Saturday, January 27, 2007


I just got home after spending the day at the peace march. People traveled from all over the country to march up to Capitol Hill and express their grievances. The route was a bit unusual. Typically at these D.C. marches, we all head northwest from the Mall to the White House. Today, the route was east, directly toward the Capitol.

I applaud the planners for their itinerary. We all know who works in the White House. We all know what he thinks about war and peace. You could call him The Decider. Or, if you prefer, the PiƱata. On Capitol Hill, they treat him as both.

What we don’t know is exactly who – or what – works on Capitol Hill. I’ve been trying to figure that out for the past few weeks. Soon, we’ll all be getting a pretty good whiff of the answer. Today, unfortunately, I think I got a preview.

This much we can say: most of the folks who represent us in Washington call themselves Democrats. But what does that really mean? Not much, and maybe it shouldn’t mean much. Democrats should be able to be pro life or pro choice, protectionist or free traders, pro Iraq War or anti-Iraq War. Let each party be a big tent. Let each one be a place of robust internal debate. If you don’t like the views of one of the politicians, then by all means, vote him or her out. But let us not question whether politicians have the right to represent a political party simply because their views are out of the mainstream.

So it’s fine by me that some of the Dems are fiscally conservative but socially liberal, or vice versa. That isn’t the issue. The issue is whether it is fine for Democrats to campaign as one thing, and then govern as something completely different. There, I’m not so tolerant.

Consider, folks, that the march today wasn’t exactly about a trivial issue. This wasn’t a rally against the Designated Hitter, or even the scourge of steroids. This was about the fundamental issue of our day: the Iraq War. It’s only right to expect that politicians who ran fervently against that war will, if elected, use their power to fight it. It’s very much wrong for them to bash the Bush Administration ceaselessly for its so-called folly, and then, when they have the power of the purse, to continue to fund that folly.

One of the speakers today was Congressman John Conyers. This afternoon, I saw a plastic-woman newscaster on the TV refer to Conyers as the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. But we Empathic Rationalists are more clued into politics than that, right? We know Conyers as the first African-American Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

I mention his title because his is the committee that is in charge of initiating the impeachment process. Lots of people at the march held signs calling for the impeachment of Cheney … and some wanted Bush impeached as well. When Conyers finished speaking, a chant calling for impeachment immediately erupted. But to Conyers’ credit, he didn’t once mention impeachment. He knows that (a) he can’t prove that Bush committed a “high crime” or “misdemeanor,” and (b) he couldn’t get the Congress to impeach/convict Bush whether he wanted him impeached or not. Still, there’s a lot Conyers can do short of impeachment. He can show up at a rally like the one today, for example. More importantly, he can call for his colleagues to use the power of the purse to STOP FUNDING THE WAR, or at least the so-called surge. That’s exactly what Conyers did. He told us in no uncertain terms that Congress has the power and the obligation to stop the flow of money that fuels the war that so many of us hate.

Conyers wasn’t the only member of Congress in attendance. So was Wynn from Maryland, Nadler from New York, Waters from California, and Kucinich from Ohio. Senator Russ Feingold from Wisconsin wasn’t there, but he provided a statement that was read. So what is that: six out of 535? That’s 1%, if you’re scoring at home (or even if you’re not).

Here’s what I don’t get: if all of the Democrats hate the war as much as they’ve told us, where in blazes were the other nearly-300 Democrats on the Hill? Couldn’t they, like Feingold, at least have provided a written statement? Moreover, leaving aside the issue of their stance on this march, how do they get off being so critical of this war if they keep putting our nation’s money where Bush’s mouth is? Non-binding resolutions are well and good, but what in blazes do they prove? Now that the Dems are in the majority, and now that the American public has resoundingly announced their views in one poll after enough, why are the Dems so afraid to put an end to this madness? Why are they so afraid of announcing that they are no longer going to give the President the money he wants to fight this war?

Yes, I know. They’re playing politics. They don’t want to be blamed for the inevitable “defeat” in Iraq. They would like the same Republicans who made this bed to lie in it.

I admit to understanding a wee bit of justice in that idea. I certainly understand the expediency. What I can’t understand is the morality. If it truly is in the national and international interest to end this war, and if the war’s alleged opponents have the power to stop or curtail the war, why would they not be morally obliged to do so? After all, this isn’t politics we’re talking about. This is life and death – and on a big scale at that.

Here’s a rhetorical question for any limousine liberal out there who elected these Democrats on largely anti-war grounds but haven’t taken any of your precious time to fight it. Who is worse:

(a) Stupid, misguided, jingoist fools (your words, right?) who truly believe that throwing more troops into helpless military situations will actually bring about victory; or

(b) Politicians who recognize that escalating a war will simply delay the inevitable and increase death and destruction over the long haul, but who nevertheless fund the escalation, merely for “political purposes.”

