Monday, December 31, 2007

I'm a Flip-Flopper

I would make an awful politician. One of the assets I think I possess in abundance is the ability to look at all sides of a tough situation and consider all realistic possibilitities before I make up my mind. As a younger man, as an example, I was always pro-choice. I favored a woman's choice to make her own decision about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy figuring that she was in the best position to determine if her life situation warranted the bringing of a child into this world. Paradoxically, I spend most of my adult life litigating cases against the pharmaceutical industry and doctors for the damage drugs did to fetuses at between days 25-45 of pregnancy. i.e. generally the time period when most abortions are performed. The lawsuit was always brought on behalf of the child who was injured. It has been only recently, after bringing the concept that a child injured during this time frame was entitled to a legal cause of action to change the archaic state of the law of Texas, that the 'right to life' position re the 'killing of babies' has come to occupy a positiion of respect in my mind. I use this language carefully because I am still unsure whether or not as a public policy all abortions should be banned, but I do believe, unlike previously, there is some validity to the point. I have always been first and foremost stuck by the hateful rhetoric employed by the right-to-lifers which has essentially drowned out the compassionate message which should have been present all along. Rather than compassion, the general sense I get from the 'right to lifers' is that their position on abortion is but one facet of an agenda dedicated to telling all people how they should live their lives, both in and outside the bedroom. There is one thing all women have when faced with this dreaded question; the fact that they are pregnant and didn't want to be. When I think about all of the ramifications of abortion, I also think of the child who, unwanted and perhaps unloved, comes into this life and emerges as a scarred and tragic figure who spreads misery and/or mayhem among others. I would respectfully suggest that most women who are placed in this unenviable position (the male contributors are largely by-standers) know all of the ramifications, good bad and otherwise, and do the right thing based upon their individual situations. There! This is why I would make such a bad politician. I've flip flopped right before your very eyes right in the time it took to write this short essay. To paraphrase my position, if I was a politician, I would say I was I was for it before I was against it before I was for it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

It's a Numbers Thing

Harvard has created a tempest in a teapot by adjusting its student aid scheme to allow for substantial breaks for students of upper level income families. While other elite colleges struggle to try and match Harvard's efforts in the never ending quest for top notch students, it is obvious that few will be able to do so. This is so simply because of the value of the Harvard endowment, 35 billion dollars, which no other institution can come close to matching. Other institutions are now complaining about how this adjustment in Harvard's is going to negatively impact potential low income students, etc. As our society has progressed in the arena of equal rights over the last half century, we have evolved, such as it is, to reach the point where it is now safe to observe, and say, what most of us knew all along. Our society is built on principles of capitalism, a situation which is generally avoided in political discourse. Of course, kids coming from rich families have an advantage; always have and always will. The key here is that Harvard wants these rich kids if they are smart and a lot of them are. Harvard attracts the smart kids. Rich or poor, there are only so many smart kids. It's a number thing.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Videotaping Torture Was Wrong

Is there anybody out there who thinks, as I do, that it was wrong to videotape the intense interrogations of terrorists (including the use of the much-debated waterboarding technique)? I must admit that I straddle the fence on this important issue insofar as to what is permissible when the chips are down. By this I mean when one is confronted with extracting information that just might affect the health and safety of hundreds, if not thousands, of our fellow citizens, is it not justifiable to do whatever is necessary, without regard to legal niceties to balance this interest? Actions like this are akin to medical acts that physicians perform daily. In the presence of a gangrenous lesion of the foot in that it is sometimes necessary to amputate the remainder of the leg to preserve the life of the patient. Most people would approve of such an effort, but find it morally repugnant if physicians routinely cut off limbs for no good reason? Just like physicians must obtain the informed consent of the patient to undertake an amputation procedure, smart heads in the government ought to be able to devise a procedure to objectively determine when, and if, extreme interrogation methods are to be used. The real kicker here is that after such a tribunal is formed, Joe Citizen doesn't need to know about it. That is why this old liberal thinks it was wrong to videotape these activities. This is an area of governance that doesn't need second guessing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Food for Thought

