Monday, December 21, 2009

You've Just Crossed Over Into ... THE TWILIGHT ZONE

It is an occasional custom of mine: I often get home from work late at night, around eleven or twelve o’clock. Karen is usually fast asleep. The house is quiet. And from time to time, after greeting the dog and one of the cats who always comes to the door, I fix a bowl of pretzels, open a beer, pop a disk into the DVD player and relax with an episode from the old TV series The Twilight Zone. It is a nice way to unwind.

The Twilight Zone first hit the air October 2, 1959. I was in grade school at the time and became fan right from the start. The series was the invention of Rod Serling, one of the great writers of television drama back in the days of “live” programming in the 1950s. Serling wrote most of the Twilight Zone episodes himself along with Richard Matheson, Earl Hamner, Charles Beaumont and the inimitable Ray Bradbury.

It is a continual marvel and a testament to the quality of the writing and production that so many of the episodes, especially from the first two or three seasons, are still so satisfying. Much of the enduring impact of this fifty year-old television series is due to the fact that no matter how fanciful or far-fetched the series was, many of its best episodes managed to accurately -- and eerily -- reflect human life down here on Terra Firma.

This morning I recalled a particular episode. Perhaps you have seen it: A space craft lands with visitors from another world. Aliens are seemingly friendly and charming creatures who, despite their otherworldly appearance present themselves as benevolent beings who love the human race. They just want to help. In fact, they are found to be carrying a book titled To Serve Man. How lovely. Their stated mission is to seek recruits to take along on their ship back to their own planet.

Serling’s opening comments set the stage:

“Respectfully submitted for your perusal --- a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin: unknown. Motives? Therein hangs the tale…This is the Twilight Zone.”

Yes indeed, fans; a nice, crisp presentation of the crux of the story: "therein hangs the tale."

The program moves smartly along as thousands of awed and, as it turns out, gullible earthlings flock to secure passage to a promised-land of intergalactic paradise. Meanwhile a doubtful skeptic feverishly works to translate the mysterious text contained in the pages of To Serve Man.

The story concludes as the mass of humanity crowds aboard. As the hatch it closed the translation arrives with a patented Twilight Zone twist.

How does this relate to anything in today’s universe? At one o’clock Sunday morning the United States Senate pulled the 2,000 page healthcare bill everyone has been fighting over, and replaced it with a different, new, 2,000 page bill no one has seen or read…and in that hour voted 60-40 to end debate.

As the space craft sails off, bound for a dinner table in another galaxy, Serling’s concluding commentary is apropos.

“…simply stated, the evolution of man…the metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone’s soup. It’ tonight’s bill of fare on The Twilight Zone.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Last September I was asked to write a piece for a local Democratic Party publication.

The parameters were simple:"No Republican propaganda, No Rush Limbaugh rants...just what you think."

I wrote it and submitted it, but in the end, the editorial review board rejected the essay.

Well, it's their loss. Here it is for PlumwoodRoad readers who may find it offers a useful perspective that they haven't heard elsewhere:


By Jed Skillman

Many post-WWII Boomers can remember falling out of a tree, getting cut by a garden tool, or coming down with a bad case of flu, then getting hauled off to see the doctor. Later, while on the way out of the doctor’s office, Mom or Dad would stop at the nurse’s desk and write a check. In those days the American health care system was a relatively simple and low cost proposition.

It was common, well into the ‘60s for doctors to work out of a room in back of their homes, or in an office across the hall from an insurance agent. A doctor set broken bones, stitched bad cuts, gave tetanus or small-pox shots, and frequently advised “take two aspirin and call me in the morning”. Americans went to the hospital if they were injured in an accident, or to have an appendix removed, get a hernia repaired, or deliver a baby. Following invasive surgery, patients were often laid up in bed for days. There was little in the way of out patient surgery. People who went into the hospital for more serious illnesses, like cancer, likely didn’t come out at all.

Americans of that era had different expectations of their health care system. “Modern medicine” had brought clean drinking water, advances in hygiene as well as an end to the use of mustard plasters, cod liver oil and Epsom salts. Penicillin had been around for a while. Treatment for tuberculosis was new, as was vaccination against polio.

In 1965 the US male/female life expectancy had risen to a very impressive 69 years. This still left a lot of room for improvement. I can remember attending a cook-out where a doctor friend of my Dad’s, old Doc Ritz, stood behind the grill smoking a cigarette while serving hotdogs to us kids. Ah, the good old days.

