and guts. 

As we were watching, one of our number said something like, "It's a day I thought would never come; the election of an African-American as president of the United States.

That didn't ring right, didn't hit the right note. I couldn't fathom why until, as so often happens, my wife crystalized it. That revelation led me into something I find myself doing more often but not liking: agreeing with Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times.

Soon after the election, Friedman wrote that the Civil War was over. I agree, but not for the reasons he gave.

It's also not for the election of a black man as president.

It's because the right man was elected, and it didn't matter that he was black. It didn't matter. 

We finally started catching up to my daughter Esther. We're not there yet. All of my kids are really good people. To the older two, Andrea and Malka, it doesn't matter what color skin someone has. We have gotten there, at least in the election of our president.

But Esther takes it one step further. She doesn't notice what color skin someone has. It's of no consequence, so takes no note of it. She notices male or female, and she can tell, usually, whether someone is a good person or not. But race, color, skin tone: no. We're not there yet. We won't be there until my generation passes away. But we're on our way. 

We, as a nation, have finally gotten that far, no matter what the pundits say. 

And that is why the Civil War is finally over, 147 years and seven months after it started.

Page 3

It looks like we are headed into a deep, dark recession. 

Our stocks and bonds and 401(k)s and IRAs, if they are keyed to the financial markets, have lost maybe half their value. We're fighting our way back, although we're giving banks money to lend, and they are hoarding it to buy other banks. Another example of how the trickle-down economic theory is bankrupt. 

I wouldn't mind so much if the rest of the economy was coming down with us, as gasoline and heating oil prices are starting to do, albeit slowly. 

Listening to stories about the Great Depression, it seemed that people had little money, but things also cost little. If you made $2 or $3 a day, you could survive. If you made $20 a week, you were doing fine. 

A loaf of bread cost a nickel; a quart of milk wasn't that much more. A penny post card was a penny post card. You could mail a letter for two cents. A nickel or a dime got you a ride on the trolley car or the subway or bus. 

I couldn't mind if my savings got cut in half if, and here's the big if, the cost of the things I want and need also cost half what they did last year.

But the purveyors of those things I want and need don't seem to get it. Prices for staples such as bread and milk and fruit and vegetables keep going up. It seems that every week, prices keep skyrocketing. I just laugh when I look at the catalogs I get from high-end clothiers. A coat costs as much as car did in 1970. The thousand-dollar suit, long the province of gangsters and their lawyers, is now commonplace in some stores. 

Ice cream, for crying out loud, goes for almost $6 a half-gallon, and I'm not talking about Ben & Jerry's or Brigham's , but regular brands. Forget about frozen confections for those of us who are lactose intolerant. A quart of soy cream in some stores sells for nearly $6. A melon for $4? Come on!

This cannot go on. If the economy is going to recede, we all have to do it together. 

I hope the thinking president and his advisers can find a way out of this mess.

Page 4

This is for all of you who were cringing about an Obama victory because it wouldn't be good for Israel and for the Jews. 

Don't you feel silly now? The first guy Barack Hussein Obama appointed in his kitchen cabinet is Rahm Emanuel, an observant Jew, whose father fought in the Irgun Tzvei Leumi against the British in Israel before the state was formed. That's the shock troops, Menachem Begin's boys, the group that blew up the British headquarters in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

Rahm Emanuel will be the second most powerful man in the White House (for you West Wing fans, he'll be Leo McGarry), the man who controls access to the president, the chief of staff who is in on every decision. 

For those concerned about Israel, he's the man to have in the job. We couldn't have scripted it better. 

Now, aren't you sorry you voted for John McCain? Or worse, didn't vote at all?

Until next time...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mazel Tov to Obama; now let's get to work

The election is over. It was fun to work it for the New Haven Independent...writing stories, doing some editing and watching the new president give a wonderful speech. Thanks to all those who helped by taking time from a busy day to spend a few minutes.

Did you hear that Sarah Palin wanted to give a concession speech in addition to John McCain? And if you watched McCain, didn't he seem a bit relieved during his concession talk? It almost seemed as if he put so much into his campaign that he didn't have anything left at the end of it. 

