The Conundrum Called the Economy: Is Anyone Ever in Control?

By Jim Penn

Many of our presidents have taken credit for “good economy news,” regardless of whether their actions merited their blusterings. Former President Clinton and current President Bush are two excellent examples of this political bluster and boastful attitude.

I was thinking about this phenomenon when I ran into two of my favorite people, Professor Ferdinand Von Rumproast and Harold CPA, Superhero, in the State Street Bar and Grill. I often hit the joint for a beer and a burger and some of their killer fries.

There they were, the Professor with his dirty martini and Harold, without his cape (thank goodness) sipping on his standard root beer with a twist of lime.

Wading in to engage their fertile minds, I asked, “Well, what sayeth thou about Federal Reserve Board Chairman Bernanke and his Board raising the federal rate another quarter-point?”

“What’s with the Shakespeare crap?” responded the Professor. “Bernanke had no choice; signs of inflationary pressures are clearly showing. He’s got to keep economic growth in check. Inflation can kill a healthy economy.”

Harold, the CPA renowned for jumping complex bank reconciliations in a single bound, nodded his head, apparently in approval, but added, “I guess so, Professor, but I don’t know how healthy our economy is. Corporate malfeasance and misfeasance haven’t been slowed one iota by the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation – you know, they nicknamed it Sox. You remember, the law enacted to curb the obvious abuses caused by overzealous and dishonest executives, accountants and lawyers in the Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco and other past “anything goes” wheeling and dealing corporate high-flyers. Media continues to report corporations and investment bankers paying large fines and business perps being indicted. Sox hasn’t appreciably reduced these shenanigans. And, the consuming public, you and me, ultimately pay for their wrongdoings.”

I couldn’t resist. “What about these high oil prices, trade and budget deficits, major problems in our once highly-valued automotive and high-tech industries? Even if outsourcing is good for us and the world in the long-run, our business clock is being cleaned by India’s and China’s research, creativity, innovation and excellent academic institutions. We’re losing the edge we held for years. Our farmers are hurting, and medical care costs are going out of sight while medical care, pharmaceutical and related companies continue to record large profits. Again, the consumers are paying for these events and circumstances. The legislators and governmental and corporate leaders responsible for these results aren’t touched since their health care and futures are funded by our tax-paying dollars.”

Harold couldn’t contain himself. Standing and assuming his superhero stance – with hands on hips, his diminutive chest expanded – he said, “What about the national debt - nine trillion, three trillion of which was added by President Bush in five-plus years?

“Now, we’re beholding to China, of all countries, and Japan in their purchases of our treasury securities needed to finance our country. Where’s it all going? The stock market continues to rise on the strength of consumer confidence, although these same consumers are overextended in credit card debt. What about rising housing costs and flat wages and earning capacity for the majority of us? As a responsible accountant, I’m sick about this. I need to go and write down some inventories.” With that last statement, he stormed out of the bar with hardened resolve.

The professor took a sip. “That little guy gets quite riled up, doesn’t he? You fellas have made some good points, but Bernanke can only do what he can do. It’s up to Congress, the administration and the business community to put us on a realistic economic growth path. Say, that burger looks good. Think I’ll order one.”

“Do hamburgers go with martinis, Professor?”

“Everything goes with martinis. Besides, I’ve gotta support the beef farmers and grain growers, don’t I?” He winked at me.

And, another afternoon of frustration-letting passed in the old State Street Bar and Grill. I hope that Harold found inventory to write down. For all you non-accounting types, that means a reduction of company profit or an increase in losses. You know, that little guy just might have a mean streak.

 

The Mediocre HousekeeperTM :
Dust and Clutter Can Be Your Friends
by Jim Penn

When friend and fellow writer Bernie Levy recently asked me to write about dust and clutter, I questioned his ridiculous request. "Why me?" I asked as we sat in my living room with Eric "Sloppy Dunker" Rappaport (aptly named for his donut-dunking addiction).

Bernie responded, "Who said that? I don't see anyone."

"Why, me, you goofball," I answered, shoving several thick picture books off my coffee table so he had a clearer view.

"That's why," Bernie said as he pointed to the table heaped high with coffee table reading. "If there ever was anyone who takes clutter and dust to extremes, it's certainly you. I can't understand how any woman would consider a relationship with you once she sets foot in this house."

Eric piped up, "Oh, I dunno. I had a cousin that was worse, but he's dead now. He was dead for weeks before he was discovered; they couldn't find him until they cleaned out his apartment."

I couldn't take it any longer. "That's ridiculous. You just made that up. I'm not that bad. If you want me to put down my thoughts I will, but you must understand there are rules to follow when collecting dust and clutter."

"You've got to be kidding," Bernie laughed. "Let's take two examples in this room. What reason is there to pile books so high on your coffee table that nobody can choose one? And, take that corner over there," he said, pointing to the corner where my dust friends lived. "It seems you've made little things out of dust that probably has piled up for years and then topped them with little bits of ribbon and scraps of cloth. What're they supposed to be?"

Eric added his two cents. "Hey, that's probably some kind of art. He's built several of those things. Isn't that right, Jim?"

"Ya' know, Bernie, Eric's got an eye for dust and clutter," I said. I could easily convert him to the cause, I thought. "Since you've chosen to insult me, I'm going to charge you fifty cents a word. I'll email my brilliant commentary to you within a week.

"And, by the way, when you finish your beers, wash out the bottles and put them under the sink. There's some behavior I won't tolerate."

They took the hint, washed their bottles, put them in the proper place, carved a path to the door, and left. I surveyed my kingdom. It wasn't so bad: my décor of dust and clutter had been well thought-out.

So, here's my contribution to the search for truth and meaning in living and making friends with dust and clutter.

First, dust. Dust is made up of many elements, all of which are particles falling from something or someone. After a brief time, this accumulation leaves a film on objects that mutes their coloration and takes on nuances of its own.

