Saturday, August 29, 2009


If healthcare reform will have a personal effect on 304 million Americans and if it is so important it must be bipartisan, why have we abandoned any pretense of representative government in the making of this legislation?

The truth about “representative government” in our “democratic republic” is this:

We are being screwed because the healthcare bill – if there is to be one at all – is being negotiated by people who represent the tiniest fraction of Americans, none of whom live anywhere near anyplace that would be called a major city or even a large metropolitan area.

We have put our medical futures in the hands of people most of us wouldn’t elect to a city council or a Homeowners Association board. Instead of making use of the best and the brightest, we have selected the weakest of the weak – and no one seems to care.

We are a nation of more than 304 million and we are letting our most important domestic agenda be set by… the guy who lives in the middle of nowhere, someplace you need one of those GPS systems to even find it.

The top 5 metro areas in the United States have a total population of 53,585,000. These places are well known to us all. They are: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia. No elected official from any of these cities or metro areas is drafting the healthcare bill.

The next 5 most populated metro areas have a population of 26,408,000. They include Atlanta, Washington DC, Miami, Houston and Boston. No official representing any of these places is on the so-called “Gang of Six,” who are actually writing the bill.

That means that 80 million Americans who live in the top ten metropolitan areas are depending on strangers from small towns thousands of miles away for their medical care and their lives, plus the lives of their loved ones.

How many metropolitan areas in these United States have a population greater than 1 million people? Many. The answer is – 53 – ranging from #1 New York with 19.006 million people to #53 Tucson with 1.012 million residents.

Why is this important?

Because not one of these 53 million-plus metro areas has a single senator involved in the negotiations for the healthcare reform bill currently being worked out by the US Congress.

The “Gang of Six” can hardly be said to be representing all of America.

Among the 3 Republicans who hold the fate of this legislation in their hands – Grassley of Iowa, Snowe of Maine and Enzi of Wyoming – they have the following as the largest metro areas that they actually represent and from which they have been elected to the US Senate:

#243 Waterloo, Iowa, represented by Grassley
#269 Bangor, Maine, represented by Snowe
#421 Cheyenne, Wyoming, represented by Enzi

Let’s be serious about this. Mike Enzi of Wyoming – a senator who doesn’t have constituents who live anywhere near the top 420 most populated areas in this country – is deciding exactly what your healthcare will be! That’s plain crazy. Under normal circumstances you wouldn’t put him in charge of your grocery shopping.

The 3 top GOP represented metropolitan areas – Waterloo, Bangor and Cheyenne - have a total population of 397,000 people. Let’s put this in a meaningful perspective. Port St. Luci, Florida has a population of 400,121. What do mean you don’t know where Port St. Luci Florida is… or you’re not sure you’ve ever even heard of it before? Well, three senators who represent less people than live there are deciding your future healthcare.

But… you say… at least the Democrats have a majority on the committee debating this bill and they really do represent America – don’t they? Take a look and don’t hold your breath. The 3 Democrats selected to “make the deal” are – Max Baucus of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico.

The largest metro areas these Democrats represent are:

#59 Albuquerque, New Mexico, represented by Bingaman
#214 Fargo, North Dakota, represented by Conrad
#266 Billings, Montana, represented by Baucus

These metro areas have a total population of 1,185,000 people. More than the Republicans’ 397,000… but really… is this the best we can do?

So, maybe this tiny fraction of Americans who have been tasked with this job are there because the committee hasn’t got any members from more populated states? Could that be so?

Yeah, sure!

Senator Charles Schumer from New York is a committee member. He represents 19.3 million New Yorkers – every one of them an American citizen – every one of them having a need for and an interest in healthcare. Also on the committee is Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He represents 18.1 million Floridians. I’ve heard that the millions of people living in Florida occasionally go to a doctor. On the GOP side, there is Senator John Cornyn of Texas who represents 23.5 million Texans. Wait a minute. You mean to tell me the Republicans had a Texan at their disposal and they turned instead to a guy from Wyoming? Yes they did.

And yes, you are right – do the math – the same committee that selects six of its members to negotiate the healthcare bill – six who represent a combined total of only 10.3 million Americans, overlooked three other senators on the same committee who represent more than 61 million people! Half as many senators – six times as many people – who needs them?

And, the US Senate as a whole is not off the hook here. In all its legislative wisdom it neglected to include on this committee any senator from the states of California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan or Illinois. The senators from these states only represent some 83 million American citizens.

What is going on here?

If you listed the ten most important things you have to do in your life, you would not allow a single one of these “Gang of Six” to handle any of them – not by choice you wouldn’t. But America’s healthcare? Sure, why not? Hand all that over to Max Baucus, Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi and Kent Conrad.

What have we done? What will we have to say for ouselves when these guys give us exactly what we deserve?