In any case, I hope he goes back to being the same principled senator he was before catching election fever. And I hope he fires all those idiots who led him down the garden path. As far as Sarah Palin is concerned, let her go back to Alaska, the state that either sent or nearly sent (depends on the still-hanging election results) a convicted felon back to the Senate.

Page 2

One of the happening places on Election Day was the Playwright tavern on Temple Street. The place was rocking, with some actual candidates and political pros (Rosa DeLauro ran out about 10 p.m., leading hubby and super-pollster Stan Greenberg). I saw a few alders in there, some Yale types and a lot of hangers-on. The place was rocking, although I couldn't appreciate it, because I was looking for an alderwoman who I was told had witnessed a fight between backers and opponents of Proposition 1. She never called me back, even the next day. 


Proposition 1 was an attempt by the Catholic Council and others to open a constitutional convention they would have used to reverse the state Supreme Court decision to allow gay marriage. It failed. The next proposition, which will allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries as long as they will have turned 18 before the general election. Good idea and it passed overwhelmingly.

I can't help but catch a little satisfaction from Jim Hines' defeat of Chris Shays in Connecticut's Fourth Congressional District. Last summer, my wife was covering an Indian (south Asian) festival where he was politicking and wanted to get a quote from him. He was too busy and his drum beater seemed too busy or too dense to figure out that hundreds of people, many of them in his district, would read this story. So, they just brushed by as if she wasn't there, as if they were too busy.

Well, Chris, now you'll have plenty of time.

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I visited a half dozen polling places during Election Day and most of the people couldn't have been nicer. There was one, however, where an official wouldn't let me in, kept insisting I get back 75 feet. I guess this guy never heard of the First Amendment. The moderator, who was apologetic, said he was new. I wanted to take a picture of people still lining up to vote an hour after the poll-closing hour to illustrate the intense interest in voting. I never did get the picture.

I don't want to name the guy or the ward, because he was doing what he thought was right. But may I suggest that better training be offered to those moderators before the next election. 

Page 4

Now that we don't have to hear about Joe the Plumber or any others with "the" as their middle names ( Smokey the Bear, Marvin the Torch, Lieberman the former committee chairman), we need to redirect all that enthusiasm generated by the election toward helping bring the change so many of us stood in line, volunteered, stuck signs into lawns, wrote blogs and in so many ways worked to bring about. 

We need to keep this commitment. There are plenty of Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity clones out there who would love nothing better than to see President-elect Barack Obama (doesn't that have such a wonderful ring to it?) fall flat on his face. Don't let that happen.

Thanks for reading. Keep it up. By the way, did you see my photo? Yeah, the grey in the beard is real, and I earned every grey hair.

Until next time...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A few thoughts coming down to the wire

There are less than two days before the voting starts and the nation gets to the end of the long, long road of electioneering. It's not only the most expensive political campaign, but the most mind-numbing.

Many of us, me included, are saying: Enough already. Let's vote and go onto the next thing: healing the nation.

But even as I say that, there are a couple of things with which I want to leave you about the process that we (one hopes most of us, anyway) are about to complete.

First of all, let's talk about the question of the constitutional convention. Polls say half of us here in Connecticut will vote for it. That's a shame. It's a bad idea being promulgated by a group using fear as a beard.

The television ads, which thankfully must carry the signature of their sponsor, the state Catholic Conference, say the convention will give voters a say in their government.

Nothing is further from the truth. 

What they want is to hold the conference, pack it with their supporters, and reverse the courts and legislature on abortion and gay marriage in Connecticut. Two branches of government, the legislative (the General Assembly, the state's legislature) and the judicial (the Supreme Court, the state's highest court of appeals) have backed gay marriage.

The Church wants to sidestep this democratic process, as well as the established process of judicial review, and replace it with church dogma. 

As far as being able to petition, another target of any church-sponsored constitutional convention, it's another end run around the democratic process. A law gets passed the church doesn't like, it gets its folks to petition. The legislators refuse to pass a law the church wants enacted, such as taking us back to the days when Connecticut was the only state in the nation to criminalize birth control, they cough up a petition.

What that does is brings the state's legislative process, hardly a model of efficiency in any regard, to a screeching halt. 

On the state level, we in Connecticut live in a republic. We elect legislators who pass laws and who advise and consent on hiring the state judiciary. We either trust them or we don't, and if we don't, we should elect people we do trust. Our job as an informed citizenry is to elect people to the General Assembly whom we trust to do those things we want done. 