But that was then; this is now.

Over the past few decades the advancements in the science and art of medicine have been phenomenal. In the year 2009 Americans have access to a fast, efficient medical system. It is important for us to keep in mind all the good that our current system provides. There are problems, yes, but every one of us personally knows someone who was diagnosed with a serious medical problem and began receiving treatment within hours. The lump was discovered on Tuesday; the operation was on Thursday.

The American people benefit from thousands of new tools and techniques that were unimagined a few decades ago. This is nothing to be taken for granted. There are MRIs, CTs, artificial replacements, stints, angioplasties, colonoscopies, mammograms, radiation seeds, arthroscopic surgical techniques and vastly improved pharmaceuticals in use every day. These things didn’t just invent themselves. Highly educated, highly creative people conceived, refined and marketed those new medicines and tools.

The results are obvious. The US life expectancy today stands at just under 79 years, almost 10 years more than in 1965. And, not only are Americans living longer we’re living better, with more pain-free, more active, and more productive lives. How many times have we heard the phrase “80 is the new 60, and 50 is the new 40”?

Medical progress is not a problem. The debate over Health Care Reform should focus on the one single sore point: cost. As we have all seen, medical related expenses have blown through the roof. In recent decades they have increased 300-400%. Some years have seen insurance rates increase 20%, one year to the next. What has gone wrong with pricing?

That is the question. If we answer it correctly we’re on our way to curing the problem. Get it wrong and we will make things even worse.

So far, the only answer coming our of Official Washington is buried somewhere in the tattered pages of that 1000+ page health care bill that the House of Representatives was ready to vote on earlier in the summer. They were ready to vote on it, largely unread.

Note: Since I wrote this essay in September, the House bill has grown to over 1,700 pages and the Senate bill has drifted out beyond 2,100 page reef. This thing has grown to such colossal proportions that it sounds like something out of a cheesy sci/fi movie; Attack of the 50-Foot Health Care Bill

Recently, in news stories and at town hall meetings, The Public started asking questions: does the bill allow for portability? Will the nation’s 1,300 health insurance companies be able to compete across state lines same as auto and home insurance companies? Will individuals be allowed to take a tax deduction for privately purchased coverage, like businesses do? Will there be meaningful tort reform and the elimination of “junk” malpractice suits?

Those questions, which have gone largely unanswered or ignored, are key to any successful reform of health care. And those are the easy questions.

The tough questions cut closer to the bone when it comes to personal beliefs and values: Will tax money be used to pay for abortions? Will tax money pay for the 12 to 20 million illegal residents? And, what’s the difference between a Health Care Resource Allocation Review Committee and a “Death Panel”? Those questions have not been ignored, they have been reviled.

This much is clear; mixing Medicine and politics is dangerous. This bill does not represent a search for practical solutions. What we are witnessing is a Congress tinkering around with Life. We see Washington sawing and chopping and patching together some Frankenstein of a bill that they hope will rise off the slab and grab enough votes by the throat to pass. But with every passing day Administration leaders telegraph the fact that they don’t have a clue what they are doing. There is a reason that of the 525 members of the House and Senate, only three got through medical school.

Since the days of the Ancient Greeks the primary rule for physicians has been “First, do no harm”. Before Congress prescribes – and imposes – a cure for our ills, they owe us a fair and unbiased examination. They have a responsibility to offer the public an honest consultation with no hidden agendas and no CYAs. And we have the right to seek a second opinion. Anything less is pure quackery.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Mamma Done Tol' Me

If you’re like me sometimes you think the political world is a pretty grim place; as in “no fun”, “a complete drag”.

Watching this Administration paddle the country toward an economic waterfall is very tiring, especially when you see how persistent they are. It gets a fellow plum tuckered out. There’s only so much you can take.

Last evening, for instance, I was home. While fixing a sandwich I turned on the television, but instead of tuning in to O'Reilly or Hannity I clicked on TCM and found Clint Eastwood’s documentary about songwriter Johnny Mercer. In a few seconds I was hooked. I stood there in the kitchen for an hour and a half and watched the whole thing, start to finish, "from Natchez to Mobile, from Memphis to St. Joe".

It was a very good film, not as good as Johnny Mercer’s songs or Mercer’s own delivery of those songs on the occasions when he sang them himself instead of letting people like Bing Crosby, or Frank Sinatra, or Cab Calloway sing them. Still, it was a very good film. I enjoyed it immensely.