Where is the public outcry against this obscenity perpetrated upon representative, democratic government? There is no outcry, no outrage, no protest. None I’ve seen.

Call it “Change We Can Believe In” or call it what it more likely seems to be – Bullshit! – But c’mon now. Isn’t it silly to let senators from Iowa, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Maine and New Mexico determine the future of healthcare for everybody who lives in the United States of America?

Friday, August 28, 2009


To mark the date - August 29th - four years now since Katrina hit New Orleans resulting in the ruin of one of the world's great cities, I am re-posting something from earlier this year. As Americans we should all be ashamed to have allowed this to happen. We should be horrified that we have spent more money rebuilding cities in Iraq than taking care of our own.


Car dealers have a word for it – a term that accurately describes what New Orleans has become. “Almost walking” is what they call it. When a customer drives onto a car lot in an automobile obviously on its last legs, that’s what the salesmen say – “He’s almost walking.”

You can’t see it from the air. The path into New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport takes you over the northern portion of Lake Pontchartrain, so you get no view at all from above the city of New Orleans. And the cab ride into town from the airport has also been arranged to block any sight of blight, disrepair, abandonment or damage of any sort. All along Interstate 10 they’ve built high walls of beautifully contoured, richly toned cement complete with the famous Fleur De Lais logo. You’ve seen walls like these before on highways in residential neighborhoods. They are usually constructed to block the roadway noise from local residents. In this case, it’s pretty obvious. They’re designed to hide the results of the recent unpleasantness, the ugly residue of Katrina. They have to do that because if you could see it, you’d know.

New Orleans is “almost walking.”

Our first morning there we went to the Café Du Monde down on Decatur Street, along the river, for your traditional New Orleans breakfast – beignets and coffee. If you’ve ever been there you know the Café Du Monde is a huge place, open aired with a roof but no sides, no walls – just a mass of small tables, a bunch of waitresses running around in constant chaos, and a jazz band to liven the atmosphere. The coffee is pure Louisiana – with a hint of chicory, lightened with heavy cream and sweetened just a little too much. The beignets are special – hot from the deep fryer, overwhelmed with powdered sugar, three to a plate. It’s a breakfast fit for kings.

We never even sat down. You didn’t have to be or even remember Doris Troy. Just one look was all it took. What you saw was the dinning room in a nursing home. Walkers, wheelchairs and the “almost walking” themselves were everywhere – to the exclusion of everyone else. At first glance, we thought we had stumbled into an outdoor, early morning Bingo game. So, we hightailed it across the street and up a couple of blocks to a tiny joint I’d been in years before called simply, Café Beignet. The coffee was just as good. The beignets were even better and if there were a dozen people in the place that was a lot. Perhaps, I thought, the Café Du Monde was an anomaly. Could the remnants of the John McCain campaign be holding a reunion? Maybe it was a Billy Graham meeting. But it wasn’t.

All over New Orleans, no matter where we went, it looked like a field trip, an excursion for the nursing home set. In the hotels. In the restaurants. On the riverboat jazz dinner cruise. In the French Market. Everywhere we went. there was the Social Security crowd. Where, I wondered, had all the young people gone? Even the middle-aged were missing.

Among the great sights in New Orleans has always been the young people – drunk, high, smiling, laughing, parading up and down Bourbon Street with painted faces, bare midriffs, halter-tops and scary T-shirts. Not this time out. Bourbon Street was still crowded. They still don’t allow any cars on it. But, the walking wounded looked angry, frustrated, sick and tired, and some just plain mean. The happiness and joy was all sucked out of them. Bourbon Street was noisy with music, but it wasn’t alive; it was different. The music was recorded and most of it was hip-hop. The old joints with their own local bands – the brass bands and jazz quartets, the horn players and blues guitars – all gone. Sure, the sixteen-ounce beers, at three bucks a pop, were still there. The sex-show barkers were still pitching hard. But the context that made it all so attractive once was missing. It was Bourbon Street and yes, it was The French Quarter, but it might just as well have been Pittsburgh or Buffalo, Boise or Tacoma, Little Rock or Albany.

The French Quarter is “almost walking.”

The hotels are open. The lovely, elegant place we stayed at, in The Quarter, had weddings both nights we were there. Two receptions. Two bands in the courtyard. Not a black musician in either band and not a single player under the age of fifty, or so it seemed. The restaurants too are open. The famous ones – Antoine’s, Commander’s Palace, Brennans’s, The Rib Room at the Royal Orleans – they’re all full. But The Quarter is also full of Realtor’s For Sale Signs and hand lettered posters in windows saying For Rent. After a while you begin to notice the enormous number of abandoned residential buildings and when you gaze through the gates back to the courtyards, you see the grass hasn’t been cut and the fountains aren’t working. Nobody’s home. The people who lived there are gone. A truly American culture has been dispersed, perhaps destroyed.

