Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shame on you, Barack Obama

Yeah, it's me again, beating what appears more and more to be a dead horse.

I watched the 20th and hopefully last presidential debate last night (Feb. 26, 2008), I say shame! to Sen. Barack Obama.

It's not that he was any less sincere in his "some of my best friends and supporters are Jewish" speech than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, but he seemed to be a lot too blase about the support he received from Minister Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan has made pointed and horrible anti-Semitic statements for years, calling Judaism a "gutter religion" and worse.

Farrakhan has, however, had nice, very nice things to say about Obama. The Nation of Islam figure called Obama "the hope of the entire world" and said it has captured "black and brown and red and yellow" audiences.

When Obama was questioned last night about Farrakhan's praise, he gave a "so what" type of answer.

When NBC chief Obama backer Tim Russert asked whether Obama rejected Farrakhan's endorsement, Obama could have said yes or said he distances himself from Farrakhan and all he stands for, but he didn't. He played a semantics game. When Clinton lectured Obama about the power of words and the difference between rejecting praise and distancing himself from a known anti-Semite, Obama conceded the debating point, but never said he rejected Farrakhan, didn't want any money or support from Farrakhan or anyone who thought like him.

The words of the president of the United States are parsed closely, not only by diplomats but by ordinary people worldwide. The difference between one word and the other has started arguments that have led to wars, such as, for example, whether Iraq has or had weapons of mass destruction. We all know Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction because he used them on the Kurds.

The Bush administration took Saddam's word that he still had those weapons. It just so happened that the message was meant to scare Iran so the Tehran mullahs wouldn't attack Baghdad, but it got intercepted and misinterpreted by the geniuses of the Bush administration and before you could say wrong number, we were off to war.

Words are important. I'm now more sure than ever that Obama isn't ready to be president of anything, not to say the United States.

The Farrakhan gaffe is not considered a major one by analysts. It should be. Obama is starting to remind me of Ronald Reagan, in that they both did very well with scripted speeches before adoring audiences, but didn't do so well in debates or answering questions one-on-one. You need to be able to do better than look bored and condescending and pick up your finger to be recognized and give your debating point.

As president, one has to think clearly in the clutches, consider all sizes of a question quickly and give a response that will stand up to analyses from all sides.

Obama just hasn't shown me he can do that.

Page 2

Let me have my say about Tweed-New Haven Airport.

The anti-Tweed folks remind me of Cinderella's step-mother and step-sisters. They rip up Cinderella's dress, pull out all her hairdressing, smash her shoes and then tell her she may go to the ball if she pleases.

These residents, with the backing of the late Mayor Biagio DiLieto, whose political base was the East Shore of New Haven and the anti-airport contingent who lived there, took a going concern and turned it into a joke. The word "jet" scared them. East Haveners were just as bad.

Bruce Lawson, who was airport general manager when I covered the airport authority back in the late 1980s, took me on a tour of the facilities one bleak day. Back then, USAir and Continental offered services to hubs in New York (JFK), Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The tiny Boeing 1900's and Twin Otters were replaced by ATR 42s and similar propjets that flew to National in Arlington, Va., in a couple of hours.

Air Wisconsin's attempt to fly small four-engine jets was defeated by a strict noise ordinance. United offered jet service to Chicago, but the large consumers of air service refused to back the service and United soon pulled out.

Today, USAirways offers service to Philadelphia. Private and charter planes use the airport now.

I can see how jet service with screamers like DC-9s and Boeing 727s would frighten people. But today's MD-80s, Boeing 737s and smaller Boeing 717s, a 100-seat aircraft that AirTran flies out of Westchester and other places nonstop to Florida, are really quiet.

During our tour of the airport, Lawson said the runway at Tweed could support aircraft as large as Boeing 757s, a jet that can fly nonstop to California, with just a few inches of material to increase the depth of the runways.

In a public meeting about the mayor's redevelopment plans, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said he hasn't been happy with the work of the airport panel he helped appoint. Neighbors and officials are supposed to be meeting about the extension of the safety zones at the end of the airport.

In the late 1980s, I did a story for the New Haven Register comparing Tweed to Westchester and Worcester airports. Westchester is still a going concern despite the kind of county-backed interference from airport neighbors in Harrison and Rye, N.Y. and Greenwich, Conn. That's because there are flights going where people want to go. Last year, I took AirTran from Westchester to Orlando. Except for having to mortgage my house to pay parking fees, it was a great experience.

Look, how's about this for an idea. Why don't we give the airport a real chance. We've spent money renovating the place a few years ago. That cash shouldn't be wasted. If Yale, AT&T and other consumers of air service were to pledge to use the service and give it a real chance, maybe that could be used to persuade some airlines to come back.

Imagine being able to step on a 100-passenger jet and be in Orlando in a few hours. Imagine being able to fly to places like Toronto, Chicago, Charlotte, N.C., or Atlanta. Imagine not having to drive for more than an hour to get to Bradley International, or God knows how long to get to JFK, Newark and La Guardia. Westchester Airport in Harrison is 45 minutes away and charges $21 a day to park, if you can find a space.

We have a real gem here. Let's give it a real chance.

Until next time...

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