Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy birthday, Mr. Lincoln

Happy Thursday and happy birthday, Honest Abe. 

Today is Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. In my opinion, not enough of a fuss is being made about it. Mr. Lincoln has been an inspiration to generations of politicians, lawyers and at least one journalist (me). 

I spent some time living in the Washington area about a decade ago and when I was really down, missing my family and trying to figure out things, I would walk over the Memorial Bridge from Arlington to the Lincoln Memorial. At night, when there wasn't anyone to throw a net over me, I might even have a conversation with Mr. Lincoln. It helped.

Anyway, happy birthday to a true genius and a man whom too many half-baked historians have judged through late-2oth and 21st century criteria. He knew that preserving the union was paramount. He knew the Emancipation Proclamation had no teeth, would not free one slave, but would burrow into the British psyche and would not allow England to enter the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. 

The South could never have won the Civil War. The North fought it with one hand tied around its back, just as we are now fighting a two-front war and you would never know it looking at Main Street America. It was the same back then. Many historians feel that England would never have entered the war no matter what, but Lincoln's genius checkmated any possibility and assured that the Union would come out of the war a strong state, ready for its place on the world stage.

So, happy birthday, Mr. Lincoln. I hope you would have liked what we did with the nation you fought so hard to preserve. 

Page 2

The Rev, a dear friend and former colleague of whom I have spoken a number of times, posted a comment asking what I thought of the Israeli elections.

First of all, nobody yet knows how they will shake out. Both Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Prime Minister Benyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu are claiming victory, but there are 30-something parties vying in this election and it looks as if Avigdor Lieberman, the head of a rightist party, might end up the kingmaker.

That will take weeks to shake out. Until then, it'll be politics as usual in Israel  -- in other words, chaos. But then again, it's the only true democracy in the region, so a little chaos should be expected. After the 2000 election, we in the U.S. don't have the right to criticize anyone. 

For whom an I rooting? Let's look at the history. Except for the last time around, when Yitzhak Rabin tried to give away the store to Yasser Arafat and Arafat wouldn't take it, all of truly meaningful peace treaties were made by so-called Israeli hard-liners. That title is wrong, but that's another story. 

The people who really gave up a lot in a failed attempt to buy peace were Menachem Begin, the guy who blew up the King David Hotel before the British left, and Bibi Netanyahu, who gave up 85 percent of the West Bank to the Arabs. Arafat, as the late Israeli hero Abba Eban loved to say, never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. 

Bibi gave up Hebron and Jericho. The Palestinians, with Israeli help, built a casino there and could have cleaned up, but again, they never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Instead of cleaning up, they shot the place up and now it's just another monument to that lost opportunity, as is the Palestinian parliament building in Abu Dis. That community easily could have become subsumed into Jerusalem and given the Palestinians their capital in that city.

Ariel Sharon, the man who was wrongly blamed for the Lebanon massacres in the 1980s, was the guy who hatched the plan to give up Gaza. 

All in all, I guess I'm for Bibi. He's smart, articulate in Hebrew and in idiomatic English (studied at Harvard) and can speak well for Israel. He's tough, but the Arabs respect toughness and seem to do better negotiating with a tough person rather than a pushover.

I hope that answers your question, Rev. It's great to hear from you. We really do need to get together. 

Page 3

I never thought I'd say this, but hurray for Congress. 

I watched the hearings by Barney Frank's House banking panel Wednesday. Of course, there was the usual bombast by congressmen and women, but they got the heads of the major banks, Bank of America, Citi, Wells Fargo and others, to promise not to foreclose on owner-occupied houses until the committee comes up with its plan to help homeowners who can be saved. 

Some bankers went farther, saying they would halt foreclosures not only on the loans they made or inherited, but would halt them on loans they were servicing for other banks or brokers. Frank said Congress was working on language that would protect the banks from lawsuits arising out of that. 

The industry is starting to come around. I've seen copies of letters sent by banks to homeowners lowering interest rates, bringing loans up to date and other moves. The banks initiated those actions. Lawyers had postponed foreclosure sales, giving homeowners a chance to hold onto their homes. 

This is all to the good. I just hope we learned our lesson -- not only the bankers and brokers, but all of us. In the end, it's each of us who must know what we can afford and what we can't. We must be able to say, "I can't afford this. It would be nice to have my own home with a backyard my kids can play in, but I just can't do this right now." It's hard to say that -- damn hard. But we need to be able to do that. 

I heard one of the stimulus packages would make car-loan interest tax deductible. That's good for two reasons. It might help the car industry. And it takes away the impetus to take out a home-equity loan, which is tax-deductible, to buy the car. 

How many formerly rich people are in trouble on their mortgages because they took the equity -- the difference between what a house is worth and how much you owe on it -- and bought the Bimmer or Jag or big Audi or Range Rover? The answer is lots.

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The more I read out this octuplets' mother, the madder I get. She's doing this all on our backs. Food stamps, state and federal aid, student loans and the rest were used to pay for this self-indulgent claptrap. California's Medicaid system and the hospital where she gave birth will have to swallow much of the rest.

The problem is, friends, that this selfish woman could start a backlash that would have people ganging up on folks who really need the aid through no fault of their own. That would indeed be a shame. We Americans are soft-hearted people, always willing to help the little guy who is struggling.

It's just too bad there are so many who undeserving or crooked people who are too willing to  help themselves.

Until next time...

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