We saw no street musicians, no dancers, no jugglers, no mimes, no painted people, walking works of art, no happiness and no joy. Even the horses fronting the carriages lined up in front of Jackson Square looked like they’d rather be elsewhere, out to pasture than lined up to pull the nursing home crowd around the narrow streets of the French Quarter.

We stayed the weekend. We ate well. No doubt about it. We bought a couple of T-shirts for the grandchildren – realizing as we did that we were as old as most of the others around us. We don’t feel like it – and maybe the other oldsters trotting around New Orleans think of themselves as their younger selves too. I did hear one old man ask the old woman he was with, as they finished their lunch, “Are we ready to rock ‘n roll?” She said, “Yes,” but I’m not sure.

Ernie K. Doe is gone. So is The Fat Man. Donna’s Bar & Grill is closed. You might hear “Stagger Lee” but it’s some fifty-five year old white guy singing it, not Lloyd Price.

I was hoping to see Old Charlie on N. Ramparts and maybe catch some Sunday Cajun square dancing at Tipatina’s. No more. Ain’t it a shame.

New Orleans is “almost walking.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009


The two most important aspects of organized sports - money & winning - separates professional golf from the four major pro sports – baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

The first aspect is a plus for golf – an underappreciated and under promoted plus. There are no “overpaid” players in professional golf. Why? Because there are no paid players at all! They all start from nothing – even Tiger Woods. Every dollar a pro golfer makes – he earns. On the PGA Tour it’s all about: play well, earn well. Play poorly and you might walk away from a tournament with nothing you didn’t bring with you. If you fail to make the cut on Friday, you don’t even get to tee it up on the weekend and you leave town without a nickel to show for your efforts. Appearance money – payments to top players just to enter a tournament – is forbidden by the PGA. A pro golfer makes his money the old fashioned way. He earns it.

Can you imagine a Major League Baseball player – say, Alex Rodriquez of the Yankees – being paid that way? A-Rod’s contract pays him $27,500,000 per season guaranteed. That’s his salary. He gets it whether he hits or not, whether he plays or not. So, he is earning $169,753 for every game the Yankees play – even if he doesn’t – even for those contests he sits out because he or his manager thinks he needs “a rest.” A rest? For that kind of guaranteed money, who needs a rest? A-Rod has averaged 4 at-bats per game over his career, including walks. That works out to $42,438 for every time he steps into the batter’s box. If he hits a home run - $42,438. If he grounds into a double play or strikes out – the same $42,438. What kind of pressure is that?

In professional golf every swing of the club means actual money in the pocket of the player taking that stroke. A good shot means more money. A bad shot can cost thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands. One poorly played hole can make a million dollar difference. Imagine how well A-Rod (or any MLB player) would hit under that kind of pressure!

The second is a distinct minus for PGA golf. It has no definitive, season-ending playoff to determine the unchallenged winner, the acknowledged Champion player for that season. In the other major sports, the second best team always loses its last game and is rarely remembered as “second best.” Lose a World Series or a Super Bowl, the Finals in the NBA or get beaten in the Stanley Cup and your season is a disappointment to most of your fans – and also to most of the losing players.

What has golf got to match that? Some nonsense grouping of a few otherwise meaningless September tournaments they call the FEDEX Cup. Who cares? Can anyone tell me how a player gets into these so-called “playoff tournaments?” Can you tell me how the ultimate winner of the FEDEX Cup is determined? Of course not. Not even passionate golf fans can understand (or care about) this foolish FEDEX Cup nonsense.

If the PGA wanted to make its FEDEX Cup really mean something – to the fans and especially to the players who are the participants – they would set it up this way:

1. Okay, still play your regular season with golfers earning points each week according to their finish in the last tournament.

2. Have the top 100 golfers in the points play the first Playoff Tournament with only the top 50 qualifying for the next one. No prize money at all for Round One.

3. When the top 50 compete in the second Playoff tournament, only the top 25 move on to the next week. Again, no prize money is awarded for Round Two.

4. In Playoff tournament #3 only the top 4 make it to the Final Championship. Yes, only 4 players survive! And yes, there is no prize money given for Round Three.

5. Play the Finals as a foursome (just the way most of the millions of golfers play their golf) and play it on a Winner-Take-All basis. Yes, give all of it - the entire $35 million prize to the winner!

The TV ratings for a weekend of the four top PGA golfers playing for this kind of Winner-Take-All, $35,000,000 prize would be amazing. And the golf would be like nothing we’ve ever seen. There’s no point to playing safe – none at all – unless you’re leading… and if you are in front you’ve obviously not played safe to get there. Instead of a golfer hitting 20 or 30 feet into the middle of the green to avoid a hazard or a difficult pin placement, you’ll see them all taking direct aim at the flag on every hole! Can you see the back nine of Sunday? How hard would it be to pull that putter back if you were stroking a 10-foot putt… for $35 million dollars... and absolutely nothing if you missed?

