Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Now What?

My New York Times was at the door this morning. Above the fold was the huge face of someone who had a remarkable resemblance to the Unibomber. A gigantic photo as large as I've seen on that page and tucked in the right hand corner, a dwarf sized image of George W. Bush. Is there a message in that? And it looks like Saddam, unlike those hundreds in Guantanamo, hasn't been taken to such a bad place. An undisclosed location, isn't that where our Vice President lives a lot of the time? I have been a little worried whether Paul Bremer is really in tune with his boss, but when I heard his eloquent words of announcement "we got him," I knew he was right in there.  A message for the moment.

Now don't get me wrong, this is the capture of a really horrible monster who rightly belongs in the pantheon of the most despotic murderers, but his arrest really doesn't change the basic facts one iota. This war, in which thousands have died, and are dying, was still launched on bent truths, and the aftermath continues to be a colossal mess. Yesterday's Times carried a blistering column by Tom Friedman (one of the War's boosters) contending that our government still has no plan all these months after. Perhaps Saddam had symbolic value for those still resisting the occupation, but don't put too much stake in it. The fact is that dictatorships function in the British system, "The King is Dead, Long Live the King." We shouldn't be fooled by our own infatuation with stars and the cult of the personality. Conditions make for unrest not any individual leader.  Conditions remain poor.

The noise will quiet down. You can count on the media to move on as soon as the story gets a little tired and ratings slide. And then we will be back to reality. Nothing has really changed over the weekend. We've made a mess out of the world, we've alienated our friends, and we've taken an ominous turn toward repression of liberties and, as Bill Moyers' Now pointed out, pervasive secrecy at home justified by that unassailable catchall excuse, The War on Terrorism.

So the pundits are now in aircraft carrier mode – mission accomplished. They are telling us unpatriotic naysayers that it's all over. I fully expect to see a life size photo of Howard Dean on the front page of The Weekly Standard – he is the real enemy isn't that right?. Hell, why wait till New Hampshire, why delay until November. This thing is all over and, if not, there always those five crucial votes. Perhaps it is over. I don't think so. For our sakes, I hope it's not. I continue to worry for my children.

At Year's End: The Statistics of Death

How can we bring this year to an end without thinking of how many of our fellow human beings lost their lives through the violence of conflict and, in the closing days, a natural disaster of unimaginable proportions.  We'll probably never know the final count of either since the casualties of powerful bombs and earthquakes are often vaporized into nothingness; off the statistical radar.  And what of those statistics?  Statistics shelter us from any kind of personal feeling or involvement — great neutralizers of information.  The fact is, that we can't begin to fathom thousands of dead. 

When someone we know dies, the impact is felt personally.  We understand an individual who was part of our life is gone, forever.  Funerals of loved ones provide closure, the first step toward healing.  But impersonal death, statistical death, provides neither a sense of individual loss nor, absent some public effort, closure.  Statistical death is someone else's problem.  In our scheme of things, it doesn't have much impact.  That kind of dispassion in a society is dangerous, especially if one is concerned about stopping the unending cycle of violence that marks our contemporary scene.  To bring about change, the community has to individualize the loss and has to grieve.  The Italians understood that when their country stood still to honor their brave young soldiers who died in Iraq.  Japan did the same and so did our principal partner "of the willing", Great Britain.  Not so in this great democracy.

We have had no national grieving.  Any grieving has been limited to the families of the fallen and a few moving tributes of isolated media like The News Hour (PBS) which ends many evening broadcasts with the photos, names and, most poignantly, ages of those recently killed.  We can't grieve publicly because the Administration has forbidden coverage of the bodies being brought back home.  Somehow it thinks "out of site will be out of mind," a crass cover-up of the real price of war in which most of the media is a willing and culpable co-conspirator.  So we ask these young people to go off to war, volunteers and conscripted Reservists, and we don't have the decency to say a public thank you to them and their families when their lives are cut short.  We wear flags on our lapels that brag patriotism and we dishonor the greatest patriots of all by hiding their individuality from the public.  Speak about dehumanizing acts.

So I enter 2004 with a great deal of sadness about our losses, about the lives cut short in a War of questionable origin.  I enter with a feeling of frustration.  It's been a horrendous time for the world and for the country which I love deeply.  Thousands of individuals are gone and each of their families will never be the same without them.  I've known parents who lost children from disease.  None of them ever recovered.  I think of them when the statistics flash across the screen.  Perhaps we can find a way out.  Being an essentially optimistic person, I know we can.  I also know it's ultimately up to us and I ask myself (and you) what are we going to do about it?  Time is running out.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

A Death in the Family

"I am distressed for you my brother Jonathan.  How the mighty are fallen in the midst of battle…" — David's lament for his fallen best friend.  These were the words I chose to read from the pulpit to the nearly two thousand people who spontaneously attended our Friday night service on November 22, 1963.  And it wasn't easy to read them.  It's painful to this day and I am not alone.  Not alone, but it remains a singular experience for most of us, our personal loss even more than our collective loss. 

John Kennedy's presidency was exceedingly brief.  Arthur Schlesinger recounted it as days, not years.  Jackie wanted us to remember it as a shining moment.  And, I believe, it is precisely because it was a flash in time, that has his legacy became so powerful.  Since he didn't have the opportunity to play it out, inevitably (as we all do on some level) to screw it up, we're free to fill in gaps, to dream the dreams.  The most powerful myths are those over which we have ultimate control.  Heroes are always bigger than life because we need them to be just that.  And heaven knows, there aren't too many heroes around these days, making JFK all the more precious.

Given the weight of the myth factor, pundits and talking heads rush in to point out the substance behind the myth, to fill in the gap.  They remind us of missiles, of the cheering crowds in Berlin and of a the introduced, though not passed, landmark Civil Rights legislation.  All important, all fair but all totally besides the point.  There is nothing wrong with myth which has always been far more powerful and enduring for humans than fact.  The myth of JFK's short Presidency was its ultimate accomplishment. 

Style over substance, was exactly what we needed so desperately after the deadly dull Eisenhower years.  When Jack Kennedy came to the fore, in emotional terms America had yet to fully recover from World War II.  The FDR antidote personalities were in place -- first Truman and then Ike, both extremely decent men but totally lacking the charismatic electricity of their predecessor.  And let's not forget Joe McCarthy who left us dispirited and wondering if democracy had actually prevailed in the first half of the Century.  Enter Jack Kennedy.  He gave us the lift we needed and, while countless Americans did not realize the magnitude of the gift until he was gone, he made us feel good about our country, proud of it.  It wasn't a matter of wearing metal flags on our lapels.  It was real.

Which brings me to 2003, the fortieth anniversary.  Where is JFK now when we need him again?  There's been this death in the family and we still can't seem to get over it. 

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Another Viet Nam: Wishful Thinking

As we become increasingly mired in an Iraqi morass, it's hard for any of us not to think of Viet Nam.  Regardless of whether we compare or contrast, we too are mired, but in the wrong neighborhood.  Would that Iraq were a Cold War conflict in which governments and economic-political ideologies were at play.  Wishful thinking.  2003 is a very different place.  Unlike Viet Nam, we are not putting ourselves in the middle of a civil war because of some domino theory.  While long since discredited, at least it had a logic and a consistent context.  The idea that entering Iraq, a plan that we now know for sure was hatched long before 9/11, was part of a war on terrorism is more than a stretch.  It's not credible.  Iraq had to do with egos (personal and national) and oil.  Controlling natural resources, harks back to an age-old purpose of Colonialism.  But even here, the past is not necessarily the most valuable teacher other than to say that locals still dislike foreign takeovers, even when they are portrayed as transitional and short term.

When I open my day with the BBC news and the New York Times, it's not Viet Nam that comes to mind, but something geographically much closer.  Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians.  It's here that the parallels are so obvious and so very disturbing.  The Intifada, which manifests itself largely in attacks against the innocent, is horrendous.  The right of Israel, born out of a Holocaust in which there were enough dirty hands to circle the globe, to exist is not a question.  But the response that the Israeli government has mounted, one that I would describe as "a head for an eye" simply isn't working.  If Palestinians on the Street were unhappy and frustrated at the start, they are now filled with fury.  Sure the lack of constructive leadership from within must be blamed for that as well, but not as much as what military people euphemistically call "collateral damage."  I like to say that minor surgery is something that happens to someone else.  Collateral damage is much the same.

The idea of turning the other cheek is not only difficult, thoughtful people reasonably argue that it sends the wrong message.  Few Americans, caught up in September horror, opposed going after the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden.  But were Gandhi and Martin Luther King irrational idealists?  I don't think so.  Quite the opposite, they were thoughtful strategists who took difficult and unconventional steps  to reach their goals.  Their rationale was simple.  If you want to have significant movement, you have to change the conversation.  Someone has to say stop, and more importantly to act on his own call for inaction.

So we are now proceeding with our own "West Bank" retaliation and each day gaining less and paying more.  We're facing an Intifada in which terrorist tactics are used by desperate outgunned people who feel colonized and we simply don't know what to do except follow the Sharon strategy.  Consequently, the innocent Street is confused and getting increasingly angry.   Every day we are looking more and more like the enemy not the liberator.  A rush trip to Washington for instructions and a return with frantic cosmetics crafted in the Spin Rooms on Pennsylvania Avenue.  A more rapid turn over of "power."  And while we're waiting, substantially increased use of force to send a message.  The "Peace Process" and the tanks.  Sound familiar?

Tuesday, November 4, 2003


I'm having some serious doubts about the Elizabeth Smart Story, the CBS docudrama scheduled for broadcast this coming Sunday.  I'm not sure it's going to be accurate or that all of the conversations between the principals, especially those who captured poor Elizabeth, are going to be true to what was really said, or meant.  I'm a little worried about the image of mother Smart and if father Smart might come off a little less up to his game than he really is.