There are some who say I am a bleeding heart liberal, and I try to take exception to that characterization whever it is said directly to my face. It is true that I am liberal, perhaps zealous, over the need to preserve the sanctity of the principles set forth in our Constitution. Freedom of expression, religion, the right to be free from warrantless search and seizures, the presumption of innocence in criminal proceedings until the government has proven its case by time honored law abiding efforts, the right to civil trial by jury, the right to keep and bear arms are all my cherished beliefs fostered by a recognition that a society as a whole needs such principles to survive. It is on the fiscal front that I bend in a decidedly conservative direction. Calling oneself a Republican and then spending taxpayers' money like a drunken sailor without recognizing that someone somewhere and somehow will have to pay hardly qualifies the current administration's efforts to label itself as Republican. Paying lip service to the security needs and immigration practices of our country belong in the same category. We do not need to descend into the hell of bigotry and ethnic prejudices in order to establish a safe and sane policy on immigration that, and this is the point of this entire diatribe, will SAFELY PROTECT AND FOSTER THE PRINCIPLES SET FORTH IN OUR CONSTITUTION. In this regard I offer the writing of a person who apparently has had some experience in the Danish situation which has drawn such worldwide attention. This essay was sent to me via e-mail from a friend and is certainly worth reading and thinking about as it pertains to any future changes required in our current shoddy and incomplete policies and practices on immigration. Of course, any comments you have on this topic will be gratefully received.

A lesson to be learned.
By Susan MacAllen

In 1978-9 I was living and studying in Denmark.

But in 1978 - even in Copenhagen, one didn't see Muslim immigrants. The Danish population embraced visitors, celebrated the exotic, went out of its way to protect each of its citizens. It was proud of its new brand of socialist liberalism - one in development since the conservatives had lost power in 1929 - a system where no worker had to struggle to survive, where one ultimately could count upon the state as in, perhaps, no other western nation at the time. The rest of Europe saw the Scandinavians as free-thinking, progressive and infinitely generous in their welfare policies. Denmark boasted low crime rates, devotion to the environment, a superior educational system and a history of humanitarianism.

Denmark was also most generous in its immigration policies - it offered the best welcome in Europe to the new immigrant: generous welfare payments from first arrival plus additional perks in transportation, housing and education. It was determined to set a world example for inclusiveness and multiculturalism. How could it have predicted that one day in 2005 a series of political cartoons in a newspaper would spark violence that would leave dozens dead in the streets - all because its commitment to multiculturalism would come back to bite?

By the 1990's the growing urban Muslim population was obvious - and its unwillingness to integrate into Danish society was obvious. Years of immigrants had settled into Muslim-exclusive enclaves. As the Muslim leadership became more vocal about what they considered the decadence of Denmark's liberal way of life, the Danes - once so welcoming - began to feel slighted. Many Danes had begun to see Islam as incompatible with their long-standing values: belief in personal liberty and free speech, in equality for women, in tolerance for other ethnic groups, and a deep pride in Danish heritage and history.

The New York Post in 2002 ran an article by Daniel Pipes and Lars Hedegaard, in which they forecasted accurately that the growing immigrant problem in Denmark would explode. In the article they reported:

"Muslim immigrants.constitute 5 percent of the population but consume upwards of 40 percent of the welfare spending."

"Muslims are only 4 percent of Denmark's 5.4 million people but make up a majority of the country's convicted rapists, an especially combustible issue given that practically all the female victims are non-Muslim. Similar, if lesser, disproportions are found in other crimes."

"Over time, as Muslim immigrants increase in numbers, they wish less to mix with the indigenous population. A recent survey finds that only 5 percent of young Muslim immigrants would readily marry a Dane."

"Forced marriages - promising a newborn daughter in Denmark to a male cousin in the home country, then compelling her to marry him, sometimes on pain of death - are one problem"

"Muslim leaders openly declare their goal of introducing Islamic law once Denmark's Muslim population grows large enough - a not-that-remote prospect. If present trends persist, one sociologist estimates, every third inhabitant of Denmark in 40 years will be Muslim."

