Thursday, July 31, 2008

It takes a hard-liner to compromise

Starting Sunday, observant Jews enter into the Nine Days, the darkest period on the Jewish calendar, leading up to the Ninth of Av, the worst day of the year.

The announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he is not seeking re-election has thrown some Israelis and much of the international press into a tizzy, leading to speculation that the peace deals he has been chasing will not come to pass.

I don't think that's true. I think quite the opposite.

The Ninth of Av is a dark day indeed for Jews. On that day, Biblical Jews were told they must wander in the desert for 40 years; both the first and second temples were destroyed; the end of the Jews' centuries-long golden age in Spain occurred; World War I began, leading to World War II and the Holocaust and so on. It is a full 25-hour fast and the Book of Lamentations is read, as well as the complete works of Jeremiah. 

The timing of Olmert's announcement could not be more significant. But after darkness comes the dawn. In synagogues on the Saturday after the Ninth, the prophetic reading begins: "Console, console my people."

Let's look at recent history. If you are looking for peace deals, look at Israel under a hard-liner. The Camp David agreements that led to peace with Egypt occurred under Menachem Begin, a hard-liner if there ever was one. Although the peace with Jordan and the Oslo accords were reached under the late Yitzchak Rabin, much of the heavy lifting and the giving away of much of the West Bank occurred under Benjamin Netanyahu, a hard-liner who is a leading candidate to win the prime minister's chair this time around.

The evacuation of Gaza, as ill-conceived as that may have been as it turned out, took place under hard-liner Ariel Sharon, and who knows what dividends it may have paid if Sharon hadn't been felled by a stroke. 

So, what I'm saying is that all is not lost because Olmert is going away. I welcome his leaving. He has been under a cloud for at least a decade, if not more. I remember a friend telling me during a trip to Israel in 1996 that Olmert was heading for trouble.

Olmert sought peace the easy way -- by giving away the store. He is talking to Syria about peace by holding up the Golan Heights. No way, I say. That area is home to thousands of Jews, much of the rapidly growing and maturing wine industry, much tourism and the only ski area in the nation. So, we want to give it back on the promise that Syria will stop its support for Hamas and Hezballah, its closeness to Iran and its meddling in Lebanon. 

As Paul Simon said, a handful of mumbles that are promises. That'll help the legacy of George W. Bush, but what will it do for Israel? Nothing.

The Palestinians are another case. Gaza is gone. Hebron is gone, even though Abraham was bright enough to buy and pay for the area thousands of years ago. Shechem, called Nablus by the Palestinians, (it was called Neopolis, or Naples, by the Romans, but Palestinians can't pronounce the letter "P") is gone. 

The only reason the "moderate" Palestinians aren't throwing more bombs in Israeli cities is the combination of the barrier and the great intelligence capability of the Israeli police. 

Peace will come to Israel, some day. But it will not come by weak leaders in Israel, the interference of the clueless Condoleezza Rice or the desperate seeking of something to leave as a positive legacy by George W. Bush.

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There is little joy in Beantown today.

The beloved Boston Red Sox are not doing well, although they are still a game ahead of the New York Yankees. The Tampa Bay Rays, after they exorcised the Devil out of their name, are streaking again, but that cannot last, can it?

Of course, much of the reason the Red Sox can't seem to hit, field or pitch has to do with the machinations of Manny Ramirez. He's been mouthing off to the press, to everyone who'll stand still long enough to listen, about how he's being ill-treated by the Sox.

Enough, already. If he wants to be traded, trade him. Trade him, if you have to, for a bat boy and a groundskeeper to be named later, but cut out this festering sore. Let's get back to playing ball the way we know how.

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Congrats to Exxon-Mobil, the poor energy company that our president says we have to nurture. They only made $11.68 billion in the last three months. That wasn't what analysts were expecting -- they were expecting more -- so the stock fell in early trading today.

My question: What do you want? People are suffering because of high oil prices.

I have an idea. A NASA-Italian spacecraft found lakes of liquid hydrocarbons, liquid ethane to be precise, on a moon of the planet Saturn, Titan to be precise. Ethane is a component of crude oil. 

Well, let's not just sit here. Let's get Arthur C. Clark (no, sorry, he's dead) and roll out the Discovery II spacecraft of the movie "2010" with Roy Scheider as captain (sorry, he's also gone). But John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and Bob Balaban to train the HAL computer are still here, so let's go get the damn thing, pull it into orbit, get some pipeline and get that stuff down here where it will do some good. Maybe even bring down the price of a gallon of gas, eventually.

But we have to hurry before the Sierra Club gets finished sounding stupid in their opposition of using garbage to generate electricity and OPEC sends up a spacecraft to claim the place for themselves or Richard Branson sends up a spacecraft himself. Let's see -- the Virgin Ethane?

But they needn't hurry. We haven't even decided we want to explore space. We need the money down here to fund highways to nowhere in Alaska.

Until next time...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Blumenthal sues 3 credit raters

The state's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, Wednesday sued three major credit-rating agencies, charging they gave artificially low ratings to Connecticut cities and towns, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in unneeded bond insurance and causing the municipalities to pay higher interest rates on borrowing than they should have.

The suit names Moody's, Fitch and the parent company of Standard & Poor's.

"All three credit rating agencies systematically and intentionally give lower credit ratings to bonds issued by states, municipalities and other public entities as compared to corporate and other forms of debt with similar or even worse rates of default," Blumenthal said in a news release.

Ed Sweeney, a spokesman for Standard & Poor's, referred a reporter to a statement by McGraw Hill, which owns S&P.

"The lawsuit filed in Connecticut this morning is simply a case of a state attempting to use litigation to dictate what bond rating it receives," the statement said. "The suit is without merit and we will vigorously defend against it."