In the day of the reality show (of which CBS claims to be a proud parent), let's get real.  Accuracy was never the issue here.  There was plenty of time to vet the script of Mr. and Mrs. Gipper's story.  And let's also be honest.  Television fare of this kind, much less a great deal of the glossy "news" we get today, wouldn't meet the Ed Murrow standard or, in some cases, even the smell test.  Using lack of accuracy as an excuse is a slippery slope for a tarnished media that so often seems no longer capable of distinguishing between reporting and editorializing.

CBS caved into pressure.  They accepted the direction of Conservative critics, just as the whole country has been caving into those same people with disastrous results.  In that regard, it seems almost unfair to blame them.  But in doing so, regardless of the logic (which must have included fear of Sponsor abandonment) they have done damage to free expression.  If we are not fighting for the right of people to express, even erroneously, what the hell are we fighting for?

I feel for our former President and his family now sharing a dark world that in many ways is worse than no world at all.  I think it's always tricky to portray the living which anyone who has seen her or his story on screen can surly attest is likely to be largely fictional and thus painful to one degree or another.  But public people chose to be public and along with the adulation and chauffeurs comes a loss of full personal control.  You can't build a myth around yourself, or allow one to be built, without risking the balloon being punctured, even if often inaccurately so.

Docudramas are, and always have been, off the factual mark to one degree or another.  It's why I generally find them offensive.  But that's a matter of taste not censorship.  In a time when neo-McCarthyism is afoot in some very high places, we can't be complacent about the "why" of what happened here.  Be assured, accuracy never came into legitimate play in CBS's decision, even if they have deluded themselves into the fact that it did.  The word disingenuous, however, does come to mind.

Saturday, November 1, 2003

Things are Getting Better

The Central Park Reservoir opened in 1862 surrounded by an elegant 5' high iron fence providing an unencumbered view of the growing city around it.  In 1926 that fence was replaced a mundane chain-link affair which couldn't destroy the view altogether but gave it a gauze-like, not to mention rusted-out, quality.  Surrounding the water is a track, the favorite of many New Yorkers like myself and countless other jogging visitors.  It's always been a near perfect place.  Early this past summer, staggered work begin on restoring the original fence design.  Within the last few weeks a large section has been reopened.  One always surmised that the project would enhance this beloved urban space, but what it has done is no less than astounding.  Running this familiar track, is a dramatically different and wondrous experience.  So, too, is what's happening to the City's Hudson shore line.  The long decaying rot of abandoned piers and neglected waterfront is being replaced by wonderful parks.  One can now bicycle down a protected path (with a few remaining detours) from the George Washington Bridge to the Battery.  Riverside Park is being extended South and will one day join with that new park system below 59th Street.  In New York, things are getting better.

Things are getting better in Iraq as well.  Right.  It seems now that every Thursday and Sunday we're getting the classic half-full, half-empty in the columns of Tom Friedman and Maureen Dowd.  Among the issues at hand, for them and for a growing number of others, is whether we're experiencing "déjà vous all over again?"  Friedman doesn't see Viet Nam, Dowd does.  And so do I in much the same way.  It isn't that these wars are identical in cause or content, but much more in the way we Americans come to them.  There is an eerie echo in those rosy statements coming out of the Administration.  The "we'll be home by Christmas" and the preposterous proclamation that increasing violence is a sign of "enemy" desperation (read imminent defeat).  At least as important, and sadly Tom Friedman falls into that pit, is an inability to admit being wrong.  We know today that our suspicions about motivation and our doubts about proclaimed immediate threat were correct.  Perhaps if that had not been the case, we too might be holding on to our rightness.  Perhaps, but we haven't put so many kids at risk and there is no joy or satisfaction in saying we told you so.  Far from it.  Did you hear that the Defense Department is not allowing ceremonial returns of the dead and that our caring President has not attended a single funeral.  Counting the dead just doesn't smack of success and missions accomplished.  In downplaying individual tragedy these people are under the illusion that we won't notice its magnitude.

It's not merely that the mission has not been accomplished in Iraq, it's that we're in a global quagmire of terrorism in which we continue to combat symptoms not causes.  Just look at the unending terror in Israel where military strike backs have been notoriously unsuccessful while the ongoing issues are not even being addressed and the violence just continues.  And look at the other breeding grounds of hopelessness around a world in which the gulf between rich and poor is growing daily.  The most disturbing part of it all, however, is not our machismo or our denial, but the fact that, for the most part, we just don't get it.  We remain a largely insular people who always want to be in absolute control and are unforgiving to those who won't follow our lead or who resist being  like us.  How dare they?  We are language and culturally deficient which is part of what got us into trouble in the 60's and what clearly is hurting us still in Baghdad and other places.  We continue to have a short attention span with a mentality of out-of-sight means out-of-mind and thus not really happening. 

I love our renewed running track and our revitalized shoreline.  New York needs the boost which these amenities provide.  But getting things better, requires more than surface cosmetics.  I don't see that happening.  I take it back.  Things are not getting better.

Friday, October 17, 2003

It's Complicated

The girls and boys at CNN et al would like us to think the everything is simple, and can be summed up in a clever sound byte.  We know that's not true and older I get the more I understand that most things are actually complex.  That doesn't mean we don't have points of view.  Our core beliefs and opinions are not expressed in shades of gray.  But there is gray around the edges, and if we want to be really honest with ourselves we shouldn't either avoid or deny them.

I opposed the Iraq war.  It was the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place and, worst of all, like others I sensed it was based on half truths.  Increasingly, it's becoming clear that the latter was an understatement.  Lies are probably a better description.  I have not changed my mind about it and hope, perhaps somewhat naively, that we will be able to extricate ourselves more or less in one piece.  I hope we'll be able recapture our moral center and the respect of the world.  That's why I'll do everything possible to get George Bush and his gang who hijacked our precious democracy out of Washington.

That said, we are in Iraq and whatever is physically broken at this point is our doing.  You can't espouse a moral center and not take responsibility even if others took actions in your name without your consent.  That is doubly true if they had your consent.  Whether or not we should have gone into Iraq is our problem and what we did there is our problem as well.  The idea that Iraqi's should now be punished economically when we rebuild what we broke is not only ridiculous it is dishonorable.  It pains me to see some Democrats in Congress who should have known better than to support this war in any fashion a year ago tying to recoup their reputations and lack of judgment by penalizing the Iraqis who have suffered so much at our hands.  The loan idea is silly on the face of it.  Let's say, for example, that we got hold of Osama and asked that he pay for the damage at the World Trade Center.  Of course, this is an apples and oranges comparison, but humor me, how would we feel if he said OK, but it's a loan that you'll have to pay back from any money made there?  Bush should be held accountable for how the money is spent (including which of his near and dear get contracts to do work).  His feet should be held to the fire for a plan, but all of that is our problem.  Let's not lay on the Iraqis whose "liberation" has hardly been a bed of roses. 

We are in Iraq.  We should get out as soon as possible, but we better help them fix it before we do.  Let's not repeat the mistakes we've made in the past, especially in places whose culture and beliefs are not the same as our own.  There are enough legitimate ways to challenge George W. Bush.  This is not one of them.  Gray around the edges.  Complicated not simple, and a price we'll have to pay.

Friday, October 10, 2003


A raw vote plurality and the questionable intervention of the robed gang of five notwithstanding, Al Gore lost the 2000 election.  That was clear to anyone who watched his dismal campaign.  A wooden candidate evoking the pretense of synthetic dynamism and running against, rather than on, an obviously powerful message.  Gore lost.  So, too, with Gray Davis, only in spades.  The stiff Davis didn't even attempt the pretence and, in any event, couldn't have pulled it off against a cinematic, not to mention media, super hero.  Gore lost, Davis lost as did Bob Dole and Papa Bush in elections past.

What is the lesson here?  Elections are lost, perhaps as often as they are won.  Perhaps more often.  To win, one has to win.  That means, if not electrifying the public, then at least eliciting a spark.  Listening to Bush & Company pontificating this past week to selected friendly audiences, sanctimoniously repeating the now discredited "truths" that were used to sell our preemptive interventionism, I was struck by how much ammunition they are providing for the inevitable foreign policy debate of 2004.  This and a still lackluster jobless recovery with ballooning deficits (and the resulting ballooning interest rates that will certainly follow) provide powerful arguments for the opposition.  But in the end, someone, whether it be Howard Dean, Wes Clark or John Kerry, will have to win.  That's the rub.

Everyone is trying to find the message in California.  Democratic optimists see it as a sign of powerful dissatisfaction that will ultimately and naturally translate into a Bush defeat.  My good friend Clifford Kulwin in a Friday night sermon reminded us that when people are energized by a substantive cause, they can be driven to the polls in numbers that Americans rarely see.  Republicans have taken heart that the heretofore solidly Democratic stronghold of California went 60% for their party's people.  All true, all valid.  There is deep dissatisfaction, it can lead to unprecedented turnout and party loyalty is not what it used to be.  But, in the end, it may be much simpler.  Gray Davis lost.

I think the recall set a terrible precedent in a country where politicians already are constantly looking over their shoulders or at polls before making decisions.  Jack Kennedy would have difficulty finding the courageous to profile in these times.  Then again, I wouldn't over read the precedent.  After all, we're talking about California where politics is always a little off the national norm – lot's of propositions, ultra conservatives and ultra liberals.  It's hard to keep tabs and difficult to make predictions about what might come next, much less consider what happens out there predictive. 

So I would suggest that those who will ultimately emerge from the nine, and especially he who ultimately emerges as the One, focus on a single truth.  Elections are won or lost.  Without discounting the role of the voter, it is the runner who has to win the race.  Al Gore and Gray Davis lost.  The country can't afford another such capitulation.