If the answer is (b) – and I think it may well be – what does it say about a society that lets these politicians get away with their conduct and doesn’t even rise up in protest.? Yes, we had tens of thousands of people at the National Mall today. But that turnout was but 1% of what we should have.

At the risk of sounding like I work for Bush and Cheney – which, of course, I do – it’s time for the people of America to stand up and take our military obligations seriously. Either you’re for this war, or you’re against it. Either you’re for this surge, or you’re against it. It’s time to get off your collective butts and take a stand. Either lobby your representatives and show up at marches, or stop being so damned critical of the President. At least we can’t prove he’s insincere in his views. And the same could surely be said for the counter-protesters I saw today on the march.

Frankly, I have little doubt that those counter-protesters sincerely believe that a surge represents our best chance to make peace, over the long haul, in a post 9/11 world. I might disagree with them about the means to that end, but at least we both care a ton about its importance. At present, it’s the limousine liberals and other apathetic souls who are driving me crazy. Anyone who cares deeply enough about peace to show up at a march – regardless of how they manifest that concern -- is, in an important respect, my ally. . . . Besides, whoever held up the sign that said “Hippies Smell” made me laugh! (And as an argument for the surge, it makes as much sense as any other.)

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Did any of you catch what happened last week when America’s favorite TV show made a stop at the beautiful Pacific Northwest? I did. As some of you know from reading one of my earlier posts, I live in an American Idol family. This time of year, the TV is always occupied whenever Simon, Randy, and Ms. Foster Brooks (or whatever the other judge’s name is) show up on the idiot box.

I can almost understand why people watch the show when each season winds down and the final four or five participants duke it out for the big record contract. I don’t happen to care for a cappella country, gospel, or pop music. But that’s just me. Taste in music is subjective and varied. Apparently, however, taste in humor is pretty universal.

By humor, I’m referring to American Idol during the first few weeks of the season. That’s where they film John and Jane Q public auditioning for a chance to be on the big stage. No doubt, the judges see a wide range of talent, ranging from fine singers to the tone deaf. But almost invariably, the telecast is devoted to the losers. And I don’t just mean those who don’t win the competition. I mean those who the judges (and the bazillions of homo sapiens in TV land) recognize readily as Losers with a capital L. The bad. And yes, the ugly.

In Seattle, the judges were at their visceral best. Simon – the only polysyllabic judge -- termed one tall, black female contestant a “giraffe.” He tastefully described another contestant as “fat.” And he reserved the piece de resistance for a young man with odd eyes, whose appearance prompted Simon to call him a “bush baby.” The other judges sat in silence as the contestants were humiliated before a national TV audience. But when the contestants left the room, the other judges had a big laugh of their own.

So who should come to the rescue of the fatties, the giants, and the bush babies? That’s right. A woman who, according to Donald Trump, is a “fat … unattractive …loser” in her own right. Ms. Rosie O’Donnell.

Tell me, do you have to have your appearance publicly ridiculed before you’re able to empathize with the American Idol’s road kill? If not, where were the other TV critics when, year after year, Idol devoted one episode after another to humiliating people? I’m not talking about humiliating celebrities. I’m talking about mocking unknowns who came to a tryout because they dared to dream that others would like the sound of their voice.

I went on another website to see if Rosie (and I) were alone in finding Idol so offensive. Fortunately, we’re not. Some of the comments were equally critical. Then again, I also saw the following responses to the issue of whether the judges were too harsh:

“No not at all most of those people couldn't sing a tune to save their life and they have no business being on American they should be ready to hear what the judges have to say and besides we all want good looking people who do have talent, not ugly monkey looking like fools who can't sing...sorry just calling it like i see it.” Posted by Billie Pugliese


There you have it, America. Social Darwinism is alive and well. Ugly people should know their place. Stupid people should know their place. Losers should know that they’re … well, Losers.

That’s the ethos of American Idol.

Should we not boycott this trash?

Monday, January 22, 2007


I admit that I’m feeling the need for a little Floyd-nostalgia tonight since my wife persuaded me to remove my allusions to “the Wall” from my new manuscript. I guess talking about Pink Floyd isn’t worthy of a serious book about the essence of Judaism and the challenge Islam presents to the non-Muslim world. Well fine. But I love Roger Waters and the boys just the same. And nobody would argue that Floyd isn’t worthy of reference in a blog. That’s the great thing about this democratic medium.

So here goes:

“Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.

What did you dream? It’s alright we told you what to dream.”

Any of you Floyd freaks know the next line in the second verse?

“You dreamed of a big star.” And indeed I did. I dreamed of a star so big that nobody would talk about whether he played a “mean guitar” or “learned to drive in a Jaguar.” I dreamed of a star who would remind people more of Martin Luther King than Spinal Tap. I dreamed of a star who would appeal to lovers of rock ‘n roll and classical music alike. I dreamed of a star who is known for his intelligence, charisma, looks, religiosity … luck … and bi-racial background. I dreamed of a star who could unite my country with his soaring rhetoric and sound logic and lead us to wage a war on poverty, crime, global warming, AIDS … or something anything. The key word there being “unite.”