The attorney general's suit alleges New Haven taxpayers, for example, paid $2.2 million in unnecessary bond insurance premiums to receive a higher rating on nine general-obligations bonds issued from 2003 through 2008 because of lower ratings given by Moody's. The New Haven bonds were given a "A3" rating each time, which Blumenthal said was too low.

"The claims by the attorney general violate First Amendment rights -- which courts around the country have repeatedly ruled apply to rating agencies and their opinions -- and would result in an erosion of analytical independence and undermine investor confidence in the market by allowing ratings to be determined by governmental mandate or the treat of litigation," the McGraw Hill statement said.

The attorney general's statement including examples of a number of municipalities allegedly harmed,  can be viewed:

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I noticed that this blog has gotten more than 6,000 hits since I started counting a while ago. That's about 3 seconds' worth for a site about Britney, but not bad, I must say, for an old newshound howling in the netherlands.

Thanks to those who come back from time to time. You can read other Len'sLens posts besides the ones you were linked to by visiting:

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Karl Rove, the political kingmaker who gave us Bush, Cheney and the Iraq war, has been accused of being in contempt of Congress. Funny, I held him in contempt many, many years ago. I guess it takes a bit of doing for Congress to catch up.

Until next time...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What, me worry?

As the Kingston Trio song goes, "I'm worried now, but I won't be worried long."

I just finished reading part of the New York Times' science section. It had a column about what you can stop worrying about and enjoy your summer.

It included many of the things people around here tend to worry about and bother their elected officials about. 

One that got to me was plastic bags. You know, the plastic bags the supermarket puts your groceries in and that set the worrywarts' teeth on edge. 

Well, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the plastic bags are better for the environment than paper bags. "They require much less energy -- and greenhouse emissions -- to manufacture, ship and recycle. They generate less air and water pollution. And they take up much less space in landfills,"  the Times column said.

It also debunked worries about cell phones and cancer, the total melt of the polar ice cap this year and toxic plastic bottles. 

My question is: What are the worrywarts going to worry about? Seriously. New Haven considered a bill that would ban plastic bags. San Francisco and some Long Island communities have banned them. To what end? Didn't they research the problem, or was it the squeaky wheel theory of governance?

The supermarket chains are selling cloth bags for a buck. I have a couple, but must admit that I forget them more often than I remember them. But I do recycle bottles as often as possible.

That's worth something, right?

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I have been sickened reading comments in the New Haven Independent about the aftermath of the tragic death of Quinell Payne, 15, and the reaction by some of his friends. I also read New Haven Register Editor Jack's Kramer's Sunday column.

I talked about it last week. You can read those comments by going to the next post down.
Or you can go to 

Many of the comments were mean-spirited, nasty. Some, like those of Kevin Ewing, were meant to heal, not divide. Good for you, sir.

Kramer said in his Sunday column that it wasn't clear whether his paper's decision not to give the race of the van driver who was savagely beaten by a gang of thugs was the right one. This is the African-American workingman whose only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I respectfully disagree with Jack, whom I have known for the better part of 30 years. 

I know that many papers have a policy not to reveal the race of a person in a story. With the racial overtones that were evidenced around town, the responsible thing to do was to nip them in the bud by letting people know race was not a factor in the assault. And let them know that fast, policy or not.

Sometimes, good sense has to prevail over policy.

In the meantime, the best thing people in that neighborhood can do is prevail upon their friends and neighbors who know the identity of the thugs who beat this driver to come forward with that information. This thing must end as soon as possible, before it really gets out of hand.

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What good is a blog if you can't use it for a happy purpose, such as to wish my daughter, Esther, a happy birthday today. 

Esther, a graduate of New Haven's Sound School, Southern Connecticut State University and the master's program at Touro College in New York, is well known in town. While at school, she worked at Koffe? and Koffe? Too. She also knows many of the street people downtown, giving of herself to make their lives a little better.

She's now a resident of Manhattan, which is why you don't see her around so much anymore.

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Finally, it has really come to this.

We have sold many of our icons to people from other countries. The Chrysler Building in New York; the Empire State Building, for a while; Chrysler Corp.; Stop&Shop; many others.

But this really does it.

We sold Budweiser, for crying out loud. Budweiser. The brand that makes America America. For those who don't want to drink foreign beer like Heineken, Amstel, Bass Ale, we always had Bud. Had. What's next? Never mind, I don't want to know.

Well, at least Haagen-Dazs is still made in the good old USA. Owned by Pillsbury, but still made here. Maybe that's why the Pillsbury dough boy looks as he does.

Until next time...

Friday, July 25, 2008

It's not about bikes; it's about responsibility

I was going to rant and rave about the state of the law and those who practice it. That will have to wait.

I was sick hearing and reading about the incident in Newhallville in which a teen riding a dirt bike crashed into the back of a van. The van driver stopped and was set on by a gang of thugs, who beat him to within an inch of his life.

Many years ago, before it was cleaned up, Chapel and Howe streets in New Haven were similar to what that corner in Newhallville was the other day: a part of the wild west. Before the city and business owners cleaned it up, going back around 25 years ago, hookers took over the place at night and transgender hookers took it over after midnight. Maybe that's not politically correct, but until the late, sainted Evelyn Schatz and what eventually became the Chapel West Special Services District took over, that's what it was.

During that time, a friend was driving along Chapel about 1 in the morning, heading home after a night's work, when he was set on by a number of these hookers who moved toward his car as he slowed for the light. He accelerated, and thought he hit someone, but wasn't sure. He was terrified and drove a few blocks along until he saw a phone booth. He called the police to report the incident.

The dispatcher told him he did the right thing by driving on. If he had stopped, he would have been certainly robbed and probably killed.

I hope we are not going back to those days in Newhallville.

A gang of thugs, and that's what they were, beat up a van driver whose only crime was that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. He dove into an intersection when a kid driving an illegal bike ran a stop sign. The bike his the van. The kid eventually died of his injuries. That's a tragedy. Thankfully, the van driver has not died.