Many people confuse dust with dirt and periodically clean compulsively to excess. Dust is the reason for many inventions, including Busters, mops and cloths. Industries have risen and fallen because of dust and its earthier cousin, dirt, including cleaners, cleaning companies and household cleaning systems. However, treat dust with respect and friendship, and dust will be your friend.

Some people fear dust mites, those miniscule creatures that reside in dust. In the cartoon strip Rose Is Rose, Rose, a foxy and dutiful mother and wife, is deathly afraid of them. The strip's creator illustrates them as horrific, imposing insects. But, golly, everything has a right to live for some time on this earth.

I've known people, mostly women, whose life's mission is to get rid of dust before it even settles. I say to those people, "Get a life! There are more important things to do than dust your life away." Sure, it doesn't hurt to dust once in a while; my rule of thumb is to dust at least once a year, whether it needs it or not, but no more than quarterly.

Everybody looks on the cloudy side of life when it comes to dust. However, there are benefits to dust accumulation. For instance, when establishing a loving relationship, you want to be loved for more than just your beauty. I, for one, don't want to be just a pretty face; I want a woman to love me for my intellect, my sense of humor and my companionship. Dust can assist in your search for the perfect mate as well as provide other benefits. Consider:

  • Dust can be an early warning system. If your date is put off by dust, she's not the woman for you. She's obviously not looking for a lasting, true relationship. My rule: Does someone like me for my neatness or because I'm a neat person?
  • Dust also alerts you to her susceptibility to allergies. Allergies are not all bad; they, too, can be your friends under certain circumstances. But I need to know early in the relationship if someone is prone to them. It's just one item on my short list - 137 questions - that I ask within the first two weeks of dating.
  • Dust is a telltale sign about your personality, particularly when you cultivate dust pets. Though he didn't know it, Eric had identified my dust friends -- the pets that keep on giving. I have dust dogs and cats, as well as bunnies. I grow them for a few months, and then I dress them up. Creativity is the watchword in this pet world. They're very understanding; their maintenance is low; I never have to take them to the vet; they grow on me in time; they keep me company. Their only drawbacks are that I can't take them when I move and I have to put them to rest before I get my cleaning deposit back.
  • Last, although most cleaning manufacturers, suppliers and professionals will keep this truth from you, dust can be a protective coating.

There are times when dusting is appropriate and beneficial. The list is short. Visits from mothers and prospective mothers-in-law require targeted dusting to establish your respectability. It also helps keep harmony within the family. To keep your sense of dignity and to limit hypocrisy, I suggest you dust only those areas that will be inspected. You know your mother and future mother-in-law better than I do but, in the event that you do not, dust those areas that are most available to the white-glove and heavy-finger-touching techniques. These champions of cleanliness test windowsills, picture frames, and tables most accessible in the kitchen, living and dining rooms. Don't forget the TV and appliances. If you take out the good china (you have good china?) on days when they visit, make sure they are washed or at least dusted. You do not need to dust for uninvited family, including hypercritical aunts. Discovering dust can make them more human. Finally, it's always appropriate to dust once a month in your bedroom, particularly around the bed. Excessive dust accumulation can affect your night breathing and increase the possibility of snoring, which may not be bad in itself.

Don't hesitate to spread the word about dust friendliness to friends and support groups. There are DFAs (Dust Friends of America) springing up in all parts of this great country, and joining one is a good way to meet friends with similar tastes. The DFA is closely akin to the AML (Anti-Mop League) and a stalwart enemy of the NCC (Notoriously Compulsive Cleaners). I have misplaced the Web site, but DFA advertises in one of my favorite magazines, Modern Garbage.

Going hand-in-hand with dust is clutter, but I've run out of space. Hopefully, Bernie will continue with clutter next week.

 

Missed In Mainstream Media – The “Hidden Stories”

By Bernard Levy

Frogs, FEMA and threats against federal judges are the grist for this issue’s mill. Let’s take frogs first. I love the little amphibian critters; Mark Twain did, too, in his wonderful story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Apparently so does Condoleezza Rice and our government. Secretary of State Rice developed and put into play what is known as “the frog strategy” with her French, German and British counterparts. This could be considered an adaptation of “the camel putting his nose under the tent, and the next thing you know, he’s into the tent” approach. To be more specific, the “frog strategy” refers to the methodology used if you want to boil a frog. You put the poor, unsuspecting creature into a pot of cold water. Then, you heat the water slowly but steadily and try to keep the frog inside. Why did Secretary of State Rice and her counterparts conjure up the strategy and for whom? For Iran, of course.

Assume that the unsuspecting little critter is Iran, and the frog strategy is our nation’s attempt to get Iran to stop its nuclear-research activities. The only time I have seen any media coverage of this frog strategy was a one-half page commentary in the January 30, 2006, Time Notebook section entitled “A Slow Iran Squeeze.”

Golly, what was Secretary of State Rice and her counterparts thinking, comparing Iran to an unsuspecting frog? As we all know, it hasn’t worked. As the article noted in part, “Step 3 would call for targeted sanctions, such as a freeze on government bank accounts – a possibility for which Iran began planning last week when it started to shift its foreign-currency reserves from E.U. banks.”

I haven’t seen any other commentary on this strategy. Why would any person or nation believe that Iran would take the bait. Maybe Ms. Rice got the idea while vacationing on Walden Pond. How in tarnation do you get a nation like Iran to enter a strategy pot, let alone turn up the heat and put on a lid? I hope this isn’t an example of the brain power currently residing in the Bush Administration.

In a recent Society of Professional Journalists’ email blurb entitled “FEMA Foolishness,” it appears that “the Federal Emergency Management Agency prohibit(ed) residents of agency-run housing from speaking to the media…” Partially quoting a letter from SPJ National President David Carlson and Charles Davis Co-Chairman of SPJ’s national Freedom of Information Committee, “We are outraged by the arrogance and contempt for public discourse on display in Louisiana a year after FEMA’s performance in the wake of Katrina earned it wide-spread criticism. Now FEMA is banning reporters from public property, even as the reporters try to provide scrutiny of the agency…” The incompetency and obvious paranoia of a federal agency, accountable to citizens and Congress alike, continues.