That’s right. I dreamed that in November 2008, we would be electing a man who, according to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr., kicked off his campaign “with a sense that it was a national movement.” In other words, he’s appealing to people who like to dream. Romantic types. Idealists. Utopians. Writers. Artists. Those kinds of voters.

But … in the immortal words of Michael Buffer …”LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLETS GET READY TO RUMBLEEEEEEEE!” In the pink corner, wearing the business suit, with the cold, calculating expression on her face is the woman who “from the moment she announced her intentions on Saturday,” Dionne said, “commended a well-established, well-staffed and well-financed national organization.”

It’s on, boys and girls. With all due respect to Leonard-Duran, these ain’t no welterweights. And as great as Hagler-Hearns was – and it was great enough that I forced my then-fiancee, and now wife of 18 years, to watch the bout on tape – these ain’t no middleweights either. This, my friends, is the Main Event. Ali-Frazier. Dempsey-Tunney. Louis-Marciano.

I just hope that Hillary doesn’t become Marciano, and Obama, Louis. But I digress.

Right around the time that Hillary announced, I received my first fundraising call from “The Machine.” It was a woman – a 20-something, to the extent I could tell by the voice – calling on behalf of James Carville’s new organization. I engaged her for a couple of a minutes in a Socratic dialogue that was worthy of law school. Mostly I wanted her to know that I was from the “democratic wing of the Democratic party,” which is precisely why I wasn’t supporting Carville’s Machine, uh candidate. I trotted out the tired-old argument that Hillary wasn’t so electable, and the slightly less invoked argument that I had qualms with supporting a candidate who had recently tried to ban flag-burning. And, of course, I added that I REALLY liked Obama. But I have to say that when I hung up the phone, I reflected on just how massive an advantage The Machine would give our Hil. If this were the GOP, I would say that her degree of Machine support would be dispositive. It’s less important on the donkey side, but it still shouldn’t be underestimated.

If I were a Hil supporter, maybe I’d say something here about relishing the battle – some kind of toned down version of “Bring it on.” I know – I’d echo my candidate’s own words when she said “I’m in. And I’m in to win!” But I’m not a Hil supporter. I’m a supporter of Obama. I suspect my guy is less “in to win” than he is “In to unite. In to inspire. In to nurture.” Or maybe just “In to humbly lending a helping hand.”

In that spirit, let me say that I’m thankful that we have not one heavyweight, but two. Move over John Edwards – go back to announcing Tic-Tac-Dough, or whatever it is you do to hone that smile of yours. Move over Chris Dodd – I love you, but get out of here, you knucklehead, I mean it. Move over Bill Richardson (What kind of Hispanic name is “Richardson,” anyway? I mean admittedly, I’m one to talk, having a name like Spiro and not being Greek, but it’s not like all anyone ever says about me is “He’s a Jew.”). Move over Tom Vilsack (and I apologize if I already bumped into you and didn’t even know it.)

We now have two brilliant, SUPER competent politicians going head to head. And better yet, they bring conflicting styles. Americans cannot help but benefit from the fight and/or dialogue.

Remember, I may think Hillary Clinton isn’t fit to be President, but I think she’s a heck of a Senator and a valuable asset to the American political scene. As for Obama, I’m buyin’ the hype. I’m dreamin’ the dream. In my pantheon, you have Barack. Martin. Mick. Ludwig. Rembrandt. (Hey, what can I say? That was the artist’s first name.) Thomas. Abraham. And Baruch – or, if you prefer, “Benedict de.”

Please don’t tell me you don’t know who I’m talking about. OK – I could have meant Martin Luther King or Martin Buber. And I could have meant either Lincoln or the first of the Patriarchs. But the other ones should be obvious. If they’re not, you need to read more literature, listen to more music … and STOP taking calls from The Machine.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


For the Mass Media

1. Have you considered finding talking heads for talk-radio and TV who are passionate about issues but whose passions are not predicable? I get bored turning on a show, seeing a familiar face, and immediately knowing what the loudmouth is going to say – regardless of the issue. Must we give every microphone to Rush Limbaugh and his imitators, left and right?

2. In a society in which crimes are commonplace, why do you devote so much attention to individual “celebrity” crimes, like the Jon-Benet Ramsey killing? Wouldn’t a discussion of sociological trends be more interesting than a constant barrage of attention to individual crimes? Are you turning news into tabloid pseudo-journalism?

3. If Thomas Jefferson were alive today and ran for President (as a Democrat, I presume), do you honestly think he’d have a chance to survive the campaign season? Wouldn’t your political “experts” brand him as too stilted, too aloof, and too wonkish to be electable?