Monday, September 29, 2003

A Morning with El Greco

It's a beautiful crisp clear Fall day in New York and I walked across the Park this morning to a private members preview of the large El Greco show that is to open at the Metropolitan Museum in a few days. I had special reasons. On this day fifteen years ago my father, Joachim Prinz, died. Two days later I would officiate at his funeral and deliver both the easiest and most difficult eulogy of my life. Like most people I have had a small number of best friends, but none better than he. Which brings me to El Greco.

Some people honor their loved ones with trips to the cemetery. I have never been so inclined. I'm not discounting visits to the grave, just saying they don't work for me. Those who really meant something in my life are embodied in how I function, ever present. Boy is that true in his case, so I went to see El Greco.

It was my father who instilled in me a passionate love for art, and it was during a summer we spent together in Europe that I got hooked on El Greco. It was a wonderful and eventful trip beginning on the Island of Ibiza off the Spanish coast on to the mountains of Switzerland and ending with about 12 hours spent in Berlin (my first and only visit to Germany). It was the summer that the Wall was being constructed and a shaken Jewish Community feeling uncertain once again about its future wanted him to preach in their synagogue.

The Spain portion included Madrid and from there that wonderful drive to the old city of Toledo. If you've made it, and are familiar El Greco's powerful painting of the walled city set against an angry sky which echoes your experience, you know how moving the approach can be. I made a similar trip with one of my own sons and had an identical reaction. Once in Toledo, we entered the world of El Greco.  Paintings were everywhere, the best hanging on the walls of the Cathedral's sacristy. Those narrow figures, that unforgettable vivid color, often sparsely used, often contrasting with the grayness of skin. I was astounded and to this day whenever I visit a new museum and encounter an El Greco in its collection, I get excited. I don't have a single favorite painter, but certainly none more favorite than this man from Greece.

I don't know how you remember. My remembrance on this day was, as always, thrilling. I could have experienced a similar connection with Rembrandt, with Van Gogh, with any of the Impressionists, with Matisse or Picasso. Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Close and their crowd are in my realm, definitely not his but that's what next generations are all about. The point is, the relationship continues and even if you didn't know him, go see El Greco at the Met.  Perhaps not the paintings themselves, but the sheer experience of human creativity, the wonder of it all, is his rich legacy. Share it with me. You won't be sorry.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Best Friends

I'm sure you've heard it.  Israel has never had better friends in Washington than the Bush Administration.  Really.  If being with you at the start when very few would stand at your side has any meaning, then it would seem Harry Truman was a pretty good friend.  And wouldn't you think Menahem Begin felt the same about Jimmy Carter and Yitzhak Rabin about Bill Clinton, both of whom used Camp David, not to mention their personal capital, to broker peace, albeit with mixed results?  So let's translate.  The far right administration in our country is in tune with the ultra right government in Jerusalem.  So, too, the Administration's fundamentalist Christian friends with Ariel Sharon's fundamentalist Jewish friends on the West Bank.  I only hope this kind of friendship doesn't ultimately kill the Jewish State, not to mention the dreams of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians.

To be sure, the conflict between Israel and its neighbors is rooted in the days of the founding, but I would think my father's friends David Ben Gurion, Moshe Sharret and Golda Meir would be horrified at the sharp right turn, politically and religiously, taken by their successors.  After all, it was large a group of Jewish secularists and religious modernists who made Israel a reality.  Many of the Orthodox, aside of imposing their will on religious practice – liberal rabbis couldn't function – were on the fringes, and the ultra-Orthodox, unlike Truman, didn't much recognize the State's validity or authority.  The West Bank emerged as their key to taking hold of the conversation and, as of today, of Israel's destiny.

George Bush and company are hell-bent on establishing a Moslem stronghold for democracy in the region.  And, of course, they want to obliterate terrorism.  And now they've spent our considerable capital in seeking that transformation in Iraq.  Imagine if you will, that they had opted to make only a fraction of that investment in transforming the West Bank into a Palestinian State, a parallel democracy to its Israeli neighbor?  What if troops, minus the devastating bombs, had been landed right where that self-defeating wall is being erected?  The fact is that no peace in the Holy Land is likely to come without proactive and sustained intervention by a third party or parties.  Talking of road maps is all well and good, but it's clear that someone has to patrol the path, a truly honest broker with force behind the words.  Just as I am dubious about our ability to achieve a democratic Iraq, I am convinced that with a similar effort we could achieve it in Palestine.  And the dividends would be huge and immediate for the parties on the ground, for ourselves and for the world at large.  Settling this dispute addresses one of the core causes of global terrorism.  To do so would be to bypass symptomatic relief of a malignancy in favor of producing remission and ultimate cure.

I had written these words before setting out to attend an event for Howard Dean.  I'll confess, as anyone who reads these blogs will know, that Dean has increasingly been at the top of my list of Democratic candidates.  But I went wanting that gut feeling to be sustained by some substance, and not entirely sure it would be.  Howard Dean, it turns out, is a very much what I had hoped and sensed.  Unlike what the press and neo-Cons would have you believe, he is not a George McGovern but a result oriented fiscal conservative with a down-to-earth rather that pie-in-the-sky agenda, economic, social and foreign policy.  He's a liberal – "if that means balancing a budget rather than running up record deficits, I'm proud of the designation."  He was, and is, opposed to the current Iraq war brought on by dubious arguments about non-existent WMD's and unproved terrorist links.  Conversely, he supported the first Gulf War pushing back an illegal invasion and that of Afghanistan which retaliated for 9/11.  He is not opposed to being strong or using force, simply using it unjustly.  He thinks we're in real trouble, trouble that can be addressed, but real trouble.  I agree.  And, in answer to a question on Israel, he said more or less what I stated here.  How could I not like the guy?  But in a less flippant context, his words were heartening because obviously there are others who are beginning to think out-of-the-box on a subject mired in truisms a cliché "patriotism".  Perhaps there is some hope in these terrible times.  By the way, he wasn't wearing one of those American Flag pins.  I guess, like me, he must think his words and deeds are enough to prove that he is loyal to and loves his country.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

9/11 Thoughts

I was in Miss Fischer's classroom when the news of FDR's death arrived, preparing a Friday night sermon when JFK was shot and running in Central Park on the crystal clear morning when those planes hit the Towers.  We all have our own "where I was" for these kinds of days after which we're solemnly told, "nothing will ever be the same."  Perhaps, only time and history will tell.  In the meantime, George Bush and company have adopted 9/11 as a catchall for everything they are doing.  Forget WMD's, evil regimes and all that stuff.  9/11 terrorism is "it" and the "why" we're in Iraq.  Oh, that explains all, finally.   As a New Yorker, where more than 3,000 individuals and their families, not to mention our city as a whole, were direct victims of this horrendous tragedy, I resent it being used as an excuse for hiding incompetence, for subverting civil liberties and for furthering partisan/ideological political agendas.

A poll taken last week shows that one out of seven Americans firmly believe Saddam played a significant role in 9/11.  Now that's marketing.  The Bush Administration entered Iraq with two contentions: weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorism.  Neither substantiated at the time, neither substantiated to this day.  WMD's have yet to appear and the only terrorist connection, if there is one, seems to be a result of the war not a precursor to it.  In fact, it's no stretch to suggest that only the demise of Saddam's regime gave license for the entry of terrorist groups which heretofore didn't dare show their faces in his authoritarian state.  There is no connection between Saddam and 9/11 except as planted in the minds of consumers who have been led to that dog food by the propagandists on Pennsylvania Avenue and at the Pentagon.  Wow!

George Bush wants us to connect 9/11 and Iraq calling that beleaguered country "the central front" in the war on terrorism.  It's an audacious statement playing on our worst fears and shifting attention from the reality of the situation.  The United States' total lack of preparation for other than a fantasy the "after" script and what is happening now both reflects that.  It should also be no surprise since throughout history locals have resisted foreigners calling the shots in their country.  Our founding fathers did it in 1776 and the Iraqis seem to be doing it today, much as they and their fellow Arabs resisted both the English and French occupiers in the last Century.  And even if they are grateful (which some of them probably are) that Saddam is gone (sort of), it's hard to stand and applaud when the most immediate result of conflict is lawlessness, a lack of clean running water and no electricity.  How do you think the average Iraqi would respond to Ronald Reagan's famous question "are you better off today then you were one year ago?" 

Perhaps the most striking and most unproved "truism" in Bush's recent TV address was his contention that military force is the best way to counter terrorism.  While all of us understand what motivates a tough response in the face of attack, history does not suggest that it works.  Quite the contrary.  Look at Northern Ireland and look at the tragic drama we witness daily between Israel and the Palestinians.  Ariel Sharon's aggressive retaliation and assassination program has done nothing to reduce, much less eliminate, suicide bombings.  I would argue that violence is probably the least effective way to counter terrorism.  It may work as a band-aid, but ultimately the underlying wounds that provoked the terrorism in the first place have to be addressed.  No one can excuse what happened on 9/11 or when a bus explodes in Jerusalem – targeting the innocent is a despicable tactic, but we seem to be destined for more of the same if we don't address the fundamental issues that drive Street people into the hands of fanatics around the globe.  Perhaps we should spend less time making sanctimonious patriotic speeches about 9/11 and start looking for solutions, even ones that might be hard to swallow.  The cycle has to stop somewhere, and a little honesty in our rhetoric might be a good place to start.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Inside Outside

I spent last week sitting in a jury box.  After being called every four years like clockwork , this was the first time I was actually selected to sit in judgment on a fellow citizen, a weighty experience in a criminal case.  It was a particularly hot week in New York coming at the end of a summer of wacky weather around the globe.  Taking the subway down each day and walking the half dozen blocks across to the Moynihan Federal Court Building was a bit like hiking through the environs of my kitchen oven.  That was outside.  Inside Judge Stein's courtroom it was so cold that one could only survive in a winter sweater – he likes it that way, keeps everyone awake.  Without making light of the trial experience, what I couldn't get out of my head throughout was the sharp contrast between the cold inside and the heat outside on the street.  Being so accustomed to the synthetic climate control in which we regularly function, we don't think about that much.  In fact, how we privileged few experience life bespeaks a consistent unreality, an apt metaphor for our times and most especially for our country.