It is easy to understand why a growing number of Danes would feel that Muslim immigrants show little respect for Danish values and laws. An example is the phenomenon common to other European countries and the U.S.: some Muslims in Denmark who opted to leave the Muslim faith have been murdered in the name of Islam, while others hide in fear for their lives. Jews are also threatened and harassed openly by Muslim leaders in Denmark, a country where once Christian citizens worked to smuggle out nearly all of their 7,000 Jews by night to Sweden - before the Nazis could invade. I think of my Danish friend Elsa - who as a teenager had dreaded crossing the street to the bakery every morning under the eyes of occupying Nazi soldiers - and I wonder what she would say today.

In 2001, Denmark elected the most conservative government in some 70 years - one that had some decidedly non-generous ideas about liberal unfettered immigration. Today Denmark has the strictest immigration policies in Europe. ( Its effort to protect itself has been met with accusations of "racism" by liberal media across Europe - even as other governments struggle to right the social problems wrought by years of too-lax immigration.) If you wish to become Danish, you must attend three years of language classes. You must pass a test on Denmark's history, culture, and a Danish language test. You must live in Denmark for 7 years before applying for citizenship. You must demonstrate an intent to work, and have a job waiting. If you wish to bring a spouse into Denmark, you must both be over 24 years of age, and you won't find it so easy anymore to move your friends and family to Denmark with you. You will not be allowed to build a mosque in Copenhagen. Although your children have a choice of some 30 Arabic culture and language schools in Denmark, they will be strongly encouraged to assimilate to Danish society in ways that past immigrants weren't.

In 2006, the Danish minister for employment, Claus Hjort Frederiksen, spoke publicly of the burden of Muslim immigrants on the Danish welfare system, and it was horrifying: the government's welfare committee had calculated that if immigration from Third World countries were blocked, 75 percent of the cuts needed to sustain the huge welfare system in coming decades would be unnecessary. In other words, the welfare system as it existed was being exploited by immigrants to the point of eventually bankrupting the government. "We are simply forced to adopt a new policy on immigration. Thecalculations of the welfare committee are terrifying and show how unsuccessful the integration of immigrants has been up to now," he said.

A large thorn in the side of Denmark's imams is the Minister of Immigration and Integration, Rikke Hvilshoj. She makes no bones about the new policy toward immigration, "The number of foreigners coming to the country makes a difference," Hvilshøj says, "There is an inverse correlation between how many come here and how well we can receive the foreigners that come." And on Muslim immigrants needing to demonstrate a willingness to blend in, "In my view, Denmark should be a country with room for different cultures and religions. Some values, however, are more important than others. We refuse to question democracy, equal rights, and freedom of speech."

Hvilshoj has paid a price for her show of backbone. Perhaps to test her resolve, the leading radical imam in Denmark, Ahmed Abdel Rahman Abu Laban, demanded that the government pay blood money to the family of a Muslim who was murdered in a suburb of Copenhagen, stating that the family's thirst for revenge could be thwarted for money. When Hvilshoj dismissed his demand, he argued that in Muslim culture the payment of retribution money was common, to which Hvilshoj replied that what is done in a Muslim country is not necessarily what is done in Denmark. The Muslim reply came soon after: her house was torched while she, her husband and children slept. All managed to escape unharmed, but she and her family were moved to a secret location and she and other ministers were assigned bodyguards for the first time - in a country where such murderous violence was once so scarce.

Her government has slid to the right, and her borders have tightened. Many believe that what happens in the next decade will determine whether Denmark survives as a bastion of good living, humane thinking and social responsibility, or whether it becomes a nation at civil war with supporters of Sharia law. And meanwhile, Americans clamor for stricter immigration policies, and demand an end to state welfare programs that allow many immigrants to live on the public dole. As we in America look at the enclaves of Muslims amongst us, and see those who enter our shores too easily, dare live on our taxes, yet refuse to embrace our culture, respect our traditions, participate in our legal system, obey our laws, speak our language, appreciate our history . . we would do well to look to Denmark, and say a prayer for her future and for our own.

