Tuesday, August 29, 2006


President Bush "fiddled" with a guitar in San Diego while New Orleans was devastated by Katrina

Another "Point-Counterpoint" between an avowed conservative Republican and a very liberal Democrat. You decide who makes the better arguments.


I agree we need to be concerned about maintaining our Judeo-Christian values, but the first priority is the survival of our civilization. If you are too concerned about some innocents being hurt, you will not be successful in defending us from the Islamic terrorists.

If the overall efforts of our country are not acceptable, no one is stopping the disaffected from moving to Iran or wherever else he or she wishes to go and see how well and long they survive in that society. We might not be perfect in America, but I don't know anywhere any better, all being considered. People from all over the world are sneaking into our country. I have never heard of anyone sneaking out - with the exception of draft dodgers and AWOL service men going to Canada.


I certainly hope you are not equating Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore with “Christian.”

So, are you just arguing for the sake of arguing or do you really believe we should let the terrorists have their way with us? That we were wrong to use violence to fight the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, the Nazis trying to perfect the Third Reich, the Yankees when they invaded the South (both economically and physically), the Norsemen when they invaded the British Isles, etc., etc.?


And the English, Dutch, Spanish & Portugeuse when they invaded North & South America and killed off the Native Americans? (the Norse invaded the British Isles in the first Millennium, so I'm not out of line with this one).

Don't confuse imperial wars with terrorism. Germany and Japan were sovereign states with conventional armies which invaded and conquered their geographic neighbors.

Terrorists by definition have no conventional army, no military capability of achieving any objective. Terrorism is a tactic for those without military power. And as long as countries like Israel and the U.S. stupidly rise up and take the bait, we (and I include myself in the "we" for Israel as well as the U.S.) will lose the real battle they are fighting- the battle for worldwide and local public opinion. Regardless of what ever else happens in Lebanon, Israel has already resoundingly lost, and Syria and Iran and Hezbollah have won. Because the latest air strike that killed over 50 Lebanese women & children huddled in a shelter is the image that will stick, and deservedly so. It has already caused Israel to call a halt to air strikes.

Don't confuse my position with one of concession to terrorism as a tactic. My position is that we need to be smarter, and so far, with Bush in power, we have been far stupider in responding and reacting. Democracy is not the antidote to terrorism, as much as we wish it were so. A stable monarchy, with economic and social justice, is far more effective than an unstable Islamic or terrorist inspired democracy. Compare Jordan with Palestinian government or the government of Iran (the latter two being democracies, in spite of how you may view their countries).


Civilization would not last very long with such belief.

Unfortunately, innocent people will be hurt when terrorists force themselves into people’s homes, hide behind women’s skirts, use innocent children to set up their ambushes, set up firing positions in schools, homes and hospitals and next to U.N. observation posts.

I understand harm happens to innocent people when protecting our way of life, but is it our fault or should the blame rest on the terrorists who created the situation and who take advantage of innocent people to further their rampage? We could exist another 2000 years with the Muslims if the fanatics who use Islam as a crutch to further their terror would cool it.


"Our way of life?" Sounds like a line from Dr. Strangelove. Kind of like "precious bodily fluids." There is no justification for starting a conflict that will inevitably kill innocents. Timothy McVeigh made a direct attack on "our way of life" by targeting the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Would you have supported air strikes against the nearest encampment of weekend militia members, killing them, their wives, and their children? Why not? Wouldn't it be intellectually consistent? Or does killing innocents to protect "our way of life" only apply to killing those who speak another language, have a different skin hue, worship the same God but with a different book?

To use a different analogy, just because a bank robber takes innocents hostage doesn't mean the SWAT team will use violence that will inevitably kill some or all of the hostages. We will wait as long as necessary before we kill one innocent person. The only time they will go in before that is to save lives, and they use every effort to mitigate harm to the hostages.


You can use the argument of “are we doing the Christian thing” and that Bush is being a hypocrite all you want in the effort to be anti-Bush. You are really stretching to do so and it shows that the argument for anti-Bushism has been lost when that tact is resorted to.