Mercer’s lyrics are so rich, so pleasant and sophisticated in construction that they feel like a warm summer day; like a natural pleasure that we take for granted until its gone and we find ourselves in the cold looking back wondering where it went. They are full of crisp, original observations, of saucy romance and wistful regret, all told with easy Southern humor.

Listening, Mercer’s tunes erased all the concerns in my mind about how those corrupt fixers in Washington are working to rig the American health care system so that it’s a duplicate of any other public facility, be it public education or the DMV. But isn't that sense of sunny transportation part of what made those old songs and shows work so well, that sense of leaving your cares behind and stopping in on another world?

Here’s just a small sample of the hundreds of songs Johnny Mercer wrote: Blues In the Night, Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive, Fools Rush In, I’m Old Fashioned, Moon River, One For My Baby (and One More for the Road), Jeepers Creepers, That Old Black Magic, I Want To Be Around To Pick Up the Pieces, By the River Sainte Marie, Lazy Bones…..and on and on….

I went to bed happy and rested.

When I got up this morning it was back to the real world. I fixed a cup of coffee, scanned a few internet news sites and found this gem of a story.

They never stop, do they, that curious bunch of people running the government. It must be in their blood; for night and day, around the clock somebody in a Federal office building is trying to figure how to spend large sums of money. The article in question is a shopping list of goodies tucked into the so-called “Stimulus Plan”, the plan our tax dollars are paying for. Reading the piece I cruised down the page but didn’t notice any golf courses or merry-go-round museums this time, never the less there are some interesting items to be spending money on, regardless of current economic conditions. Here are a couple:

$300 Thousand for a helicopter to track radio active rabbit droppings near a nuke plant. How did we ever get along without that?

$6 Million earmarked for a snow-making machine in Duluth, Minnesota, which needs snow the way Florida needs sunshine or Seattle needs rain.

And, there's $11 Million to build a bridge over a freeway between two Microsoft corporate buildings. How did Microsoft end up with corporate buildings on either side of a freeway? Were they too busy running down the bugs in Windows “Vista” to notice? As a business, Microsoft is famous for “creating more millionaires than any other company in the world.” Okay. Why not get eleven of them to chip in for the bridge and leave taxpayers alone?

But my favorite – gather ‘round fellas – is this one: The Stimulus Bill actually provides the University of Syracuse with $219 Thousand to study “the sex lives of freshman women”. Who do they think they’re kidding? They’ll hang a few sign-up sheets around campus and get a bunch of interested volunteers who will do the research for free. Then, the $219 Thousand will get funneled through to ACORN workers to teach hookers how to cheat on their taxes.

Reading all this at quarter after seven in the morning reminded me of another Mercer song; The Country’s In the Very Best of Hands.

Gone over thirty years but in that homely Southern drawl Johnny Mercer still sings to us from the Great Beyond. Makes me wonder what he could do with material like he'd find today.

Yes, indeedee, "My Mama Done Tol' Me", alright.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Let's assume you are a conservative or libertarian-leaning voter, a Constitutionalist if you will. And further, let's assume you live in a Congressional district usually represented by Republicans, but you found conditions last year, or during the ’06 election, to be such that you were open to considering casting your vote elsewhere, rather than for your usual tired choice. I'm not asking for a show of hands, but just between us, does that sound a little familiar? If so, it’s Okay. A lot of us can identify.

On one hand, you wanted a change from the ineffective K Street-compromised Republican Party. But, on the other hand voting for a candidate steeped in the post-modern, big-government Democratic belief system didn’t have much appeal either.

You faced a tough choice. You watched, aghast, while the Republican controlled House ran the deficit up, but you knew that putting Democrats in charge would likely make fiscal problems worse. Similarly, while you were losing patience with the war in Iraq, you were disturbed by the fact that the official Democratic Party was talking openly about packing up and moving the war into Afghanistan. Democrats haven’t run a war-to-win since the days of Give ‘em Hell Harry.

You were appalled by Republican scandals involving everything from sexual impropriety to outright bribery. But in the back of your mind a little voice kept reminding you that Democrats wrote the book when it came to sleaze, whether it was banging interns or stashing envelopes of cash in the freezer. Some of it, back in places like Chicago, was worse than that.

No, the fact was no matter how upset voters had become, many weren’t quite willing to “Vote Democratic.”

Enter, the Blue Dogs.