Sitting in that cold room, we were totally out of touch with the reality of the streets below which, given being in the act of passing judgment on what happened out there, is kind of bizarre.  Don't get me wrong, I think we jurors got a pretty good picture of what went on and we reached a fair and reasonable verdict.  That's the particular, but in a more global context, we tend to see the outside from an inside perspective and to act accordingly.  It's like a movie set in a foreign land where the locals all speak English on screen, their natural language having been subverted in the name of art.  Well we function in much the same way looking out into the world feeling that the American way, our way, is the natural order of things and everyone should be partaking of it's values – a kind of born-again nirvana.  I am not saying others don't do the same in reverse, but if so, they are equally delusional.

The funny thing about this insight is that one might have thought it would have occured the week earlier when the lights went out while I was sitting at my computer.  Here was a dose of reality, not to mention the absence of air conditioning.  But that's the point, during the great Blackout of '03, inside and outside merged.  There was no disconnect.  Sure we were up to the task (in my case less than twelve hours of deprivation), but we quickly retreated into "normalcy."  The conservation measures we collectively took to reduce strain on the system by restraining ourselves from unnecessary consumption once the lights returned lasted but a fleeting moment.  A little bit of energy sticker shock, but back to our collective SUVs (which most of us "drive" in one way or another).

No, if you look at what's going on these days --  the depressing international situation and the continuing economic slump – much of it stems from planning in "air conditioned" rooms where assumptions are made about the heated world outside.  There is a disconnect, and to some degree we all engage in it.  Indeed our idea of deprivation is so ridiculously tepid compared with what most people experience, that it's a true conceit to claim understanding or worse to impose our solutions.  People behaved themselves enormously well, we tell ourselves, speaking of the power outage that stretched into 27 hours in lower Manhattan, but how would any of us behaved if, like the Iraqis, we were without electricity and clean running water for months since being "liberated?"

It's not that all our intentions are suspect or disingenuous, it's that we are simply stuck in the air conditioning of Judge Stein's courtroom.  Inside, outside two very different places and that is where the trouble starts.

Sorry for the interruption.  Let the circus continue.

Saturday, August 16, 2003


I'd love to recall George W. Bush.  Hell, he wasn't even elected.  I'm appalled by his policies which make me, a generally optimistic person, feel more uneasy about the country's present and future than at any time I can remember.  He has sullied our reputation in the world community.  His trickle down economic solutions seem to have had little impact upon the economy while burdening us again with disastrously large deficits, a Ronald Reagan legacy that we thought had been cleaned up by those much maligned tax and spend Democrats.  Another poor Democratic President is likely to take the rap for raising taxes in the years to come to keep us afloat. 

I'd love to recall George W. Bush, but we can't.  Nor, and this pains me no end, should we be able to mid term.  Recalls aren't democracy in action, they are anarchy in the making.  Perhaps I'm overreacting.  After all it's California where all this craziness is going on and you know how they are.  Well, I don't buy it.  I expect maturity and responsibility from a mega-State whose actions impact the well being of the entire nation.  Sure they have a boring and even unlikable Governor.  Tough.  Sure their economy sucks, but hello, is the New York economy booming?  But all that is beside the point.  The idea that we can just recall our public officials between elections because we don't like them is preposterous.  It may be legal in California, but that doesn't mean it passes either the smell or the sanity test.

Of course it does make for good TV which may be all that counts these days.  The Networks on and off Cable have already anointed a successor, the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger – their kind of guy.  You may have missed it, but Arnold is a man of unquestioned credentials — a proven fiscal manager who clearly has the experience required to solve the enormous problems of a giant state where, due to other spontaneous voter propositions, a Governor is left with virtually no options or powers.  Right!  Details, details.  Arnold debuted his candidacy on Leno with a few good movie character jokes.  What happened to policy-rich announcements on the steps of a public building or historic site?  What happened to seriousness.  And Arnold is not alone, there are a multitude of other self proclaimed neophyte wannabes running who just aren't muscular enough to gain media attention but are nonetheless part of the show.  If this is democracy, perhaps it's time to opt out.

And one final thing.  Firing a sitting governor should not a moment of levity or bravado.  If noting else, it is overturning the will of the electorate, a de facto Impeachment absent reasonable cause, trial and due process.  Impeachments are not happy moments.  I'll never forget the day that the House committee voted to impeach Richard Nixon, someone who had really and criminally abused his office.  When the clerk called the name of Chairman Pete Rodino, a Democrat, you could hear the cracking in his voice as he cast is "aye" vote.  This had to be his saddest and most profound day of public service.  What has happened to that kind of decency, that kind of gravitas in our country? 

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Captive of the One

Wyatt Erp, the new sheriff came to town.  Most just call him W.  He's a real tough cookie and it doesn't take much time till he plasters the trees with the picture of his most wanted – that singular bad guy whose demise will transform Dodge into a safe a peaceful place.  "We're going to get him, dead or alive!"  W sends forth his posse, canons in tow, guns a ‘blazing.  Lot's of destruction, lot's of bodies "theirs" and "ours" – fortunately fewer of ours.  But no enemy number one.  No matter, just as the townsfolk are getting antsy, beginning to ask questions, W has the perfect distraction.  Down come the old pictures to be replaced by another, a guy sporting a mustache and hiding untold boxes of TNT or worse.  The posse will have to go out again, but there is good news -- less mountains and (shhh) lot's of oil.  More loud noises, more destruction and, guess what, no bad guy dead or alive.  We could have sworn that we got him eating in a restaurant, driving in a wagon train, but things just didn't turn out.

I don't know if Osama or Saddam will be caught.  I don't care, nor should you.  W's bravado notwithstanding, it is of little global consequence.  Leaders do make a difference, but in large measure they simply reflect those whom they lead.  Sure some of them are tyrannical, but even the most evil example Adolph Hitler, represented prevalent public sentiment.  Demonizing and personifying the "enemy" makes for good sound bytes and PR, but is totally out of sync with the current reality or with history.  It leads to the illusion, astoundingly expressed in Washington, that one simple act, the elimination of an individual, will turn things around.  What is so disconcerting about the current situation is that W's team talks with certainty and feigned erudition, but is so clueless.

Ask the Israeli's about the impact of their leadership assassination program?  Did the killing stop when we "got The Sons?"  Of course not.  Five more young Americans have died so far this weekend.  We have lost more kids since W's war ended early in May than during the hostilities that preceded his proclamation of victory.  Perhaps Saddam was a threat, but the fact is that Iraqi's, like almost every other people in human history, don't like being occupied, even by "friends."  Look at the dismal history of Colonialism, and you'll find that not one occupation proved successful long term.  People may not like their own dictators, but they seem to like dictation from the outside even less.  And it's people, not a single individual.  There are no magic bullets in deep seated human conflict.  The idea that there is a "one" has made us all captives – we are the one's imprisoned by circumstance.  And it isn't the first time.  Remember Ho Chi Min?

Paul Bremer was in town.  He made the talk show circuit like someone on a book tour or touting a new Hollywood film.  It was clearly a piece of theater aimed at reassuring us that we had a sound man on the job.  Meanwhile, people are still getting killed (something that's escalating rather than receding), water and electricity remain problems, the kind that hurt ordinary Iraqis, and there seems no discernable light at the end of the tunnel.  So W and the guys (excuse me Condi) keep on talking about the One, when they should be sending Bremer back to Saigon (oops, Baghdad) to figure out how to get us out of the Iraqi's hair and of our own captivity of the one, sooner rather than later.

Friday, July 18, 2003

The War Dividend

Isn't it hell the price we pay for war, the sacrifice?  Well not for everyone.

I have done a lot of interesting things in a multi-faceted career, among them almost a decade on Wall Street working, often directly, for the fabled Sandy Weill.  To the surprise of many, perhaps even including himself, Sandy announced his phased retirement earlier this week.  Stepping aside is not quite in his nature, but I guess the past couple of years have not been that much fun.  Needless to say, there was a lot of ink expended on the Citigroup Chairman and his career.  It's a great story, but it was one little line in the Times that caught my attention.  It seems, with more than 22 Million shares in hand, many of them acquired through a super generous option program, Sandy will be looking forward to more that $30 Million in annual dividend income.  Now let's not get into the coincidence that Citigroup had announced a 75% dividend increase just two days earlier, a change that materially effects his post retirement income.  What really struck me, perhaps more concretely than anything else I've seen on the subject, was the total one-sided absurdity of the recent cut in dividend tax rates.

Sandy will be pay only 15% on this enhanced dividend.  That comes to a hefty $4.5 Million or so, but far less than the $12 Million he would have paid just a year ago.  So here we are, spending $1 Billion a week in Iraq (with wonderful results), mired in a recessionary environment in which 3 Million Americans have lost their jobs (income), watching a growing number of military families losing their loved ones and we're paying stockholders like Sandy a huge tax dividend.  So much for sacrifice.  Now don't get me wrong, I own a few shares of Citigroup and am happy to have both the increased payout (good for Sandy, albeit vastly less, good for me) and reduced tax burden.  But Sandy's windfall, along with those of all the other Sandy's, just shows how absurd and wrongheaded is this so-called economic policy. 

