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. 

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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. 

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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...

Friday, October 17, 2008

A twitch in time...

During the last (thank heaven) presidential debate the other day, I was searching for a way to describe Sen. John McCain's behavior. It hit me this morning....twitchy.

His mouth kept trying to form a smile. his hands and arms went all over the was just twitchy. Yes, I know he was injured ejecting from his shot-down plane over Hanoi during the Vietnam war, so his arms don't work so well. But that's not it. He just couldn't sit still, couldn't or wouldn't answer the questions put to him and, like his running mate Sarah (half-baked Alaska) Palin, kept scanning his notes for his talking points. 

Speaking of getting a twitch, I almost laughed myself into one the other day when a piece of mail arrived from, of all people, John McCain.

It seems the Republican party is in a quandary. They don't have money. It's an emergency.

Let me quote: "We've reached a critical juncture in the campaign. The Obama Democrats and their left-wing, special-interest allies (different from the McCain special-interest allies who are running his campaign) have come together in a united front, combining their enormous fundraising arsenal. Meanwhile, the national Democrats led by Chairman Howard Dean are stepping up their cynical campaign of distortions and outright lies, with the help of their cronies, like, are raising a staggering amount of money." Right on, Howie. Finally got something right.

Further down, it says, "I would not ask for your help if the circumstances were not so dire."
That was before Wednesday's performance, with its outright lies (Acorn and Ayers).

By the way, the ludicrous mention Wednesday night of Joe the Plumber who, by the way, is not licensed to work in the county where his boss' business is located, and, some say, has many skeletons in his closet. Joe said he didn't need a license because his boss has one. Turns out, the boss doesn't have a license either. So, as Dutch Reagan loved to say, Here He Goes Again. 

McCain talked about Joe the Plumber without getting all his facts together, without investigating. Just as he picked Sarah Palin for his running mate without investigating her and her knocked-up daughter an her hockey-puck husband. Oh yes, and her now-proven use of her power for vendettas against her sister's ex. Nice.

 Man, I'd better destroy this post if she wins, because the black-SUV guys will be kicking down my door.

Page 2

The bikers are taking over New Haven. No, not the Hell's Angels, the bicycle riders, the adults who have taken to making the city safer for themselves and people who walk (and presumably roller skate and ride skateboards.)

Before I say anything, let me establish my bona-fides. Years ago, when I worked on Orange Street and Sargeant Drive with the New Haven daily newspapers, I rode a bike to work for months at a time. I didn't ride on Sherman Avenue, but I did ride on the Boulevard and Whalley Avenue. When I was riding a desk and didn't need transportation during the work say, I rode my bike from Upper Westville to work.

So, I do not speak as a stranger.

First of all, I congratulate you for trying to wrest the streets away from the SUV drivers. What about cars...not many left on the roads. Count them sometime.

My daughter and her family live in Amherst, Mass., a place where the pedestrian and biker rule. In Amherst, as well as the nearby college towns of Northhampton and South Hadley (home to Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, UMass and Hampshire), they have gone overboard on stopping for crossing pedestrians. There are lighted, raised (a few inches) crosswalks, and you have the feeling that if you didn't stop, a roadside bomb would go off, blowing you off to the hell you so richly deserve to inhabit. OK, a little over the top.

I have no problem with biker safety and pedestrian safety, since I walk to synagogue at least once a week across busy intersections. But, like all things, a little thought could help.

First of all, bikers have to obey the law, too. In the past three weeks, the majority of bike riders I have encountered were blowing lights, riding down the center of busy streets (like Grove), and paying little or no attention to what is going on around them. 

That has to stop. Just as moped riders have to pay attention (unlike the two riding hell-for-leather on Fountain Street in dark clothes after dark with no lights, no reflective strips, nothing), so do bikers. Downtown, students, presumably Yalies, engaged in conversation just keep walking across streets with walk lights, paying little or no attention to the cars that, at that moment, have the right of way. 

So, rant over. Paul Bass, in his weekly video blog, talks about riding on Sherman Avenue, a wide street. Yes, cars shouldn't go fast on Sherman Avenue. A bike lane will make the street narrower. 

So, what about this thought process: Sherman Avenues borders what institution? The Hospital of Saint Raphael. What type of vehicles approach hospitals quickly? Ambulances. So, if you have an ambulance, a line of cars waiting for the light on George or Chapel, and a bike lane that constricts traffic, what do you have? An unnecessary hazard. 

Sure, 999 times out of 1,000, the bikers isn't wearing earphones with music cranked up so loud the siren isn't heard, the ambulance sees the biker, a car will move over, cars aren't parked nose to tail all the way down the street, a car isn't coming out of the doctors' building across from the hospital. You want to be that 1,000th person.