Democrats, while they may not share in them, at least understand what the nation’s beliefs are. They are constantly polling, market testing and focus-grouping. They understand that this is essentially a conservative-leaning country. They know it but they don't like it. Every time you hear one of them derisively complain about the “hicks” and “rednecks” that run the country, they are, in effect, acknowledging that fact.

Knowing how weary voters were becoming with Republicans, yet realizing the limited appeal the Democratic message has in much of America, Party leaders lead by current White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, went on a talent search. They combed the wobbly toss-up districts looking for nice, straight, church-going, flag-waving Democrats who would not scare-off conservative voters, and who would be willing to run for office. They sought squeaky-clean candidates who might offer a comfortable alternative to simmering Republican discontent on one hand and a plunge into economic radicalism on the other.

One thing I can attest, having worked both sides of the political street over the years, Democrats are a visceral, two-fisted party. No matter what set of beliefs they have followed in any given era of our Nation’s history, be it Jim Crow, the New Deal, Vietnam – at first pro, then anti – or nationalized health care, they are a sharp, hard-case party and have been since the days of Andrew Jackson. I have known Democrats at their best; warm, humorous and steely at the same time. My Dad was a Democrat in his heart until the day he died, although he officially switched with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

The plan Rahm Emanuel presented was simple: The Party supplied cash and campaign expertise, and the candidates, if elected, would be allowed to vote their conscience. All Emanuel claimed to want was a Democratic Majority running things. Thus, beginning with the 2006 election, there were Democrats running for Congress who were pro-life, who were members of the NRA, who knew what running a small business was all about.

This strategy extended the Democratic Party reach beyond Union-dominated wards and dying rust belt cities, beyond Hollywood and the arts-community, beyond the campus ivory towers and up-scale “latte towns”. The independent message of the Blue Dogs carried the Democratic Party right into the heart of the country. These were Democrats who were not at all like the screaming protesters camped out in front of W’s Texas ranch, or the radicals throwing concrete blocks through storefront windows in riots across the nation, or the ones scrawling assassination threats on washroom stalls.

No, these Democrats were presented as a safe, reasonable alternative to the bla-bla-bla of the Republicans. These were Blue Dog Democrats.

And across the nation, in district after district, these candidates looked straight into the television cameras and told voters:

“I will be your independent voice in Washington.”

And it worked, at least as far as getting elected was concerned.

Voters in those Uber-Liberal parts of the country where family-values, so called, are viewed as a quaint memory from America's socially repressive past continued to vote for the usual flock of standard-issue Democrats. No surprises there.

But Blue Dogs helped the Democrats win a bare House majority in '06. Then, when the dust finally settled after the '08 election many more conservative districts elected Blue Dogs. There are now 56 of them in Congress. In fact, they provide entirely the comfortable majority that the Democratic Party now enjoys.

The roots of the original Blue Dog Democrats go back to the mid-1990s when the size and cost of government was an issue that cut across party lines. Their website states:

“The fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition was formed in 1995 with the goal of representing the center of the House of Representatives and appealing to the mainstream values of the American public. The Blue Dogs are dedicated to a core set of beliefs that transcend partisan politics, including a deep commitment to the financial stability and national security of the United States.”

While the Blue Dogs were effective fifteen years ago in helping get spending under control, balance the budget and trim down government, the fact is that they, like many Republicans (which is another story), have compromised their beliefs. When it comes to challenging modern era core-Democratic doctrine they have lost their bite, and they don’t have much bark left either.

That promise to “vote their conscience”, well, the minute they were sworn in that went away. Twenty-two of the Blue Dogs voted for the job-killing “Cap and Trade” Bill which was supposedly designed to halt Global Warming. And, fifty of them voted “yes” on the pork-packed, ear mark-laden $800 Billion Dollar stimulus bill. The Blue Dogs ran out of gas about the time Independents and restive Republicans voted for them.

Over the last few months health care reform, this Administration's keystone issue, has devolved into a Washington Melodrama. A confusing mess. On one side we see a driven, grimly determined Administration. They are bent on winning at any cost, but they are not explaining "Winning what?" On the other side are a growing list of “enemies”; the “mobs”, the “tea-partiers”, talk radio, Fox News commentators, the greedy doctors and insurance people, along with an increasing majority of the American Population.

“Any nation that can’t maintain clean public restrooms shouldn't try to run a socialized healthcare system,” P. J. O’Rourke said. Many people think he’s on to something. How will this turn out? Hard to say.