Our major local paper did cover in its July 28, 2006, issue, the story: “Threats Rise Against Federal Judges, Could Break a Record.” The approximately 12 ½ inch narrow column article by Mark Sherman of the Associated Press detailed the “record-setting pace this year of threats against federal judges.” Let’s just wait one darn minute! We keep telling the world that one of the basics that defines America and its democratic form of government is our respect for and adherence to the law. True, judges sometimes are not the smartest persons in the courtroom, and even make mistakes, but they are a major part of the legal system and should not be threatened. There are legal avenues for appeal and redress of bad decisions, and they should be used. To quote the article minimally, “This year alone, the Marshals Services had 822 reports of inappropriate communications and threats… A threat typically includes a direct reference to harm, a weapon, or a violent act” and includes “rambling letters to accusations of bias to envelopes that contain feces.”

many citizens are experiencing during these trying times. You may say that 822 threats is not a large number, but the nation, according to the article, has a total of 2,200 federal judges. Perhaps the media could do a better job of enforcing our society’s commitment to the legal system, warts and all.

 

People In The Bird Kingdom: The Yellow Redundant
And The Fluff-Feathered, Cash-Encrusted Hornswaggle

by Bernard Levy

On a recent trip to the rugged Oregon coast, I happened upon a flock of Blue-Tailed, Green-Clothed Birders. With optics of every description, they were loaded to their neck feathers. I asked them if they ever compared the birds they viewed with people. They recoiled in unison and treated me as if they had happened upon the Foul-Smelling, Black-Tailed Bromgruble. They bid me a hasty adieu and ran, not walked, down the beach to put distance between us.

Recognizing that I had not been “Hail fellowed, well met,” I found a driftwood log upon which to cogitate.

It’s easy to recognize bird counterparts in people. Why, it’s in our lexicon: “He’s a strange bird,” or “Birds of a feather flock together.”

I have since ceased my personal inquiries and retired to a higher level of exposition, the written page.

Many persons resemble birds. Why, there are Red-Headed Frinsks (Hotheads), Purple-Stripped Grashs (Fops), Yellow-Redundants and Fluff-Feathered, Cash-Encrusted Hornswaggles, to name a few. Before those persons clothed in white carrying what appears to be a restraining jacket finish talking with the Birders, who are pointing up the beach toward me, let me tell you about my experiences with the Redundant and the Horsnwaggle.

I haven’t seen a Yellow-Redundant in a long time. Once is enough; the memory lasts forever. A Y.R. approached me at my desk when I was a budding, not-yet-fully-petaled accountant. Once a Redundant is focused on making your acquaintance, there is no escape. The first clue is its gait; forward, then backward or sideways and forward again. This agonizingly slow process forebodes a prolonged conversation. Recognizing the inevitable, I kissed the bank reconciliation good-bye that I had been completing. Yes, I actually kissed it; I loved accounting.

“Pardon me. Yes, pardon me. But are you an accountant? Yes, an accountant?”

I tried to avoid eye contact, but a force more powerful than GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) forced my head upward until I gazed into its yellow-pupiled eyes. Warning: eye contact with a Redundant produces internal weeping.

He continued, “I’ve been thinking, yes, thinking, and I feel I have the stuff to be an accountant, yes, an accountant. Just what do accountants, yes, accountants, do? And, could it be fun, yes, fun?”

I don’t believe this poor sap could ever have fun, but I smiled weakly and thought fast. This fellow could take up my entire afternoon, and I had to complete this reconciliation for tomorrow’s audit. Then I spied good old Crochet Bob drifting down the hall. He was a kindly man who dutifully wore the crocheted ties his wife lovingly made for him, hence his nickname. He would be perfect to introduce this Y.R. to accounting. Recognizing my chance for escape, I offered, “Yes, yes, it can be fun, real fun. (There you have it; when you meet a Y.R., you repeat yourself, you have no choice. It’s a curse, a curse, I tell you.) “See that fellow down the hall? That’s Bob Johnson. He’ll tell you all about accounting. You’ll enjoy his words, yes words, of wisdom.” I prayed the Y.R. would take the bait.

“Thank you, thank you. I knew you could help me, yes, help me. I know I’m going to like accounting, yes, accounting.” And, he began his short, but lengthy, journey down the hall.

The Yellow Redundant is in sharp contrast to the Fluff-feathered, Cash-Encrusted Hornswaggle.

Hornswaggles are found everywhere politicians gather. Originally indigenous to Texas and the southern states, they now reside everywhere.

Once on the brink of extinction, their rampant resurgence endangers others including the Red-Crested Sincere Sucker, the Blue-Billed Bureaucrat and the Green-Legged Thinking Turntuck.

I’ve met several Hornswaggles. They are famous for their adaptability and ability to rationalize everything in a boisterous, arrogant manner, enhancing their foraging skills and resulting in acquisitions of success such as diamonds, Rolexes, Political Action Committee funds and gold beakpicks.

Again, gait gives them away. They have an excessive strut, expanding their chests to immense proportions and promising other species extraordinary results from ordinary events.

In establishing nesting grounds in federal and state executive offices and legislatures, their feathers provide good cover for their accumulated cash encrustments, allowing them to do great acts of goodness for themselves and providing smokescreens for their ill-gotten wealth. They constantly spread their wings and gather others into their fold with much camaraderie.

Hornswaggles are masters at deception, obfuscation and … Oh, oh. Here come those white-clothed fellows on the run pointing at me. Enough said. I’m going to turn myself into a Fleet-Footed Fork-Tailed Beach Runner and make for a safer place. But, you’ll hear from me again. “awrk, awrk, beep, beep.”