4. Why do your sports reporters constantly feel the need to talk about spoiled, narcissistic jerks like Terrell Owens, even if they’ve never won a Championship? Is there a reason why we need to follow their tribulations on a daily basis? Do you think all sports fans are motivated primarily by schadenfreude? I thought the point of spectator sports was to relax and enjoy the exploits of good people who perform spectacular feats, but you pay no more attention to Tiger Woods’s excellence, say, than to Owens’s incessant pouting or back talking. Why?

For Liberals

1. Why do so many of you support gay marriage and oppose capital punishment, but virtually none of the top leaders of your party purport to share your views? Why don’t you find other leaders who share your perspective? Do you see America as such a right wing country that it’s incapable of electing as President an unabashed liberal in the same way that it is willing to elect an unabashed conservative like Reagan?

2. If you care so dog-gone much about people other than your family and friends, why do you spend so little time joining social action organizations? Do you think that your fellow liberals have demonstrated in the amount of time they’re willing to devote to the planet (as opposed to themselves) that they care more about Mother Earth than conservatives?

3. Do you think liberals can continue to ignore the power of religion and spirituality? How can you hope to compete with conservatives if, every week, they “unionize” with fellow travelers in church, listen to sermons there about the evils of the liberal agenda, and then head out with the mission of fighting for their principles? When they’re doing that, what are you doing – driving your kid to soccer practice? Reading the newspaper? Sleeping?

For Conservatives

1. If Jesus were alive today, how much would he care about helping the poor? And if the answer is “a lot,” would all of his methods involve self help or would he request big sacrifices from those who are wealthy? For example, would he fight the tax on huge estates by calling it a “death tax,” or would he instead propose ways to use that money to help support the working poor?

2. With whom do you sympathize the most – human embryos, fetuses, or children who are poor? Why do you talk so much about the first two groups, and so little about the third?

3. If you hate unnecessary killing, and you want to condition people to be gentle instead of violent, have you considered giving up hunting? In fact, have you considered a vegetarian diet?

4. Are you concerned about global warming? How do you respond to those who say that there is a near consensus in the scientific community that current trends, if left unabated, will result in terrible disasters for our planet?

5. You rested so much of your defense for the Iraq War on Saddam’s temerity in flouting the United Nations’ demands, and yet you constantly bash the United Nations? If you don’t respect the UN, why should he?

For Those Who Wish to Transcend Liberalism and Conservatism

1. Are you organized at all? Why don’t you identify certain principles, goals, and programmatic suggestions that you believe all of us should agree upon? Please!

2. Do you know of any politicians that you can trust as a fellow traveler? I mean trust – not someone who stakes out moderate ground only when it’s expedient.

For Moderate Muslims

1. What in blazes are we going to do with the loonies who follow the cancer-agent known as Osama Bin Ladin? If the “surgical” approach that we took in Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t work, can you suggest other forms of oncological treatment? God forbid we’d have to use radiation or chemotherapy, so please: what else can we do to persuade the Arab street that their interests lie with the non-Jihadist world?

For Catholics

1. Why do I keep encountering Catholics who are theological liberals but who attend churches led by theological conservatives? Wouldn’t it make sense for your people to split into Orthodox and non-Orthodox groups, like we have in Judaism? Or do you liberal Catholics feel like you can’t, without effectively becoming Protest-ants?

For My Fellow Reform Jews

1. What is it about Reform Judaism specifically – or liberal Judaism generally – that we believe will survive for the next 500 years? What’s the glue that gives us a raison d’etre: our common culture? Our ethnicity? Our religious principles? Our rituals? Our spirituality? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile for the community systematically to explore these questions, and then polish the gems that we reveal?

2. Let me ask that question differently: How should we stop the decline in our numbers – (a) procreate like the Orthodox, (b) preach against intermarriage to a community that consists largely of intermarried families, or (c) figure out a way to make our religion a more compelling alternative to a secular lifestyle? If the answer is (c), would anyone care to share any ideas?

For Everyone

1. You wouldn’t mind if I revisit one or more of these themes, would you?

Monday, January 15, 2007


While many of us were vacationing, the entire nation mourned the passing of a former President. He was a President of a democracy in the truest sense of the term. Elected? No, not even. He was, in fact, the only President never elected either in that capacity or as a Veep. And yet the America he led was a democracy, he was the head of its government, and, unlike others who held that job in recent decades, he brought to the world’s most difficult job an ample supply of humility. He recognized that he was not a supreme visionary, not the most knowledgeable policy wonk, and far from being either a “natural aristocrat” of the Jeffersonian variety or a traditional/hereditary aristocrat of the Bush variety. The fact that he was never even elected to do the job was merely the cherry on top of the cake. Accordingly, he didn’t seem to let the power get to his head.

It is precisely because of that fact that so many of us mourned his death.

Let me first of all announce my biases. I am biased in favor of Gerald Ford because I am a Jew. In my culture, like most others, we have elevated one man as being above all others. In our case, the man is Moses, and we elevate him not because he was the wisest (like the Greeks elevated Socrates), not because he was the most loving (like the Christians elevated Jesus), and certainly not because he was the most knowledgeable or the most wealthy. We elevate him because he was the most humble – or at least that’s what the legend teaches.