Some of the kid's friends became angry. That's a natural reaction. They set on the driver of the van. That's not. It's as wrong as can be.

We can blame the thugs' parents for not teaching them how to react in a civilized manner when things don't go their way.

We can blame the idiots who riot when court cases don't go the way they would like them to. We can blame those on television who react to every slight by beating someone or shooting someone. We can blame the cops for not chasing and catching illegal bikes.

We can blame television news for showing screaming mothers of teens or children who were killed doing the wrong thing. We can blame the ambulance chasers who solicit business from parents whose children were killed doing the wrong thing and get them in front of the cameras to say it was everyone else's fault except their kid.

We'd be wrong.

As we drive along the city streets, people on major roads act as if the road were part of their backyard. They dash out into traffic -- late teens, young adults, not tykes chasing a ball -- and we have to swerve to avoid them.

Has New Haven become this place? Have we gone back to Chapel and Howe at 2 in the morning?

Again, it must be said. Fixing this is up to the parents. Not the schools, not the cops, not even the priests and ministers and rabbis and imams. The parents are the ones who have to shut off the television sets and tell their kids that it's alright to get angry, but it's not alright to beat someone because of it.

The cops must catch these thugs and make an example of them. They deserve to get out of jail just in time to go on Medicare. No baloney about youth or anger. Throw away the key. These people jumped on a man who did nothing wrong.

But this kid's death also must mean something.

One way to do that is to use it as a teaching tool. That's where the teachers and clergy can come in. Instead of just putting up a memorial, gather the neighborhood youth together and try to teach them that there are consequences to actions.

And while you're at it, try teaching that to some of the adults as well.

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It's been about a year and a month since Sam Dimenstein died.

Read all about Sam in:

Sam was a good friend and a quiet man who did a lot of good for a lot of people. He lived into his 80s and was gathered to his fathers in the fullness of life.

Let's remember Sam as we think of those whose lives were not full and not allowed to journey to their natural conclusion.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2008

All American City?

Good afternoon. The sky is clearing, at least for a while,

If you don't care about New Haven, or what is going on in this city, read on anyway. I learned by working in Westchester County, N.Y., where people think the world ends at the border of their cities or towns or villages or hamlets, the problems that trouble one community are not that different from the woes that beset another.

The names may change, but the music and lyrics are often the same.

In reading the New Haven Independent today (, I learned that New Haven had again been named an all-American city (you shouldn't say all-America--that is trademarked, I think, by the NCAA). There was a party at City Hall for that and another for the first anniversary of the city's novel identification card.

I wasn't invited, despite the fact that I'm about to lay many thousands of dollars on the city to pay my real estate and car taxes.

The Independent story said the card helps all people who live in the city get into the library, city parks and open up bank accounts. It is especially aimed at illegal aliens because they are not able to open up bank accounts. For this reason, the card proponents say, they are targets for thieves because they are forced to carry large amounts of cash around.

The Independent, which has made no claim to being an objective observer in this matter, said the city has gotten grants to fund the card program, although a commenter said there was about $75,000 not covered by the grant and wondered at where the money was coming from, since the city said no public money was going to be used to fund the card program.

I need to ask a few questions. I have tried to get answers to these questions but not to my satisfaction.

First, which bank has allowed the illegals to open accounts with just the city's identification card. An officer at a local branch of an international bank said his bank wanted nothing to do with the cards because they were not official state-issued IDs, such as those you get from the Motor Vehicle Bureau. You know you can get an official state ID even if you don't drive, don't you?

Stories have said a regional bank will open accounts for people who show up with the card and a passport. I wonder how many illegals have passports. A source at a large regional bank said the Connecticut Bankers Association has agreed not to agree on a stand on the cards. That was a couple of months ago, but I don't think that has changed.

I'm talking about banks that already exist, not one that has been organizing for what seems to be a long time.

As far as city parks are concerned, I think anyone can walk into any city park. Ditto for the library...the only think they asked me for when I got my library card was an envelope with my address on it or a utility bill. As far as paying for parking is concerned, if you have a car to park, you must have a license to drive it. If you have such a license, you can open a checking account, right? If you don't have a license, what are you doing driving around? Yes, there are illegals driving without licenses.

The guy who police say hit Jerry Gross' car outside Gross' Forest Road home a few months ago didn't have a license, according to a lawyer close to the case. Gross died of his injuries a few days later.

The driver, an illegal alien, also was driving without insurance, according to the lawyer.

So, there are a lot of claims about the card but not, I fear, much proof that it does anything but bring accolades to the city and its mayor. I'd love to be proven wrong.

Unlike the nutcases who demonstrate in front of city hall against the illegals, I think anyone who is willing to work hard to build a future for himself and his family should be welcome here. Such a person doesn't cost money to the body politic, he or she contributes it. They pay taxes. They are a model for their community.

Those who come here and say, "feed me, clothe me, house me" should be shown the door. But those who work hard and try to make their way in the world get the welcome mat from me.

Like Paul Bass, the Independent editor, I guess I'm not an objective observer either.

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I haven't show my friend Al the story about the smash-and-grab for a GPS unit yet, but I know what he'd say. He'd say the guy should have hidden his GPS better.

Al told me about this guy who attached his GPS unit to his windshield with the suction cup they all seem to come with. The guy then hid the GPS, but it did him no good. Somebody broke in and stole the unit. These things go for hundreds of dollars, so they are on top of the crooks' hit parade.

They can be sold for nearly as much as a catalytic converter and are a lot less work to steal.

What happened, says Al, was the guy pulled the GPS off his windshield, but neglected to clean off the ring it left on the windshield. So, as Al says, it's like putting up a sign saying "GPS on board".

Al's right. If you must attach the unit to your windshield, clean the glass so there will be no telltale GPS ring. I was going to say something about ring around the collar, but most of you out there are too young to know the reference.