Why? Because one can't be both a Bush supporter and a supporter of Christianity as Jesus would have wanted it to be? (Assuming he ever wanted a separate religion, as opposed to being the Messiah of the Jewish legend.) I don't need that argument to attack George W. Bush's record. Look around. Find me a Republican candidate in a close election who wants Bush to come to his district to a public rally (as opposed to a private fund raiser). Anyone? Anyone? (Bueller? Bueller?) George W. Bush, regardless of his ideological bent, has finally been recognized by the vast majority of the American people (over 65%) as being incompetent. Fighting terrorists may be a good idea. He's done such a terrible job that he's the best thing that Islamic terrorists have ever had going for them. If he were a paid asset for Osama Bin Laden, he couldn't be doing a better job. Speaking of whom, where is Mr. "Dead or Alive" Osama? It's been five years, and the unit hunting him was disbanded.


On the subject of who is a “Christian”, look at the matter of one of the self-proclaimed and very fine examples: Jimmy Carter. Have you ever thought about trying to calculate how many innocent people have been killed in the years since his failed presidency because of the failures of his so-called leadership? A lot of the blame for what is going on in Lebanon now is because of his failure in Iran and his appeasement with the murderer Arafat years ago.


How many innocents did Carter kill during his administration? My recollection is the number is "0." Blaming Carter for Iran is absurd. Go back and read the section on Iran in 1953 in:


Besides, even if Carter had screwed up, Ronald Reagan was the guy who gave military and economic support to Saddam Hussein in his war of aggression against Iran. It was under Reagan that we shot down an Iranian airliner. Under Reagan that the Iranians orchestrated the Beirut barracks and U.S. embassy bombings in 1983 after we had tilted towards helping Saddam Hussein. So how much blame does Reagan get? None because he's a god to right wing Republicans who shield their minds from facts, reality, and the lessons of history?


Sometimes you have to make a decision of just whose side you are on. You, Cindy and Michael and a few other like-minded people have such hatred for George W. Bush that you would rather see America fail and maybe even be destroyed than to be successful in the war against terrorism. That is very, very sad – not to mention just plain sick.


You don't have to hate George W. Bush to recognize an incompetent sociopath when you see one. Plug in the words "sociopath" and "Bush" in a Yahoo or Google search and see what pops up. I'm not basing my opinion on what others say- I came to that conclusion independently after seeing him on live debates and reading about items like him mocking Karla Fay Tucker before her execution. I've seen much since- his flat affect when he described the "30,000 deaths" of Iraqi civilians in a January news conference. His being questioned about Israel and Hezbollah and the need for a cease fire and his continued insistence on talking about "the pig" which was going to be served at the German banquet that evening. And so on, ad nauseum. I have no problem with Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore's viewpoints or tactics. Using their name as a perjorative term doesn't work with those who know who they are, what they've done and said, and why.

Go watch Fahrenheit 9-11. Then come back and tell me that you aren't disgusted by George W. Bush, who is the star of the movie (not Michael Moore, in spite of what those who haven't seen the film may try to believe.)

You accuse me of wanting to see America fail? We have had nothing but failure since January 20, 2001. The failure to address global warming in 2001 and the Cheney secret energy policy task force in 2001 with Enron writing our energy policy and Exxon-Mobil now making record $34 billion annual profits while we pay over $3 a gallon for gas. The failure to stop the 9-11 attacks or even to read a briefing memo a month prior to the attacks that Osama Bin Laden was determined to attack within the United States. The failure to catch Osama or prevent further terrorist attacks around the world, including London and Madrid, years after we were supposedly devoting all our resources to stopping them. The preemptive invasion of Iraq based on lies which has fueled world wide terrorism while destroying our own military, killing our sons, and emptying our treasury, and making us the most hated nation on the planet. The failures to deal with North Korea and Iran. Mine disasters after defunding mine safety. Katrina. Companies like GM and Delta imploding while our foreign debt and negative balance of trade rise to enormous heights. The attempts to destroy our constitutional system of checks and balances. To erode civil liberties with the use of torture, secret prisons, secret searches, wiretapping, and so forth. I could go on and on- but other people far more capable than I, including many top Republicans, have detailed the length and breadth of the worst administration in U.S. history. What have they not touched which hasn't turned into a huge pile of dung for the American people? Health care? Worse. More uninsured, higher prices, a prescription drug benefit that helps only drug companies. The budget surplus? Now a regular $400 billion to $500 billion deficit which has added over $2.5 trillion to our national debt in just five years. You accuse me of rooting for America to fail? My fervent hope is that a Democratic Congress will be elected this Fall to stop the incredible damage and destruction done to our economy, our political institutions, our sons and daughters. All in the name of "compassionate Conservatism."