On the other hand, I am biased against Ford because, he was a Republican and I am a Democrat. When he was President, I was a teenager and was taught by my parents that he was too conservative on the issues, too cuddly with the dishonest schmuck who elevated him to the office, and too damned stupid to warrant being in such a high position. We Democrats all had our share of laughs at Lyndon Johnson’s line that Ford “spent too much time playing football without a helmet.” And if that wasn’t funny enough, we had Chevy Chase, the comedian, who routinely started Saturday Night Live by imitating Ford acting like a schlemiel.

Who knows? Perhaps it was all the ridicule that we heaped on Ford’s supposed stupidity that drove him from the White House. I’d like to think it wasn’t the fact that he pardoned Nixon, because in hindsight, is there any doubt that this was the right thing to do?

Since Ford left the White House, we have perfected the job of political ridicule. We have learned not only how to make people laugh at our politicians, we’ve now learned to make people despise them. I can understand why people despise Bush. I can understand why people despise Clinton – Hillary or Bill. But I can’t fathom why there is so much loathing for the unassuming ones – the Gores, the Kerrys … who knows, perhaps soon, the McCains? Loathing is something we should reserve for a select few objects in our lifetime. Now, however, all you have to do is turn on talk radio and you will hear vitriol heaped on any politician that doesn’t side with the host. It’s the new mantra: “if we disagree, you must be evil and dishonest.” Pretty sick, I’d say.

Next time you’re driving home and listening to some bully on the radio shout down a caller and then dump all over a politician, remember Gerald Ford. Especially if you’re a Democrat like me, remember that man. You could disagree with him, you could laugh at him, but could you really dislike him? Could you fundamentally disrespect him? Could you desire to take away his dignity? It was pretty darned difficult to do any of those things. He was simply too decent a man. Too unassuming. Too humble.

I could praise certain things about the substance of his ideas, such as his interest in slowing the consumption of energy, but that’s really beside the point. Gerald Ford wasn’t our nation’s greatest intellect. He wasn’t our most charismatic leader. Nor, I would argue, was he our most courageous. But he was perhaps our nation’s foremost compass. He pointed to what characteristic is most important in a person who leads our country.

When you’re in charge of a great power, as we still are, it’s always hubris that gets you in the most trouble. That’s what people envision when they say that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I don’t know about you, but when I detect hubris in my nation’s leaders, I get pissed off. But today, I ask you not to dwell on any of that ugliness. I ask you to remember that loveable, alleged lunkhead, Gerald Ford. I ask you to recall his decency, his modesty, his humility, and his earnestness. And when you see other potential Presidents on the horizon, I’d ask you to figure out whether they share all those same characteristics. Trust me – you’ll sleep better if they do.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


I’ve always loved the old line, “two Jews, three opinions,” even though I never really believed it. Growing up as a kid, I thought the numbers were reversed. There were three people in my family: my dad, who often kept his opinion to himself; my mom, who had an opinion on everything (whether she had thought about the issue previously or not); and me. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know full well which of parents I’ve emulated.

Of course, it’s one thing to be opinionated; it’s still another to be willing to proclaim your opinions loudly to friends and strangers alike. Happily, my mother does not belong in that category. I, on the other hand …

When you realize the above, maybe you’ll understand how painful it is for someone like me to view two sides of an issue in a way that neither one appears to be appreciably stronger than the other. When the issue is raised, your ears perk up so that you can absorb more information, more perspectives, more fodder for a legitimate heartfelt impulse to enter your soul. But in the back of your mind, you’re also cringing in fear that someone will ask the question “So, what’s your perspective on _____,” and you’ll have to answer – “Ah … well … I kind of see both sides on that one.” Yes, that’s right – you’ll cop out. You’ll picture yourself as a senator walking up to the well of the senate and then, when your name is called, saying “Abstain.” It’s downright un-American.

Yes, we Jews love our opinions; so do we politically-minded Americans. And those of us who are politically-minded Jewish Americans, my God, our opinions practically define who we are. “Hi, my name is Irving. I have two legs, two arms, and 716 opinions (that’s my best guess on the average number, though since I’m a sports fan, that number is probably low in my case).”

What? You think I’m stalling? Fine. Let me state the issue. Then you have to help me develop the opinion. If you’re a keen observer of the American political system, you’ll note that there are but a handful of issues that divide the Democratic party. Gay marriage and capital punishment are examples. And on those, my mind is pretty firm: pro gay marriage and against capital punishment (unless you’re talking about capital punishment for “pro lifers” who favor capital punishment, in which case I’m willing to reconsider …). Anyway, a third issue that divides Democrats is the issue of trade. Should we be protectionists or free traders? Let’s leave aside whether trade sanctions may be adopted for non-economic purposes, such as to persuade countries to respect human rights or do a better job of environmental protection. I obvious support such sanctions under the appropriate circumstances, but that issue is too easy. Here, I’m speaking about whether we should ever adopt protectionist measures purely for economic purposes.