Monday, December 17, 2007

El Sistema

In the violent slums of Venezuela, free classical music lessons have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and created an unlikely production line of virtuosos. For 32 years El Sistema (the System) has tackled the “spiritual poverty” among some of South America’s poorest street children by teaching them to play Bach, Beethoven and Mahler in orchestras. The Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, El Sistema’s dazzling standard-bearer, played recently at Carnegie Hall in New York and reading about this event sparked the thinking for this blog entry. What my thinking is that the model of this program would be a worthy venture within the city of Detroit. Detroit could use a few success stories. The city has slowly progressed to a vast waste land of decay, shells of houses and urban blight. One has only to drive down Jefferson Avenue from the Grosse Pointes to downtown Detroit to experience the sharp demarcation from cultural advantage to depravity. The recent declaration by national media that Detroit is once again #1 in the country in murders underscores the need to turn this around. More than a half a century ago as a child I played with my friends and classmates in the streets and parks of Detroit's east side and now parents are scared to let their sons and daughters outside. A local organization, SOSAD (Save Our Sons and Daughters) has formed to attempt, apparently without success, to deal with the loss of life of young people throughout the city through the vehicle of homicide. In Venezuela, El Sistema embraces more than 200 orchestras, reaching 250,000 children. It attracts millions a year of government funding. It started humbly, with a handful of children playing in a garage. I think that Detroit is ripe for a project of this type. Music has been dropped from the curricula of Detroit schools while it thrives in the suburban environment where parents can afford lessons and instruments. There is a ready made resource already in existence as a springboard for a project of this type. I know of at least three community bands in the area in which musicians of all ages and experience meet weekly to enjoy the beauty of creating music. While the mechanism would need to be worked out, this resource could be tapped to include the kids of the inner city in a meaningful way such as to enrich their lives and guide them gently down a different path. If anyone reading this has any ideas on this topic, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's a Whole New World Out There

It is with a heavy heart that I read of the confirmed massive amount of steroid use by the baseball major leaguers. What impact will this expose have on the sport which, like it or not, has provided many of us of all ages with our heroes? What does it say to the little kid who now must face the reality that the use of certain drugs can make you better than others? Not a pretty thought, but some of us have known about this most of our lives. We have known that alcohol acts as a social lubricant and that we can say sharp, funny or witty things in the presence of others with a few drinks inside. (At least we think its funny or witty). Some of us have led less than perfect lives (my statements are a study in understatement of the obvious) and have also learned that recreational use of pot, cocaine and amphetamines can provide an occasional relief of daily drudgery. At least on paper. What happens, of course, that many go on to systematic abuse of these drugs and make their lives, as well as the lives of others, miserable and chaotic. Now performance-improvement drugs are added to the mix. I grew up in an era when there was no knowledge of such things. The same, of course, holds true for cocaine, pot and the damage arising from long standing alcohol abuse. The only suggestion that I have to counter this negativity is to reinforce the notion that adults need to be the spear carriers for kids. Adults need to harp continuously on the dangers and problems with use and abuse of drugs of any kind. I spent my professional life attacking the indiscriminate use and prescribing of legitimate drugs by physicians which caused harm to my clients. I say this only to suggest that the spectrum of use/abuse of drugs runs an entire gamut from chronic use of so called benign OTC drugs such as aspirin, Excedrin or ibuprofen to the down and out alcoholic or heroin addict. The Food Drug and Cosmetic Act was amended in 1962 to include the novel requirement that drug companies had to demonstrate scientifically that their drugs were effective. The day this requirement became law, more than 40% of the drugs that were on the market were withdrawn. Over the counter medications were exempt from this requirement so that most of the OTC drugs on the market today, and were on the market then, have no scientific basis to support the claims that are made. In other words, even the supposedly least harmful drugs we are all exposed to in countless TV ads, etc. etc. are useless. We must all be spreading the message to the children of our nation. Avoid drugs of any kind for any purpose unless absolutely needed and recommended by a physician who you know and trust and who can answer specific questions about the benefits and risks of the recommended drug.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Definition of Insanity