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Caught the new Batman flick last night. Senior night at the Connecticut Post mall. See any movie you want for $4.50. The offer is good all day and all night. All you have to be is 60 or over.

The movie was dark and Heath Ledger was as good as the critics say. The rest of the cast was good, too, but the real heroes were the hundred or so computer operators and programmers who did the special effects.

Some good things

I mentioned Jerry Gross up a bit. His son, Bruce, and daughter-in-law, Debbie, had a baby girl earlier this week.
Rabbi Yossi Hodakov and wife, Perel, had a baby girl earlier this week as well.

All the best to all.

Debbie is as good as it gets. Although she was quite pregnant, she was at her father-in-law's bedside almost constantly during his last days. Jerry's wife, Ruth, who is the new bubbie, or grandmother, was there all the time as well.

One hopes the happiness of the birth brings some relief from the grief they all are feeling because of Jerry's death.

Peace to all.

Until next time...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A few thoughts for a busy day

For those of us who don't stay up to 11 p.m. or who have other things to do, John Stewart has a wonderful take on the media following Barack Obama around the Middle East and Europe.

Stick around and play the next two or three sniglets that come along as well.

Kudos to Vanity Fair, which became fair and balanced with its cover, one of Barack Obama and the latest of John McCain with a walker, in response to the New Yorkers' cover featuring the Obamas. They are both in the same building.

Speaking of McCain, he has had his share of malapropisms lately, and one starts to wonder if he and J. Danforth Quayle, the potato-misspelling vice president under Daddy Bush, could be in the same place at the same time. Let's see: Quayle was in his 40s during the Bush era, from 1988-1992. Nah, he would be in his late 50s or early 60s now. Just a thought.

I read with interest the fact that the Department of Justice shelled out $268,300 or so to put 24 inner-city youths sailing on the Freedom Schooner Amistad for a fortnight as it wends its way along the East Coast.

That might seem like a lot of money, but sailing is good for the soul. A schooner, like all sailboats, cannot be handled a couple of drunks in an overpowered cabin cruiser. It takes a lot of work.

You need to haul up the sails, which is pretty easy for 24 people, until you have to haul up the boom as well. The boom is that tree trunk that goes up the mast and is parallel to the deck. There are two of them to haul up and down. On a ship the size of the Amistad, it weighs quite a bit.

You also need to keep the sails pointed in the right direction or else you either go in circles or are "in irons", going nowhere not so fast. You swab the deck, make your own bunk, help with the galley work and clean the head.

This teaches responsibility and teamwork.

It seems worth the money, just on a fiscal basis, if it keeps even one kid from becoming a ward of the Department of Corrections. That costs a lot more for even one year.

In human terms, it's worth a lot more. Good going, DOJ and whoever applied for the grant.

Busy day today, so there won't be much more. I was going to write about the state of the justice system and whose fault I thought it was, but I'll do that later in the week.

Stay tuned

Until next time...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We need to get out of our cars

The MTA in New York Tuesday said it must raise more revenue and therefore must raise rates for both transit riders and those who use its bridges and tunnels.

It would be the second fare hike in two years. The first one went into effect this year and the next is expected, if approved, in 2009. It would be the second time in the 100-year history of the subway system that fares were hiked in two consecutive years. The only time that happened, so far, was in 1980 and 1981.

The hike would include Metro-North Railroad commuters along the New Haven Line that carries hundreds of thousands of people daily between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

NYC Councilman Eric Gioia said that in this era of nearly $5-a-gallon gas, anything that discourages people from taking mass transit should be eliminated.

He is so right. We must find a way to keep those fares or even lower them. If that means trimming the fat at the MTA, so be it. If it means taking money from highway funds for mass transit, so be it. We must do what it takes to get people out of their cars, especially those who drive alone day after day after day on our crowded highways and parkways and city streets.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is preparing to widen I-95 in the Long Wharf area by one lane and recently chopped down stately old trees to make way for the right-of-way. People in the Howard Avenue area are distressed, they say.

But one wonders where people are when it comes to mass transit. On Saturday, when my wife and I walk to synagogue along Fountain Street in the city's Westville neighborhood, we see big, smoke-belching buses going by with a maximum of two people on board. More often, the driver is the only being on board. My word, at least put smaller buses on those routes during the weekend.

Smart people do ride trains to work or to go to New York for fun, but many people we know drive to New York, even though the gas is high and some parking lots charge around $10 per hour or more.

"We want to be able to come and go as we please," they say.

Most gas pumps have slots into which you put in your credit or debit card to pay for the gas. Reminds me of slot machines in Las Vegas. Those have slots in them, too. I think the one-armed bandits give you a better chance.

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Today, oilman T. Boone Pickens, pictured, appeared before a congressional committee to explain his plan to produce enough power by using windmills. He says we could save
about 22 percent of the natural gas the nation now uses to run electricity-generating plants. If we could power our cars with the natural gas saved under Pickens' plan, that amount of natural gas would lower the amount of oil we import by 30 percent or so, he said.

There are about 7 million natural-gas powered vehicles in the world, but only 150,000 of them are in the U.S., Pickens said. That's pretty sad.

I agree. You can get from any place to any other place in Europe by public transit. In the U.S., you can't get from New Haven to the state's university by train at all or by bus without investing the best part of a day.

We must do better. Yes, riding a bike helps in a small way, but public transit is the answer. Many of the tracks we used to have for trains and trolleys have now been converted to linear parks and bike paths. The bikers and walkers will never let those be retrofitted. Drivers will never let trolley tracks reappear on our major roads.

But that is what must happen if we are serious about saving oil and the environment.


As presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama heads for Israel during his well-publicized jaunt through the Middle East, a Palestinian driver aimed his bucket loader at cars along King David Street in Jerusalem.

Before the driver, an Arab Israeli citizen, was killed, he ran over three cars and a bus.

