Friday, April 24, 2009

Bucko and Bush: An Interview With the Former President

Q. Mr. President (I said to George W. Bush), I am going to be asking you several questions about the interrogation policies you established during your presidency. If at any time you do not understand my question, or would like it repeated, I would request that you let me know and I will gladly rephrase or repeat it. Okay?

A. Okay Bucko. You don't mind if I call you Bucko do you? I like to give people nick names to develop a spirit of camaraderie. Also, I meet so many people that it is hard to remember their names, so I just pick a nick name and try to remember the nickname based on something I can see in the person. At first, I was going to call you Baldy, but that might have been rude. I remember the time . . .

Q. Mr. President, let me interrupt.

A. You lawyers are so damn serious. You don't want to hear about the nickname I came up with for Cheney?

Q. Sir, I would like to ask a question about the interrogation policies established by your administration. . .

A. Fire away Bucko. By the way, do you want me to tell you how I came up with the nick name Bucko?

Q. I expect you'll tell me anyway.

A. I looked into your eyes. I know you're a lawyer. Deep in those eyes I can see that you are interested in money, big bucks. That's how I did it, Bucko. Now can we get started? I've got to go for a bike ride in a few minutes.

Q. While you were president, you stated publicly that "America does not torture." What did you mean by that in light of the fact that waterboarding and other tactics were approved by your administration as a means of interrogation tactics?

A. I looked through all those memos everybody is in such an uproar about. I didn't find the word 'torture' appearing anyplace. Did you?

Q. Mr. President, calling a pig a dog doesn't make it a dog.

A. What's your point? You didn't find the word 'torture' anywhere and you try to change the subject rather than answer my question. You lawyers are all alike.

Q. With all due respect, Mr. President, I don't believe you have answered my question.

A. You don't get it, do you Bucko? I am the president. If I say something that's the way it is. If I say we don't torture, we don't torture. Period. Now let me tell you why Cheney's nickname is 'Whacko' . . .

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Get the Bastards!

As a basic proposition, our U.S. Constitution stands as a document telling us quite clearly what can and cannot be done to people in the name of government. Men a whole lot smarter and wiser than present day politicians brought their collective judgment to bear on the creation of this document. The ideas that spewed forth from this historical effort stand as beacon lights to the concept of freedom. As an example, the tempered reasoning behind the separation of power which created the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government as a system of checks and balances was the understanding that, if left unchecked, power would be misused. An American short hand of sorts has evolved that describes this concept; we are a nation of laws, not men. Decade after decade, generation after generation, examples of power grabs by individuals in basic violation of this concept come to mind; Watergate as an example. It is with this backdrop that I set forth the opening lines of an editorial appearing in today's New York Times.

"To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity." The editorial goes on to describe with excruciating particularity the various acts and techniques of human torture that Bush and his minions justified as a necessary part of the conduct of America as it purportedly sought to protect freedom throughout the world. Bush did not stop there. His administration blatantly violated the fundamental constitutional rights of American citizens by listening in on the private conversations of millions; a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

President Obama has signaled that the persons responsible for these crimes will not be held accountable. This is wrong, plain and simple. To fail to prosecute the people who promoted these despicable acts is to relegate the conduct to the world of political activity. It is to send the message to the American people that while the Bush administration did this, ours won't do such things because we can be trusted, we are the good guys, etc. etc. Accountability is the key word. In a society that sends poor and homeless people to prison for lengthy sentences because of drug seeking behaviors, we cannot simply stand aside and let conduct detrimental to the very essence of our existence go unpunished. These were not simply acts of bad judgment that can be wished away with a promise to do better this time. To allow these atrocities to go unpunished guarantees that there will be a next time. Get the bastards!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Sons-In-Law/Obama Connection

He gets things done. Period. After thinking about the initial days of Obama's presidency, I can conjure up several words that describe his approach; whirlwind, omnipresent, organized, ambitious, to name but a few. Take his recently completed foreign trip as an example. He visited six countries, held 25 meetings, conducted eight variations of press conferences and participated in two town halls in two separate countries. He attended three summits and several receptions, gave two speeches, laid a wreath, walked across a bridge, took several tours of spots of local interest and made a quick stop in Iraq. He did all this in about eight days, a schedule so vigorous it makes me tired to think about it. Obama functions in a manner which is strikingly familiar to me. I am blessed with the presence of three sons-in-law in my life. Each of these fine men is in the age range, demographically speaking, of Obama and each keeps up an impressive and rigorous "get'er done" schedule that is apparently typical of this age group. They do it seamlessly, effectively and efficiently without seeking attention. Their respective activities are beyond the scope of this writing, yet suffice it to say that they are each in their own way organized and effective. However, the most important characteristic they share with Obama is how they function as fathers. For those of you who have heard me prattle on and on about my grandchildren, you already know that I have eight of the most beautiful, gifted, intelligent, smart, and versatile grand kids on the planet (If you haven't heard the stories, don't get me started). These men love their kids, spend time with them, in ways that are truly impressive. There are some who wonder why I like Obama so much. the reason is simple. He's like my sons-in-law. He's a good, make that great, father.