In the aggregate, I don't think too many ordinary Americans (that's 99% of us) have benefited from the Bush tax cuts.  This doesn't mean their benefits aren't being touted on the Treasury Department's website -- our taxpayer dollars used for thinly veiled partisan spin.  We're all seeing the bill for War as will our kids and grandkids, but none of these specially targeted benefits.  Those youngsters at risk on the killing fields come from small town America, off Main Street not on Wall Street.  Sandy Weill's retirement in affluence is assured, while most of America's pensions have been decimated or eliminated.  And they say with a straight face that this is not a benefit for wealthier Americans.  But of course, they also said the still illusive WMD's were a present and imminent danger.  Can you believe just yesterday these same people sanctimoniously impeached Bill Clinton for lying about his personal and private sex life?  The theater of the absurd, which sadly is the stage on which we play every day.  What has happened to our national sense of balance not to mention of outrage?

No matter, I want my dividend too.  We all do.

Monday, July 7, 2003

The Doctor and The General

Have you noticed the growing number of wags predicting a decade of Republican rule, essentially writing off the Democratic Party?  When everyone joins the band wagon, predictions are usually wrong.  Nevertheless, the realist in me is deeply concerned.  While Karl Rove and his well oiled company spend all their waking hours laying the ground work for George Bush's first election to the White House (wonder if they will suggest that term limits don't apply to the unelected), the Democrats seem in total disarray. 

Too many people are running.  Most of them know they can't win but that doesn't get in their way.  They claim to represent an important point of view, and perhaps they do, but in the face of political reality it's hard to not see more than an act of hubris.  We may all pay a very high price for their self indulgence.  To win back the White House my party can't continue to act like a rudderless ship.  It's time to get our house in order.  That means most of the want-to-be Presidents need to take a good look in the mirror, perhaps conjure up the image of Ralph Nader, and get real.  I'm not suggesting that there be no contest, but that there be a manageable contest so that we can begin to sort things out without the distraction of extraneous noise.

And here is the rub.  I've listened to a number of "debates" between the current candidates and have yet to find a standout.  I've seen the possibilities but have failed to fall in love, which of course in the days of anti-charisma may be asking too much.  Not that all the seemingly viable pretenders are not decent or credentialed, but let's cut to the chase.  John Kerry, who has it all, war hero and war protester, has failed to ignite.  John Edwards still seems more surface than substance.  Claims of electability notwithstanding, I don't think Joe Lieberman or Bob Graham can win.  I respect Dick Gephardt but, hard as he tries, the never-to-be Speaker seems yesterday, not tomorrow.  Most important in the current context, none of these candidates had the courage to oppose a highly questionable war, choosing political expediency over conviction. 

That brings me to the Doctor, Howard Dean.  Dean is new to the Presidential game and has made a few gaffs.  That's pretty common first time out and hardly a disqualification.  Remember the current occupant of the White House's appearance at Bob Jones University?  Some say Dean is too dovish, too left, the latter belied by his public record.  His stewardship of Vermont was essentially in the Bill Clinton mode, fiscally moderate conservative, socially progressive.  His State is among our smallest, but I sense he himself can grow in the absolute, grow on me and on the electorate emotionally which is ultimately what counts.

The dove issue in these hysterical times may be more problematic.  It's a troubling that anyone questioning placing untold numbers of human beings in harms way without proven good reason is so discredited?  Chalk one up for the heirs of the Gipper.  Dean was against Iraq and so far his skepticism appears to have been more than justified.  No WMD's and no post-War plan.  Nevertheless, in the post 9/11 real politic that doesn't cut it.  Which brings me to the General, Wesley Clark.  I know there is continued talk about Clark for President, and perhaps that's where it will end out, but I'm suggesting a Dean-Clark ticket.

Promoting a Vice Presidential candidacy at this juncture may seem odd.  The Constitution gave the office short shrift.  Jack Garner, its one time tobacco chewing incumbent thought it wasn't worth spit. But Jimmy Carter changed all that, making Walter Mondale his full and active partner with a real role to play.  George H.W. may have been out of the loop and Danny Q out of it altogether, but Bill Clinton brought the idea of partnership to new heights with Al Gore. The current Vice President, Dick Chaney is the most powerful of them all.  He may be spending a lot of time in undisclosed locations but no one can doubt the defining role.  Consequently, it is not too early to think running mate.  I don't know how you can consider one without the other.

The truth is we don't know very much about Wesley Clark's domestic politics, but we know a lot about his record as a balanced Military man who had a fine reputation as both a thinker and administrator when he led the Alliance.  We also know that, like Howard Dean, he had substantial reservations about Iraq.  No one could suggest that he lacked military credentials or having led our forces in the Balkans, the will to use power when truly justified.

I don't know if Dean-Clark is a dream ticket (dream ticket and I say Gephardt is living the past), but it seems a compelling one.  Two men of talent and apparent conscience.  Perhaps they could win.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Stars & Stripes Hijacked

My elder son is a creative dresser.  A few Sundays ago, we went over to the flea market to find a birthday gift for his girlfriend.  As he browsed through some books and records, the vendor noticed the American Flag he had sewn on the back of his blue jean jacket many years ago.  Seeing it, he immediately told us about a just returned GI who had visited his stand the week before.  His effusiveness clearly communicated his own support of the Iraq war and, with the flag and all, he assumed we agreed.  That is not the case, but his assumption reminded me again that our Stars & Stripes have been hijacked.

I'm not big on flags.  My family arrived from Nazi Germany in 1937 a month before I was born.  Like many Americans with similar experiences, they were devoted to their adopted country with an intensity that often alludes the native born.  In our family everyone, in every generation, votes.  At the same time, having lived under a totalitarian regime where flag waving and the like became so symbolic, they always were squeamish about any show of ultra-nationalism, and thusly about flag waving even in their beloved United States.  I think their view was prescient.

Without discounting the many people of all opinions who have strong attachments to Old Glory — showing colors has become a not so subtle sign of "loyalty" and support for the President.  Partisans have taken ownership of this non-partisan symbol and made it their own -- taken hold and made it sacrosanct.  The lapel flag has become a loyalty uniform, and I'm sure no one in the administration with any ambition would dare come to work without it.  That in itself is a little unnerving because it smacks of civilian uniform wearing, if even on a mini-scale.  Remember George Bush's threatening "either you're with us or against us" words after 9/11? Well wearing the flag answers in the affirmative.

Far more disturbing than the fact that Conservatives have appropriated the Stars and Stripes for their own agenda, is that we have permitted it to happen.  We all know the bumper stickers about supporting our troops and God blessing America (right or wrong), but where are the bumper stickers saying "free to dissent?'  Now don't get me wrong, I'm really not a bumper sticker kind of guy, with our without flag.  The point is that in a very powerful way, this abrogation of flag rights is a metaphor for the continued and very audible silence that is threatening both our present and our future.  Disturbing things are being done by these flag wavers, things that in many cases potentially threaten the very democracy and way of life that we claim to defend.  The vast majority of Americans, not to mention our increasingly pathetic and media conglomerate controlled press, are either giving them a pass or acquiescing by simply looking on in silence.

We've invaded two countries and, regardless of how you might feel about these conflicts, at street level neither is doing very well in the aftermath.  We have instituted Homeland Security which is big on propaganda but small on funding.  The cheap talk leaves the cost on local desks which is part of why our states and cities are in financial crisis.  We have given extraordinary powers to an Attorney General whose respect for individual rights and ultra-conservative social agenda is highly suspect.  Our economy is in the dumper with more than 2 Million American's having lost their jobs since the Supremes put George W in office.  Tax cuts won't help those people giving new meaning to the cliché "adding insult to injury."  It also means that the previously unemployed, many of them less prepared and qualified, have been pushed back another rung in the job line, extending their life of poverty even further. That's a consequence no one is talking about.  The forces against Choice and Gun Control are gaining in political ground, if not wider popular support.  Women may once again be driven into the back alleys of shadow medicine and more handguns may land on the streets.  International treaties affecting the quality and indeed the endurance of human life have been written off.  Meanwhile the President continues his saber rattling bravado which they say isn't really imperialistic, but "if it walks like a duck…."  And they have taken our flag.

Take a look at the red, white and blue.  Don't you want it back?

Friday, June 13, 2003

All That Fit News

I'm a creature of habits (an understatement, my children will tell you). One such habit is my morning routine that begins with two acts confirming the day has begun: reaching out to turn on my computer and picking up the remote to flick on the news. For habit-impaired people like me, it's hard to break any part of the routine, but after many years of the Networks and CNN, I've switched to the BBC. In fact, aside from regularly

tuning in to Jim Lehrer and Bill Moyers on PBS, I find myself watching significantly less television news than ever before.

Another habit, begun it would seem before I was born, is The New York Times. The Times has gotten bigger and more featured than it needs to be, but it's still the best. Needless to say, as a lifelong reader I too was unhappy to learn of the lapses that ultimately resulted in the ousting of its two top editors. Unhappy, but not turned off. Perhaps it's because, despite the high regard in which I hold the Ochs family trust, I don't think even the Times is superhuman. Perfect is just not in the natural order and we've seen ample examples of lapses in every segment of life. To be sure, excellence and quality of reporting are real issues for contemporary journalism at the Times and elsewhere, but what bothers me even more these days is content.

Some of my friends don't like the BBC because they think it is slanted against Israel. That's probably more a case of the myopia we Jews suffer when we see our survival at risk than of reality, but that's another subject. I find the BBC pretty evenhanded. But what really attracts me is that BBC presents real news seriously. Wonder of wonders there is a big world out there and, despite half hour broadcasts, they are able to cover more than one story at a time. Their cameras routinely go to "exotic" Continents like Africa and Asia where, if you can believe it, important things are going on each and every day. You may not hear about it too often, but thousands are dying in civil conflicts, from epidemic disease and, in more places than any of us would like to think about, from hunger. Like our own media, BBC focused on Iraq during the war and even expanded its coverage to an hour, but even then that larger world didn't disappear.