I wonder if the traffic experts who were cautioning against a bike lane on Sherman Avenue hadn't thought of some of these possibilities and the bike riders didn't. 

Yes, bikers should be able to ride safely and anything to get cars off the road is good. But, let's not stampede over good sense while heading for our goals.

Page 3

One quick question: The price of oil is down near where it should be, less than $70 a barrel. Wasn't that about where it was when gas and heating oil were less than $2.50 a gallon? If so, why are they still around $3.00 a gallon or more? 

Just asking.

Page 4

Here comes the weekend. It's supposed to be clear and cool, perfect leaf-peeping weather. Let's not stop the car in the middle of the road to gawk at wonderful colors. Yes, it happens, a lot more often than you'd think. 

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

Until next time...

Monday, October 13, 2008

You want the guy who gave him those scars

Hope you had a great weekend. At this end, we built two succahs, one at home and the other at our synagogue (the first alone, the second with lots and lots of help). I'm also hoping the gains on the stock market today will be the start of something, not just a blip.

Succahs are temporary dwellings that observant Jews eat in, and some actually live in, during the holiday of Succos. The Torah commands us to dwell in these temporary structures for the eight-day holiday. 

It's a lot easier these days to build because of kits that resemble Erector sets. In the not-so-distant past, it was boards and nails or screws. In any case, it's a happy holiday after the somber and scary Yom Kippur. It's a feast, not a fast. 

Page 2

Three weeks from tomorrow is Election Day and it seems that Sen. Barack Obama's lead is growing. Even Bill Kristol, the super-Conservative columnist and publisher, calls on Sen. John McCain to fire his staff and appeal to the voters on his own.

The antics of Gov. Sarah Palin and McCain's wife, Cindy, have proven embarrassing to the candidate, with people calling for a lynching and even beating up a cameraman because he is black. 

McCain sells himself as a former serviceman, a naval officer who was shot down over North Vietnam and spent years as a prisoner of war.

About that, let me share a thought.

Do you remember the movie, "The Magnificent Seven", a 1960 film starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. It's probably best known for its theme music, which was used to sell Marlboro cigarettes for years. 

The movie centers around a Mexican village that is being repeatedly robbed by a bandits. Some villagers come north to the U.S. to hire gunmen to fight the bandits. 

The scene is in a cantina, a bar, where the two newly hired gunmen and the villagers are seated at a table, looking around at more prospective hires among the patrons. A guy walks in, scowling like the others, with scars lining his face. 

One villager points him out, saying he looks tough with those scars.

The villager leaders says no. "The one we want is the man who gave him those scars," he says, with knowing nods from our heroes.

Doesn't that translate into the current election? McCain got shot down bombing Hanoi. Isn't the real expert in the military the guy who bombed Hanoi but didn't get shot down?

I know McCain has other qualities, but he's constantly yapping about winning the war in Iraq, a war that even Scott McClellan, President Bush's former drum beater, says was sold to the American people with a pack of lies, innuendo and distortions. 

The philosopher Jorge (George) Santayana said. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 

I remember the Vietnam war and how many service members were unnecessarily killed because presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon were holding out first for victory and, when that became impossible, for peace with honor. We got neither, just hundreds if not thousands of unnecessary casualties. 

We don't know if victory in Iraq is possible or even what it would look like. We need to get out of that quagmire as soon as possible without doing any more damage to the region. George Bush was a nut on freedom and liberty for everybody. Not everybody is ready for that.

The hate-mongering that passes for campaign strategy in the McCain camp has to end. I think McCain is better than that and he needs to bring his attack dogs to heel. 

Page 3

The next couple of days are a holiday and there will be no blogging from this end. For those in the Tribe, a wonderful, happy Succos. For the rest of us, let's hope cooler heads prevail on Wall Street and that the economy starts its long road back to sanity.

Until next time...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Time for reflection on many fronts

Happy Friday and I hope everyone had a fine week. Those who did were those who were smart enough not to look at the stock market. 

The "experts", that is those who sat by while the "real experts" got us into this mess, say it'll all be fine as long as we don't sell any stocks. It's all paper loss.

They're right, but what happens to the retired folks who are counting on this money to pay the bills or, heaven forbid, have a little fun after doing all the right things? You know the right things: contributing to the 401 (k), working, buying a house they could afford with a mortgage they could understand and whose payments they can make. 

If this sounds a little personal, it is. I guess we're pretty lucky compared to some, but I'm a little sick of playing by the rules and then getting screwed because of those who either thought they could beat the system, or just thought they could slide in and ride the housing boom to solvency.  