No team plays safe in the World Series or in the Super Bowl. Safe is the same as second place, and second place is worth… nothing. Most fans don’t realize that baseball, football and basketball players actually make less money in the playoffs than they do for their regular season paychecks. For the top paid players, they're almost playing for nothing. Thus, in the playoffs, they only play to win.

But, last season on the PGA Tour, the Runner-Up prize in the FEDEX Cup was $3 million. That’s three million dollars for failing to win, for finishing second. Even the fifth place finisher took home a check for $1 million. As a player, if you were anywhere near the top five, would you be hitting the hard shots, taking the chances necessary to finish First? Not with that kind of money still available if you only made to fifth place. Why, the last place FEDEX Cup finisher made more money than most Americans earn in a whole year of work.

If the PGA wants to take pro golf to the very highest level, for the fans, for the players and for TV, do it my way. I’d bet all $35 million in the FEDEX Cup kitty that these playoffs would rival those of the other major sports – and maybe even beat them in the TV ratings.

Friday, August 21, 2009


"Our freedoms rest on a moral consensus, enshrined in law, that in a democratic republic we work out our differences through reasoned, and sometimes raucous, argument. Free elections and open debate are not rooted in violence or the threat of violence." - E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post 8/20/2009

You think so?

If, as Papa’s co-contributor Valentine Marofsky “Himself” has proclaimed – “It is better to be uninformed than misinformed.” - There can be no better example of this than that of Mr. Dionne Jr. If he really believes that "our freedoms rest on..." anything that bears any resemblance whatsoever to the rest of his sentence, or the assertions in his second statement, then Papa must ask – “Where has E.J. Dionne Jr. been all his life?”

First of all... when have we ever had a "moral consensus" on anything in America? Slavery? The Constitutional deprivation of rights from Americans who are female? The annihilation of the East Cost and then the Great Plains Indians? The mass imprisonment of innocent American citizens of Japanese heritage? The use of nuclear weapons? The rape of the world's resources? Not to mention more recent events. Has any or all of this sprung from a "moral consensus"?

Second... we do not live in a "democratic republic." Just isn't so. In fact, the two terms are antithetical. A democracy is no republic and neither is a republic, democratic. This sort of liberal, nonsense-intellectualism is as stupid as the right-wing nut cases who scream and shout, "I want my country back." Neither knows what they're talking about.

Third... "We work out our differences through reasoned, and sometimes raucous, argument." Really? Has Mr. Dionne Jr. never heard of The Civil War? 600,000 dead (in what was then a tiny country) dwarfs our casualties in any foreign war or armed conflict this nation has ever participated in... And all we were doing 150 years ago was killing ourselves. Hardly what could be called reasoned argument by any rational definition and how silly is it to say that such widespread death and destruction was merely raucous?

Fourth... what exactly is our American history when it comes to "free elections and open debate...?" Is further elaboration necessary?

Without regard to the merits of the right-wing's, anti-Obama, anti-healthcare, anti-everything/government movement, their open love of and packing of firearms IS what the American tradition is really all about. There is little if any distinction to be made between early American vigilante law enforcement and the empowerment of the frontier "bad guys" as the official authority for law & order, and today's Blackwater contractors who make war around the globe in the name of and in the pay of this American government.

And as for guns and Presidents.... quick.... list all those Presidents who were shot at! Quite a list, wouldn't you say? That's what our history is — like it or not. Not much reason. Hardly any real debate. Few and far between when it comes to free elections. But... lots of guns and lots of violence.

The E. J. Dionne Jr.'s and the Obama-Loving-Upper West Side-Soy Eating-Liberals have it all wrong if they think that a reasoned, democratic approach to their opposition will win out in the end. They need to stop pretending.

Papa thinks that those who actually want to get something done are coming to believe that we might be better off if Rham Emanuel (or the ghost of LBJ) and not Barack Obama was in charge.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Here’s the thing about voting – elections have meaning.

Here’s a fact – A majority of American voters voted for a federal government to be run by the Democratic Party. Here’s another fact – Nobody voted for “bipartisanship.” It wasn’t on the ballot – not in any state, not in any Congressional district, not for President or Vice President. Our political system is “partisan” not “bipartisan.” We have winners and losers, not group hugs.

You need proof? The Democrats have wide majorities in both houses of Congress and there is a Democrat in the White House too. The Legislative and Executive branches are both controlled by the Democrats. That’s the government, folks!