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Wal-Mart contends that many of its employees have health insurance- because they hire Medicare recipients

Wal-Mart hits the news periodically, and rarely in a good way. Lately it’s the Andrew Young controversy when he resigned as a good will spokesman (!) after he publicly commented that Wal-Mart stores replaced ethnic stereotypes who own the small retail stores in poor communities (including Jews, Koreans, and Arabs).

In recent years the mega-store has become the symbol for everything that’s wrong with unchecked capitalism. They wield so much economic power in local communities- 3,800 stores and rising every day- that it is no longer news when referenda are held to determine if local citizens even want to let them in the door. Their labor policies are abysmal, although their conservative pundit mouthpieces make pious noises about how many people they employ. True, and every job lost from manufacturing and replaced with a Wal-Mart job is another job which increases the taxpayers’ burden for covering health costs of the increasing numbers of Americans without health insurance (45 million and counting), because Wal-Mart will never voluntarily provide health benefits for their employees unless government- i.e., the State of Maryland- compels it to do so.

Here are five good reasons to hate Wal-Mart, some are universal, others tailored to our local store:

1. THREE HUNDRED SIXTEEN BILLION DOLLARS. That’s how much money goes into the giant retailers’ pockets each year, and virtually every dollar is a dollar that would have been spent on local businesses which have been run into the ground- grocers, hardware stores, clothing stores, you name it. It’s rare that a giant Wal-Mart opens in any community without some long time local retailers being run out of business.

2. 1.3 MILLION. That’s how many employees Wal-Mart has, many if not most of whom are now without health care and are earning poverty wages, typically just above the minimum wage. How many of them came from manufacturing and other high paying, good benefit jobs that were outsourced isn’t an available statistic, but the annual increase in Americans without healthcare isn’t a concern for Wal-Mart. One state- Maryland- had the guts to try to fight this burden by passing the following law last year, as reported in the national media

“The Maryland state legislature has passed a law requiring companies with more than 10,000 employees in the state to spend 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits -- or contribute the difference to Maryland's health care program for the poor. The law only affects one employer in the state: Walmart.”

3. THE CHECKOUT COUNTER. I’ve never seen a checkout counter as poorly designed and constructed as the circular device in our local Wal-Mart store. When I go to a regular grocery store or retailer, I never have any doubt as to what and where my store bought items are after I’ve paid for them. At our local Wal-Mart, the fun is just beginning as I try to figure out which of the flimsy white plastic bags on the circular wheel actually have the stuff I just paid for in them, and which are empty waiting for the next customer. I truly wonder how many items Wal-Mart restocks their shelves with that unsuspecting customers left on the wheel.

4. TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS: A sadist must have designed the Ledo Road entrance area to Wal-Mart, or perhaps the local auto body shops got together and decided to increase their business. It seems that since the store opened I can’t play a round of golf at Grand Island, which is right behind the Wal-Mart, without hearing a screech of brakes following by sounds of colliding metal, followed minutes later by sirens- police and ambulance. There is one red light at the far western entrance, and if through some unfortunate set of circumstances an item exists which I can only purchase at Wal-Mart, I try to use the entrance controlled by the traffic light. The eastern entrance on Ledo is where the demolition derby happens.