 

The Inane Asylum™: A Trip Through Congress

By Bernard Levy

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, definitions:

  • “Inane: Absurd, banal, foolish, frivolous, insipid, pointless, silly, trite, vapid.”
  • “Asylum: A sanctuary, as a temple, where criminals, debtors, etc., are safe from arrest; an institution for the care of the mentally ill, or the aged, the poor, etc.…”

And the beat goes on. It’s evident this is an election year. In the words of Will Rogers, “A man’s thoughts are naturally on his next term more than his country.” This goes for women Congresspersons, too.

Congress has had so much opportunity to legislate beneficial law for our citizens and failed miserably to do anything of value.

Last week’s column touched upon the strong possibility for Congress to pass a new federal minimum wage law (the last time was in 1997) even though, during the last ten years, the annual salary for members of Congress has risen $31,600.

Let’s put this in perspective. Not only do Congresspersons get tremendous benefits including paid healthcare and the probability of a lifetime pension, they also take trips and play God to their constituents. However, the $5.15 per hour current federal minimum wage rate for a person working 52 weeks a year (2,080 hours) provides that person with a total annual compensation of $10,712. Many of these wage earners have to earn a living for themselves and their families. Hence, many must work second and third jobs, setting a domino effect in motion: little or no time for family activities; children without parental guidance; and the ever-present possibility that these children will require tax dollars for remedial programs.

The minimum wage increase fight has pitted the Democrats against the Republicans. That, in itself, is a travesty. The G.O.P. is viewed as the party of the rich and big business, and it is a common belief among many Republican legislators that raising the federal minimum wage would be bad for business. However economist after economist after economist continue to testify that raising the minimum wage amount hasn’t and won’t affect business. However, the G.O.P., which continues to be out of touch with reality, said they would vote for the $2.15 per hour raise if the bill was combined with a cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion dollar estates. The bill failed to pass, falling short by only four votes. Fifty-six out of 100 senators voted for the bill, which needed 60 votes to advance. Of course, the bill would not affect Oregon’s higher hourly minimum wage of $7.50 or Washington’s $7.63 an hour, but the bill did contain language that would have negated provisions in Oregon and Washington law against counting tips as wages for tipped employees.

Let’s work through the mathematics. $7.25 an hour for a 2,080 hour work year gives a wage earner $15,080 a year; still not enough to raise a family, especially with the increases in gasoline and other necessities. Who pays for the additional costs necessary to help minimum wage earners meet obligations? We do, the American taxpayers.

Yes, the Democrats were blamed for killing the bill, but it was the Republicans who added the inheritance tax provision to pursue their own selfish agenda. This is the way Congress works. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Say, if I were a Washington businessman, maybe there’s a market in manufacturing and selling “Congressional backscratchers.” Now, there’s an idea!

Let’s go on to another Congressional dropped “hot political potato,” namely the immigration bill which never got off the ground. Congressional committees and individual Congresspersons have held meetings all over the country to understand the feelings of American on the subject of illegal immigration and gage the pulse of its citizens. What in tarnation do we do if the Bush Administration and Congress cannot agree on legislation to stem the tide of illegal immigration and reasonably incorporate in our society those who are already on our shores? Most are gainfully employed, particularly in the service-area industries, including agriculture. I guess the answer is round up and expel 10-12 million people.

What is wrong with this picture? Cannot Congress understand the realities of the situation and deal with it in a rational manner? Yes, again, the G.O.P. is the constraint in the system, many arguing that you should not give these illegal immigrants the opportunity to gain citizenship. As the argument goes, and you know it as well as I do, you don’t reward someone for violating the law. But, again, Congress is out of touch with reality; the overwhelming majority of these people are working, paying taxes and responsible “citizens.”

Finally, the clandestine eavesdropping, spying program of President Bush. As you’ll recall, Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa., became unglued when he first learned of the secret spying practices used by the Bush Administration. He made a lot of headlines, vowing that he was going to get to the bottom of it and see that Congress and the American people were fully informed about the eavesdropping on Americans without getting court warrants. However, the proposed new Senate bill, known as the Cheney -Specter Bill, is being promoted by the White House and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Specter as a “compromise” on the Administration’s warrantless surveillance program.

Many media columnists, Constitutional gurus and other opiners have characterized this compromise as the Specter “flip-flop.” As some of you may recall, Specter stated that President Bush, by bypassing Congress and the court system, was flagrantly flaunting the law.

I believe that Senator Specter’s primary concern was that his importance and ego were being challenged; he hadn’t known about it. Poor devil. This supposed “compromise” bill basically repeats our current law, namely requiring the National Security Agency wiretapping program be reviewed by the FISA court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 28 years ago, but it also includes some onerous provisions that continue to allow the president to operate outside the law.

If this passes, the warnings by many great Americans, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, that harm to America will come from Americans is beginning to become true.

Will Rogers was a very intelligent and rational critic of government and Congress. He used humor and made friends with everyone, although he poked fun at the entire political scene. I believe in humor and his method, but I also believe that the time has come to illuminate the misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance of Congress more than ever before. I am almost prone to say, “Throw all the bums out, and let’s elect a totally new Congress.” I know, that’s pretty drastic, but then, the Inane Asylum requires some pretty drastic measures.

 

Middle East Crises - Putting the Middle East Crises in Perspective:
Fundamentally Simple, But Complicated Beyond Belief.

By Bernard Levy
With research assistance from Professor Arthur Finkle

I grieve and weep daily for the innocent civilian casualties in Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan. Wherever the country and whatever the setting, most people simply want to live their lives in peace and harmony, enjoy their families and their possessions and have sufficient food for today and hope for tomorrow. The innocent victims of war are usually the citizens who pay taxes and rely upon their governments to protect them.

Sometimes, as currently is the case, their governments cannot protect them. Lebanon, if it had an effective government and not one influenced and significantly controlled by Syria and Iran, should have never allowed Hezbollah to openly and actively arm within Lebanon’s borders and build a military infrastructure, including weapons storage, tunnels and reinforced bunkers for six years.