Thirty thousand gun deaths a year in the United States! But they're OUR terrorists scream the NRA gun lobby, not some ragheaded foreign terrorist coming over and killing us. Those that kill us are homegrown. Our borders may be secure (and Yes, I am Santa Claus), but the mayhem that is going on inside our borders generated by our home grown terrorists is insane. The crescendo has intensified since Bush and Congress let the 10-year ban on assault-weapons elapse in 2004. The two most recent examples of the results of doing so are the shopping center deaths of eight people in Nebraska and the four deaths in Colorado committed by young men using weapons that would have been banned, not to mention the twenty-plus deaths of college students earlier this year at Virginia Tech.. Most Americans rejected the gun lobby’s absurd claim that assault rifles are “sporting” weapons, but Bush and Congress caved to the gun lobby. This was despite Mr. Bush’s campaign promise to renew the ban. It is insane to note that the ban expired in the midst of politicians’ endless post-9/11 invoking of homeland security. How much carnage will this nation have to endure by OUR terrorists before politicians have the guts to stand up to the nut cases who insist that the second amendment is the religion of the people?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gayness: An Immoral choice?

Romney was for gays before he was against them. Huckabee thinks that being gay is an immoral choice. Guiliani dances around the issue saying that being gay is not a sin, but what a gay person does is sinful. Huh? Tancreado probably thinks all illegal immigrants are gay. While having an opinion about gay people is not the central issue of this presidential cycle, how these men feel about the issue serves as a barometer to their thought processes. Do they consider all available evidence before they make a decision or do they stick a finger up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing? As someone who has studied the issue rather extensively (in researching my novel "Rx for Mass Murder") one of the most likely explanations for 'gayness' is the level of female hormones the male fetus is exposed to during his mother's pregnancy. A substantial amount of scientific evidence supports this hypothesis. How does this scientific explanation square with the labeling of homosexuality as an immoral choice? Millions upon millions of pregnant women were indiscriminantly administered synthetic sex hormones during pregnancies in the 50s and 60s and there is a remarkable correlation between the incidence of homosexuality (and AIDS) in various geographic regions with the sales of these products years earlier. It is my belief that anyone who truly wants to have an informed opinion on this subject would be aware of the scientific evidence before they express an opinion that is obviously intended to pander only to the semi-literate belief systems of those who choose to keep their heads buried in the sand.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