5. MARY WAIRE. Sixty-nine years old at the time, back in 1993 Mary Waire and her husband were driving north on Interstate 75 from their home in Florida when they stopped in Tifton, Georgia. Mary went to the local Wal-Mart to return a pair of nail clippers she had bought and she tried to get a refund of about three dollars. Mary then spent the next forty days in jail. Not because she had shoplifted the clippers. Not because she had defrauded the store. Not because she stole anything or committed any real crime whatsoever. She spent the next forty days in jail because she was mentally ill and could not correctly remember her home address. At the time, an obscure Georgia law made it a misdemeanor to give a false address to a retail store when requesting a refund. Why this law existed, I have no idea. In my entire career, I have never heard of a prosecution for it before or since. It’s still on the books:

“16-9-56. Fraudulent attempts to obtain refunds.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to give a false or fictitious ... address or telephone number as that person's own ... for the purpose of obtaining or attempting to obtain a refund for merchandise returned to a business establishment ...

(b) Any person who violates this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

But Mary was locked up, and weeks later her husband took a bus to Albany to come hire me to get her out of jail. He was mugged at the bus station, had to go back to Tifton, then came back again and found me. With one phone call to Tifton Attorney Bob Reinhart, who at the time was county attorney, I got her released from jail the same day .

Mary had been locked up because Wal-Mart security called the Tifton police, and acting on Wal-Mart’s complaint that Mary’s address was incorrect from the one she gave the store, they locked her up. Her husband was too poor to afford bail or to hire an attorney. Mary went to court a week later and the local judge- R. R. Buckley- sentenced her to a lengthy jail term, specifying that she would be released once she paid a fine from her Social Security check. Her incompetent appointed attorney was outside in the hallway when Mary pleaded guilty en masse with numerous other defendants. He didn’t know that his client was schizophrenic or that she had not committed any criminal offense (all Georgia crimes require a “mens rea” or criminal intent, which Mary didn’t have in this case). The Court of Appeals later reversed her conviction and vacated her guilty plea after Judge Buckley, being properly apprised of the true state of affairs, refused to do so. You can read the case yourself where it is publicly reported in the Georgia Appeals reporter: WAIRE v. STATE, 211 Ga. App. 69 (1993). Here’s an excerpt:

“Waire was arrested on a charge of fraudulent attempt to obtain a refund in violation of OCGA § 16-9-56. Four days after her arrest and incarceration, Waire entered a plea of not guilty. The trial court appointed the public defender to represent Waire. Waire's counsel testified that he attempted to arrange a plea, but that Waire was unresponsive and that she kept saying her husband would take care of it while she looked around the courtroom. Seven days thereafter, during a mass arraignment, Waire changed her plea from not guilty to guilty, without further consultation with her counsel....

The evidence presented during Waire's hearing on her motion to withdraw her guilty plea, established that Waire was taking several medications for psychological problems. During Waire's testimony, it took her several minutes of questioning before she could remember the name of the state in which the hearing was being held. It is clear that neither Waire's waiver of counsel nor entry of a guilty plea was voluntarily and intelligently entered.

Judgment reversed.”

After I got the case, local publicity blew up and the case went international. Wal-Mart was reviled for putting this little old lady in jail over a pair of nail clippers which she was not even accused of stealing. I was interviewed by media as far away as Canadian Public radio. People in the Waire’s home town of Tampa, Florida, publicly vowed never to shop at Wal-Mart again, and the Tampa daily newspaper took up for Mary’s cause. I got a call from one of the nightly entertainment shows (Inside Edition, I think) asking to book my client and her husband.

Wal-Mart then initiated its own counter-attack in the form of a public relations campaign orchestrated from company headquarters in Benton, Arkansas, attempting to disparage my client’s reputation. I didn’t know whether to be amused or appalled that Wal-Mart thought they were going to help themselves by attacking the character of a 69 year old woman who suffered from schizophrenia.

Their campaign didn’t work, but 13 years later the Wal-Mart juggernaut is still going strong, still outsourcing their purchases from the cheapest foreign labor markets they can find to buy their merchandise. As for me, I try to do most of my dry good retail shopping at K-Mart, and I buy my groceries at the former Brunos (Southern Family Markets).