It is The Full-Court Press’ viewpoint that readers should know a writer’s proclivity. I am neither a “war hawk.” Nor a "pacifist". I believe that the State of Israel should exist. I believe that the Palestinians currently living within the once-established borders of Israel should be recognized as an autonomous nation and own those lands accorded to them by agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, mostly brokered by the United States. And, there is evidence that Muslims, Christians and Jews can coexist in peace on the lands in which these three great religions have their beginnings.

There are two keys to sustainable peace within the conflicted areas of the Middle East. First, Israel’s Arab neighbors must recognize by words and deeds that Israel has the right to exist. Secondly, within the Arab Muslim world, the Shiite and Sunni branches of Islam must recognize each other’s validity and find a way to defuse the inflammatory rhetoric and actions by fundamentalist Muslims.

Although Israel has signed a peace accord with both Jordan and Egypt, most Arab Middle East nations are being influenced by Islamic fundamentalists focused on controlling governments. These fundamentalists believe that a government should substantially exclude secular law and follow Islamic structure and law.

The Bush Administration has made significant mistakes – words and actions – that have inflamed the passions of Islamic fundamentalists. Americans hold dear the principles of a democratic form of government where “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are fundamental. President Bush’s early use of the term “crusade,” his “bring it on” statement and his continuing use of the phrase “establishing a democracy” (in all nations) haven’t been well received in Arab Muslim nations.

As scholars are prone to argue how many angels can “sit” on the head of a pin, the long-running argument of who has rightful ownership to lands mandated to Israel has been hashed, rehashed and hashed some more. The arguments go back thousands of years.

The world community found it fit to implement the 1917 Balfour Declaration by recognizing the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 after Adolph Hitler and his henchmen killed approximately 6 million Jews. Prior to that time, under British rule, Jews, Arabs and Christians often coexisted in peace in the land of beginnings.

Israel's War of 1948 has a special meaning to me. I lived in Trenton, New Jersey, where my dad owned Levy’s Hardware & Sporting Goods Store which sold rifles, shotguns and ammunition. When it became evident that the Arab nations were gathering on Israel’s borders to wage total war to wipe Israel out, my Uncle Ben, a WWI Medal of Honor recipient and the Executive Commander of the Jewish War Veterans, my dad and I stuffed bullets in boxes of candies for shipment to Israel. Bullets and other armament had to be smuggled into the to-be-formed State of Israel.

Israel is again confronted with threats of annihilation from Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. Since the path to a peaceful solution requires understanding of the current causes for the conflict, I offer the following.

1. Hamas and Hezbollah are dedicated, in words and deeds, to the welfare of Muslim communities. Yassar Arafat and his administration’s corrupt ways allowed those extremists to gain a foothold in the Palestinian territories. Arafat received hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, but much of the funds were not spent to assist the Palestinians in education, health care, economic development and infrastructure. Hamas’ actions allowed it to gain a strong foothold by providing the assistance that should have been given by Arafat’s regime, and Hamas won the battle of hearts, souls and allegiances. Although Arafat portrayed himself as a “savior of the Palestinians,” he actually worked against the real interests of his people to further his own.

2. President Bush, in waging war in Iraq, effectively destabilized the entire Middle East region and created an opportunity for insurgents and fundamentalist Arab Muslims to wage sectarian war in Iraq. He fanned the fires of Jihad and created an animosity and acrimony towards all things Western under the guise of bringing democracy to Iraq. His administrative actions have produced a mushroom cloud of war over the entire Middle East. True, Saddam Hussein was a dictator of immense cruelty, but he wasn’t a terrorist threat to the United States. In fact, Saddam was not an ally of Al-Quaida; he opposed Al-Quaida in Iraq because they would have destabilized his leadership, although there is evidence that Iraq did provide some sanctuary for dissident groups.

3. Israel, contrary to what may people feel or believe, is not a homogeneous country. Israelis and Jews throughout the world range from the Ultraorthodox to the secular. The film “The Chosen,” covering the birth of modern-day Israel in 1948, clearly shows that many orthodox Jews opposed the Statehood of Israel because the Messiah had not yet appeared. Throughout history, there have been philosophical and religious conflicts between orthodox and more moderate Jews, as well as difficulties between Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Oriental Jews. The three latter groups draw their differences from geography. The Ashkenazis and Sephardics are part of the Disaspora, the first group settling in Europe, primarily Germany, and the second in Spain, North Africa, Turkey, Greece and Italy. The Oriental Jews are those indigenous to the Middle East.

And so, Israel’s growing pains and internal issues have caused it to change direction several times regarding peace accord compliance and Palestinian nation recognition.

Israel’s delay in withdrawing from portions of its land, although necessary in most cases because of continuing Palestinian attacks, raids and shellings, has had the effect of harming the peace process.

4. Lebanon and the current conflict is more volatile than visible on the surface. Hezbollah, although it has a minority of seats in Lebanon’s government, has much influence in the government. Financed by Iran with the support of Syria, it has provided funds and services to the Lebanese people - food, health care and education - that the government has not been able to give. And, most importantly, the Lebanese government has been powerless to prevent the 10,000-12,000 rockets deployed by Hezbollah within Lebanon. Syria had controlled Lebanon for years, until Lebanon’s democratic elections were held two years ago, and still exerts influence.

5. Those reported friends of the United States and the Western World - Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Pakistan - in the war against terrorism, are under great pressure to walk a very precarious and narrow line with Al-Quaida. Saudi Arabia, in reaching a well-documented accord with Al-Quaida, funds and supports the fundamentalist Islamic Schools – Wahabis – that teach and preach extremist Muslim viewpoints. Thus, one of our ostensibly strongest Middle East allies is a breeding ground for future fundamentalist Jihadists , also known to the Western World as terrorists.