An Attorney's Pro Bono Rebuttal

An article appearing in this morning's New York Times decribing the indictment of Richard Scruggs, a Mississippi attorney, in his purported attempt to bribe a judge has motivated me to write this essay. My reason for so doing will hopefully be obvious by the end of my rant. Lawyers take a bad rap. They are viewed by the public as greedy, vicious and dishonest. My experience, with few exceptions, has been quite the opposite. I know hundreds of lawyers who give freely of their time and energies to help others. These people participate willingly and lovingly in all manners of civic and church-related activities. Throughout my life I have been fortunate; as a lawyer I took the concept of helping others who needed my help seriously. Various state bar associations, including Michigan's, have established guidelines for lawyers to follow in the rendering of pro bono help. In Michigan, as an example, if a lawyer does not actually perform pro bono services, he/she may contribute $300 annually to various organizations who do. During the course of my professional career I have rendered pro bono services to a number of clients which greatly enriched my life and I am offering my example, not to blow my own horn, so to speak, but to describe some of the matters in which I have involved myself to the public, other members of my profession and my grandchildren to illustrate how lawyers can and have contributed to what is good about this country. As a back drop to this discussion let me briefly describe my current activities; I am serving as an Florida Supreme Court-approved emeritus attorney in Bradenton, Florida for Manasota Legal Aid which provides free legal services in civil matters for those who cannot afford a lawyer. The Florida Supreme Court has established a program whereby retired attorneys, unlicensed in Florida, but in good standings in their home states, can render pro bono services in Florida if certain conditions are met. I am also serving as a guardian ad litem through a nationally recognized GAL organization in Manatee county which serves as a model for the nation in how to deal with children subjected to the foster care system. My first pro bono case in the mid-1970s was on behalf of John Pilarowski, a health care administrator for the Macomb County (Michigan) Department of Public Health. John, acting as a private citizen and not on behalf of his employer, wrote a series of letters to the editor of a local newspaper that were highly critical of various elected officials. He was fired for his letter writing activities. After reading of his dilemma in the newspaper, I called John and told him I would represent him for nothing. After the case was thrown out of the local court by a judge who was a target of one of the letters, I appealed and obtained a wonderful opinion from the Michigan Court of Appeals which clearly spelled out the constitutionally protected rights of expression of an individual in our society and restored employment to Mr. Pilarowski. The essence of that opinion was that if this was the way this local government did business then the county "needed more letter writers, not less". On behalf of the taxpayers of the Chippewa Valley School system, in the late 1970s I sought injunctive relief against striking teachers by suing the school board and asking the judge to order the board not to negotiate with the teachers. There is a two paragraph Michigan statute in which the first paragraph forbids public employees from striking. The second paragraph forbids public employees from condoning illegal acts. I asked the trial judge to prevent the board from condoning the illegal act of the striking teachers. The teachers went back to work the next day. Then in the early 1980s, there was the Kalamazoo case in which a local judge refused to consider making a decision as to whether or not to allow an abortion to be performed upon a 12 year old girl who was raped and impregnated by her mother's boy friend. The pregnancy was at about its tenth week and time was running. The local appointed attorney in that matter was quoted in the newspaper stories that followed that ruling as saying he didn't know what to do next. I called him on the phone and on his behalf I presented a full blown evidentiary hearing, expert testimony and all, to a federal judge in less than 36 hours of my phone call which resulted in the federal judge ordering the local judge to make a decision. My activity in this matter ended at that point but it noteworthy that the local attorney I represented received the Attorney of the Year award for his efforts from the Kalamazoo County Bar Association. The longest pro bono case was on behalf of Dave Davis who was charged with the murder of his wife. The contention was that he injected her with the drug succinylcholine and made it appear that her death was as a result of a fall off her horse striking her head. I began representing Mr. Davis in January, 1989 and continued to represent him until the early 2000s. My representation was total and included one lengthy pre trial exam, a two day Davis-Frye hearing where I contested the validity of the testing procedure which purportedly demonstrated the presence of the drug in the deceased's body, the trial, and two appellate efforts to both the Michigan Court and Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court. Finally, after exhausting all state remedies I sought federal court habeas corpus protection for Mr. Davis. All in all, I expended several thousand hours of effort on behalf of Mr. Davis. My final pro bono effort in the State of Michigan was on behalf of all of the taxpayers of the State of Michigan in the mid-90s. My wife and three daughters were the designated named plaintiffs in this class action suit against the State of Michigan, the Governor, the Attorney General and the tobacco industry. Basically, this was a two pronged suit in which I asked the federal court for relief by way of mandamus against the Attorney General to compel him to take over the suit against the tobacco industry. While the federal judge held her ruling on the standing of the Plaintiffs to bring this lawsuit in abeyance, the Attorney General agreed to file the case in state court in Ingham County. It is noteworthy that while I agreed to represent the interests of the State of Michigan pro bono, the Attorney General subsequently negotiated a deal with out of state lawyers, including the recently indicted Richard Scruggs from Mississippi to represent Michigan which netted those out of state lawyers a fee of 450 million dollars! The $450 million award "works out to an hourly rate of $22,500, based on claims by the law firms in South Carolina and Mississippi that they spent an unbelievable 20,000 hours on the Michigan portion of the tobacco case," reported the Detroit Free Press's Dawson Bell. Arbitrators conceded that lawyers had done only a "modest" amount of work specifically on behalf of the Wolverine State, but said their efforts on the litigation on a national level deserved kudos, besides which it had been a coup for them to have recruited then-Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley, considered influential among his fellow AGs.