p.s. to my daughters. The above commentary is meant in no way to dilute or minimize the wonderful jobs you do as the mothers of your children. Love, Dad


Just The Way He Said It

“I was born at an early age . . .”
Tifton paused and the audience cackled. It was the oldest and worst joke in his arsenal, but the audience loved it. Given his longstanding reputation, he could get away with saying things that lesser comedians would never consider. Audiences revered him, adored him and he never failed to give them an hour or two of relief from the daily grind. He made them smile, laugh, forget, remember and sometimes, cry.
It wasn’t always this way, Culpepper thought. Before he started writing for Tifton, the comedian was a has been. Actually, a never-was, Culpepper mused. The duo had been together now approaching twenty years and it had been a long and successful ride up the ladder of fame and fortune. Tifton could tell a joke, Culpepper would give him that. Most of that time, Culpepper had written every word that Tifton spoke in public. Until recently, Culpepper thought . For more than fifteen years, the team had been at the top of their game, playing all the best places, getting the best gigs. But the past three years had been painful. Tifton had come to believe all the junk that had been written about him and, in the process, had forgotten about the brains of the outfit; Leroy H. Culpepper, man of many talents who preferred staying out of the limelight for his own reasons. Culpepper’s mouth went dry and he tasted the bitterness of resentment as he tried to moisten his lips and thought about the recent past.
Everything took a turn for the worse when Tifton started telling some of his own jokes in his standup routine. At first, audiences tolerated the bad jokes so Tifton increased his input. Culpepper reckoned that now a full one-third of Tifton’s standard presentation was the comic’s own stuff. His jokes were terrible, Culpepper thought. Just terrible. What made it worse was that Tifton wouldn’t talk about the changes or give him a clue as to why he was doing what he was doing; abandoning the approach that had been so successful for the two of them. He tried to talk with him, reason with him, about the material, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Just last week, they had a bitter argument. Tifton stood and glared at him after reading what a critic had to say about the previous evening’s performance. He held up the headline, “Is Tifton Losing His Touch?” and blamed Culpepper for the poor showing.
“I’m not a ventriloquist. I can’t put words in your mouth. If you choose to ignore me and what I’ve written for you, you’ll have to pay the consequences.” Tifton wouldn’t listen. Since then, the boo birds in the audiences had been active and Tifton was getting testy. If Culpepper couldn’t convince Tifton to stop telling his own terrible jokes, their lavish life style was in jeopardy. Comedy had provided a good living for both of them, but the old show business adage was that you were only as good as your last performance.
Culpepper was sitting backstage listening to Tifton’s routine. It made him sick to his stomach. He couldn’t listen any more. He went back to Tifton’s dressing room and sat down, put his head in his hands. What was he going to do?
“Shine, Mister?”
He opened his eyes. A kid was standing in front of him, smilly smirk on his face, shoe cleaning kit in hand.
“How did you get in here? This area is off limits.”
“I know. But would you like a shine anyway? First time is free. I like repeat business.”
Just the way he said it made Culpepper laugh. He looked at the kid and nodded.
“Go ahead.”
He watched the kid work for a minute. “Why did you come in here?”
“I was hoping to see Mr. Tifton. Maybe get some pointers. I’m going to be a famous comedian too . . . just like him.”
“I don’t want to disappoint you, kid, but Tifton doesn’t like kids. Hates’em in fact.”
“Mr Tifton will like me.”
Culpepper laughed again. What is it you like about him?”
The kid looked up with his silly smirk. “His jokes are terrible, but he tells them so good. Just like me. My Mum says I could read the phone book and people would laugh.”
Culpepper didn’t like the direction this conversation was taking. He asked a question knowing that maybe he didn’t want to hear the answer
“Why do you say his jokes are terrible?”
The kid stood straight out of his shining posture.
“Hmmm . Let me see. How about these? You can tune a piano, and you can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish.”
Culpepper laughed heartily. He couldn’t help it. It was one of his favorite jokes and he’d written it for Tifton more than ten years ago.
“Where did you hear that?”
“Never heard it. Got an old joke book of Mr. Tifton’s that I’ve memorized.” He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled an old dog-eared copy of a joke book Culpepper had ghost written for Tifton several years back. “My Dad got this for me for my birthday a couple of years ago. As they say in that commercial, I don’t leave home without it.”
Culpepper laughed again. He could do something with this kid. He could envision him on stage telling jokes that he would write for him. People would laugh. He felt a flicker of hope in his chest. Maybe everything would work out.
Tifton walked into the room.
“What’s this kid doing here? Get him the hell out.”
“He’s my guest. He’s shining my shoes. Let him be.”
“I said get him out of here. Now.”
The kid stood and started to sing.
“A peanut sat on the rail road track
His heart was all aflutter.
A train came speeding down the track.
Toot, toot! Peanut butter.”
Culpepper and Tifton looked at each other. Then they looked at the kid, then back at each other. Culpepper looked at the kid again.
“Got any more?”
The smirk. “Sure do. The guy says to the doctor, Doc, my memory is slipping. I can’t seem to remember anything. The doctor asked him how long he had this problem? The guy says, What problem?” The kid looked at the two men, waited for a laugh. Nothing came so he continued, “There are three kinds of people, those who can count and those who can’t,” and “The teacher asked me to help my sister with her homework. I told him that I can’t because I can’t be a brother and assist her too!”
Culpepper loved this. He had written all this stuff years ago and memories came flooding back. He looked again at Tifton and noticed the thinnest of smiles appear. The kid was getting to him.
“Mr. Tifton. Would you like a shine as soon as I am finished with him? First time is free. I like repeat business.”
Just the way he said it made Tifton laugh.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chaging My Mind?

