Monday, February 27, 2012

I am not a crook


On November 17, 1973, former President Richard Nixon met with the press, and disavowed any prior knowledge of the Watergate burglary, and insisted that he had not broken any laws. His “I am not a crook” speech is arguably one of the best known Presidential speeches in history.

His 1973 meeting with the press brings to mind his “Checkers” speech from 1952

Although the clip of his 1952 speech is a rather long 13 minutes, I’d recommend watching it in its entirety. It’s absolutely astonishing how much personal financial information that he provided to the public, and I have to admit that I definitely would have voted for him if I had been a registered voter in 1952.

Nixon certainly had his faults, and he deserved to be removed from office because of them, but he actually DID accomplish a lot things when he was in office. One of his most noteworthy accomplishments was the establishment (in 1970) of the Environmental Protection Agency which the current crop of Republican candidates would like to dismantle.

Truth be told, though, the biggest crook that we’ve ever had as President is the man pictured below:

George W. initially came to office in the year 2000, in spite of the fact that he had lost the popular vote to Al Gore by almost 500,000 votes. We’re all familiar with the “hanging shards”, which led to a recount vote in several Florida precincts, but you’re probably not familiar with a study done three years later by the National Research Opinion Poll three years at the University of Chicago that concluded that Al Gore had actually won the state of Florida, which would have given him the Presidency.

The study by the National Research Opinion Poll analyzed a total of 175,000 ballots from the entire state of Florida, and not just the counties that went through a recount in 2000. The fact that Bush won the Presidency in a state where his brother Jeb was governor seems to imply that there HAD to be some skullduggery involved,

You can use whatever source that you want to analyze this election, but I’ve found the Wikipedia is generally an informative and (more importantly) neutral source when researching just about anything. The comments made under the heading “Florida recount” highlight how the election reporting by the news media, as well as meddling by the REPUBLICAN Secretary of State Katherine Harris, distorted the voting in Florida, and ultimately gave Bush the electoral votes he needed to win the election.

Changes were made after the election (primarily in the expanded use of electronic voting machines) to ensure that future elections would be more accurate, and many people gave a sigh of relief.

Then came 2004.

Incredibly, the 2004 election results were even MORE distorted than the 2000 election. In this election, the deciding state was Ohio. In Ohio, the REPUBLICAN Secretary of State served as both the Chief Elections Official of Ohio AND the honorary co-chair of the “committee to re-elect George Bush”.

As a result of the dual roles that he served, there were at least SIXTEEN lawsuits filed to protest his obvious conflict of interest.

Voter fraud in this election was much worse than it was in the 2000 election, and the “points of controversy” section of the link above provides more DETAILED information:

Three years after the election, two Ohio election officials were convicted of voter fraud by juries because they had provided inaccurate recount results.

By now, you’d think the American people would be on to these guys, but the Republicans CONTINUED to attempt to manipulate voting results in the 2008 election.. This time, the details are covered under “controversies” in the Wikipedia article.

In 2008, the manipulation of voter turnout didn’t work as planned, and the Republicans lost the Presidency. However, if John McCain hadn’t picked Sarah Palin (open mouth, insert foot) as his running mate, it’s likely that the final voting results would have been closer.

Sarah Palin, incidentally, may have been clueless about the details of the "Bush doctrine", but she certainly understands "cowboy diplomacy".

In the fall of 2010, the inmates finally got control of the asylum, and the Tea Party candidates found enough voters who were discouraged by the slow (in their estimation) recovery of the economy to swing the balance of power. The shift of balance of power at the Federal level led to gridlock in the first year of the 112th Congress, and led to (at the state level) the passage of more restrictive voting laws in at least twelve states.

In an effort "to reduce voter fraud", the Republican legislators passed legislation that made it more difficult for minorities to vote. Minorities, incidentally, are far more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than for Republican ones.

In order to ensure that future elections will be as fair as possible, Attorney General Eric Holder announced in December that the Justice Department would be aggressively examining the new voting laws to make sure that the rights of the minorities in the next Presidential election would not be compromised.

Although I avoid discussing politics and religion at work, I recently asked a co-worker what political party that he favored, and he told me “Republican”. He quickly added that he really didn’t care WHICH party won, since it didn’t make that much difference to him.

Unfortunately, who we vote for makes an ENORMOUS difference in the direction that our country is headed.

When George W. Bush first assumed office, the National Debt was $5.64 trillion. When he left office, the national debt had nearly DOUBLED, to a touch over $10 trillion. In addition, our unilateral invasion of Iraq in 2003 has cost us 4800 lives (so far) and approximately $700 billion. There’s no question that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous thug, but the events of the Arab Spring, and the forcible removal of Muammar Gaddafi (neither of which cost us very much in either dollars or lives) is proof that we could have handled Iraq in a much more intelligent manner.