Right now as you read this, those Blue Dogs are getting plenty of advice on how to vote when the plan comes up. They are being told that “This bill is too big to let personal opinions about fiscal responsibility or concerns about the proper role of government get in the way. You don’t have to read it, you don’t have to understand it, you don’t have to like it. You just have to vote ‘yes’.” Your “independent voice in Washington” is barely a whisper.

Knowing, as we do, the nature of power politics, especially Chicago power politics which is what we now have in Washington, it is safe to say that these private conversations are especially pointed. It is being intimated to the Blue Dogs that their future personal fortunes and happiness depends on how they vote.

“We know that certain segments of the population do not favor this plan and will work hard to defeat you in next year’s election. If you vote “yes”, you will have our full support. In the event you lose re-election you will be looked after. It is a tough economy out there, you’ll need friends. Your wife and family will need friends. We can see to it that doors are held open for you. We’ll help you find employment; in a federal agency, in a State House, a University, in banking, the auto industry, advertising, some tax-free foundation.

“If you cast any other than a “yes” vote, you will be finished. You will be cut from the herd and shunned.”

In short, the Blue Dogs are not facing a choice on how they wish to vote on health care. They are being offered a choice on what kind of personal future they wish to have.

“Your Independent voice in Washington” is up against it right now. The Blue Dogs didn’t bargain for any of this in the sunnier days of last year’s election or in the warm glow of victory, but that’s what they have got.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. For years books will be written about it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


“Never trust a barber who says you need a haircut", Anonymous

The wisdom offered in that quote seems pretty obvious. The referenced barber isn’t thinking about what you need. He’s thinking about what he needs.

I recalled this recently while watching a couple government officials on television tell each other how much America needs that nebulously defined Health Care Reform bill or what-ever-it-is that’s in those 1,114 pages. Notice, by the way, they keep telling us how much we need it, but they don’t tell us what’s in it. We have to depend on other sources for that.

A little hint came just the other day. An insurance industry group hired one of the Big-Four accounting firms, Price Waterhouse - Coopers, to work up some numbers on how much the plan will potentially cost individuals in additional annual health care expense – that is, money on top of what people already pay. On Monday morning, October 12th, they released their report: $1,700 – $4,000 per year was the range of numbers I heard. By 10:00am, the White House was firing back. Without refuting the claim, spokesperson Linda Douglas called the report “self-serving”.

“It comes on the eve of a vote that will reduce the industry’s profits,” she said.

The Administration was eager to shoot the messenger, but it didn’t sound like anyone had read the report and double-checked the figures, just to be sure.

Consequently, while the insurance business got bashed around some more, their numbers, $1,700 - $4,000 remained standing. If the problem with health care is the expense, why is fixing the problem going to result in even more expense? Again, no answer.

In Washington, in the back rooms where the deals are made, the word “haircut” is a euphemism. A fly on the wall during recent Senate Finance Committee meetings might have heard the word used in a sentence like “In order to pay for all of this we’re going to have to give Joe Public a ‘haircut’” or, “We need to carve out a 'doughnut' for Nevada because the Senate Majority leader will not allow the people of his state to take a ‘haircut’”.

No, “haircut” is not a happy word. Nor does it imply that Joe Public will have any say in the matter. That’s the distressing part.

Examples of the “haircut” can take various forms and are found at all levels of government. Basically, it is the legal deal elected officials concoct that trims, even scalps, one individual or group in order to pay for some program or project that benefits some other. Invariably, that “other” is connected to the politicians doing the barbering.

While the scale of operation changes to suit the level of government involved, the step-by-step procedure involved is generally the same.

So, to illustrate in a way that puts the meaning of the word in our own backyards, let us suppose that within recent memory you’ve received a “haircut” from your local municipal government.

If you were paying close attention to the play-by-play, perhaps events transpired something like this: The majority on your Town Council got cozy with a developer. They let a choice piece of property slip away to become part of the developer’s proposed strip mall or apartment complex. People in your community got wind of what was in store and began attending Council meetings and asking questions, much like those who attended the “Town Hall” meetings and Tea Parties of recent months. You joined neighbors and wrote letters, signed petitions, and hosted meetings of your own, all to no avail. In effect, you spoke, but were not heard. You found yourselves on the receiving end of some bad publicly in your local Gazette. You were vilified as a mob of selfish, no-growth NIMBYs who want local schools to crumble. Council clearly had their minds made up from the start. It was a done- deal. When the official vote was taken you and your community were on the losing end.