Sure, the Democrats may not control the lobbyists. More likely, it’s the other way around. Perhaps they don’t control these so-called “town meetings” or whatever they are. But, where the proverbial rubber hits the road – where the power is and the votes are taken – where actual laws and regulations are made, the Democrats are solidly in charge.

A reminder – They are in charge because a majority of voters put them there.

Now is the time for all good Democrats to come to aid of their party. By good Democrats I mean the President, the Democratic members of the House of Representatives and those Democrats in the Senate. If they do not mean to govern, why in hell did we vote for them? And if they will not govern, we will not vote for them again. No one else will either.

If the only goal of the Obama administration and the Congressional Democrats is to compromise in an effort to appease and attract a few possibly willing Republicans to vote with them – then all is lost. We voted to put the Democrats in charge of things. And those who ran as Democrats – starting with Barack Obama – promised to govern if elected. They did not campaign on a platform of kissing Republican ass once in office. A majority and a mandate are one in the same. More specifically, Obama and all of the other Democrats who ran for President promised they would introduce and pass into law a national healthcare program.

The time has come to make good on that promise. No excuses. No deals with aging Republicans from tiny states who have no sincere desire to cooperate in the first place. No bullshit about the virtues of bipartisanship.

The Democrats got elected. Now they have a job to do. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid ought to take a lesson from the folks at Nike.

“Just do it!”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


This Thursday Afghanistan will have its second “democratic” election under Western occupation. In recent years we Americans have lost track of what it means to occupy someone else’s country. Some Americans have even come to believe that occupiers are the same as liberators. Seventy years ago, many Germans labored under similar delusions.

Right now, there are forces from 9 foreign countries stationed in Afghanistan. They are occupiers. They include the nations of NATO in Europe – the same major powers involved in World War II (Britain, Germany and Italy). Strange as it may be, even Singapore has people in Afghanistan. Of course, the largest fighting force there comes from the United States.

No country under foreign occupation has ever conducted an election that had any historical international credibility. How could they? Just as the German army was in charge of French elections in Nazi occupied France, so too the US military conducted the Iraqi elections and is now in charge of “security” for the elections in Afghanistan. In Iraq, even the ballots themselves were printed in the United States.

In the first occupied Afghan election, in 2004, 15 of the 16 candidates for President actually withdrew claiming widespread election fraud – before the votes were cast! Guess who stayed and then guess who won. Now guess who is running for “re-election.” Guess who’s going to win again.

Russia’s Stalin said it was not “who voted” that mattered so much. In any election, Stalin said, the important people are those “…who count the votes.” According to reports broadcast on the BBC today, the votes in Afghanistan have already been counted – 2 days before the election takes place. Look it up. The BBC is online, on the Internet. Anyone can access it. Don’t waste your time looking for this BBC investigation in the US press or on US television. Although, to their great credit, there was a small mention of it on the CBS website.

Did we invade and occupy Afghanistan so we could hold corrupt elections? Is that really why we went there and why we’re still there? Have Americans died for this?

Do you know how long we’ve been there? Can you remember when this Afghan “war” began? The date was October 7, 2001. That’s almost 8 years ago. This war in Afghanistan is now the longest foreign war ever fought by the United States. Has it been worth it? Is it still worth it? Do you remember why we went there in the first place?

To catch and kill Osama bin Laden.

Have we done that, yet? Yeah, sure. In fact, we don’t talk about it anymore. Osama bin Laden? Who’s he? He was just the one who attacked the United States on 9/11. No, it wasn’t anyone from Iraq or from Iran who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was a bunch of terrorists (most of whom were from Saudi Arabia!) who were headquartered in Afghanistan. We had every right to go after them – there and then… in Afghanistan, in October 2001.

Bush never caught them. He said he would. He said he’d get Osama “Dead or Alive!” He said he would “dig him out of his hole!” Have you forgotten that? That’s why we went there.

So, what the hell are we doing there today? What is the point?

On this one, Obama sounds just like Bush. New boss – just like the old boss. Only yesterday our new, Democratic President said we had an obligation to give the people of Afghanistan the chance to decide for themselves what kind of government they were going to have.

Excuse me? We do? Why?

Obama didn’t say a word yesterday about catching or killing Osama bin Laden. Even George Bush never said we were invading Afghanistan to give anybody who lived there a chance to decide for themselves what kind of government they wanted.

Barack Obama campaigned saying he would get us out of Iraq. He hasn’t done that yet. He also said we had lost focus on the real objective and that, as President, he would “win” in Afghanistan. He said he would go after Osama bin Laden, even if that meant chasing him into Pakistan. He hasn’t done that either.

During his campaign, Barack Obama often said that he wanted to be “the President of the United States of America.” And then he would say why. He told us what he wanted to accomplish in that office. I was impressed. I voted for him. However, I do not recall Obama ever saying that he wanted that job so he could obligate American lives and American treasure to the task of bringing Afghans whatever sort of government they wanted.