So, what’s the future of the Middle East? It’s clear that the United States government has to recognize that there are other forms of government that, although not to our liking, exist, will exist in the future and are relevant to non-Christian-dominated nations. Our original mission – seeking retribution for “9/11” and other subsequent terrorist attacks throughout the Western World - should be our focus. The United States, Britain and other allies must pursue a path that can lead to ultimate peace and one without our Western agenda of imposing our ways on other peoples.

Yes, we should support those nations that practice democracy, including Israel, especially when Israel is again fighting for it's survival.

No, I am not advocating that we lessen our fight against terrorism. I am suggesting that we more effectively wage war against terrorists. Cooler heads must prevail, and our current administration’s methodologies and destructive policies must be replaced by those that can and will work to establish the beginnings for a lasting, peaceful relationship between Arab, Christian and Jewish nations and peoples everywhere.

 

Pet Advice – Straight From The Horse’s Mouth

by Charles “Horse” Tsence

Dear Readers:

This column is dedicated to the love and care of animals. Contrary to what some readers thought, animals do not include spouses. Yes, I know that spouses and partners call each other “Pet,” “Poochie” and even “My Cuddly Fur-Ball” (mostly directed to men), but this column is dedicated to our friends with four legs, feathers, fins, prehensile tails and the like. For questions regarding male-female relationships, I refer you to columnist Hortense “Poochie” McGoldstein, who will appear twice monthly in this publication. Thank you. _________________________________________________________________

Dear Charles:

I don’t have any cats of my own, but I have two good friends who have cats who play with bugs. These bugs range from small ants to large cockroaches. Why do cats play with bugs? I’ve asked my friends this question, but they look at me in amazement, shrug their shoulders and rarely invite me back to their homes. What have I said? What have I done? Please advise. Signed, Bugged-Out-of-My Mind Miller

Dear Bugged-Out-of-My Mind:

Cats play with bugs because they’re there: they move, and they possibly emit odors that are either offensive or attractive to cats. And, cats are playful and will play with most anything, including balls of yarn, laces on shoes and Christmas ornaments, all some of my favorite things. More importantly, I don’t understand why your friends have cockroaches. You know the old saying, “Oh, show me a home where the buffalo roam, and I’ll show you a dirty house.” Those friends that have cockroaches and don’t invite you back is a plus in your direction.

Live and let live. Let cats alone. They may even put the bugs in their mouth and chew on them a bit. Good for them. It’s one way for them to get their protein. Go with the flow. _________________________________________________________________

Dear Charles:

I’ve been attempting to study the different vocal expressions of dogs. I’m learning a great deal, but my wife thinks I’m nuts. Since you are an expert on pet behavior, can you tell me the linguistic difference between “arf-arf” and “bow-wow-wow”? I’ve asked my wife this several times but her only response has been to put my pillows and a blanket on the living room sofa. I asked my colleagues at work this question, and they either don’t invite me to discuss sports with them any more, or they give me an “arf-arf” or “bow-wow-wow” every time I pass by. In fact, my boss is seriously considering terminating my employment because I’ve caused a division in the office between the “arf-arfers” and “bow-wow-wowers.” Can you help me out of my predicament? Signed, Dog-Gone-Problem Davis

Dear Dog-Gone Problem:

I can’t understand why your wife and friends treat you the way they do. You appear to be an intelligent, curious, questioning individual who seeks truth and answers to questions that have stymied humankind for years. Here’s a suggestion: Conduct controlled experiments with dogs to gain greater understanding and insight.

First, you must understand that there are different canine languages and dialects. It’s not a “one fits all” language. Pekinese have a different language than Great Danes, and rightly so. If for some reason a Great Dane began to speak Pekinese to other Great Danes, the other Great Danes may look suspiciously upon him as being different. Therefore, you must compare apples and apples. If you were to ask me, what’s the difference between “arf-arf” and “bow-wow-wow” as it applies to Golden Retrievers, I can give you the following well-reasoned answer. It first depends upon the conduct in which the dog is then engaged. “Arf-arf” is usually associated with friendly, playful moods, while “bow-wow-wow” can be both a warning to aggression and part of aggression itself. “Arf-arf” may also denote, if higher-pitched, a response to stepping on the Golden Retriever’s tail or paw. If you do so, please remove your foot and apologize immediately. Even taking those actions, the Golden Retriever may also respond with a vigorous “bow-wow-wow,” warning you not to do it again.

Thank you for asking me. As to all those naysayers in your family and workplace, please show them this column and tell them that there’s nothing as powerful as an inquiring, intellectual mind. _______________________________________________________________

Signing off for now, until next time, enjoy your pets and remember that not only are they a member of your family, they are part of your personality.

 

Politicians and the Courage of Their Conflictions

By Jim Penn

(The following is a fictionalized account of facts. Names have been changed, not to protect the unprotected innocent, but to give emphasis.)

I laugh a lot in election years. I’m amused that people are amazed when politicians make promises they can’t keep. They do it for votes, of course. Transparent, obvious, patently absurd, the promises grab the public’s imagination. People want to believe.

Election years transport me back to the early ‘60s. Just beginning my career as an accountant with a Big Eight firm in San Diego (No, it wasn’t Arthur Andersen.), buttoned-down white shirts were in; eyeshades and armbands were out. While I was auditing clients, I met two politicos who could have come directly from the comics. Though not of Hispanic ancestry, I remember them as Don Ridiculoso and his sidekick, Pancho Vanilla.

I was auditing You Can Buy Everything Here, an alleged discount apparel and appliance store in the poorest section of the city, when Don and Pancho entered. The proprietor, A.I. Ptolemy, greeted them.

“What can I do for you gentlemen?”

“I’m Pancho Vanilla and this is Don Ridiculoso, your state senator. We help the small businessman.”

“I love the small businessman.” Don shook A.I.’s hand vigorously, “You’re a small businessman, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am. Just trying to make a living.”