I'm Not Inspired

There! I've finally been able to verbalize what it is that bothers me about Hillary Clinton. She doesn't inspire me. Nothing she has ever said or done has caused this jaded soul to sit up and take note. The same can be said for most of the presidential candidates. Two moments that occurred very recently during the last Republican debate will best exemplify what I mean; McCain's statements on waterboarding (It is torture) and Huckabee's on scholarship money for children of illegal immigrants (It is morally wrong to punish children for their parents' misdeeds). Each of these men managed to connect with me on a visceral level because they took a politically unpopular stance that differed from the 'party line'. Contrast each of these men's statements with that of Romney. Romney says he would consult with men like McCain to determine his position on interrogation tactics and whether waterboarding is an appropriate means. Romney's reply to Huckabee's principled stand on the children of illegal immigrants was less than profound, "This is taxpayer's money". I am seeking in my choice for the next president is someone who is willing to say what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. Example: I may not want to hear that a major tax increase will be absolutely necessary to pay for the nearly trillion dollars that has been squandered on the Iraq war, but I need to hear how this debt can be wiped off the books without encumbering future generations. I need to hear how our national honor will be restored based upon the truly magnificent principles spelled out so clearly in our constitution. I need to hear someone say they will put principle above politics in doing the things they intend to do as our next president. I need to hear someone say that it is just plain wrong to put special interests at the head of the line. I need to hear someone say that each and every one of us has a vested interest in the outcome of what is going on in the Mideast and needs to make some sacrifice for that purpose, something like the paying of a dollar a gallon tax on gasoline. I think the country is ready to hear the equivalent message so elegantly put forth by Kennedy at his inauguration; "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". I'm ready to hear this message. I need to hear this message. I don't think I 'm alone.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Can I Ride my Bike?

About half of my neighbors recycle their garbage. Virtually 100 percent of us, including myself, hop in our cars to perform the simplest of chores. One of my three daughters lives in a subdivision in which it is impossible for children to walk to school so they are driven either by the school bus or the parents. My other two daughters live in neighborhoods where their children can walk and to their credit they see that their kids do walk every day past the substantial number of young parents who drop the kids off. I read recently that in Japan all non-essential lights are turned off in government building at 5:00 P.M. to save energy and the environment and that in Tokyo residents are required to separate out 7 different kinds of products for recycling. At my home in Florida I have two different patterns to my workouts. Every other day I ride my bike for about an hour in a circular pattern through and around various neighborhoods avoiding traffic as much as I can. On the alternate days I hop into my car to drive to the athletic club which is about two miles from home where I ride a stationery version of my bike for the same time so that I can add some weight training to my regimen with the various machines that are at the club. I talked to my buddy, Stan Kazul, yesterday. Stan lives in Palo Alto, California and recently went to a wedding in Culver City, a suburb of Los Angeles. It took him one and one-half hours to drive from the airport to Culver City, a distance of less than five miles on an eight lane (each way) highway where the speed of his automobile never exceeded five miles per hour. We hear about global warming and the energy crisis. Common sense alone tells us that the earth's supply of oil is not endless. The point of all this is that we need to think big and act small. Without doing the little things that, collectively, would make a real difference in our shepherding of the planet, concern for the big picture is meaningless. We all have it within our power, in one way or another, to do the little things that count. President Jimmy Carter was widely mocked when he suggested during his presidency that one of the ways that people could deal with the energy crisis of the 1970s was to turn down their thermostats to 68 degrees during the winter. He wore a cardigan sweater when he gave the speech that made that suggestion and he was ridiculed for it. If I was teaching a sixth grade class I would have them sit down and list ten things that each of the students in the class could do on a daily basis to reduce their so-called carbon foot print on earth. Come to think of it, I'm going to make my own list. I'm going to ride my damn bike to the athletic club.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Cottage Days

I am so proud to step aside and introduce a guest author today. What follows was written by one of my grandchildren, Matt Giacona, who occasionally, according to his parents, also likes to get 'the last word.'