If we want to change the Connecticut Constitution, we can call a convention at any time, or we can amend the document. A constitutional convention throws open the whole document to no-holds-barred changes. We don't need that. If we want to amend the constitution, then do so.

Then our job is to advise these legislators of our wishes. We can call them, write them, e-mail them, show up singly or in numbers to advise them of our wishes. We don't need an additional level of governmental interference.

We don't need a constitutional convention run by the Catholic church. 

One more point, if you will, on insurance.

John McCain wants to institute a health insurance plan that would, in essence, take health insurance out of the workplace. 

He wants to give you up to $5,000 to help pay for private insurance you would purchase from an insurance company. Even if his plan would save you money over the current system (it won't, but let's give him that point), his plan removes an important plus to getting insurance at work.

You alone would pay few thousand dollars premium to an insurance company and have the clout that one small insured has with the carrier: very little. Your employer, if it is a major corporation or even a medium sized corporation, pays millions and millions of dollars in premiums and has the clout that a large customer has with the carrier: a lot.

If you have a problem as a single insured, you might get someone to address your problem. If your company, a major client, addresses your problem with the insurance company, the chance that your complaint will be addressed is exponentially higher. 

Under McCain's plan, you lose that clout. That's really, really important. And it works. I know because I ran into a problem a few years ago. A health provider decided that the amount she was getting from my insurance company wasn't enough to pay for the service she was rendering. She wanted more and billed me. 

I called her and she basically said too bad. I brought the problem to my company's human resources office, which called the corporate HR office, which called the insurance company. The company called the provider and read her the riot act. The problem disappeared. 

You lose that with McCain's plan.

In any case, get out Tuesday and vote. It couldn't be more important.

Until next time...

Monday, October 27, 2008

So you think vice president is just in-waiting job?

A dynamic vice president and a weak or ineffective president is a formula for taking the Constitution and turning it into toilet paper. This isn't theory, it's fact and it's been going on for the past eight years.

It's been the Dick Cheney presidency and it's not pretty.

Later on, we'll talk about the folks who want to convene a constitutional convention in Connecticut, why it's a bad idea, and how they are lying to the electorate about not being able to look at the Connecticut Constitution for 20 more years if we don't to it now.

By the way, happy Monday.

Last week, my wife and I saw W., the Oliver Stone film about the Bush presidency. It's a work of fiction, but not entirely. 

At the same time, I've been reading Angler, Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman's book about the Cheney vice presidency, based on his  Pulitzer Prize-winning stories (written with Jo Becker). 

It's a scary combination.

Angler tells the story about how Cheney, with Bush's complacency and in some cases complicity, basically took over the presidency. It tells how Cheney wangled himself into the job of picking Bush's candidate for vice president, and then arranged it so the only possible choice was himself. 

There was a telling incident during the first hours of Sept. 11, 2001. Cheney, after being "frog walked" (grabbed by the collar and belt and hustled along the corridor) by the Secret Service into the White House bunker after he wanted to tough it out in his office, was coordinating the response to the attacks.

Bush was on Air Force One, being flown around to keep him safe since there was no way of knowing if other planes were heading for targets in Washington, D.C. United Flight 93, which was recaptured from terrorists by heroic passengers but crashed in Pennsylvania, could have been heading for the White House.

The scene was chaotic with true and false reports of airplanes crashing or heading for Washington. It was Flight 93 and it has already crashed, but there was no live radar and the Federal Aviation Administration, apparently relying on projection, kept reporting the plane heading for Washington, now 60 miles out, now 30, now 10.

Quoting from the book: "Sometime between 10:10 and 10:15 a.m., a military aide asked the vice president a question never faced by the U.S. government in its own airspace. The jetliner was presumed hostile , but packed with innocents. Should the Air Force shoot it down? Cheney paused for 'about the time it takes a batter to swing , maybe starting from the windup,' (vice presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis) "Scooter" Libby said later. Then he answered: Yes."

Whether this was the proper choice (I think it was) wasn't the question, Gellman says. It was whether Cheney had the right to make that decision. A dozen years earlier, the same Cheney told R. Danforth Quayle, the vice president in the previous Bush administration, that the vice president had no lawful place in the chain of command.