“I know how hard you work. I know how hard your customers work. I know how hard everyone works. I’m here to help. How can I help?” Don surveyed the store. He spotted me and said, “Your assistant seems to be working hard. Bookkeeper, right?” he called in my direction.

“No, he’s an outside auditor. My CPAs review the books every quarter.”

Don strolled over and said, “Thought about taking up accounting myself. Great profession. Bean counters. Very important to small business. Here’s my card. I help small businesses.”

He made his way back to Pancho and A.I., “We have to go now. Here’s my card and some more for your customers. I love customers. Salt of the earth.”

“I could use some help with the sales tax people. They’re coming down pretty hard on me.” A.I. declared.

“That’s out of my control. Ver-r-ry regulated. Don’t have much to do with the sales tax people. But anything else, just give us a call.” They left.

A.I. put Don’s cards in his top drawer, saying softly, “You never know when they may come in handy.”

Two weeks later, I was assigned to Pennally Multigastic Dithometers Inc., a mid-tech company. The founder and CEO was an entrepreneur of boundless energy. He returned from lunch with—you guessed it—Don and Pancho. It was clear that they’d been massaging each other—stroking egos and locating pressure points. I caught some familiar remarks as they passed.

“We’re always looking to help the small businessman. We love small businessmen; they provide jobs and stability.”

“That’s true, but we’re under constant pressure. Everybody has their hand out. If it’s not the taxman, big companies are trying to ace us out. We need all the help we can get.”

Pancho replied, “Don here is the man to help you. Help keep him in office. He has friends in Washington. But campaigns cost money.”

“What legislation have you sponsored lately?”

Don sidled up closer to Mr. Entrepreneur. “It’s my style to work quietly behind the scenes. I don’t sponsor much, but I’ve influenced some pret-t-ty significant legislation. Pancho will send you information on our track record supporting the small businessman.”

It was at that moment that Don spied me and turning to Mr. Entrepreneur, “Looks like your bookkeeper over there is working pretty hard.”

“Oh, he’s an accountant from my CPA firm working on the annual audit.”

Don walked over, handed me a card and automatically engaged in the same tired routine that I’d heard in Mr. Ptolemy’s store.

Another election year has descended upon us. Political stablehands are being actively recruited and employed to spread the requisite rhetoric manure piles, hoping their candidate’s popularity base will grow.

And, even with the high cost of politics and gasoline, the Don and Donna Ridiculosos and Pancho and Pancha Vanillas are doing their best to leave little piles of the stuff with as many people as possible. God, I love election years!

 

Shallow Trachea, Kin of Deep Throat,
Tells All on Why Big Business Pays those Large Fines.

By Jim Penn

It was one of those nights I couldn’t sleep: You know, when your mind keeps racing and thinking of stuff you need to do right away. About 1:30 a.m. I decided to go downstairs to my office to research and write. My faithful 24/7 writing companion, Cheddar the Golden Retriever, followed and took his position under the desk to keep me company and hear my supposed words of wisdom.

The phone rang at 2:00 a.m., and I pondered whether to answer it; the number that appeared was unfamiliar. Curiosity won out; I answered.

Caller: “Is this Jim Penn?”

Me: “Yes it is, and do you know what time it is?”

Caller: “Of course I do. Do you think I’m an idiot? This is Shallow Trachea; we’ve spoken before. Do you want the straight scoop on why major corporations pay large fines?”

I was immediately alert at the mention of one of my favorite topics.

Me: “Yes, I would like to know why. I have my own ideas and…”

“Cut the gab, Mister! Meet me in 30 minutes in the lower parking level of the Pleasure Inn on I-27. I’ll give you the inside story. You better show up.” Click.

Cheddar heard the conversation booming out of the speaker phone. He had heard her previous calls and thought I was crazy each time I ventured forth in the middle of the night. “Well, Cheddar, what do you think? Should I go?”

Cheddar cocked his head and answered with a stretch, a full tail-wagging and a request for snack.

Interpreting that as a yes, I gave him the requisite cookie and hurriedly dressed.

Arriving in 29 minutes, I parked my car in a darkened area of the parking structure and looked for the telltale signs of a lit cigarette or pipe or the popping of bubble gum. Once accustomed to the semidarkness, I noticed a person’s silhouette and what could have been a lit tobacco product Sure enough, the smell of aromatic tobacco wafted its way in my direction, and I exited my car.

Shallow Trachea: “That’s far enough, Jim. Long time no meet. I’ve been reading some of your stuff, and you sure could use some help.”

Me: “Thanks for the encouragement and support. Okay, what about big business paying fines? Do you have any insights that I don’t have?”

Shallow Trachea: “How the heck am I suppose to answer that? You really are not a very bright fellow, are you? I know your background; I know everything about you. I know you’ve got some experience in accounting and law and all that stuff, but you really don’t know much about government and big business, do you?”

Me: “Of course, I do. Do you think you’re the only person in the world that…”

Shallow Trachea: “Shut up and listen! Major corporations pay the large fines and get on with business to avoid getting debarred and being prohibited from lucrative government contracts. You know that, don’t you? You once had a client that was about to get debarred, but he died first. I’m going to refresh your memory since you don’t seem to be the brightest bulb in this parking lot. Under the Federal Acquisition Regulations, governmental agencies can suspend or debar contractors for various types of misconduct, including fraud, embezzlement and forgery. Suspension is temporary, while debarment can last three years or longer, however, the agencies cannot justify suspension or disbarment unless they are able to show that a company has engaged in ‘a pattern of consistent misconduct.’”

Me: “Yeah, yeah, I know all about that.”

Shallow Trachea: “Well, didn’t Halliburton do just that when it overcharged the Defense Department by as much as $61,000,000 for gasoline imported from Kuwait to Iraq? Halliburton has had a history of questionable accounting and billing tactics, including other services and goods charged the U.S. government in the Iraqi conflict. What about Boeing, who recently announced it’s going to pay $615, 000,000 to avoid criminal charges as well as debarment? Boeing does a heck of a lot of business with federal government, doesn’t it?”