But our friends at CNN didn't say anything about the dozen people whose lives were changed, including one who lost a leg and others who will spend years trying to recover from the physical and emotional trauma brought on by this man who was given an equal share at the Israeli dream. He was a citizen, had papers that allowed him to go anywhere any other Israeli could go.

What CNN and the others were interested in was that the tragedy took place near where Obama was staying. It's in a leafy part of Jerusalem, on King David Street, not far from the Dan Panorama Hotel, where a lot of American tourists stay. It is also close to the King David Hotel, where diplomats stay and on the balcony restaurant of which Paul Newman began his seduction of Eva Marie Saint in the movie "Exodus".

It is also near the tony Yemin Moshe neighborhood, where a lot of Americans have bought homes and well within view of the Old City.

But our guys were only interested in the fact that the incident took place near where Obama was staying.

Speaking of Obama, a poll taken by a right-leaning Israeli publication showed Israelis favored GOP presumptive nominee John McCain by about 11 points, according to a story in the Forward, a New York based left-leaning Jewish newspaper.

The New York Times carried a story saying that Israelis and Arabs in Israel, Jordan and Egypt thought nothing would change no matter who got elected. The Arabs said both candidates would back Israel no matter what because of the American Jewish lobby and its power.

Let's hope they're right.

Until next time...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back at it after a break (again)

Happy Monday.

After a break and a little traveling to clear the cobwebs, the Lens is back.

I would have loved to post from the road, but two things kept me from doing it. First, most of the places we stayed didn't have WiFi in the rooms. One place didn't even have a phone in the room. More about that below.

Second was the caution, which I really know is a bit over the top, not to broadcast that we're not going to be home for a while.

We headed south and east, but not as far as last year. In fact, we didn't get any farther south than Alexandria, Va., but did spend a day in Cape May, N.J. after spending a pleasant few hours on the water. Thereby hangs a tale, which I will tell further down in this post.

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First, I want to get to something important: veterans potentially being disenfranchised.

Roger Johnson, who is in charge of the VA health-care system in Connecticut, says he will not allow state officials or volunteers to teach the vets in his care to vote using the new computerized voting machines. He said the vets can use absentee ballots, which seems to indicate that vets who want to vote like everyone else, at their local precincts, will not get any help from him.

That stinks.

Before I chime in on this, let me say that I have quite a bit of experience with veterans' hospitals in Connecticut. I know that that West Haven hospital is federal, and the Rocky Hill veterans' home and hospital is state-run. The West Haven hospital is the only one that is involved in this.

I admit that the lion's share of my experience is at Rocky Hill, where my father was treated with courtesy and respect by the staff in the ward where he spent the last two years of his life, suffering from the Alzheimer's disease that eventually led to his death nearly nine years ago.

But I have heard enough from friends about their treatment at the West Haven hospital to know that the level of care there is just as high. They cannot do all they want for those who served their country because of sometimes stupid and nearly always crippling fiscal policies from Washington.

I spent quite a bit of time visiting my dad in Rocky Hill and got to know some of his ward mates and others. Many of these guys, some of them in pretty tough shape, were aware and interested in what was going on. To withhold their right to vote easily is dead wrong.

It's bureaucratic baloney (again, this blog is rated PG) to say that only those who request voter registration should be approached by volunteers. Some people don't know such service is available, so why not ask them?

Believe me, many of the vets in this hospital would be happy for someone to talk to for any reason. When I visited my dad, I found out that many of the vets in this hospital hadn't had a visitor in years. Years! I can't believe such a vet wouldn't welcome someone to talk to, no matter the subject.

Our state's attorney general and secretary of the state aren't always on the side of the angels, but this time, they are. They have threatened suit if the rule is not changed by the end of this month. Kudos to them.

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We spent a few very pleasant hours in Cape May, N.J. last week. We had seen my step-mother in Maryland (she's just fine, thank you), attended a joyous wedding in Baltimore and had a day to kill before heading back to Connecticut for a wonderfully relaxing Shabbos (the Jewish Sabbath) with friends.

After the joyous wedding (if you get the chance to attend an Orthodox Jewish wedding, do it), we drove south and East from Baltimore, crossed the long bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway and ended up in Lewes, Del., where we caught the Lewes-Cape May Ferry.

These ships carry dozens of cars, truck, trailers and what have you on a very pleasant hour and a half sail to Cape May, N.J. The ferries have food, a gift shop (natch), but mostly places to sit and stand and watch the water. We saw three pods of dolphins and the decks are a great place for people-watching.

We checked into a pretty motel across the street from the beach in Cape May. When friend wife asked the office staff whether there was wireless Internet service, they laughed. There wasn't a phone in the room, never mind WiFi. The TV worked and it was quiet.

Cape May is famous for its Victorian and other historic houses, many of which have been turned into hotels and bed and breakfasts.

We walked around, bought some Ben & Jerry's on the blocks-long pedestrian mall, pictured, and were having a great time.

One of the things we like to do when visiting a place with a beach is to walk on that beach. We've done it from Cape Cod to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Tel Aviv, Israel.

Not here, though. You can't be on the beach unless you pay up. Four bucks a day.

Even in Connecticut, where most of the beachfront is privately owned, you can be on the beach free if you can get to it. (By the way, I got no response from any of the municipalities I e-mailed with my parking-reciprocity idea. See )

You think I'm kidding? They're not. Be on the beach without the needed tag and you get fined big-time or go to jail.

Here's the proof.

I know that the restrictions are the result of some people misusing the beach, holding beer parties, leaving it filthy and the rest. But, friends, to pay to walk along the beach is silly. And to threaten 90 days in jail for a walk on the beach, or even for a family to take a swim. No wonder the hotels across the street have pools.

In any case, it was nice. We left the next day early enough to drive the entire Garden State Parkway without any major traffic problems.

Who said the age of miracles has passed?