At this point, all that I can add about George W. Bush is this:

good riddance

As you’ve read through the paragraphs above, you’ll have noticed a nasty trend. At one time, Republicans and Democrats worked together for the good of the country, but the Grand Old Party has been taken hostage by right wing extremists and special interest groups. Fortunately, there is a cure. Before I get to the cure, though, you’ll need a little background information:

1) The American Party, also known as the “know nothing” party, nominated former President Millard Fillmore as their Presidential candidate in 1856. When he carried only ONE state in the Presidential election, the party disbanded, and most of the members moved to the newly formed REPUBLICAN party.

2) In November of 2011, Reince Priebus (the Republican National Committee leader) gave a talk at the University of Chicago where he stated “a fish rots at the head”, implying that President Obama should be defeated because he had failed on his promise to fix the economy.

3) the current Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, once sent a dead fish to a pollster who he found irritating.

As Paul Harvey used to say, here’s “the rest of the story”:

Since the current leadership of the Republican Party is as much out of touch with reality as the American Party was in 1856, it's not inconceivable that the party could cease to exist at some point in the future.

(Two quick examples of this are the recent debates about immigration, and President Obama's address to the UAW on February 28 of this week.)

For now, though, the best approach is to SEND A MESSAGE to the leaders of the party and vote a STRAIGHT DEMOCRATIC TICKET for the next couple of elections,

The other message that I’d love to see happen is that at least ONE person would send Reince Priebus a dead fish in a box, with a note inside that read “the fish rots at the head.”

His address is:

Republican National Committee
310 First Street S.E.
Washington, D.C 20003

His phone number is 202-863-8700

Less than a week ago, President Obama announced that two of his former chiefs of staff, Bill Daley and Rahm Emanuel, would be campaign co-chairmen of his re-election committee. In case you’ve forgotten, both Daley and Emanuel are natives of the Chicago area, and Obama still owns a home in the Hyde Park area of Chicago.

Regardless of which “dynamic duo” the Republican Party chooses as their candidates at their convention in Tampa in August, they’ll quickly learn the lesson that countless unsavory characters have learned over the years:

“don’t mess with the boys from Chicago”.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

with a little help from my friends ...

Now that I’m rapidly approaching the “normal” retirement age of 65,
I’ve come to the realization that some of the people that I consider my friends are folks that I have known for close to 50 years (yikes!)

Even today, I can still recall some of the adventures that we had together when we were just kids, and I’ll always cherish those memories. Sadly, some of my friends have already passed on due to “natural causes”, which is a stark reminder that we all need to live each of our remaining days as fully as we can, because there ain’t any guarantees in life.

I, and all of my friends, have witnessed a multitude of trials and tribulations, but what got us through all of those trials were the bonds that we all shared - not as blood relatives, but as spirits in kind.

Joe Cocker, at Woodstock, probably gave the best description of friendship that I could ever come up with, even if he might have slightly (?) inebriated when he performed this song:

Joe may have had a more liberal outlook on life than my fellow Minnesotans (let’s all get stoned), but one thing that he got right is this:

If you‘re a friend of mine, you are SO beautiful:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day - from Johnnie Walker

I’d like to propose a toast.

To do that properly, I’m going to enlist the help of my old friend Johnnie Walker. Even if you’re not a scotch drinker, you’re probably aware of the fact that Johnnie Walker is the most popular brand of scotch whiskey in the entire world.

Before I stray too far from topic, though, here’s my toast:

“To my wife of 39 years, my favorite daughter, my favorite sister, and to all the women I know who have “significant others”, best wishes for a happy and joyous Valentine’s Day.”

There’s a bit of uncertainty about when people first began exchanging messages, poems, and gifts on Valentine’s Day, but the fact remains that St. Valentine himself lived a very long time ago. The most reliable information about him is that he lived (and died) during the waning days of the Roman Empire.

Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, the Roman Empire was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. As a result, the emperor found it difficult to attract men to his military leagues. Since Claudius believed that men were refusing to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families, he BANNED all marriages and engagements in Rome.

At the time of the decree, Valentine was a holy priest in Rome. Because Valentine felt it was wrong for people who loved each other to be unable to marry, he continued to perform marriages in secret.

Eventually, of course, the emperor found out about the secret unions, and Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs, and to have his head cut off. While he was in jail awaiting his execution, he left a farewell note for his jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend.

He signed the note, “From Your Valentine”

He was executed on February 14
, 278 A.D., and was later elevated to sainthood. In the year 496, Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. Coincidentally, the pagan festival of love, Lupercalia, had been celebrated on the same date, so it’s likely that the pope’s decision was an effort to eliminate the pagan holiday, just as Christmas has replaced the pagan festival of Saturnalia.

The first bottle of scotch whiskey was produced in the year 1494, almost exactly 1000 years after the first St. Valentine’s Day, and 1216 years after the martyrdom of the saint who is most strongly linked to romance. Legend has it that St. Patrick introduced distilling to Ireland in the fifth century, but the original process was applied to perfume, not fermented mash.

It’s likely that you haven’t previously linked scotch whiskey with romance, but the truth is that the Johnnie Walker brand can provide some interesting connections for us.

Scotch whiskey has traditionally been viewed as a “manly drink”, an image reinforced by the actor Robert Carlyle in a video titled, “The Man Who Walked Around the World”.