The other morning, thinking my abandonment of CNN perhaps too precipitous, I switched over when the BBC World News ended at 7:30. Lacey Peterson is what I heard and it was only the middle of an extensive report. Now don't get me wrong, I feel very sorry for her and a grieving family, but in the scheme of things is that really major news? On the day Lacey was murdered, I'm reasonably sure other women were as well — that day and the ones before and after. We'll never know their names despite deaths that are no less tragic, no less important to their near and dear. Lacey Peterson, yet another made-for-TV and the Tabloids "news" drama. Another (thank your Frank Rich) Mediathon. No ours is not a problem of shoddy journalism, though that is part of it, but of trivial content. The world is falling apart, millions of innocents have died in Africa in the last few years alone, democracy is being stifled in places like Indonesia and we're talking about Lacey Peterson. Shame on us.

David Brinkley died this week. When he and Chet Huntley held sway at NBC and Cronkite told us "that's the way it is" on CBS, I became a TV news junky. I also felt pretty well informed, pretty well served even though it wasn't 24/7. Today I can watch three hours of Network and CNN news and miss 90% of what's really going on, what is truly important and newsworthy Shoot me, I simply don't trust Wolf Blitzer the way I did Walter Cronkite. Do you?

Sunday, June 8, 2003

Mainstream Extremism

Yet another, albeit awkward and tentative, move away from conflict in the Holy Land. My parents witnessed the historic 1947 UN Partition vote and later celebrated with soon to be leaders of the fledgling State. Their recounting of both events the next morning are among my most vivid childhood memories. My father had become a Zionist in 1917 when it was far from fashionable. From the start, so much hope, so much fear. Now, more than half a century later, the only change is that the fear seems greater than the hope. Painful.

The problems between Israel and the Palestinians are extraordinarily complex, but I tell myself, perhaps unrealistically, not insurmountable. More than any other obstacle to peace, more even than what to do with Jerusalem and the Refugees, is the reality that both sides are captives of extremists. Both give in to them. What makes a solution so difficult is that Arab and Jewish extremists (supported not so incidentally by American Christian fundamentalists) share a undeniable bond of commonality. Neither wants the other to stay on "their" land. What's more, both will use violent means to reach their goal, though admittedly not the same violent means. To most of us, certainly to those who consider ourselves political or religious Liberals, these are alien forces. They have nothing to do with us.

But is that really true? What's interesting about today's extremists is that they are largely from the Right, not the Left. A large percentage of them espouse the most Conservative form of their religion, a position that extends to societal issues. Whatever the nature of the government under which they live, philosophically they are not democrats. Quite the contrary, they have little patience for what the majority may want, since they see themselves as the embodiment of a higher order, the ultimate word, in possession of the single "Truth." This effects us directly because it is having a profound impact upon the global body politic.

Look at Israel and equally at our United States. The extreme fringe caused a hard pull to the Right producing the ultra-conservative Likud that, in comparison, operates under a cloak of "moderation." The same can be said for us. The ruling Republican Party is not that of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Olympia Snow, but of Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush and Tom DeLay. To be sure these Conservatives are not terrorists, but they are certainly belligerent, often a belligerence that turns to violence of enormous consequences. With "right" (think about the double meaning of that word) on their side, they barrel ahead with their agenda, broaching no criticism and using whatever means may be required to meet their ends.

The Bush agenda for America is not merely out of a Conservative songbook, but out of the extreme. And it's an agenda that is being carried forward by a deft use of underlying uneasiness or dissatisfaction as a cover-up for action. As victims of terror, albeit limited compared with other parts of the world, Americans live in fear. That's real and a great smokescreen for John Ashcroft's draconian administration of "Justice." A very rare and wrenching medical procedure is given a politicized name and is used to undermine a woman's right to choose. This list goes on, but the reality is clear, extremism is going mainstream while those who should be exposing it are sitting around timidly shaking their heads but keeping their mouths shut. That may change at some point, better late than never. The question for our lives is, will it be too late? Will extremism and mainstream be the same?

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Bring Back The French Fries

Why is it that the word hypocrisy comes to mind so often these days? OK you don't much like the French and you still suspect their motives. But let's look at the record, not at the spin. Before we went to war in Iraq, Secretary Powell unashamedly appeared before the world at the UN to make his case about the threat of WMD's. Yes Saddam Hussein was a bad and brutal guy, but that wasn't our primary reason for action. How could it have been given the large number of equally bad guys around the world whom we regularly ignore? No, we had to take immediate action because of the clear and present danger of Iraq's WMD's. We had non-compliance with a UN resolution. The French Foreign Minister responded. He never questioned Saddam's evil character, he did however question the existence of the alleged WMD's as did the UN Inspectors on the ground. You probably remember he received unprecedented applause from the many diplomats observing the session.

So here we are. I watched the articulate and still attractive Tony Blair fend of questions before Parliament yesterday. Wonder how George W would fair in such an open forum? Blair is adamant both about the WMD's and not having cooked the books of the intelligence community. The British are focusing on those 45 minutes and I couldn't help but think of Rosemary Woods. Blair's leadership and, more importantly, reputation are on the line. Don Rumsfeld, doesn't have the Blair problem. He dismissively says may never find these alleged WMD's and should "get a life." With a silent Congress, the Bush Administration simply changes the subject, talking only about how wonderful it is that the bad guy is gone. So it is, but that doesn't change the fact — WMD's are why they told us that we had to risk the lives of our children and thousands of Iraqi civilians. Tom Friedman, says we shouldn't have been talking WMD's in the first place, that Saddam's cruel regime was enough reason to go, so we should "get a life." Well that's not the point. "Should have" is not the issue. Manipulating the world and all of us in the "Homeland" is.

Our Administration now suggests that the weapons have either been destroyed or remain hidden. Perhaps we'll never know which. Thoughts of Watergate again, perhaps we'll never uncover Deep Throat. I have just one simple question. If these WMD's were such a present and immanent threat and if Saddam knew we would fight to his end (which he most assuredly did), why didn't he use them against us in battle? Wasn't that what they were for? Why didn't he lob dirty missiles over to Israel, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait? Why didn't his Guard gas our troops? He certainly wasn't protecting his humanitarian reputation. Perhaps there were indeed no WMD's, only a the myth of them to prolong his power and justify the deteriorating quality of life in his beleaguered country.

In light of the facts at hand, isn't our finger pointing at the French a bit disingenuous? Perhaps they had ulterior motives, but the questions they had the temerity to ask of Emperor George were valid then and remain unanswered. I wish more of our own Senators and Representatives had been equally challenging. Perhaps Powell's erroneous claims reflect honest failure on the part of our intelligence. Perhaps he and the entire Bush Administration were knowingly extrapolating fact out of fiction. We may never know. Clearly the jury is still out and it will be fascinating to see the outcome of the CIA's internal review in that regard and what action follows.

The other day a huge gas guzzling Cadillac SUV pulled up in front of my building. It had a flag with a patriotic slogan on its rear bumper. If that wasn't a sufficient show of colors, it also had a big flag on its side window and other even bigger one on the passenger side dash. Wow. I couldn't help rewriting the slogan on that back bumper in my mind. It would have been far more honest and accurate to say,: "go baby, keep the oil flowing." We claim the United States didn't go into Iraq for oil, but we quickly secured the oil fields while letting the treasures of our mutual civilization fly out the museum doors and archeological digs under our noses. We secured the oil fields while the hospitals were stripped of their bandages and medicines. And what is most disturbing, is that both our press and politicians continue to give these people a pass. Yes many of these things are reported, but for the most the focus on how wonderful it is to have that terrible dictator out of power. So it is, but what were our real reasons for instituting regime change?

At this very moment in Iraq anarchy continues and basic necessities are scarce, while good and loyal Administration friends are lining up for contacts. This is truly the coalition of the willing. The boys from the Oil Patch are on the move and, while George Bush may not always know how world leaders stand or feel about him, he sure can count on these people. Make no mistake about it, they will prosper regardless. As for me, I'll stop drinking French Wine, when the patriotic Hummer owners stop using the oil of dictatorships, stop winking at the deeds of these "needed" suppliers, and stop calling them allies. I guess it won't be necessary to abandon my wine rack any time soon. And as for those cholesterol laden French Fries, don't tell the President, but most Americans won't give them up either, not even their name.

Saturday, May 31, 2003


In the 1950's Advertising giant Rosser Reeves created the Unique Selling Proposition, USP. The idea was that successful marketing requires identifying and then promoting a product's singular point of difference. Since most products have more than one attribute, adopting USP means making a choice and then having the discipline of sticking to it. While hardly the last or only compelling marketing concept, the Reeves approach remains relevant to this day. USP is a great and powerful approach, but there is a catch. It must be grounded in truth and substance. Lie to the consumer and you'll be in big trouble. You may get away with it near term, but, to paraphrase one of the smartest marketers I know, if the dog doesn't like the dog food you're dead.

USP has sold a lot of dog food over the years and it's been applied to more than just consumer products. In fact, while we may not realize it, most of us employ marketing techniques, including USP in our daily lives. In the most elemental sense, we use it in selling our ideas to others even in ordinary discourse. Instinctively, we understand that you can't make your case compelling without focus, optimally with singular focus. We too chose our words and arguments with care. USP has also come to government, big time.

It is in this context that I received Paul Wolfowitz' statement about how we sold the American public and some of the world's willing on going to war in Iraq. ''The truth," he said, "is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason.'' There were many, including those much maligned French and even UN Inspector Hans Blix who were unconvinced. At this moment, the jury remains out, but I've always heard that extended deliberations usually lead to acquittals. With every passing day there is more reasonable doubt.