Monday, August 21, 2006


Some women prefer good writing to the long ball

"This above all: to thine own self be true; and it follows, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man." William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

When I started this week’s column I thought it was my 100th. When I double checked I discovered that I had neglected to number my first column on my computer directory, so it’s actually number 101. It’s been more than two and a half years, with an eight month hiatus from August 2004 through April of 2005, since Sandy Farkas ran into me at the movie theater and asked me to write a column for the paper he had just purchased. He told me he liked my letters and guest columns in the Albany Herald and thought I’d be a good columnist for his paper. I told him I’d think about it. The next morning he saw me at the YMCA just after I’d coached a youth basketball game and he asked me again. Thinking that seeing him twice in less than 12 hours must be some kind of omen, I agreed.

First Efforts

My first published column was a fun, self deprecatory take on internet dating, and it ran January 23, 2004. But that wasn’t the first column I wrote for the Journal. My first effort never ran because I saved it for a later occasion, which never came, until now. Here’s a slice:

"For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat- and wrong." This H. L. Mencken quote sums up American political campaigns in a nutshell, where issues like crime (stricter judges), joblessness (tax cuts for the super rich), and terrorism (kill all the terrorists) spawn sound bites rather than sound policy. Rarely do we get thoughtful debates between intelligent candidates willing to concede that the other side may have a good point or that issues have two sides. In fact, during election season, rarely do we get any public airing of issues that actually matter. In the 1988 Bush I versus Dukakis presidential race, the issue was saluting the American flag- and it should have been about the wisdom of the Reagan-Bush Administrations’ support for Iraq, which had used chemical weapons to gas its enemies and its own people, and which, two years later, invaded Kuwait. In 1996, three years after the World Trade Center was attacked and one year after the Saudi barracks were blown up, there was little or no mention in the Dole-Clinton debates about how to deal with foreign or domestic terrorism. In 2000, Bush II v. Gore, we got simple answers about how to use our “surplus” (Al Gore’s “lockbox” compared to George Bush’s tax cuts “because it’s your money.” One now wonders whose money is paying for the $500 billion dollar deficit- oh wait, that’s our grandchildren’s money).”

Reader reaction

I’ve often felt that I was writing in a vacuum, but recently many readers- including our esteemed mayor, Dr. Willie Adams- have been providing some positive feedback. Last week’s story, "Going Home," drew praise from one of my toughest audiences, my son Ben, still halfway around the world. Many people have commented how much they appreciated the piece I did in June, "This One’s for Mom," and it’s nice to have a labor of love, written from the heart, received in that fashion.

Of course, I get critical comments, too. But rarely mean spirited comments. Oddly, many of those who compliment me on a particular Journal column or Herald letter start out by assuring me that ordinarily they don’t agree with my point of view, but.... and then go on to say how much they agree with what I wrote and how much they appreciated my writing it. One piece on the Phoebe Factoids controversy was almost universally accepted. Dr. John Bagnato and Charles Rehberg were particularly appreciative of the pieces I wrote debunking the criminal prosecution they endured until it was dismissed earlier this year by an outside judge.

Some chicks dig writers more than the long ball

A few years ago Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux starred in a funny Major League Baseball commercial called “Chicks dig the long ball” as the two scrawny Hall of Fame pitchers attempted to beef up to hit a home run or two. A few steroid scandals later, MLB ditched the commercial and will likely never go down that path again. I’ve discovered to my delight that there are some discerning women who like what I write enough to be enthralled. Here’s one instant message exchange from last December:

“JL says:
Wonderful articles
Definitely the second "draft" on the divorce is better
You must do some serious researching for your columns...I'm quite impressed

Jim says:
Thanks for the compliment and the feedback. I didn't realize you were going to read the Joe Lieberman article. Did you like the pictures?

JL says:
Yes. I like you, too

Jim says:
Well, I collect data as I cruise the internet and save a lot for future articles. Plus, if you go to some of my old essays, you'll see some of the quotes. And I like you too. A big bunch.

JL says:
aw, shucks. Really, though, you have quite a talent with words...”

And a few months later:

“Dear Jim,

I just read your article...absolutely wonderful!! I was quite impressed with this one. You really need to do something with all of those great ideas running around in your head, and I believe you know what I'm talking about!! By the way, I think you're smart...I want to date you!! (I think you're sexy, too...)”