“It was a tough vote,” you were all told in consolation. “But there were just too many benefits to turn down.”

Then, a year or so later, after things had progressed, you learned that it was worse than you imagined: Yes, trees were cut down, and there was increased noise and congestion, and the promised tax benefits never quite materialized – just as you and other residents had predicted. But you had no idea how much worse it was going to be. It turned out State Law mandates that you and other taxpayers are going to have to pony up for new fire engine in order to service that new development. Not only will traffic lights will have to be added to accommodate the increased traffic, but the main street through town will have to be widened. And, now, due to all the construction, every time it rains back yards flood.

Yes, this is a small-scale hypothetical case, but events exactly like this happen in communities every day. This is an illustration of the classic “haircut”. Somebody with connections gets the gold mine, and the general public gets the shaft.

But, when we talk about health care reform we are not talking about some ill-conceived comb-over that leads to traffic snarls and a bump in property taxes. We are talking about a big-government imposed “fix” that, once enacted, will pretty much be set in bureaucratic stone. The “haircut” we need to be concerned with is the Big Haircut that is barreling through both houses of Congress, headed for a rubber-stamp vote by Thanksgiving and a nice signing ceremony by Christmas.

It is impossible for anything as massive as comprehensive health care reform to be properly planned in this kind of hurry. If we’re going to fix America’s health care problems, we need to do it right. Congress needs to post all information and answer all the questions. This is one haircut where the old physician’s rule should apply: First, do no harm.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Congress Goes from 0-60 in One Day

On Wednesday, September 16th, House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, D. San Francisco, claimed to know nothing of the ACORN/prostitution/housing scandal as well as efforts by opponents in the Senate to de-fund the organization. “I don’t even know what they passed. What did they do?” she said.

On Thursday, 24 hours later, her House of Representatives voted, 345-75 to totally de-fund ACORN. Granted, this was not a stand-alone bill, but an amendment to another bill.

Still, that’s quite a rate of acceleration. Considering the snail’s pace at which government usually works and the fact that they’ve given ACORN $7 Billion Dollars in public stimulus money this year alone it's enough to give them whiplash.

They cut them off like that -snap- with no public hearings, no special prosecutor, no witnesses, no sworn testimony, no windy speeches from the floor; what happened?

Simple. Congress, the Senate, and the White House – click HERE for an interesting tid-bit – have known about ACORN all along.

Leaders know full well the calibre of people they’ve been dealing with in ACORN. The media knows, too. They had a cozy relationship. One hand was washing the other. As long as Congress could suppress those pesky calls for an ACORN investigation everything was fine. But then the O’Keefe – Giles tapes were shown on Glen Beck’s middle-of-the-afternoon FOX News show and the lid blew off.

But, there is one fact that Congressional leaders truly don’t know: what else is out there on other tapes? Holding public hearings would be like shoveling manure into a fan. The smell of corruption in Washington is thick enough already.

The vote to de-fund ACORN is an attempt to make the issue go away, so that Congress can get back to passing government health care reform and calling Tea Partiers “Nazis”.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

TV NEWS and the ACORN Scandal

"What we have a failure to communicate." actor Strother Martin in the movie Cool Hand Luke.

If events of the last couple weeks have shown anything, it is that the mainstream media is not up to the job of keeping the American public informed. Neither is it capable of digging into a story to get the facts. The traditional media leaves the profound impression that they will first seek permission or await instructions concerning which stories to cover and what to say about them.

In quick fashion we’ve seen the Van Jones story missed, the Tea Party march on Washington ignored, and now we’ve had a week of silence on the ACORN sex-sting tapes. What are we to make of this?

As someone who used to work in media I’ll give you my conclusion right up front:

TV news is to news, what a TV dinner is to dinner.

Both are conveniently packaged, pre-digested, bland, and shot-full of additives. They are an insult to both the stomach and the brain.

About a week ago Fox News covered a story, broken earlier in the morning by a web site, Big Government. I happened to catch 30 seconds of the initial Fox coverage on my way out the door to work.

A hidden camera-sting inside the Baltimore office of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) showed a young woman talking across a desk with a couple other women who were representatives of ACORN. The young woman was dressed like the hookers who used to work the streets near my old neighborhood in Venice, California.