Me: “And…”

Shallow Trachea: “Will you keep still? Who's the expert here, you or me? Who has greater sources in the federal government, you or me? Who had to get dressed in the middle of the night and travel 30 minutes to meet me?

“Most of the companies pay the fines in order to negotiate a deal where the company can avoid both criminal charges and sanctions which could include debarment. But, there are at least three other reasons why they do it. One, they know they are as guilty as sin, and they’re trying to cut their legal and other costs. Two, in doing so, it’s good P.R. for them, presenting to the public the image they’re cleaning up their practices and becoming a good citizen again. And, three, it’s a cost of doing business.”

Me: “A cost of doing business? Holy Toledo! $615,000,000 is a cost of doing business?”

Shallow Trachea: “Actually Smith Kline paid $150,000,000 in 2005 to settle a false claims suit. The Swiss company Serono Laboratories, manufacturer of the AIDS drug Serostin, agreed to pay more than $700,000,000 to settled issues that it had offered kick-backs to doctors to write prescriptions. I believe that Attorney General Gonzales announced that one in October, 2005.”

Me: “Those are large amounts. They affect the bottom line and…”

Shallow Trachea: “How you go on! It’s a wonder you ever get any work done. As I told you, it’s a cost of doing business. Just think of all the profits those companies will be making in fulfilling government contacts. There will be many more corporations paying large fines; they figure that if they don’t get caught, they’re ahead. And, if they do get caught, they pay the fine and pass the additional cost on to the consumer. Well, I’ve got to go. I guess you don’t want me to help you any more, do you? I think I’ll go over to the G.O.P. gang of writers to see if I can help them. God knows, they need all the help they can get these days.”

And, with that, she turned and disappeared into the dark of night. It was a minute or two before I heard the sound of a car leaving the garage, the “all clear” for me to exit.

I knew all that stuff, but it’s always good to get some validation of my viewpoints and opinions. I guess the remaining question is, what does our federal government do with all those fine and penalty monies?

 

What If: Mr. President; Let’s Reverse Your Role—the View Is Much Different, Isn’t It?

By Bernard Levy

Okay, President Bush, let’s turn the tables. Let’s pretend you aren’t the son of a wealthy Republican, powerful family, but the progeny of ordinary working stiffs. You graduated from high school with B grades, opted to avoid military service, attended junior college and a local university and received a bachelor’s degree in business administration. You landed a job after graduation and changed employment several times before you moved up the corporate ladder and arrived at Enron. You earned a reasonably good salary in middle management.

However, you became one of the unemployed, walking wounded in 2001 and lost your job before your retirement plans were completed. Okay, let’s tell the entire truth. Since your employer was Enron, your retirement nest egg all but vanished. Yes, you married a librarian named Laura and have two wonderful, healthy daughters, one of which has entered the Armed Services to serve in Iraq; the other one sought to do so but her openly-gay lifestyle prevented her from joining the service.

Since 2000, the White House’s occupant is a son of wealthy Republican parents.

Laura was scheduled to retire in 2001 but, because of your job and retirement benefit losses, she continues to work. Your parents are living, but without funds except for Social Security and your dad’s small pension. You have recently found employment at 50% of your former pay and without your past benefits; you pay for 60% of your health insurance premium, and your employer contributes nominally to an IRA.

Your parents have substantial noncovered medical and prescription costs, even after taking advantage of the recent Supplement D plan promoted and enacted by the current president. Their noncovered medical costs run $1,200 per month, and you and Laura pay half or more of these and other costs and also contribute to Laura’s mother’s living expenses.

Since there are rumors of downsizing and outsourcing at your current employer, you regularly attend church, seeking solace and direction from God.

You’re tired of mounting bills and debts, computer spam, taxes you can ill-afford, pollution in the rivers and your favorite fishing holes—fishing is your only “fun” since you can’t afford golf. You’re worried about your job, sick of hearing about graft and corruption in government and can ill-afford to pay higher grocery prices let alone outlandish gasoline prices; your daily commute is 24 miles each way. You cannot afford to replace your American, ten-year-old gas guzzling auto, and you are sick with worry about the continuing war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat to peace from North Korea and Iran and the recent war in Lebanon. You’ve just been informed by your dentist that your three-tooth, two-space bridge is rapidly deteriorating and, with a required tooth implant, a new one will cost between $6,000 and $10,000, an amount you cannot even begin to afford.

You voted for the current president in 2000 because you were disgusted with President Clinton’s affair with an intern, and you voted the same in 2004 because you listened to your dad’s advice, “You don’t change horses in midstream.”

You are now disgusted with the president and can’t stand to look at or listen to him. Being a person educated in business administration, you can’t believe the billions of taxpayer dollars wasted in governmental corruption, wrong decisions and outright mistakes in the war on terrorism, the Katrina cleanup and other governmental programs. You’re disgusted with this president’s spendthrift ways of adding 3 trillion dollars to the national debt and not even coming close to balancing the budget. You’re sick of our military injuries and deaths, with no end in sight.

Although you choose otherwise, you can’t stop thinking about nuclear threats, terrorism—it hasn’t directly affected you yet—and the spread of fundamental Islamic Jihads. You feel strongly that Iraq didn’t need to be invaded, and the billions spent on Iraq could have been used to help America pay its medical bills, educate its children, clean its rivers and air and generally promote the welfare of our country.

You now believe the president’s actions in Iraq and other countries and his shoot-from-the-hip and big-talk practices have weakened the stability of the Middle East and our credibility around the world.

You’re tired of hearing the president say, “We’re going to stay the course.” He doesn’t have to pay for the consequences of his actions that you and the American public have to bear.

Okay, George and Laura, back to reality. Is the picture clearer? It’s much different than your view of the Rose Garden, The White House, Camp David, the extended vacations at your Texas ranch and all your other perks, isn’t it?