Final Thoughts

Of course, I write because I must. Because to be silent in the face of injustice and oppression is wrong and allows them to continue. Because the opinion pages should not be the playground of those who distort facts, make straw man arguments, and use illogic and unreality to serve the agenda of their masters. Time and again people have come up to me to thank me for opposing those in power and those who will serve them. For having the courage to say what they think but are unwilling to put in print where all can read. They look to me as their voice, their messenger. To prove that logic, reason, kindness, compassion, and good still have a place in the world. That opposing war, hate, and greed is important. And I thank them, but I still think- just once in a while- it would be nice to lay down the baton and let someone else carry it, if just for a moment.

(Note: most columns are archived at: http://buildabettermousetrap.blogspot.com/)

Monday, August 14, 2006


Downtown Johnstown as seen from the top of the inclined plane; Point Stadium to the left

Dad, brother Bob and I in a light moment on my trip

Last week when a friend asked me where I was going on my vacation, I had a simple one word answer ready: “home.” Although I’ve lived in Albany longer than anywhere else in the world, like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, I’ve always believed that there’s no place like home. In my case, I was born and raised on a hilltop near Johnstown, a small city in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania. Rolling Rock Beer is bottled on the other side of Laurel Mountain, the ridge formed by glaciers that lies just to the west of my home town and which runs hundreds of miles from New York State south through West Virginia all the way to Tennessee.

Two movies have been made in Johnstown, both about sports, one a hilarious film starring Paul Newman (Slap Shot in 1975 ) and one starring a very young Tom Cruise (All the Right Moves in 1983). Both movies had a central theme tied to the reality of my home town after the 1960's- the mills are closing, it’s time to get out of town. Both movies featured gritty steel workers and blue collar athletes- professional hockey players in Slap Shot, and a high school football team in All the Right Moves.

There is a 500 foot hilltop to the west which overlooks the city in the valley below, and the house I grew up in is about two miles west of that, heading towards Laurel Mountain. At the edge of the hill, an inclined plane connects the city below with the suburb above. It’s has two large railroad type tracks, side by side, that are tilted 45 degrees. The tracks have two large cars on them- one on the top, the other at the bottom, and when the ride starts, the top car goes down as the bottom comes up, and they pass each other in the middle. Each car can carry dozens of passengers and one or two vehicles.

. The All American Amateur Baseball Association holds an annual tournament that features the finest amateur baseball in the country, and last week was tournament time. Last Saturday night I stood at the observation platform at the top of the inclined plane. Looking down, I could see tiny baseball players hundreds of feet below at the Point Stadium, built where the Little Conemaugh and Stony Creek rivers meet to form the Conemaugh, which flows into the Monongahela, which meets the Allegheny River and forms the Ohio River at the Point in Pittsburgh, about 75 miles to the west.

The night I watched the baseball game, our local team was featured. It already had one loss in the double elimination tournament, and it went down to defeat that night to New Orleans 9-2. That second loss put Johnstown’s squad out of the tournament, but the players on both squads had to know that there was more than baseball which bound them together. In 1889, the Johnstown Flood destroyed the city and killed thousands. Johnstown came back from that devastating disaster and survived two more less serious floods in 1936 and 1977. After every flood the city was rebuilt, usually better than before. At some point in the near future, New Orleans will do likewise.

My journey home last Thursday, which was supposed to be fairly routine, became a bit more eventful as the terror plot uncovered on August 10th made commercial flying totally chaotic and unpredictable. I had to cancel my reservations and drive the 950 mile trip. That wasn’t totally a bad thing, although I am not a fan of long treks. Contemplative thought, which is almost impossible in a modern life that is dominated by ringing phones, e-mail, and a barrage of other media, is mandatory on long trips such as this. Geography and culture change as the miles roll by. Georgia gives way to South Carolina, which transforms to North Carolina, which leads up to the mountains in the northern part of the state (on I-77) and southern Virginia. The Roanoke Valley in southwestern Virginia (I-81) is the most scenic part of the route, although once I hit central Pennsylvania and headed west, the scenery was just as exhilarating.