If you would have asked me two years ago, I would have called myself a free trader. I thought that free trade was in the long term best interests of ALL countries – after all, what can be more natural, and therefore healthful, than the free flow of goods and services? By contrast, protectionism came across to me as a selfish, myopic idea propounded by groups like labor unions whose interests lay in the welfare of discrete groups of people, rather than all the planet. I analogized protectionism to the decision of a state to erect toll booths on its highways; ultimately, other states follow suit, and the primary consequence is slower traffic for everyone. Great idea, huh?

Truth be told, I still sympathize with that perspective, at least to a degree. But now, I’m wondering if the competing perspective isn’t equally powerful, if not more so. Proponents of protectionism aren’t saying that we want to permanently erect barriers on trade. They’re saying that conditions exist in America that warrant protectionist measures, at least for the short term. The United States has a huge national debt, a gaping trade deficit, and a rapidly graying population. The nation appears headed for an economic disaster unless it takes steps to protect its own industry. Given these circumstances, wouldn’t some protectionist measures be in order to help stabilize our economic health?

If any of you have strong perspectives on this issue, feel free to share them in this website – or at least to share them with me privately. While I enjoy having such an open mind on this issue, I’d much rather be able to combine that open mind with a strong, heartfelt opinion. As a Jewish American prince, I feel that such an opinion is my birthright.

Monday, January 08, 2007


In Judaism, it is said that to save one life is like saving the whole world. But there is a corollary to that principle, now isn’t there? To take one life needlessly …

By contrast, in secular America, it is said that you’ve got to crack a few eggs to make even a lousy omelet. And there is a corollary to that principle too: the folks who’ve been in charge of that Iraq War are definitely secular, not Jewish.

Now, boys and girls, let’s add a new set of names to that list of people in charge. Names like Pelosi, Reed, Clinton, Obama, Hoyer, Emanuel. That’s right – Democrats all. They will be asked to finance the war in Iraq, just as many of them were asked to approve the invasion in the first place. They may even be asked to finance a surge in our military’s involvement in the war – a prolongation of the conflict that has resulted in a Civil War in which the only thing the two combatants have in common is a hatred of the United States.

The Democrats know that a surge means simply a surge in folly. But they just might let it happen. Politically, why would they bail out the GOP? Let the GOP take responsibility for the success or failure of the war, right? Don’t give them an excuse to blame the lily livered donkeys for tying their hands … not when "victory" was still within reach.

Some of my more conservative friends still take the position that Vietnam War was a just, winnable war that would have had a groovy outcome if we only had stepped up the attack. They blame our defeat on the wimps who demonstrated in the streets and the woosies in the Pentagon who refused to give the troops the firepower they deserved. These same conservatives would clearly whip out similar rhetoric if Pelosi and Company pulled the plug on the Neo Cons’ Folly (aka the Mess-o-potamia). Politically, the Democrats would be well advised to give the conservatives all the rope they need to hang themselves.

But then again … there’s more to governing than playing politics, now isn’t there?

Permitting an escalation in this war under these circumstances essentially qualifies as aiding and abetting. Even the Generals don’t support the kind of surge the President is talking about. Now, if we brought back the draft and doubled our troop size and waged a total war against the insurgents … then maybe, a victory would be more plausible (I said more plausible; I didn’t say likely; winning Power Ball is plausible). The problem, of course, is that nobody is suggesting such a massive increase in troops. Not the Generals … not the President. And possibly, not even John McCain.

Actually, I may be wrong about that. McCain seems to be moving further to the right every day. By the time I get around to posting this, he might have passed Barry Goldwater and might be approaching Genghis Kahn in his rear view mirror. Unquestionably, McCain has touched a nerve with the bazillions of gun toting ‘Mericans (I believe that’s how they pronounce it) who supported the war wholeheartedly before it started, after it started going south, and up until the time that Condoleezza Rice admitted that we have made more mistakes in waging the war than the number of stars in the Milky Way. That was a tough admission, but you’ve got to credit Condi for her honesty.

Anyway, McCain seems set on winning the whole damn thing as if it were the Super Bowl – and while I’m not sure if he means the war in Iraq or the Republican nomination, I do know that he means business. Otherwise, why would he – a former Vietnam prisoner of war – toss more American bodies into a place where they’re not wanted?

Yes, to write about McCain is to underscore the Democrats’ “wisdom” in continuing to stand by their President. He’s the one who’s hanging himself politically. He’s the one whose pandering, recklessness, war-mongering, or twisted sense of humor (the charitable view) is going to be most tragically exposed if the surge idea becomes a reality, even in Bush’s more modest and palatable form.

My problem is that I don’t care so much about the political realities. I’m just sick and tired of our throwing gasoline onto this fire.