Page 2

Enough of this. I hope those in the Tribe had a meaningful Yom Kippur. For those not in the know, it's a day of reflection and begging for forgiveness for sins. You don't eat, drink; some walk to synagogue in the weakened state; and many stay in synagogue for 10 hours or so.
It's meaningful, a little scary and a challenge. 

Speaking of people in the Tribe, and good ones, did you hear what happened to Moti Sandman? He's a New Haven alderman, a great guy and, by the way, a regular reader of this post

Sandman apparently went to the aid of Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts during an attack by three guys who apparently wanted to stand outside a watering hole and hear what was going on inside, and got angry because Smuts kept closing the door because he was cold. Moti came to his aid, and got hurt for his trouble. 

Anyway, I hope Moti the hero is doing well and doesn't suffer because of his actions coming to the aid of a friend.

Page 3

The presidential campaign is getting really ridiculous, especially on the Republican side. 

The Cindy McCain show is really getting nasty. You know Cindy McCain, the second wife of John McCain, Mr. Clean, or so he'd have you think. A few years after John came back from captivity in Vietnam, his marriage to Carol, the starter wife, started to get back, in no small measure, it seems, because she had been badly hurt in a car crash when he was in captivity and was permanently crippled. He met Cindy, a beer heiress, in a bar and they got married after he and Carol divorced.

Anyway, I think the most ridiculous moment of the week was when Cindy, with crocodile tears, yelled at Barack Obama for voting against money for the troops (never mind that John also voted against the bill, also in a preliminary count) while her son was in Iraq. I guess you need to have a son in Iraq to get elected vice president these days. 

She cried (almost) that Obama should walk a day in her shoes.

Honey, Obama could not afford your shoes. Just shut up, and take that half-baked Alaska with you. 

Page 5

Have a great weekend. The weather looks great. And for those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos with a clean soul and good weather for Sukkah-building on Sunday.

Until next time...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Signs of the times

In my gym, there are signs next to the three-foot-deep hot tub that say "No Diving."

Why do we need such signs, friend wife asked.

I told her that it was not a given that somebody, and probably more than one somebody, would not try to dive in from the edge rather than walk the total of about seven feet to the stairs leading down to the spa.

There are unquestionably many people in this category, but there was never a way to quantify this. How could we know how many people there are who would dive into a three-foot deep hot tub.

It seems to me that that will soon change. Come Nov. 5 or many Nov. 6, we will know.

All we need to do is count the votes for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

I don't know which debate some of the commentators who spouted opinions on the television networks and cable channels following the debate last night (Oct. 2, 2008), but they certainly were not watching the one I was.

Palin didn't answer questions from the thoughtful questioner, Gwen Ifill of PBS. She spouted talking points written on index cards or papers that had been laid on the rostrum she used. She sounded like a robot, regurgitating phrases she learned like a parrot. 

No, she didn't look like a deer caught in headlights, as she has when she didn't have notes and talking points generated by staffers hoping to keep her from again showing how ill-prepared she is to be vice president.

These same handlers and spin doctors somehow convinced our television journalists, otherwise known as the blond and the banal, that somehow if Palin showed up, didn't drool on herself, didn't commit a major gaffe, such as not knowing the Bush Doctrine (by the way, if she had been listening instead of checking her talking points, she would have heard Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. enunciate the Bush Doctrine in three words) and not knowing a thing about the cause of global warming. Wait a minute, she did that.

Anyway, the bar had been set so low that she looked like a star. 

And by the way, what's the big deal about hockey moms? What wrong with soccer moms, or baseball moms, football moms, basketball moms, lacrosse moms? I guess they don't get many of those in the wilds of small-town Alaska, where the snow jobs are thick and plentiful.

Page 2

I received an interesting ad in a junk-mail envelope the other week. "No idea what Those Old Guns are Worth? Call Today!" it read.

Sell your old or unwanted firearms. Excellent prices paid. There was a phone number.  

With the economy as it is, I guess gun dealers want to stock up for the rush. 

Page 3

The bailout finally got passed today, which is a good thing. As Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times indicated in his excellent column the other day, the only thing to do with this is hold your nose and swallow. Sort of like cod liver oil. Without the bailout, there would have been an economic catastrophe the likes of which we have never seen since the Depression. 

I was glad to see that something good came of this whole thing. The mental health parity legislation, that has been languishing for years in Congress, got put into the bailout legislation and was passed.

What it means is that those people with mental and emotional issues are now on a par with those with physical issues when it comes to insurance and how they are treated by the medical infrastructure. 

Those suffering from emotional issues now have a better chance at treatment, rather than just being pandered to by drug companies with "ask your doctor" ads on television.

Page 4

The weekend looks cool but nice. I hope all have a wonderful weekend, and, for those in the Tribe, a wonderful Shabbos.

Until next time...