There is one mountain that is about 20 miles southeast of Johnstown- we call it Pleasantville Mountain after the town just south of it, but it’s real name is Babcock Ridge. The view from the top is breathtaking, and the winding, switchback road up it is one of the steepest climbs a driver can experience on a highway. When I cross that ridgetop and head northwest to Johnstown, I always have the feeling of home. I’m still about 20 miles away, but all of the places there are familiar from growing up. As I crossed the top, my radio search found an Oldies station, and eerily I found myself listening to the songs of my high school years as I came back to the place where I was formed.

I try to make the trip every year, spend a few days golfing with my Dad, and see some of the places of my youth. I always drive by our old house, marvel at how the trees have grown up around it, and remember what a safe cocoon we all grew up in living near the safest city in the nation (FBI stats had it ranked as having the lowest crime rate every year.)

Living in Albany, where a friend and near neighbor (a few blocks away), City Attorney Nathan Davis, had to confront an armed robber- the third such incident in Lake Park over the last several months, I have to be thankful that I grew up in a suburb so safe that I never owned a house key because our house was never locked. Where wiffle ball games went on in the yard behind the house across the street every summer evening, and I would bolt my dinner to make sure I got there in time for the first game. In the Fall touch football games replaced wiffle ball (I had no speed, but throw a pass in my direction and it was mine), and in winter, we went sled riding as youngsters and as we got older played street hockey.

I knew growing up that I had to leave if I wanted to make my mark in the world. I knew I would never appreciate the greatest things about my home town unless I left it. But that makes it all the more special when I do get to go back, to revel in green grass on which one can lay without fear of fire ants, to enjoy crisp air and temperatures with highs of 75 to 80 degrees in the daytime, to see the most honest, straightforward human beings in America, children and grandchildren of immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe, to visit the Temple where I had my Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation, to hear the “grown-ups” of my youth, now white haired, still address me as “Jimmy.”

But when I pull back into the driveway of my home in Albany, when I see that mischievous Golden Retriever wagging her tail at me as I pull into the carport, when I put my suitcase down in my bedroom and collapse on the bed- I know that Johnstown is the memory and Albany is the reality.

Monday, August 07, 2006


My friend Marvin Mixon, a local lawyer whom I’ve known for years, sends me occasional pieces like the following right wing rant “I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK.” I send him back occasional pieces that use facts and logic to reveal the truth behind the curtain of Washington politics. We write each other and have e-mail debates, but never lose our affection and respect for the other no matter how much we disagree on a subject. Here’s some excerpts from Rick Roberts’ essay, followed by my response. Which one contains the better argument is up to the individual reader.


By Rick Roberts - 760 KFMB AM

I don't mean to go off on a rant here, but here's the bottom line, I want my country back.

I want my kids to be able to walk to the store or walk to school without being abducted by some 3-time convicted child molester. And the politically correct powers that be in this country just can't seem to get over themselves with "CAN'T WE JUST HELP THIS PERSON!" No! You can't. But they're let loose to prey on more children. I want my kids back.

I don't agree with everything this President does. I've never agreed with anything 100% that any President has done or said.

You know, I was very young during the Vietnam War. So I probably missed that thing by a hair. I don't know whether I would have agreed with that or not at the time. I was too stupid to have an opinion at that point and time even though I thought I did.

I want some semblance of respect for authority, whether I agree with it all or not.

I want the Boy Scouts to be "boy" scouts, not boy and "we think she's a girl" scouts. I want Girl Scouts to be "girl" scouts not Girl Scouts and "Bruce."

I want to be able to wake up in the morning knowing that I can walk outside without some gang-banger on parole taking my life.

Or being able to go down and purchase a car without having to worry about you know 90% of the parts being made overseas in some sweatshop.

I want my politicians, when they finally do get my vote, to do what the hell they said they were going to do in the first place.

I want the Abramoff's of the world to be labeled what they are....nothing more than organized crime in a better suit.