A topic that has been easy to ignore lately is the efforts that foreign auto competitors have been making to improve the quality of their products. Consider the following statement which has been excerpted from a New York Times article describing the improvements to be found in the 2010 Toyota Prius:

"Perhaps more significant, the combined city-highway rating is 50 m.p.g. That easily beats any other car sold in the United States — it is 8 m.p.g. better than the No. 2 contender, the Honda Civic Hybrid. It is also 400 percent better than the nation’s thirstiest car, the Lamborghini MurciĆ©lago Roadster.

"Consider, too, that the Prius is slightly larger than its predecessor, weighs 122 pounds more and has a bigger engine. So how can it get 5 more m.p.g. than the model it replaces?

"For one thing, the car’s fractionally greater girth is put to better aerodynamic use. Sharp creases on the corners streamline airflow over the body, as does a longer spoiler, flat underbody panels and an optimized roof arch.

"Moving the roof’s peak farther back also created more headroom in the rear seat. A bit more leg and shoulder room has also been carved out.

"The Prius weighs a bit more (it’s now 3,042 pounds) because of added crash protection measures. The car would have been heavier if the drive train hadn’t been lightened by 20 percent."

News in the last six months has fixated on the problems of the American auto industry. GM, until recently the leader of the world in auto production, is sinking fast and almost everybody in America is committed to the need to bail out this monolith. As I read about the new Toyota, my heart sank a bit. It hit me like a wooden plank banging against the side of my head; i.e., the starkness of the realization that GM really and truly has missed the boat, so to speak, by concentrating on SUVs and Hummers while Toyota and Honda have directed their energies on energy and the saving of it. The big question is where was GM while all this technology was occurring in plain sight? Where was the vision that was necessary for GM to sustain economic viability as Toyota rose slowly to become the world's largest automaker? I hate to admit it, but the answers to these question are obvious and this realization has me rethinking my opinion about the wisdom of the bailouts.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Jobs and the Republicn Party