The grave yards of Iraq on the other hand do seem to corroborate that this was indeed a brutal and evil regime. In all fairness, the Bush Administration always said it was, but, it was an augment at the margins. It was also a hard argument to make because, given the level of brutality around the globe, it simply didn't have the necessary USP to get things going. More than 3 Million innocents have perished in the Congo alone, something that hasn't brought Colin Powell to the UN clamoring for action. In the long run, regime change in Iraq may work and the world may indeed be a better place, but that won't erase the lie of this USP and hence the credibility of this administration. The immediate, though still relatively unspoken result, is that we shouldn't expect a coalition of the willing for some other adventure any time soon, even a truly compelling one. That has consequences of its own.

As a marketer and a believer in USP, however, I see a problem of more moral proportions. The great danger of applying marketing propositions to matters of State is it is not the life of some dog food that is at stake, but human lives. To put people at risk on the basis of a knowingly erroneous USP – and Wolfowitz' statement suggests just that, borders on the criminal. Decent people in the world community should be intolerant of governmental brutality, but they should be straight forward and evenhanded about it. In a democracy, the means by which we reach ends, even ostensibly good ends, does matter. We moved on Iraq the way we did, when we did based, at best, on unproven supposition and, at worst, on a willful lie. Given the euphoria, albeit premature, about the potential of a free and benevolent Iraq, some people are finding ways to justify that, but I simply can't, nor do I think any of us should. We will pay dearly for it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Tom Friedman has been writing

Tom Friedman has been writing from Iraq. He has discovered in his travels that Iraq wasn't much of a military match for the US. Some global threat, right? But his most interesting report was of a General's response to his question, "can we do Iraq right." "It is doable," the General said, "I just don't know if we can do it." Woops, someone is going to be hearing from The Donald, and I don't mean Trump. An honest answer, to an honestly posed question. Sadly, not a surprising one for those of us who have been critical of this venture.

We are really out of sorts these days from terrorists with car bombs to a thus far incurable virus that terrifies. Both lethal. Mad cow disease has shown up in Canada. Not that I eat beef any more, but some of my best friends still do. It is raining and cool again in New York, Chicago and elsewhere. Ugly winter, absentee Spring? Even the weather is against us. And that is only the tip of the ice berg. I've gotten into the habit of turning on BBC World at 7 AM rather than the silliness of Matt and Katie and their Network counterparts or the drama-as-news offered by CNN. Guess what, a lot is happening out there in the world, each and every day. Millions are dying in African Civil strife, floods are ravishing the unprotected and there is big trouble out there again in the environs of Indonesia. Much to address, much to do. The question is, "can we do it?"

Of course we can't. Even if we had the resources, we couldn't. Even if we had the will, which we don't. Why is it that our media can't report more than a single story on any given day despite 24/7 news? It's ADD, stupid. And it isn't only the attention deficit of the public (a learned attribute, thank you), but of our government. Moreover, much as I hate to admit this, it's a bi-partisan problem. We love this new kind of antiseptic fighting, mostly from the air with limited face to face encounter. But in a larger sense, we like it quick and clean much as we do a good quarterly report and an uptick in the price of our shares. We love the party, but we don't particularly like setting it up and we certainly don't like the cleanup after which, under the best of circumstances, dirties the hands.

We're powerful. We're rich (even if not quite as rich as we were under those tax and spend Democrats). But we're too devoted to the good life to be great scholars. We don't really understand what we see as arcane cultures and we're definitely not linguists (myself included). "It's all Greek to us," we say with a cute little smile and George Bush wink (perhaps smirk is more accurate) thinking that our ignorance is a badge of superiority and honor. What the hell, let's just continue looking inward – freedom fries today, freedom dressing, freedom potato salad tomorrow. Did I mention that we were powerful and rich?

Transformation is a tough business. Ask any chief executive who has tried to transform a private company; ask the guys running the US Postal Service. Sears may have a softer side, but it's hard goods at the core. Getting service at the Post Office is still like standing in line for that Welfare check that the clerk doesn't see as our entitlement. We're certainly not "the customer" here. Transforming a country with a different history, culture and set of mores is a tall order indeed. As much as we might want to pay tribute to the late Frank Sinatra, we can't keep on telling the world to "do it my way." We're clearly comfortable with locals who were lucky enough to attend our universities and speak our language decently, but that alone doesn't qualify them for leadership. In the end, as much as they can benefit from communicating with us, they can't function without being the soul mates of their own people. Can we live with that? In theory, of course. Actually? I'm not at all sure nor is Tom Friedman's General.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Blue Skies, Black Clouds

When I run in Central Park on crystal clear day, my mind inevitably wanders to September 11, one of most crystal of all days. I was also making my way around the reservoir when it happened. I don't know what it is about us, this embedded memory of where we were and what we were doing on historic days, but it's there. What was most striking about that particular day was the extraordinary contrast between spectacular almost pristine weather and the absolute devastation and darkness that occurred in its midst. To me it was, and continues to be, the central metaphor of our times.

We live in a world of sharp contrasts and sharp divisions. For the most part, we stay on our side of the park, ideally in our own sunshine, and pretend that what we see and experience is the way things are. Vast amounts of ink have been expended on analyzing the disparity between immense wealth and abject poverty and the growing schism between the haves and have nots. You don't have to be a sociologist to understand the explosive implications.

In the past week, the Bush Administration began to radically revamp its occupation team in Iraq. One of the problems mentioned by analysts was the paucity of personnel who spoke Arabic. Deja vous! Those of us who have questioned this war, and many who supported it, have been concerned from the start about the lack of a real "after" plan. Here again is that two world split, separate and unequal, but that's the least of it. We simply can't and don't relate to what most Americans see as alien territory. Democracy is natural and easy to us, why isn't that the case for others and why aren't they standing in queue to get a cookie cutter piece of what we cherish so much?

We've also seen another terrible terrorist attack. More innocent lives. Again the contrasts, our run in the green park and their pulling out bodies from the rubble. There are those who argue that terrorism is in the eye of the beholder. What one person sees as a mindless act, another sees as an act of liberation. Let's not put too fine a point on it. Killing done by organized states or itinerant revolutionaries is fatal nonetheless. There is a German expression that says it all, "hang me or behead be, I'm still dead."

The real challenge here is for those of us sitting beneath the blue skies to stop pointing fingers and start moving ourselves across the street to address the black clouds. I'm not suggesting killers not be routed out and punished, but let's stop assuming that eliminating the symptom will irradiate the disease. More to the point, let's stop assuming there is no disease. We need to learn the language and we need, as a counseling friend says, "to change the conversation." That will require some give-ups.

As a youngster during World War II, I remember vividly the letter "A" on the rear windshield of my father's Chevrolet. It dictated how much gas he could purchase in times of rationing. Being a clergyman, he had preferred status. Most people displayed a "C." In time of war, it wasn't business as usual. Things have changed. Was your basic life standard or mine altered one iota during the Iraqi or Afghanistan conflicts? Of course not. Perhaps there was a bit more security at the airports and tunnels, but it was hardly a blip. That's important because we no longer "ask what you can do for your country" (which even in 1960 didn't mean what it did in 1940). Consequently, it's not surprising that we are both uninvolved and protective of the status quo. The world in our heads has an order, a preconceived set of rights and wrongs and we don't even question its superficial, not to mention underlying, assumptions.

Things are not going to get better until that changes. And change won't come until we can put ourselves in the shoes of others, some of whom we have grown to distrust or even hate with an unthinking passion. I keep on remembering candidate George Bush's debate comment about humility in dealing with other nations. He obviously didn't mean it, but I wish he had. Humility and abandonment of the know-it-all mentality is the only thing that has a chance of pushing away those black clouds. We must learn the language and start assuming the other guy is also right. Which means, we can be, and are, wrong some, perhaps much, of the time. We have to stop bemoaning the black clouds and start solving the atmospheric problems that keep them in place. That will take a great deal of work and may require putting letters on our rear windshields. The alternative is that those black clouds will spread and nothing will protect our run in the park.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

The Card Game

It's not clear who in Don Rumsfeld's shop came up with playing cards depicting the most wanted, but I was flabbergasted by the very notion when a General announced it in the $2Million briefing theater in Qatar. Since then, not a day passes without me being offered an authentic deck or three along with my other unending spam. The Pentagon is outraged by these fakes. What were they expecting? More important, what were they thinking at the outset? What's obnoxious about these cards is that they trivialize war, suggesting it's all a game. It is as if war were only a made for TV reality show, lot's of drama and bruised egos for losers but no one really gets hurt. Well I don't think the parents, husbands, wives or children of the fallen, the majority of them barely in their twenties, see it as a game. Nor do Iraqi's who have lost loved ones and homes, whose health care system has collapsed, who still have no electricity and little (if any) safe drinking water, who are still the victims of looting and lawlessness and who are wondering what today, much less tomorrow, will bring. Nor should we.

But there is something even darker in these cards. Last week, the Senate released heretofore secret transcripts from the McCarthy era hearings. Many Americans are too young to remember the 1950s, but I was in High School during that period and coming from a family of Liberals and intellectuals I remember vividly the impact they had on all of us. It was a time of fear and black lists — a black time. But you don't have to reach back to McCarthy. The cards also evoke memories of Richard Nixon's enemies list. Perhaps you think I'm over reacting here, but sure enough yesterday's batch of junk included an offer to buy a "Deck of Weasels playing cards", sporting the photos of dissenting Americans like Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen and Barbara Streisand. Perhaps Rumsfeld's minions didn't dream that one up, but it's a logical witch hunt extension of the Iraqi's most wanted deck and clearly cut from the same mentality cloth. The Bush, Nixon and McCarthy eras brook no criticism with the patriotism of those express contrary views put in doubt during what they like to remind us is "a time of War."