Until next time...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Don't forget me, Jesse Jackson says

"I am a champion of this cause" and don't you dare forget it.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, in an interview with CNN just a few minutes ago, said he was a leading voice in the civil rights struggle years before presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, and the world should not forget it.

Answering questions early this afternoon despite feeling tired, Jackson said he was sorry for comments he made to a FOX news reporter yesterday and is really sorry for his language picked up by a live microphone. He had been upset by a Father's Day speech by Obama that talked about the responsibility of African-American men to be fathers to their children.

After his apology for his comments, for which has has been criticized widely, including by his son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, he said Obama is being benefited by a civil rights fight that has been waged for decades by many leaders, including and the especially the elder Jackson.

He obviously felt he was not given credit for the work he had done over the decades with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others. He implied he was the leader after King's assassination in 1968.

It was hard to determine whether he said he was a champion of the civil right fight or if he said he was the champion. CNN had not published a transcript early this afternoon.

He talked about how he won several states in past Democratic presidential contests with "just $17 million," rather than the mega-war chest enjoyed by Obama.

It was clear Jackson felt left out. He felt marginalized. He was not getting his proper credit for his work in what he called the struggle that was highlighted by the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., in 1954. He talked about 20 years of progress that he said he said he was instrumental in getting for African-Americans.

He was obviously upset by what he felt was Obama's position. I'm sure he felt the first black presidential candidate of a major party was standing on the shoulders of the early civil rights fighters, led by himself after King's death. He was saying that he was the champ and don't you ever, ever forget it. He wanted the credit he said he deserved.

In that, he was right. If not for the work of people like him, Obama's run would be a sideshow at best. But, and this is a giant but, he is taking the spotlight off Obama, where it belongs, and wanted a big part of it to be on him. In that, he is wrong.

He reminds me of Ralph Nader, who did great things in the 1960s, but is now a footnote. Nader is running for president again, even though the only thing he has a chance of doing is gaining the White House for the GOP, the way he did in 2000.

Jackson's rap hasn't changed much, either. He talked about the economy and how that has impacted minorities, mainly men. He still asks how could men be expected to be fathers to their children when they don't have jobs and opportunities?

Obama seems to say that's sophistry, and he is right. If you can't support children, you should not father them. There is no excuse for men who father children, go on their way and expect the rest of us, the government, to support them, feed them, clothe and educate them.

Obama has figured that out. It seems Jesse Jackson hasn't.

Until he does, Jackson's place is on the sidelines, along with Ralph Nader and the rest.

Until next time...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's about time for the Fed to move

The Federal Reserve, the quasi-governmental panel that regulates some banking practices, has finally come through with some rules and regulations for the mortgage-lending industry. This is the same fed that regulates how much banks pay to borrow from each other and the government.

Talk about locking the barn door. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of families have lost, or will lose, their homes to foreclosure. Yes, part of it is their fault for not being realistic about their ability to pay back these loans.

But, and it is a huge but, the Fed should have seen this coming.

Under the proposal, unveiled last December, the rules would restrict lenders from penalizing risky borrowers who pay loans off early, require lenders to make sure these borrowers set aside money to pay for taxes and insurance and bar lenders from making loans without proof of a borrower's income. It also would prohibit lenders from engaging in a pattern or practice of lending without considering a borrower's ability to repay a home loan from sources other than the home's value. The Fed board is supposed to vote on this next week.

In the heady real estate market that seems so long past but is really not much more than a couple of years ago, it was virtually impossible to be turned down for a loan, as long as the house was up to the local building codes.

The following could have happened, and, I'll bet, did happen more than once.

Lender: So you want a mortgage on the house you want to buy?

Borrower: Yes.

Lender: How much money do you have for a down-payment?

Borrower: None of your business.

Lender: How much do you make?

Borrower: None of your business.

Lender: OK, how much do you have in the bank? What other loans do you have outstanding? Have you put aside money for taxes and insurance?

Borrower: None of your business to all three.

Lender: Perfect. Here's the check. Congratulations.

I hate to say "I told you so" but I, along with many colleagues, was doing stories on this a couple of years ago. When nearly half the houses sold in 2006 were sold with little or no down payment, when lenders were offering loans for a full 25 percent more than the home's value, when you could choose to pay little or even nothing each month on your loan, people like consulting economist Nick Perna were sounding alarm bells. Again, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Boy, was it ever for so many homeowners.

You can read what I wrote about this in March of 2007.

That one has a link to an even earlier story about the danger. The only problem with the March 2007 story was the opinion that the housing mess was a part of a normal market decline. I guess I just didn't know the extent of the mess.

Now, if guys like Nick Perna and I can see this coming a couple of years ago, where was the Fed in March of 2007?

Well, I guess too little too late is better than nothing at all.

Until next time...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Caught in the middle again

Happy Monday. I hope the weekend was a good one.

Sue and I spent some time yesterday at Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middlefield.

It's a little swimming hole with some walking trails and, of course, the falls.

You get there by taking Route 66 east off I-91 in Meriden, then taking a right on Route 157 in Middletown. The intersection of Route 157 is farther then you think it should be. The park is on the left-hand side. There's a fee to park, as in just about all state parks during the season.

If you're strapped for cash (or cheap, like me) and don't feel the need to swim, you can skip the parking fee by driving past the park entrance and taking a left of Cherry Hill Road. There's a stop sign at the intersection. A few hundred feet on the left is a nifty and free parking lot. You can walk the short distance to the falls and cool off your feet.

If you feel ambitious, you can walk across the railroad tracks on Cherry Hill Road and a hundred yards or so (maybe less) on the left, there's a wide, easy-to-follow trail. There's a sign that says the trail starts here. Follow the orange blazes for a nice, slightly hilly walk through the woods. If you walk long enough, you get to the swimming hole.