I want people to say something and when they say something look at me in the eye. And mean what they say. Not say what they think I want to hear. And then do what they want to later politically or any other way.

I want to be able to go out and work and make a decent wage and buy a home. Half the people that are listening to me right now can't even afford to buy a house unless they're working three jobs.

And I want America to be America. All of those opportunities, all of those things that made her great, I want those returned to the forefront. If you want to come to this country we welcome you with open arms. We simply ask that you abide by our laws. I don't want you to snub your nose at our laws, then take advantage of our opportunities, and then cling to the constitution most of which you can't even read because you don't speak the language.

I want us to secure our borders because the country is worth securing. The people that live here are worth protecting.

I want my children back. I want some semblance of what this country used to be.

It's worth protecting. It's worth defending. I don't recognize this country anymore.

Not politically, not philosophically, not spiritually.

Whether you like it or whether you don't, God was a part of building this great nation. To remove him is to take away the very foundation of what this country was all about.

The politically-correct-psychobabble-hug-a-tree-experts ~~ You are not qualified to release sex offenders back into our neighborhoods.

The southern border, more than any other border, needs to be secured tomorrow. For all those that wish to come to this country to take advantage of her opportunity, to live under a constitution~ a living document that breathes in and out just like you do~ this country is not for sale. I should know. I'm one of the owners. You can't sell it without my permission.

I want my country back!

By Rick Roberts - 760 KFMB AM

Jim’s response:

“I want my country back.” That’s ironic as hell. That's what those of us living a nightmare the last five and half years have been saying. I want a country where Congress and the Presidency aren't for sale to the highest bidder. Where the pledge of allegience means what it says: "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Not liberty and justice for Christians, believers, people who aren't labeled as "terrorists" or enemy combatants before a trial, punished without a trial, without justice, where people aren't summarily tortured, taken to foreign countries for torture and murder, where wars can't start on lies and continue on absurdities like "we'll stand down when they stand up," where politicians can't gain and maintain power by dividing us by sexual preference and religion, where dissent is not only tolerated but understood as necessary to the health of a constitutional democracy, where the concept of a "unitary presidency" is recognized as nothing more than a 21st century verbal window dressing for the reinstatement of a King (also "King George").

I want a country where the real threat of global warming isn't met by junk science paid for by oil and coal companies so that they can make a few billion more bucks before the polar icecaps melt and the seas rise and more superkiller hurricanes arrive. I want a country where the deaths of innocents abroad is not seen as an "opportunity" but as a tragedy to be avoided, or if not, to be ended as quickly as possible. I want a country where cooperation is seen as a virtue, where science- including studies using stem cells to treat disease- is not attacked the same way Galileo was hundreds of years ago. I want a country where the Bill of Rights extends to everyone, including the least among us, and where a party in power doesn't use its position to stifle voting by the poor and elderly under a pretext of preventing non-existent voter fraud.

I want a country where sex is not viewed the same way Puritans viewed it 400 years ago, where gratuitous violence is considered a poorer role model for our children than a woman's breast on national television.

Of course I want a country where people have sincere religious beliefs- or not- but my country is one where they aren't imposed on others. I want a country where everyone can be safe- but my country is one where not just the rich white people in gated suburbs with expensive alarm systems and monster fortress SUV's are safe. Of course I want a country where we aren't inundated by illegal immigrants- but I recognize that this country was created and is great because of the immigrants who came and built it- immigrants who were the despised, the poor, the unwanted, the religiously persecuted, who wanted a better life. And I won't engage in demonizing anybody who wants those things- I just want the influx to be more orderly and secure than it has been.

As for "psychobabble hug a tree experts," yes, there have been people who may fit that description. But for the most part, that is an urban myth, and anyone who has spent even one minute in a modern courtroom knows that this is just fodder to stir up the ignorant and distract them from the realities that this is a country where thousands are dying in a war nobody can explain, millions are losing their jobs and health insurance, and gasoline is skyrocketing while oil companies rake in record profits while donating "campaign contributions" to those in power who refuse to enact any meaningful energy conservation policies.

That's about it. My rant is over, and I feel better, too.