It was a cool, crisp summer day in Williamsburg, Michigan. I stepped out onto the weathered oak deck that dominated the front of my grandparents’ cottage, strapping down my grey and blue life jacket, and trotted down the stepping stone path that led to the beach. At the end of the path, I looked down over the beach. The morning sky was overcast, but there was no humidity. I walked down to the beach and waded out into the calm, glassy water. The red and white Yamaha S2000 wave runner bobbed lazily up and down. As I mounted it, a chill ran down my spine. It was not one of those creepy forms of chills that you get when you walk into a dark room but the kind of chill that happens when you get a real good grade on a test. I jammed the key into its groove, twisting it as I went. Once the engine was running, I popped the choke into place and revved the engine. To the east, the sun was poking up from the tops of the low clouds signaling it was getting close to noon. Wanting to be back and dried off before lunch, I gave the throttle a gentle squeeze, propelling me towards the deep blue. Once I was out far enough, I scanned the water. It was calm with rolling waves and a nice breeze. I had three quarters of a tank left of gas: more than enough for barely an hour’s ride. I floored it, heading directly at a wave. Crash, thunk, thunk! I hit the wave at 45 mph, creating an explosion of water. The thunks were caused by the wave runner skimming the surface a few times before coming to a halt. I started up again, this time heading in the opposite direction so I could jump the waves instead of destroying them. I was approaching a wave fast with my head down and eyes up. Just as I hit the wave, I flicked the nose controls up. I soared over the water, pulling at least 2 G’s. The flight could have been compared to a swan. However, the landing was more along the lines of a crow. Shredding the placid water, the wave runner floated to a halt. Suddenly, the tranquil moment was gone as my cell phone’s ring tone interrupted the silence, “Soulja boy up in it, ohh! Watch me crank it, watch me roll!” The ringing came from inside the airtight compartment where I had stored my cell phone. I flipped the phone open, “Hello?” It was my dad. “Matt, it’s Dad”, he announced. “Come on in now - its eleven o’clock”, he said in a stern voice.
I looked at my gas gauge, which was almost on E. Zooming in toward the shore, I moored the wave runner, leaving my cell phone in the compartment. As I slowly waded back in, I turned around. Looking at the wave runner, I said, “Same time tomorrow, right?” The wave runner bobbed up and down as if agreeing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

One Question

With all the biased and deceitful questions being asked of the presidential candidates for both parties, I have yet to hear anyone address the most important issue of our time. My question to candidates of both parties is: How do you propose to deal with the estimated one trillion dollar debt incurred by the United States as a result of the war in Iraq? From that central question flows a multitude of ancillary ones, such as 'Is it fair to saddle future generations of Americans with the crippling debt of this war?' Or 'How will you ensure that our returning veterans are adequately compensated or treated for their efforts in Iraq?'

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Challenge

This is a challenge issued to any one who might be reading this essay. I ask that you print this challenge or store it on your hard drive in such a way that come November, 2008 you can retrieve it and see if my prediction has come true. This is it; my prediction is that Huckabee and Obama will be the presidential candidates and that Obama will win in a near landslide. You can almost sense the forces grinding away from the supposedly inevitable outcomes that hold current sway. The tectonic plates of political thinking are shifting and most Americans are coming to realize that, no matter what, they prefer civilized candidates who speak and act with a measure of humanity about their fellow human beings. We, the American public, cry out for candidates who give us hope that a sense of decency will prevail over special interests in the new administration. As an example, the most revealing part of the recent Republican debates was Huckabee's touching defense of his providing educational grants to children of illegal aliens in Arkansas during his tenure as governor of that state. A message of hope; that is what we need. Both Huckabee and Obama provide us with a glimmer of that hope. By my reckoning, all other candidates (other than McCain) fail to pass that test for a variety of reasons. The most subtle example is Edwards' apparent need to demonize the wealthy (two classes in America, etc.) I mention McCain who I like very much, but in the current political climate I think he is unelectable simply because of his pro-war stance. Keep this article someplace. I may wind up with egg on my face and this may turn out to be nothing more than my simple wish list for a potential outcome, but I don't think so.