If he had said that – or anything remotely like that – I wouldn’t have voted for him.

Monday, August 17, 2009


If it's really reform of American healthcare we want, that reform is really very simple. There's no bullshit, no complications and no socialized medicine. Keep your doctor - keep your hospital - keep your prescription drugs - keep all your present healthcare providers and suppliers, if you wish.

Just change the law to allow anyone - yes, anyone! - to buy into the existing Medicare program. The key word here is "allow." Don't make it mandatory. Just make it possible.

Single-payer (which is exactly what Medicare is!) does not equal socialism. To actually have socialized medicine, you must have government provided medical care. The providers must either work for or be completely under the control of the government. This is hardly the case with Medicare. Medicare does not "provide" any healthcare. It pays for it. All Medicare is, is a single-payer program. It is not a single-provider program.

So, pass a simple chan ge in the Medicare law. Change Medicare eligibility to include anyone below age 65 who wishes to buy into the system. That's all. Healthcare reform accomplished.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Recent op-ed pieces in The New York Times have discussed the difficulties facing Israel and the Palestinians with regard to reaching a two state solution. One state, Israel, is already there. But there are many stumbling blocks to the establishment of a Palestinian state, and by far the greatest obstacle is the totality of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

It is often hard for Americans to put this problem in an understandable perspective. Many Americans, particularly American Jews oppose the settlements – in principle – and are not in any manner of speaking Zionists themselves. They do not believe in or support the Zionist concept of a Greater Israel. They fervently support Israel but within its internationally accepted borders. However, many look at existing Israeli settlements and tend to favor a gradual or partial reduction. And some do not support any reduction at all, only a cessation of future construction.

Such a position completely disregards Article 49 of the Geneva Convention that forbids an occupying power from moving civilians onto occupied lands as permanent residents. Both Israel and the United States have signed these Geneva Accords.

What are the true mathematical implications of the Israeli settlements?

Official Israeli figures show that 304,569 Israeli Jews are now living in settlements on the West Bank – land that is not part of the State of Israel. Additionally, although no official figure is made public by Israel, it is generally believed that another 190,000 Israeli Jews live in East Jerusalem – in the Arab section – in housing that was forcibly constructed after removing existing Arab residents. These unofficial Jerusalem settlements bring the total of Israeli Jews living outside the borders of Israel, in occupied Arab territory, to almost 500,000.

How can we, as Americans, comprehend the meaning of this number? After all, remember we are paying for it.

There are 5,593,000 Israeli Jews. About 8.84% of them are now living on land that does not belong to them or to their country. What if we, as Americans, were doing something similar?

The US Census says there are 304,059,724 people living in the United States. Imagine, if you can, that 26,878,900 citizens of the United States decided to move and go live in housing projects built on Canadian land – against the wishes of the Canadians – and then imagine that the US government took the position that all or nearly all of them should remain in Canada – forever – not as new Canadians, but as Americans! How would you feel about that – if you were a Canadian?

And now think about what is called “natural growth.” Human populations are not constant. People die and new people are born. In Israel the growth rate is currently 1.8% per year. However, in the settlements the rate is much higher. It is 5.7%. The settlers are younger and more determined to increase their strength of numbers. They are having babies on purpose for reasons that go way beyond family planning. Their rapid growth is religiously political.

That means by next year there will be almost 30,000 more Israeli Jews added to the existing settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - all without a single new settler moving in.

If you have a mortgage with a rate anywhere near 5.7% you already know that means the actual price of your home will be about 3 to 4 times the original loan amount within 20 or 30 years. So, if we had a Palestinian state established today, and if no more Israeli Jews moved into this new state – but those already there were allowed to remain and reproduce at their current rate – there would be a million and half to two million Israeli citizens – Jews not Arabs, Israelis not Palestinians – living in a Palestinian state in less than a generation.

That is the consequence of “natural growth.”

Do youthink the Canadians would like to have 100,000,000 US citizens living in their country in 2040.

Ask yourself a simple question: If you were a Palestinian Arab, could you start your own nation in 2009 or 2010 while having 500,000 citizens of another country occupy your land while actively growing themselves to almost two million in number by 2040?

When viewed properly, the math seems simple enough. There can never be a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem so long as any Israelis continue to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Let Israel be Israel – but also let Palestine not be Israel too.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


No, not Scarlett Johansson. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the US Secretary of State.

For the second time in only six months, Secretary Clinton has gotten herself lost in translation. It’s embarrassing and worse – it’s a sign of real incompetence and a serious lack of attention to detail. Plus, it defeats the very idea of diplomacy.