It's hard to say which is worse, trivialization or black lists, but there is little question as to which is the more insidious. Black lists are horrible but transparent. In contrast, trivialization, because it is slickly packaged as something else, appears benign. John Dean saw Nixon's tactics as "a cancer growing on the Presidency." Far from being benign, I think trivialization is a cancer growing on our society. Look at how the media cover serious, often tragic events. Is it any wonder that viewers think it's a game when war is presented like a mini-series complete with specially composed music and catchy titles like Carnage in Iraq? While the trivial may not have destroyed all journalists, it has all but destroyed journalism, certainly its credibility.

A card game. What next?

Friday, May 9, 2003

Getting There in ‘04

Bill Clinton, it is said, won the presidency with his laser-like focus on the economy. Don't believe it. Bill Clinton was elected because of his laser-like focus on winning. Remember that stuff about "fire in the belly?" When Roger Mudd interviewed candidate Ted Kennedy decades ago, it was clear that the Senator simply didn't have it. He folded his tent a few weeks later. Perhaps George Bush doesn't have the same level of Clintonesque focus, but clearly Karl Rove does and that's enough for both of them. Without question, we want a President who has depth and who will lead us in the right direction — all of us, regardless of our political views, want that. If we're learned anything in the past couple of years it is that content, where a President stands on issues, matters. But you can't deliver content without winning first, and takes a laser-like focus.

I watched the Democratic South Carolina debate last week on C-Span. Decent credentialed people and, while I would argue with some of their specific positions, each would be an improvement over George Bush. But Bill Clinton didn't seem to be present in the hall. Not Bill Clinton the man (though I sorely wish he had been there), but someone with a discernable laser-like focus on winning. I think this is going to be a very tough race, even though that shouldn't be the case. No one can claim that we're better off today than they were before Bush took office, at least not with a straight face. The arguments for change are compelling. The war, even if deemed "successful," represented a new and ominous turn in foreign policy. I continue to believe it to be inconsistent with who we are however obscured that may be by hype and superficial flag waving. Patriotism is not the issue here, but why we should have reason to be patriotic. The future of both Afghanistan and Iraq is by no means a certain. History is not on the side of promised transformation. The war on terrorism is mired in building a new and cumbersome bureaucracy, shockingly inadequate resources at the local level, a grab for our civil liberties and a still elusive Osama Bin Laden. The economy sucks. Real issues are not the problem for Democrats here. They abound. I would love to see some new approaches and ideas, less of the "same old, same old," but I don't think that's the problem either.

In the end, someone has to have the burning desire to win, a passion for victory and the unmistakable energy that always goes with it. That has yet to be exhibited. Joe Lieberman says he knows George Bush is beatable, "because (exhibiting a little smile and wink) Al Gore and I already did it." Really? Well why is Bush sitting in the White House and why has he been able to change our course so dramatically in so many ways? Perhaps the Supreme Court, rather than voters, cast the deciding ballot, but it was legal and with it came the considerable power of the Presidency. Hello, Bush won and he's made more than the most of it. It will take far more than a wink and claim of electability. Remember when Walter Mondale asked Gary Hart, "where's the beef?" OK, guys where is the focus on winning? Please don't tell me that none of you have it. And a Karl Rove of our own wouldn't hurt.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

On whose side is God?

Presidents routinely close their public pronouncements with the words, "may God bless America." It always bothers me. It's not only that this formalistic invocation has the character of the thoughtless "have an nice day" wish, but that I'm uncomfortable with politician as pastor. It's been more than 35 years since I left the active rabbinate, but these days with so many people proclaiming a direct line to the Almighty, I increasingly find myself thinking about the God question. In the post Cold War era, it isn't differing political ideology that's raising the most global unrest but who possesses the "true" faith. Early on George Bush used the Crusade word evoking substantial concern in the Muslim community. He took it back but, deep down I suspect he probably meant exactly what he said.

Have you noticed how many professed Monotheists are claiming to be carrying out God's will in the pursuit of clearly incompatible goals. George Bush is following God as he sends our troops out to do battle in Afghanistan and Iraq. Osama Bin Laden is doing God's will as he dispatches young men out to destroy. Ultra Orthodox Jews are following God's instructions as they settle the West Bank while Palestinian terrorists act as God's agents in blowing themselves and others up opposing it. All these divergent acts done with absolute certainty not merely in their individual faith, but in God's complicity. How can that be? You don't have to be a theologian to see the problem. Either there is, or is not, one God. If so, a singular God can't possibly hold such diametrically contradictory views.

I don't think it an overstatement to say that we are currently engaged in what extremists on all sides see as a religious war. So Crusade is not that far off in what is increasingly looking like Medieval conflict with 21st Century weaponry. We are all threatened by it, millions are dying or suffering. But in some sense, if you are a believer, God is paying the highest price. God is being torn asunder, blatantly used by professed devotees for their own purposes. I continue to be a believer. I have no crisis in faith, but am having a substantial crisis with the faithful. If a belief in God transforms itself into hatred of anyone who is different, of killing not healing then I think we're backing down the steepest of all hills at the very moment when we should be climbing to new heights of understanding. I believe in God, but only in one who doesn't chose sides in this way, and certainly doesn't permit mere mortals to speak for, rather than of, the Divine.

Monday, April 21, 2003

The Howard Baker Question

The Bush Administration took America to war first and foremost to eliminate what was described as the immanent threat of weapons of mass destruction. General Powell pleaded that case at the Security Council. Yes Saddam was a brutal dictator, but regime change was predicated not on the character of his administration but on its threat to the world. So now the active war appears to be over. No WMD's were ever used as the Administration said they might be, and up to now none have been found. Mr. Rumsfeld says he's not surprised despite the fact that his colleague at State had categorically told the world community that they were most certainly present. The UN inspectors were less sure, perhaps more right.

So my question now echoes that of Howard Baker at the Watergate hearings, "what did they really know, and when did they know it?" Before the war, skeptics around the world, not to mention around the country, suggested that this war had more to do with oil than WMD's, possibly also with an overdue face save for Poppy Bush. Well we certainly had enough troops in place to successfully secure the oil fields, but we couldn't spare the scant forces necessary to protect the Iraq's and civilization's irreplaceable ancient treasures. Perhaps oil was not what this was all about but, as they say, actions speak louder than words.

Either the CIA is competent or it's not. If so, and I certainly hope that is the case, then someone knew that there was more smoke than WMD's between the Tigris and Euphrates or, at the very least, that we couldn't be absolutely certain of the immediate threat, much less their existence. What exactly did George Bush and his merry band know? And when did they know it? Thousands of people, many of them innocent citizens, died in Iraq in the name of ridding the world of this terrible threat. We have a right to know if our President took us to a war of still undetermined consequences based on half truths if not outright deception. There can be little doubt that WMD's pose a major threat, much as they have since we dropped the first, and still only, atom bombs on Japan in 1945. The introduction of terrorists into the mix, not to mention continued proliferation across the globe certainly is certainly of real concern. Saddam is a bad guy, but was he really a WMD threat, or was that simply a pretence. What did they know and when did they know it?

Tuesday, April 15, 2003


I was standing in one of those lines today, where someone important is always calling out "next." It got me thinking, isn't that exactly where we are today? I know "it's not over till it's over," but the active war in Iraq appears to be winding down. The fierce resistance wasn't that fierce. which means only a few (still uncounted) thousand humans lost their lives and we have yet to uncover the great cache of weapons of mass destruction. They are saying the world has been rid of imminent threat, at least from this sorry Regime, though we will never know how large or immediate that threat was.

Our leaders are trying hard not to gloat on their rapid victory, trying hard not to place too many American flags up on foreign soil — let them sit on our lapels, they seem to say. We're seeing some happy Iraqi's in the street, some not so happy. We're seeing pathetic medical services, suffering patients and much of a country without power or water. But again, that's not unique — that's war. But what really seems hanging in the air is that call of someone up front saying "next."

All of us are looking for what's next in terms of building this utopian Iraq, a democracy in the heart of the Fertile Crescent. It will be like Turkey they say, a Muslim democracy. They are eager to tell us the two, Muslim and democracy, are not inconsistent, but who ever thought they were? How successful this all will be is yet to be determined in a Balkanized country that heretofore needed a strong dictator to hold it together. How Iraqi it will be, not in name but in reality, is still, despite the rhetoric, an unanswered question. Think about America how many corporate boards that have long been portrayed as independent comprise handpicked buddies of Chief Executives. The only time they really take hold is when their pal screws up badly, really badly. So what will this democratic Iraqi government be? Time will tell.

But the most alarming "next," the one that has worried some of us from the start is how we are talking about Syria. Sure General Powell says we have no intentions, and Tony Blair probably wouldn't invade, but look at the words. Remember, I think words are very important. Chemical Weapons, that's what they are saying about Syria. Remember those guys, those WMDs that got our kids onto ships and planes. Chemical Weapons, the big ones, the immediate threat to neighbors. Those weapons about which we've never heard a word before in connection with Syria.

No one in her right mind would hold a brief for Saddam, wherever he is. No one doubts that he tortured and oppressed his people. We are all well rid of him, but no one with any sense of the world thinks he is alone in that regard. And there is the rub. George Bush's poll numbers move up and the doting press which has given him a pass from day one says he has become a real leader. All true. The question is not whether he is more popular or that he is more of a leader, which he certainly seems to be. The question is where is he leading us. I don't particularly admire George Bush, but that also isn't the point. What I question is a foreign policy with imperial tones by a country that was born of rejecting imperial rule. It troubles me that we're pointing our metaphorical and real missiles at countries with whom we disagree and at the same time dismissing countries who essentially share our values and our democratic practices. We are the United States and we're disuniting everyone.

Next. We really don't know. My level of concern has not diminished and with good reason.