Closed-captioning clarified what was being said on camera while the Fox newscasters commented on the footage. As I bagged up my lunch for work I formed the impression that the prostitute had been caught on hidden camera, along with her slime-ball pimp-lawyer-boyfriend, negotiating with ACORN representatives. The plan was to use tax money to buy a house to use as a brothel. The brothel would feature a dozen young girls, age 13-15, which the pimp had already arranged to be shipped in from El Salvador. Banks won’t lend money for this kind of enterprise. No problem with ACORN. They are open for business and they have lots of money.

That’s all I saw or heard of that first report. It was grim and it reminded me of the movie Taxi Driver, of the social rot that movie depicted, and the feeling that everything is for sale, and at not too high a price, either.

My immediate reaction was a wave of melancholy. I felt sorry for the girl and for any family members she might have who would surely see this footage, if not now, in all the re-runs. The ACORN people were seen on camera conferring with other staffers on how to fudge the nature of the business on the paperwork, how to hide the profits, even offering suggestions how to get a couple of those underage El Salvador working girls listed as “dependents” on the tax rolls. ACORN clearly offered One-Stop Shopping. I bought the ruse just like the ACORN people did.

When I got in my car I found that talk radio was blazing with the story. Details that I had misunderstood were clarified. The prostitute, it turned out, is really a college journalism student, Hannah Giles. The guy posing as the young pimp/lawyer is a 25 year-old filmmaker named James O’Keefe. The whole thing was a sting designed to document the rampant corruption within ACORN. It was a 100% gutsy move and it succeeded brilliantly.

The Wall Street Journal, the go-to paper I read, has been covering ACORN’s shady activities for years. In fact you can go to today and read John Fund’s article “Acorn Runs Off the Rails” if you want to get a brief overview of some of the group’s activities. For example, ACORN is currently under investigation for voter fraud California, Missouri, Nevada, Arizona and in a number of other states. It worked hard on behalf of Al Franken in his narrow, 200 hundred vote “win” in the Minnesota US Senate race last fall, registering non-existent voters by the thousands. And, the man who made “community organizer” a household word, President Obama himself, used to work for ACORN and has surrounded his administration with ACORN staffers and sympathizers. Up until a few days ago ACORN was going to be a key contractor in taking the 2010 US Census.

So there they are on camera, tax-funded ACORN employees, telling a hooker how to deal with the issue of the underage girls transported across the border to be sexually abused for money. They do not discuss how to educate the girls or give them a good home or get them started in happy productive lives, but, rather, how to exploit them and keep the profits away from the taxman.

Given the very recent news-context of the eleven year-old girl in California who was kidnapped and held as a sex slave for 15 years you’d think this story would be news --- Big News. You have sex, money, and corruption all under an oily cloud of sleazy politics. What’s there for any newsman not to like? You’d think reporters would be wrestling each other for dibs on being the first to ask the President what he thinks about all of this.

But, alas, nothing but silence. And such a silent silence it is. You can hear a pin drop.

After that first report, last week, other tapes were released every couple days. Now, along with the ACORN office in Baltimore there is footage from inside offices in New York, Washington, DC and Los Angeles. Are there more?

The tape from LA is a doozy. An ACORN worker literally brags on-camera how she killed a man and got away with it. Here. Like some low-life bottom feeder you'd see in Pulp Fiction, she casually discusses with the pimp how he can make a lot more money if he goes for the rough-trade. This ACORN representative then reveals that she “talks to Congressmen, Senators and Assembly people everyday”. She even names a few -- Oops -- in case investigators need a road map, or California voters want to know who not to vote for. This is bad stuff.

Still... not even a whisper in the establishment press.

This brings us up to September 15th, a week into the ACORN/prostitutes story, when ABC News anchor, Charlie Gibson opened his mouth in front of a microphone and out came an amazing statement.

Gibson is a weekly call-in guest on the “Mornings with Don Wade and Roma Show” on WLS-890 in Chicago. He engages in light weight chit-chat and plugs his quote-unquote evening “news” show. Only this time I’m sure he spilled his coffee when host, Don Wade, veered away from “happy talk” and asked Gibson this question:

Don: “We got the embarrassing video of ACORN staff giving tax advice on how to set up a brothel with 13 year old hookers. It has everything you could want; corruption and sleazy action at tax funded organizations that’s got government ties. But nobody’s covering that story. Why?

Charlie Gibson: (laugh) I don’t even know about it. Uh, so you got me at a loss, I don’t know.”

Think about that statement for just a moment…A story concerning underage hookers and political corruption is all over competing news media and the main anchor at ABC doesn’t “even know about it”?