In March, when she was still brand new on the job, Secy. Clinton visited Russia. The purpose of her Russian trip was to “reset” relations between the two great powers. She said that – not me. And that’s just fine. Nothing wrong with that as a diplomatic objective. As a symbolic gesture in that direction she gave the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, a gimmick gift. It was a button – a red button somewhat reminiscent perhaps of a nuclear launch button – only this one said, in English beneath the button - “RESET.” Just above the button was supposed to be the same word in Russian. That’s what they thought anyway. This official present, from the United States Secretary of State, used the wrong Russian word for “reset.”

Foreign Minister Levrov looked at the gift and promptly told Secretary Clinton that the Russian word she used was incorrect. It was actually the Russian word for “overcharge” as in paying too much. What Mrs. Clinton had actually done was tell the Russians that while we were “resetting” our approach to them, they would find this new diplomacy very costly. Not exactly what she had in mind.

Mr. Levrov, thankfully, spoke perfect English and did not require the services of a translator to notice this error or to realize it was a mistake. Secy. Clinton, like all her predecessors, spoke no Russian at all. Her attempt at humor had been undercut at best and turned into a diplomatic disaster at worst by whoever had been entrusted with the translation. The moment, naturally, was ruined. Lost in translation.

Another such moment was ruined yesterday in Congo in West Africa when Secretary Clinton – who also speaks zero French – thought an African student had asked her a question about her husband, President Bill Clinton, when in fact he had not – he had asked about the current President, Mr. Obama, not the former one. As Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton is the spokesperson for the current President and therefore such a question was perfectly in order and completely appropriate. However, since the Secretary received a bad translation, she ended up losing her composure and scolding the student for asking about husband. If you’ve seen the video, you know she also ripped her translation earphones from her ears and was thus unable to hear if the translator made the proper correction. We can hear the student trying to do that, but he was not speaking English so how could we expect Mrs. Clinton to understand? Instead, she blew her cool.

“My husband is not the Secretary of State,” she angrily barked. “I am.”

It was embarrassing… again. Lost in translation.

The fact that Americans, especially those in sensitive international positions, rarely if ever speak any language except English is not a new development and translation problems, as a result, are also not new.

Remember Khrushchev’s famous 1956 rant in the UN General Assembly, “We will bury you!” He didn’t really say that. Instead he used a very familiar Russian idiom, one any Russian would have recognized, as “We will outlive you!” Under the circumstances of the Cold War and the superpower nuclear standoff, that’s a pretty big difference. Lost in translation.

When President John F. Kennedy made his stirring speech in defense of West Germany's Berlin – he too was mistranslated. He did not shout out, with gallant defiance, “I am a Berliner!” He did not signal his oneness with the adoring German crowd. That’s not what he said at all. The proper German translation would have been – “I am a jelly doughnut!” Forget the American media myth. That’s the truth. You could look it up. Good thing he wasn't in Hamburg. Lost in translation.

Or, how about President Jimmy Carter’s faux paus in December 1977 when he arrived on a State Visit to Poland. Carter had wanted to say, “I am excited to be here in Poland.” But of course, he spoke not a word of Polish. He relied totally upon his translator. Rather than bring along a Polish language expert from the State Department – assuming we had one – President Carter gave the Polish translator job to the young son of a family friend. I’m not kidding. He really did. Yes, he did.

So, in his Polish airport arrival remarks, the President of the United States said – according to the correct Polish translation – that he was so “excited” to be in Poland he stood before them with an erection, a hard-on, a woody of diplomatic proportions. It was all in the choice of Polish words for “excited.” Lost in translation.

American business has no better record than do our diplomats or Presidents. General Motors was unable to sell its Buick LaCrosse sedan in Quebec, Canada because the French word “LaCrosse” was commonly used in that French-speaking province by young men to signify their desire to jerk-off. Buick scampered to withdraw the brand from showrooms across Quebec, but not until it had been lost in translation.

Similarly, the corporation selling the toothbrush substitute, Waterpik, tried to market it in Denmark with devastating effect. Why? The Danish translation they employed was Vandpik, a literal choice of the Danish word for water – vand – together with their own pik. Unfortunately for them, to the Danes the word vandpik referred to the kind of erection men commonly have when they first wakeup in the morning. It was very funny – to the Danes – but they didn’t run out and buy the product. They were not eager to put the Vandpik in their mouths. Lost in translation.

Perhaps you’ve seen the nerdy Frank Perdue who serves as the ad spokesman for his family’s chicken business. The company slogan was “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” They banked on the rough-edged slogan and the high nerd-quality of Mr. Perdue to produce the necessary irony. Worked just fine where consumers spoke English. But, in Mexico irony has a different name and the translation that appeared on their television and on billboards across the Mexican landscape said, “It takes a hard man to get a chicken aroused.” Lost in translation.