Democrats – if you are listening, please practice what you’ve preached. You’ve said that you oppose the war. You’ve said it was a lost cause. Frankly, you still say it. But I haven’t got the impression that you’re willing to throw your muscle whole heartedly into the movement for peace. Now that you’re in charge of the Congress, let Iraq be your first real battlefield … either that, or stop blaming the Republicans if the senseless carnage continues.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


As we rapidly approach the date of the Christian “Epiphany,” I cannot help but think that this past week, the modern world had had what should have been an epiphany of a very different kind. The Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6th, is supposed to be the day when Jesus was revealed as the Christ by the three Magi (wise men) and was baptized. But the word has come to mean any sudden flash of tremendous insight. And believe me, what was witnessed in Iraq involving a rope and a dictator should have been at least a wake up call, if not a full blown epiphany, to all who were paying attention.

Yes, we finally have seen the raison d’etre for the glorious Iraq War: our invasion has resulted in the death of a “berry, berry bad man,” as Seinfeld’s Babu might say. In truth, Saddam Hussein was worse than just “bad;” he was a butcher who slaughtered thousands and indulged himself and his sons in numerous sick ways. I wouldn’t compare him to Hitler, and indeed, he obviously served his purposes in keeping a Pandora’s Box tightly closed, but it is difficult to sympathize with him. He was a bully, a murderer, and a tyrant.

And yet … is it just me, or was there something sick about seeing the man executed, let alone executed in front of a cheering crowd?

Everyone seems to have a problem with the execution. The Administration didn’t like the “timing.” Some of my more conservative friends thought that it was too painless; they would have preferred torture instead, perhaps something Medieval. And then there are people like me who for some odd reason don’t care much for capital punishment. Somehow, we all seem to be gathering around the same position: what happened in Iraq was ugly. It was wrong.

I wonder if he want to learn from our collective reaction.

I appreciate that there exist more and more people calling for torture these days, but I’m confident that over the long haul, our society isn’t heading in that direction. Where, then, are we headed? To supporting capital punishment, but only in situations where we have been really, really deliberate about precisely the best time to kill? Or to opposing capital punishment under any circumstance – even when we’re dealing with a jailed former-tyrant? I’m getting the idea that this, or any other public execution is a reminder to many that maybe, just maybe, the anti-capital punishment crowd should be taken seriously. Viscerally, I think most of us look at such executions as ugly, horrible events, and we’ve been told countless times that they don’t deter crimes. Why then should we encourage our government to sponsor such things? If we’re not willing to choke a man to death, or give him a lethal injection, why should we countenance it when others do our dirty work for us?

Reflecting on the execution of Hussein, I’m reminded of the so-called “pro life” movement in the United States. They talk about how life is sacred – from womb to tomb. And yet most of these people don’t hesitate for a second to support capital punishment. They all but question the manhood of anyone who doesn’t. But why? What does that say about their commitment to the sanctity of life? Are they saying that only “innocent” life is truly sacred? Because if they are, I’d have to retort that who among us is truly innocent? Few people may be murderers, but many more are either rapists, crooks, perjurers, drug dealers, etc. Should we execute them too? And if not, why not?

Ultimately, these conservative “pro life” types appear not to be pro life at all. Rather, they are (a) pro fetal life, and (b) pro retribution. It’s a very different message, and I have to say that it is a whole lot less compelling than the consistent “pro life” position. Supposedly, the Catholic Church falls into that latter category, but from where I’m sitting, the Church goes crazy about fetal rights, but gives the capital punishment issue lip service at best. Frankly, precious few prominent people have spoken out passionately against capital punishment lately. Heck, few Democratic politicians seem to care enough about the sanctity of life to wax eloquent on this issue. Then again, they probably hadn’t witnessed a lot of public executions before cheering crowds.

Personally, I’d like to consider myself pro life. I’ve never cared for state-sanctioned executions. (That’s right, Bernard Shaw, I wouldn’t even kill the guy who hypothetically raped and murdered Kitty Dukakis.) Moreover, as a vegan, I extend my principles to not wishing, needlessly, to take animal life either. But as much as I am pro life, I am also pro choice. It is one thing to counsel people against abortions, or to educate people day and night about the need to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy; it’s something else to turn those who are determined to abort into criminals who must face dangerous coat-hanger type procedures. That’s not pro life; that’s pro injury and possibly death (in that case, to the mother).

I really don’t know how many were educated by the horrors of seeing a jubilant public execution. But if anyone got the picture that the event was barbaric, then that bastard didn’t die in vain. I, for one, would like all state-sanctioned executions to be performed publicly and in front of cheering crowds. Let’s get all the raw emotion out on the table. Let’s smoke out our own sentiments. Let’s grapple once and for all with the question of whether we are really Pro Life or just Pro Hypocrisy.