But, if you're going to go swimming, pay the fee. It pays for beach upkeep and the like. But if you just want to walk or see the falls, I feel, the view should be free.

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After making my living reporting and editing the news for decades, I almost hate to pick up a newspaper these days.

The New York Times lead story today (lede for newspaper folks) has to do with doctors and insurance company lobbyists fighting it out for Senate votes on Medicare fees. It seems the doctors don't want their fees to be cut, saying they get paid little enough to see old folks on Medicare.

Here's the thing: Doctors want to undo a more than 10 percent cut in fees they get paid to see Medicare patients. Medicare rules forbid them from charging the patients for the difference, so their only weapon is to threaten to leave the Medicare system. For a senior citizen used to having a certain doctor, that's a really scary threat.

Now the House and Senate are really close to passing bills that restore the cuts. They're being helped along by a massive campaign by the American Medical Association. The AMA is, among other things, the chief doctors' lobby.

OK so far?

Here's the other part. The House and Senate want to fund the restoration of the cuts to doctors by cutting fees Medicare pays insurance companies to run Medicare supplemental plans. These are plans that cover, for a fee, some of the things not covered by Medicare. Some of these things are nice to have but not for everyone, such as coverage when traveling out of the country. Others are things that Medicare should cover, like annual physical exams.

So, of course, the insurance-industry lobbyists want the plan to decrease fees to their industry to fail. And, of course, you can guess on which side your president will land. Right. He's threatened to veto the bill.

So, who's stuck in the middle. Us, the great silent (I hope not for long) majority.

Rich folks really don't care how this works out. They can afford to $100-$150 or so a month for supplemental plans that basically pay for all those things Medicare doesn't.

Really poor folks don't have to worry about Medicare. They have Medicaid. Now, I'm not saying it's a walk in the park to be poor. Far from it. I used to live in what we now call a transitional neighborhood in Hartford. No fun. But folks on Medicaid who get sick are covered. Each state has plans that cover children, like the Husky programs in Connecticut.

Those in the middle, who rely on Medicare, face a Hobson's choice.

For example, if you need hospital care, you pay a $1,024 deductible for the first 60 days. That's great, considering that most private insurance patients can be charged that much for one day in the hospital. But if you're trying to get along on $1,000 or less a month of Social Security, it's a lot of money.

If you're really sick and you need to be in hospital for more than 60 days, there's a $256-a-day fee. Supplement plans take most of those costs away, for those who can afford them.

The rub comes in on other things. Medicare has a $275 deductible on prescriptions after you join Part D, which pays most of the cost of many drugs. Many supplement plans cover all those costs, so older people don't have to make a choice between eating and paying for prescriptions. But it comes at a price. I remember my folks and in-laws, before Medicare covered prescription drugs, paying full price for their drugs.

The supplements also cover things like yearly physicals, eye exams, dentist visits and other things people with medical insurance have come to rely on. Again, at a price.

So, for the majority of Americans who did what they were supposed to do like stay in school, work hard, save some of your money, pay for your kids' education, it comes down to being caught in the middle again.

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I haven't heard from anyone on my suggestion for a regionalization experiment. As you recall, or can find out by looking at the next post, I suggested that East Haven, New Haven and West Haven try a little experiment on regionalization. I suggested that each municipality honor the beach passes of the other two, giving people a little variety in their beach-going.

The only response I received was an automatic one from Jessica Mayorga of New Haven saying she would be out of the office until today.

I live in hope

Until next time...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Try regionalization at the beach: See below

Yesterday, Len's Lens had a day off. We had the pleasure of taking grandchildren to the Children's Museum in West Hartford. You need to be a little angry when you write a blog such as this, and after spending the afternoon with grandchildren, that is not possible.

Please note that a memorial service for Norman Rubin will take place Sunday night at about 8, after evening prayers, at Cong. Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim, corner West Elm Street and Marvel Road in the Westville section of New Haven. If you don't know what I'm talking about, read Monday's post a little farther down.

One of those who left a comment in the post about Mr. Rubin's death called himself Roger Sherman, and said the Orthodox community in New Haven had been weakened by Mr. Rubin's passing. That, of course, is true. He also mentioned that two kosher bakeries had closed. That's also true, although he didn't mention that Edge of the Woods on Whalley Avenue and Stop & Shop on the Westville-Amity line, as well as the kosher meat market near Amity Liquor, still sell kosher baked goods.

In his remarks, Roger Sherman also talked about the fortunes of Young Israel synagogue and said the Westville Synagogue was not the powerhouse it once was. He didn't mention Bikur Cholim, however, the synagogue Mr. Rubin served for so many years. Bikur Cholim is a place for modern Orthodox Jews in New Haven. Try it.

Page 2: A regionalization suggestion

Connecticut has 169 cities and towns. Residents of most of those towns act as if Connecticut had 169 separate universes.

There have been attempts at regionalization. Councils of governments exist, but each community still worries about its own turf. Tweed New Haven Airport is a prime example, with East Haven and New Haven at odds about attempts to bring the airport into the modern age.

New Haven bears an unfair burden for care of the homeless and the stateless. I'm not going to get into that here
But what I will suggest is an easy and quick way for the three communities that share Long Island Sound to try cooperation.

Let's do it at the beach.

At present, people in New Haven cannot park for free in municipal beaches and boat launches in East Haven and West Haven. East Haven just announced a $150 fee for out-of-towners parking by its beaches. In West Haven, you can park at Chick's Drive-In and walk across the busy street to the beach, but not in the city lots. That'll cost you $75 a year.

In New Haven, it's $10 a day, or $50 a year, to park at Lighthouse Point Park for out-of-towners.

They all say that the fee isn't for using the beach; it's for parking. But many streets near Long Island Sound in West Haven, for example, are no-parking zones during beach season.

So, let's try something easy. It takes no time, costs nothing.