I’ve attended FIVE Johnnie Walker tasting events in Chicago, and I enjoyed every one of them. Although the food offerings were usually very modest, the highlights of the evening were (1) the spellbinding presentation by the Johnnie Walker scotch ambassador and (2) the ability to sample all five Johnnie Walker flavors at the same event.

As I looked around the rooms, I was a little surprised to note that fully half the audience sampling this “manly drink” were WOMEN. My view of this manly drink also got altered when I first viewed the video below on YouTube:

Que sera, sera

As the tagline at the video proclaims, every revolution starts with a splash of red, and the video got me to start thinking about a topic that causes apoplexy among the more conservative members of our society:

Same sex marriage

The first country to legalize same sex marriage in modern times was the Netherlands, in 2001. Since that time, nine other countries have legalized same sex marriage. As of today’s date, at least ten other countries are also considering legalization.

Prior to the modern period, contractual relationships between members of the same sex existed during several of the Chinese dynasties, but the first historical record of same sex marriages occurred during the days of the Roman Empire.

In the United States, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriages, in 2004. Subsequently, five other states, and the District of Columbia, passed similar legislation. Washington State also recently legalized same sex marriages, but the law has not taken effect yet. In addition, at least ten other states permit civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Traditionally, the prohibition of same sex marriage seems to be favored by Republicans (Rick Santorum is the most extreme example of this outlook) , but it’s absolutely true that the Defense of Marriage Act was passed when a Democrat (Bill Clinton) was President. The bill passed both houses of Congress by a large majority.

During the recent debates in Washington State about same sex marriage, the most compelling argument in favor of same sex marriage was given, surprisingly, by a Republican:

who is Representative Maureen Walsh?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I don’t get worked up over a lot of things, although I have to admit that the topics of the Keystone XL pipeline and guns on campus in Arizona (which I’ve written about recently) have made my ears wiggle a bit. I’m not going to agonize over discussions about same sex marriage, but I’ll leave you with one simple question:

If St. Valentine felt that it was wrong to not allow people who love each other to marry, shouldn’t that still be true today?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

the ghost of Larry Brennan


I always think of my dad at this time of the year, because he was born on February 3, 1909. If he were still alive today, he would have turned an ancient 103 years old yesterday.

This year, I felt his presence a little stronger than I usually do because my wife and I were recently at Ft. Snelling Cemetery (where he and my mother were laid to rest) for ANOTHER funeral. Her mother, Marge Lennartson, was put in the ground there almost exactly two weeks ago. Sharon and I searched in vain for dad’s tombstone, which is in an area very close to where Dick and Marge are buried, but had no luck. I later learned that his plot is listed on the “Ft. Snelling grave finder” as “2,0,593”.

Dad had a heart attack in his kitchen on Halloween Day, 1994. He was half way through his lunch of a grilled cheese sandwich, which turned out to be his very last meal.

I recently discovered that a very famous person ALSO died on Halloween.

George “Papa Bear” Halas, the founder of the Chicago Bears football team, died on October 31, 1983. Ironically, his birthday (February 2) was a day before my dad’s, but he was born in 1895. Another gifted athlete, George Herman Ruth, was born exactly FOUR DAYS after George Halas. A little known fact is that Babe Ruth’s predecessor in the outfield for the New York Yankees was a guy named George Halas. The SAME George Halas.

October 31, 1994 was a miserable, sloppy, and wet day. I had been on my new job at CIGNA Insurance Company in downtown Chicago for roughly two weeks. After a business lunch in downtown Chicago, I was drying my socks in the microwave (seriously) when my mom called from Minnesota with the news about my dad. We later learned that dad had had a few minor heart attacks without realizing it in the year before his passing, but simply assumed that his shortness of breath was due to old age.

Dad had always been proud of his Irish heritage (as I am), and he came from a generation of people that always got a lump in their throat whenever the sound of “God bless America” came through the loudspeakers at some sporting event. At his funeral a few days later, one of the songs that the organist played was “Danny Boy”, and I’ll freely admit that I REALLY had trouble maintaining control of my emotions while the song played.

I didn’t present dad’s eulogy (although I DID give “the final speech” for both my mother and my father-in-law when it came time for their final goodbyes). I have no idea what the priest said during my dad’s eulogy, but I’ll always remember a comment that my cousin Jean Bobzien said during the funeral lunch:

“You know, he was a really good guy.”

Dad was shaped by two world wars and the Great Depression, and he managed to instill in his kids (my sister and I) the values of thrift, honesty, and compassion. He always stressed the importance of “doing the right thing”, even if that meant making some difficult choices, and he always led by example. To dad’s credit, he really did not have a lot of vices.

I watched him turn green a few times when he tried to smoke a cigar, and he enjoyed a Hamm’s beer on occasion, but that was about the extent of his alcohol consumption. However, I remember the look of ecstasy that came over his face when he had his first Rusty Nail when he came out to visit my in Virginia shortly after I completed my basic training. Needless to say, he was a HAPPY man!

Dad never made a pile of money, and nobody is ever going to erect a building in his honor. In today’s world, though, we’d all be better off if there were more people whose highest accolade was that they were a “really good guy”.