[Note: You now should be able to make comments to this blog, though there will be a bit of a delay as to when they are posted, because I will be screening the comments. Feel free to disagree with me. Believe me, I’m only censoring the real trashy, ad hominem stuff that has no business being on the Internet. If you want to send me trash, send it in a private e-mail, and don’t mark it “anonymous.”]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Introductory Notes: (1) Bear with me a bit longer and I'll make this blog interactive again. (2) Warning with respect to this blog entry: heavy doses of sarcasm ahead.

So what’s your pleasure? Cigarettes? Heroin? Whichever it is, if you’re into drugs, these are halcyon times.

For those who enjoy a completely altered state of consciousness, say a prayer tonight for the Taliban. Thanks in part to our adventures in Iraq, the Taliban has been growing in strength lately in Afghanistan. And that’s great news for anyone who enjoys the wondrous fruits of the opium poppy. The good men of the Taliban are producing a record yield this year, the New York Times reports. In fact, Afghanistan – that shining example of an American-inspired democracy in the Muslim world – will be producing nearly 50% more opium this year than last year. Does that get you high or what!

The fact is that the 6,100 metric tons of opium that the Afghans will be harvesting this year should exceed global consumption by nearly a third. That’s fabulous news for any of us who enjoy shooting up in the arms or the ankles. Just think about it – supply goes way up, so price must … go down, right? Oh, I’m sure all this will stimulate demand too, and that could lessen the downward movement on price, but there will be more people to share our passion for the poppy, and that’s pretty cool, I’d say.

If you’re sending out thank you cards for the increased yield, don’t just stop with the Iraq War hawks and the Taliban. You might also send a word of thanks to the Afghan government and police officials who are supporting the increase in poppy cultivation by ignoring calls to crack down. Some people call them “corrupt,” but I’d rather say they’re opportunistic … no, let’s call them resourceful.

And if you’re worried that the good news will soon come to an end, don’t. The Afghan minister for counter-narcotics, Habibullah Quaderi, said that his government’s strategy to fight opium would start to yield results in, get this, three years. Now seriously, who among us thinks that far in advance?

I’m with Lou Reed:

When the smack begins to flow,
Then I really don’t care anymore
About all the jim-jims in this town
And everybody putting everybody else down
And all of the politicians makin’ crazy sounds
All the dead bodies piled up in mounds, yeah.

Great stuff, heroin. It inspires such wonderful art.

But I didn’t really want to talk too much about heroin. Here in America, most people who like a good buzz are too wimpy to put that spike through their veins. They’d rather just light up. And for you wimps, have no fear. You’ve got some excellent news coming your way, too.

Don’t you hate it when people nag you to quit smoking? I know I do. They’re always reminding you of the years you’re taking off your life, and all the health problems you’ll have, and how you’ve no right to impose all these huge health care costs on everyone else. Yada, yada, yada. Who gives a rat’s butt about any of that? I just enjoy a good smoke.

Well now, you can tell those ninnies to shut the heck up, ‘cause quitting smoking is getting too damned difficult. And you’ve got the facts to back it up. According to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (a bunch of bureaucrats if ever there were any), from 1998 to 2004 the nicotine levels in cigarettes have increased by roughly 10 percent. Even the “light” cigarettes – the ones your wives smoke – are increasing in nicotine. And that means that it’s easier and easier to get hooked, and harder and harder to quit. Fine by me. Maybe they’ll just leave us alone now that it would be Herculean to stop even if we wanted to.

Someone actually asked the big tobacco companies if they were ramping up the nicotine on purpose. Well duh! The boys in suits wouldn’t comment. I wouldn’t have either. What a stupid question. The next thing you know, we’ll ask those boys whether they make money on purpose. The last time I checked, this is a capitalist country and cigarettes are legal. If you don’t like them, move to Russia.

Naturally, the liberals will be taking this news as another opportunity to regulate the tobacco industry. More red tape. More bureaucracy. More of a chance for losers who can’t make a living in the private sector to get that Government job and suck on the federal tit – as if our taxes weren’t high enough already. The liberals will talk about the “evil” men and women of the tobacco companies and how they need to be reigned in. They’ll call these law-abiding citizens greedy, even rapacious. Let’s be frank: it’s all about jealousy.

Tell me, do you know anyone who’s worked for a big tobacco company? I do. They’re normal people, just like the rest of us. They’re just trying to earn a living to help out their families. Their job is to sell as much of a legal product as they can, and if they do that job well, they’ll get rich. Very rich. That’s the way it should be. But that makes the “levelers” green with envy. Bureaucrats can’t deal with it when they see businessmen get rich. So they call for regulation. It’s sickening.

So next time you go to your country club and see a tobacco executive or one of their top lawyers, shake his hand and give him a nice broad smile. His success is an example of the American dream, and don’t let any social democrat tell you otherwise. If he wants to make cigarettes more potent, that’s his business. And that’s our pleasure. If anyone tries to take that away from you, just send a check to your local congressman or senator and tell him why you’re making a contribution. He’ll take good care of you, and you will have witnessed American-style democracy in action.