In fact Bush and Cheney put out that Bush himself had issued the order and Cheney had only passed it on. Their stories changed a half-dozen times over the next months and the Sept. 11 Commission ducked on the question. Whether Bush and Cheney lied about it is not the real issue. It's a symptom.

"On Sept. 11 and afterward, Cheney staked out decisions of great national moment without explicit authority from Bush," Gellman asserts. Those decisions had to do with vice presidential authority in the Legislative Branch. The vice president, Sarah Palin's answer to a young questioner notwithstanding, does not run the Senate. Don't tell that to Cheney.

Cheney also wormed his tentacles into the legislative branch, the environment -- so much so that he forced the resignation of EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman -- and the national security debate. He was responsible for the draconian spying done on innocent U.S. citizens, the beginning of the emasculation of the Geneva Convention; the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; the redefinition of torture, and, to a large part, the decision to invade Iraq. 

In other words, many of the horrible decisions for which George W. Bush is blamed came from Cheney, according to Gellman.

In the movie "W.", Stone alludes to some of this and Richard Dreyfuss plays Cheney with just the right touch of malevolence. He sits in the background but, with his staff and lawyers in the various departments, worms his way into being Bush's puppet master. 

So, when voting next week, we need to be careful about whom we pick as vice president, especially if, for whatever reason, we vote for a candidate who may morph into a weak president, for reasons of infirmity, lack of vision or whatever.

We don't need another Richard Cheney. 

Page 2

Beside the elections for president, there are local offices and the Congress. We can't get rid of either of our sorry Senators this time around. Too bad.

The choices around here are pretty cclear.  Rosa DeLauro is a shoo-in to go back to Congress, and that's a good thing. She's super-liberal but has a good heart and has represented us well. In the 92nd House district in New Haven, Pat Dillon is good people, an experienced and caring person, who should make it back. Let's make sure she does. Toni Harp has done a good job in the Senate.  

There is one more vote that hasn't gotten a lot of publicity, but is important. In Connecticut, when there is a constitutional convention, it is unlimited. Anything can happen. In Connecticut, when anything can happen, it usually does.

There is a lot of talk about how we can't amend the constitution because it can only be amended by a convention . Not true.  They're also saying a convention can only be called every 20 years, and if we don't do it now, it will be two decades before we can. Also not true.

Right-wing groups want to remake the constitution in their own image.  The many more at the bottom include reversing a woman's right to choose and the usual right-wing agenda. 

My vote: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

Page 3

While I'm at it, a word about the current economic crisis. HELP!

Seriously, folks, I wouldn't mind so much if the whole economy were resettling at a lower level. In other words, if our investments and savings were worth, say, a third less than they were a few months ago AND things cost a third less than they did a few months ago, it wouldn't be so bad.

Gas and other fuel prices have gone down, but our friends at the electric company want about a 5 percent increase. Food prices as up. The airlines still are tacking on fuel surcharges even though fuel doesn't cost anything like what it cost last spring and summer.

It looks like we are heading for stagflation, the deal we had with Jimmy Carter. Incomes are stagnant or reducing, but prices inflate. Worst of both worlds.

Our leaders still don't get it. Banks are taking money and buying other banks, not lending the money to consumers so that the consumers could spend it. Consumer spending is the lion's share of the economy. So, as they have done for time immemorial, throwing money to the top in the hopes that it trickles down to the rest of us doesn't work.

How in the name of all that's holy can anyone think of voting for John McCain, who is an advocate of this nonsense?

Until next time, 

Friday, October 24, 2008

Stay tuned early next week

I didn't want a week to go by without something in this space. It's been super-busy (you can see some of it on the New Haven Independent homepage). 

The Jewish holidays of Shemini Atzerit and Simchas Torah took half the week and working on the upcoming Annual Dinner for my synagogue, Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim a week from Sunday also is taking what's left.  It's a great dinner, honoring Holocaust survivors. If you are interested in coming (great food), please e-mail me at 

But, loyal readers, I want you to stay tuned early next week. Two scary experiences, one a movie and another a book, will lead to what I hope will be a particularly illustrative posting. The subject: So you think the vice presidency is meaningless, do you?

Gotta run. Have a great weekend and for those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos Bereshit.

Until next time...