Let's let people with resident beach stickers from East Haven, New Haven and West Haven park free at beaches in any of those communities. For example, if you have a New Haven sticker on our car, you can park free at West Haven or East Haven beaches. Get it? Regionalization.

If it works this year, maybe folks in Madison and Guilford and Branford can join the party. We're talking about town beaches, not state parks.

Why not give it a try?

I've sent a note to each town's public relations person. I'll let you know what, if anything, comes of this.

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Starting tonight, the Boston Red Sox, who just lost three games to the Tampa Bay Rays, invade Yankee Stadium to play the hated New York Yankees.

The Yanks last night did what the Sox could not do: They rallied to win.

I wonder if Sox Manager Terry (Tito) Francona was looking past the Rays last night when he sat there, contemplating the pink wad of gum he seemed to be concentrating on, as pitcher after pitcher couldn't find home plate with a map. That wasn't Tito's fault. It was a complete bullpen meltdown.

But, in the 9th inning, after getting to within one run of the Rays, he sat there while catcher Jason Varitek, who cannot buy a hit for the past many games, came to bat. Why didn't Tito pinch-hit for Tek? Why did he send third-baseman Mike Lowell on a suicide mission the steal second? Lowell is a lot of marvelous things in the game, but a sprinter he's not.

So, instead of emulating the Yankees and coming from behind, the Sox went down with a swish of Tek's bat as he struck out yet again to end the game..

Yes, I know Tek is probably the best catcher in the business, but he's not hitting and when you have the chance of a win, especially going into a series with the Yankees... Oh, well.

And about those Rays. Every year, they are at or near the bottom of the standings. This year, they have the best record in baseball. What gives?

I have a theory. Shakespeare said "What's in a name?" At lot, says me. Last year, they were the Devil Rays. This year, they're the Rays.

They got the devil out of their name and look what happened.

Just a theory.

Until next time...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Maybe those Aurora nuts weren't so crazy

First of all, thank you to all who linked to this site to read about the death of Norman Rubin.

He was a gentle, wonderful man who will be missed a lot by those who knew him and were touched by him. As the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach said, "If we make ourselves small, then there will be room for a lot more of us." Mr. Rubin made himself small, but his knowledge and his willingness to share it made the rest of us who learned from him feel very big.

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When I was growing up, the UFO believers were also growing up. Books like "Chariots of the Gods?" by Erich von Däniken and the works of J. Allen Hynek and Donald Keyhole stoked the imagination of youngsters like me. Then we were going into space, which lent credence to the possibility of UFOs coming here.

Then there was Area 51, an area in Nevada within Nellis Air Force Base, which some say has been moved. Strange sights were to be viewed there: lights in the night that some said were from outer space, but later proven to be so-called black projects, such as the F-117A Nighthawk, the so-called Stealth Fighter, which isn't a fighter at all but an attack plane.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber also was tested there.

Then there was the Aurora.

Back in the 1990s, a strange phenomenon was seen there, a plane going very, very fast but whose contrail looked more like someone blowing smoke rings rather than the straight trail left by other aircraft. The plane was said to have looked like this.

This thing was said to be capable of going 6,000 miles an hour or faster.

No such thing, the government said. Can't be done. We don't know what you crazies are talking about.

Well, a couple of days ago, I was looking at the Comcast news page and there was the following Fox News report about an airplane concept being studied. It worked not by blowing a steady stream of very hot air out the back as most jets do, by also by many small explosions that take place in its engines. That would leave a contrail that looked as if somebody were blowing smoke rings. It was said to be capable of going 6,000 mph or faster. Anybody see a connection here?

Sorry, but I cannot get the link to the Fox report to work. If you want to see the report, and you should, you have to copy the entire link below and paste it into your Web browser. I just tried it and it works. You'll first see a 25 second commercial, then the report. Try to ignore the embarrassing banter between the anchors. It's worth a look.

Doesn't the plane depicted in the Fox news report look an awful lot like the picture of the Aurora above? Again, maybe those lights in the sky weren't somebody's imagination after all. And it causes one to ask: What else is out there?

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With the price of things so high and the economy squeezing those who are not at the top of the economic ladder, Isn't it especially important for people trying to sell us things to tell the truth about what those things will cost us?

For example, my daughter Esther wanted to attend a wedding in Toronto recently. She and I looked all over the place for affordable airfares that were available when she wanted to go. We would find airfares quoted in the low $200 range. Fine -- she could afford that.

But when we went to purchase, the final figure, including the taxes, fees and the rest of the baloney, was more than $420. That didn't count the fees for luggage, drinks and the rest of the stuff.

Bottom line: She took a bus. For $85 (final figure), she got a round-trip ticket between New York and Toronto. The bus trip took 11 hours each way, but she still has about $300 that would have gone to the airline.

Merchants: Please tell us what something costs. Lose the asterisks. We don't need to read a lot of mumbo jumbo that says the thing will cost a lot more than the big numbers in the ad indicate it will.

You're not fooling anybody. Nobody with their heads screwed on right will complain about paying a fair price for something. Just don't entice people with one price and then break their hearts when they learn they can't afford the trip after all.

By the way, don't you hate the word "fee"? Let's call it a charge. You have to pay it, so it's a charge.

Cars are another thing. The big letters in the paper, or even better, on the television screen say the car costs $23,000. If you want to get the car you see, however, it'll cost you $39,000. On television, you get the whole picture if you can read the baby type going by so fast that Evelyn Wood couldn't read it. In the papers, bring your magnifying glass and on radio, the mumbling that goes on under the music would be a challenge to a National Security Agency snoop.

And while we're talking about cars, how about the dealers who offer to "get you approved." They don't care whether you can afford the car or not. By the time you drive your shiny new car that you have no hope of being able to afford off the lot, the car dealer has sold the loan to a bank or finance company. Now, you are their problem.

Say, wasn't that the way we got into the whole sub-prime mortgage mess in the first place?

Until next time...