There is a dilemma in America at this time. The unemployment level exceeds 13 million. That is to say that there are (more than) 13 million people who are seeking work to feed their families and meet their minimum economic needs. I am a retired guy who is interested in volunteer work. That is, I will work for nothing to provide services for those who cannot afford a lawyer. The dilemma and the question that is presented is this; does the volunteer worker who provides services take opportunities away from those who would willingly provide the same services for a modest price? Am I, as a volunteer, literally taking food out of the mouths of families, by doing what I do? In good times, there is no question that volunteer work is the correct and ethical thing to do. In bad times such as the present, (this may be my liberal leanings taking hold of my thought processes) is it appropriate for me to do something that I don't need to be paid for when there are thousands of young lawyers right out of school clamoring for the right to earn a living wage? It gets a little more complicated when governments start reducing funds for those agencies that do provide services for the poor. The Public Defender's offices around the country are taking a hit right now in reduced funding. Organizations like the Guardian Ad Litem programs and Legal Aid of Manasota have had significant reductions in their fundings which compromises the ability to function. Paid workers at these agencies have reduced hours while volunteers step in and pick up the slack. Is this the right approach when the services are being provided for other needy persons? Should government pick up the slack? Should companies that can afford to do so be given tax incentives to place an extra employee or two on their payrolls to help offset the unemployment figures? On a grander scale, is it the role of government to assist citizens in rough times like the present in feeding families and providing a roof over their heads? One of the guys at my golf club in Florida sent an e-mail around recently. By way of background, the people in our club have their own notions about the economic problems of the country. Rather than eating at fancy restaurants six times a week, most of them have cut down to three or four times a week. One guy complained that he had to use the same golf balls for several rounds (or at least until he hit it in the water) rather than start with a fresh sleeve of three new balls every times he played (five days a week). It is in this context that I received the following e-mail:

I recently asked my friends' little girl what she wanted to be when she
grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her
parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, 'If you
were President what would be the first thing you would do? '
She replied, 'I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people.'
Her parents beamed with pride.
Wow...what a worthy goal.' I told her, 'But you don't have to wait
until you're President to do that. You can come over to my house and mow the
lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I'll pay you $50. Then I'll take
you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give
him the $50 to use toward food and a new house. '
She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the
eye and asked, ' Why doesn't the homeless guy come over and do the
work, and you can just pay him the $50? '
I said, 'Welcome to the Republican Party.'
Her parents still aren't speaking to me.

In my activities at Legal Aid of Manasota, I have met a lot of homeless people. They would jump at the chance of making $50 by mowing someone's lawn or picking weeds. Of course, they probably wouldn't be welcome in the gated community in which I live. Their cars would probably be making too much noise. A recent incident in my neighborhood had a woman who hopped into her car with her bathrobe on at four o'clock in the morning to track down the poor guy delivering newspapers to complain to him that his muffler was too loud. The thought that the man may be unable to afford to repair his auto never occurred to this person. Honestly, I'm not making this stuff up. While the points raised in this blog are local in nature, the thinking and the attitudes reflected tend to be national in scoope.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Privatizing Gains and Socializing Losses

Privatizing gains and socializing losses. This is where we are today. It reminds me of the grand kids' soccer, baseball and basketball games I have attended over the years. When the kids first start, everything possible is done to make sure that the benefits (i.e. the profits from participating) are maximimized. "Great shot" as Kari's attempted goal misses the goal post by five yards and sails away. Initially, everything good, including participation in and of itself, is rewarded no matter the level of demonstrated athletic performance. No attempt to score games are made. A couple of years later, things change. The concept of losing appears. Kids learn to lose games and accept defeat. Out on the baseball field, the shortstop who bungles the grounder with two outs in the ninth experiences the discomfort and consequences from not having done his best. He may be shunned by his teammates, or he may be benched for the next game. In short, those who engage in athletic activities learn a valuable life lesson. Losing is a part of life. Excellence in performance is a value to be admired. Think of Tiger Woods. The same phenomenon has been seen with academic activities; it is important early on for the children to feel good about themselves, we are told. However, somewhere along the line, the message became garbled. The lesson of experiencing consequences for sub-standard performance has not been properly taught. Our system of education currently is dedicated to bring up the laggards from behind who, for one reason or another, bring down the average. The catch words "No child left behind" says it all. The really bright child takes a back seat as classes at all grade levels are dumbed-down to have slower kids feel good about themselves, as well as score higher on grades so that school systems can qualify for funding. For more than thirty years I interviewed, and sometimes hired, young lawyers who had difficulty constructing adequate sentences and, more importantly, had no idea that their skills were sub par because they have been rewarded with high grades simply for showing up. One of the large defense firms in Detroit hired an English teacher a few years back to coach and teach young lawyers in basic English skills. A recent article in the New York Times described how current college students believe that they should receive A's for simply showing up to class. What a mind set; yet that is exactly what is going on in Washington and Wall Street today.

The privatizing of gains and socializing of losses set forth in our current economic recovery plan is exactly analogous to programs of early athletic programs and current educational policy in the United States. The plan being put into effect requires minimal, if any, chance of loss by private investors together with potential gains totally out of sync with the reality of profit loss ventures. If the investment turns out to generate a profit, the investor makes a lot of money. If it doesn't turn out to be profitable, the investor walks away and the taxpayers absorb the loss. Such a deal!