Perhaps the most arrogant of all such examples is the Nike television ad – shown here the United States – in which a bunch of Sambura tribesmen from Kenya are shown running in the Kenyan hills – as the Kenyans are world famous for – all of them wearing Nike running shoes. As the group of Kenyans runs past the cameras, one of the runners shouts out something in his native language. Nike left that piece of audio in the TV spot they ran on American television. What did the African runner yell out? “I do not like these shoes,” he said. “Give me my own shoes!” Nike, of course, figured no one seeing the ad here in the USA would ever know what the man really said. Lost, more like vanished, in translation.

Our Secretary of State – currently Hillary Rodham Clinton – has an obligation to get it right. She is traveling around the world representing us. The least she can do is make sure she brings along an adequate translator. Otherwise, American diplomacy and – in this instance – her own personal dignity gets lost in translation.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Put me down as #1 in the Tim Clark fan club.

After yesterday's round at the World Golf Championship at Firestone Country Club was completed — scorecards were signed, accepted and tallied to set-up pairings for Sunday's final round, Tim Clark was in 3rd place and in plain view of a very big payday. He had at least a fighting shot at the $1 million+ first prize money and certainly figured to be in the thick of things for a check of $300,000-$600,000. However, after reflecting on his round, Clark remembered he made a placement mistake with his ball on the 16th green. He moved it legally but failed to replace - which is against the rules. Nobody else saw him do it or knew about it and no one but he could have reported it.

He did report it to tournament officials. He called in his own 2-shot penalty... after the fact... and now he begins today's final round in 14th place. No doubt now he will have to battle his way to earn anything near 6 figures. We'll never be able to say exactly how much this voluntary act of honesty will have cost him... but hundreds of thousands of dollars is easily in the balance.

And let's not forget — they call them professional golfers for a reason. They do play the game for money! The nonsense you so often hear from sportscasters about how they "play to win" is just that - nonsense. This is how these men make a living This is how they pay the mortgage, put their kids through school, eat! They don't hand out prize money at PGA events as an afterthought. And they pay a lot more for Third Place than they do for Fourteenth Place.

Following this demonstration of personal integrity, I started thinking about the new NFL season already beginning with all the fuss about training camps opening and the nerve wracking decisions among ownership about which just released felons and newly indicted criminals to put on their rosters and which of them to shun. Talk about personal integrity - the NFL wouldn't recognize integrity if it blindsided them, rolled over a league meeting like a bulldozer. One of the doctrines of pro football has always been "If you ain't cheating — you ain't trying!" How many wide receivers trap a ball and then jump up celebrating like they caught it - when they KNOW they didn't? How many great runs from scrimmage owe their gains to teammates' holding and illegal blocks? "If you ain't cheating..."

In baseball too there are many such examples - the phantom touch of a shortstop's toe on second base during a double play... the just as nonexistent tag on a steal of second base... the trapped ball on the outfield grass... the swing that's pulled back and the hitter's act which follows to show he didn't REALLY swing - when he knows he did... or the catcher who quickly pulls in an outside pitch to fool the umpire and get the called strike.

How about the NBA... if you counted the double-dribbles, palming the ball violations and the steps - Oh, my God .. THE STEPS! Walking is a regular play now in professional basketball. All the best players seem to get 3 steps to the basket before anyone even thinks to call a traveling violation.

Golf is the only sport played on a major level with big, big prize money at stake where total fidelity to the rules of play is honored by the players themselves, often at great personal cost. No real golfer WANTS to win by cheating. Just look at what Tim Clark did. His action isn't much different from someone who finds... say a quarter of million dollars lying on the ground somewhere and rather than take it home they bring it to a police station. How many people would really do that?

So, I'll be rooting for Tim Clark this afternoon. I hope he shoots 60 and wins, but of course that's not likely to happen. But I will remember his integrity and his strength of character a lot longer than I'll remember whoever does win and I'll be pulling for Tim Clark the next time I see him tee it up in a golf tournament.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sotomayor, Si! GOP, no!

Judge Sonia Sotomayor was easily confirmed by the US Senate for her seat on the Supreme Court. The outcome was never in doubt. Democrats have 60 votes and all 59 healthy Democratic Senators voted to confirm, including 91 year-old West Virginia Senator Byrd. Only Ted Kennedy, who is too ill, was unable to cast his vote. It wasn't needed. A tiny handful of Republicans joined the Democratic majority, but 31 Republican Senators went on record by voting against Judge Sotomayor.

That's great news for Democrats. In politics, you may run but you cannot hide from your record. Every Republican Senator running for reelection in 2010 voted against the first Hispanic and only the third female to become an Associate Justice on the nation's highest court.

The GOP "Death Wish" has never been more apparent. For Democrats - who could ask for more?