That’s not just hard to believe, it's impossible to believe. It is Charlie Gibson’s job “to know”. He has staff who's job it is to know. I’ve worked in a few TV stations over the years and every one of them had banks of monitors tuned to the other channels in order to keep an eye on their competitors. How could he not know?

How could he not report a week’s worth of breaking-news regarding a
major cog in the Washington wheel? Unless he didn't want to know...Unless this is a rigged game staring back at us from our TV screens. (Refer to my PlumwoodRoad essay, The Confidence Men, from August 26th)

You can rest assured that not only does the establishment media know about this story, but it knows other things as well. It is all their jobs to know. They know who in Congress benefits from relations with ACORN. They know that just this past April Democrats in the US Senate over-powered opposition objections and inserted a $7 Billion Dollar "ear mark" for ACORN into that $847 Billion Dollar Stimulus Bill. And, they know that miles of video footage exists of the President speaking glowingly of ACORN and other marginally savory organizations.

The mainstream media also knows that in order to push through the President's bloated, intrusive Health Care plan, they have to tamp down public concerns about governmental competency, corruption, and fiscal irresponsibility. Then along came a couple of self-appointed journalists who kicked over a rotten log and then took pictures of all the taxpayer-supported cockroaches they found crawling around. It couldn't have happened at a worse time.

Here is the media's Plan-B:

Right now the networks are trying to remain silent. That's proving hard to do; Charlie Gibson's comment, for example, or Jimmy Carter's even worse comment last night. The longer this thing drags on, the more likely someone else will say something stupid. Networks are scrambling behind the scenes to write the “spin” they need to contain the damage. That’s a tall order. Aiding the sexual abuse of young girls is going to be hard to mitigate, even in today's anything-goes culture.

And though they may not know it yet, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles are under a microscope. Right now State bureaucrats are fingering through their files and school records, somebody is busy hacking into their computers, investigators are tracking down every date they ever kissed, and their parents are being checked for embarrassing information, too. Remember "Joe the Plumber" last year?

By remaining silent the media hopes to get past the shock-value of the story and prevent it from resonating into the broader public consciousness. But, they must maintain the black out until all the the tapes are released and all the information is out. Like a slick legal defense attorney, once they have all the information they will know exactly how to tailor their message. The mainstream press can then step forward and take control of the story. They can then launch a cleaned up version with a plausible exculpatory angle. But they have to wait until they're certain the shoes have stopped dropping. No surprises.

This is what press agents and publicists do all the time. Books have been written on the subject. It's called "managing the news". But it is not what a healthy, free press does. It is what propagandists and apparatchiks in The Ministry of Information do. And, that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the most disturbing element of the ACORN story.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Report from the Washington, DC Patriot's Rally

Hi Everyone:

If you don't have cable and get Fox News or if your AM radio is broken you may not know about the HUGE rally in Washington that took place on Saturday, Sept. 12th. The whole thing was a massive event that grew out of all the Tea Parties and town hall meetings that have been occurring this summer.

"Why bother protesting?" some wonder. "We're doomed," others say. Yes, things do look bleak: The "Cash for Clunkers" program cost taxpayers $3 Billion and the auto dealers were left waiting for their money. ACORN is doing business with pimps and prostitutes using our money. Zillions in TARP dollars have disappeared. "Cap and Trade" is a shellgame that is going to bleed more money out of the economy, And Obama is rallying the Democrat base to ram through a 1,000 page health care bill that few in Congress have bothered to read. Shouldn't we all just give up and shove the country down the driveway and leave it for curbside pickup?

I don't know about you, but I feel revved up.

And, here is an on-the-spot report from the Rally, by Plumwood Road reader and correspondent, Jane Sheridan.

Jane and her husband Flip, who live not far from the real Plumwood Road, have their kids married or in college. Ma and Pa Sheridan dusted off their protest marcher shoes and went to Washington for the Patriot's Rally on Saturday, September 12th. Here, Jane gives her perspective from inside the crowd, where all you can see is up. And that's not a bad perspective.


Here is Jane's report.

On Friday Flip and I flew to Washington to be part of the march on Saturday the 12th.

Washington is always a thrill and it was great to be back there no matter who is in the White House!

We checked into our hotel and then did some wandering. Had dinner and got up the next morning to overcast skies but no rain!

We took off in our sensible shoes,patriotic t shirts, while holding our handmade signs and schlepping our chairs and backpack... we were ready for anything! (Our children would NOT have been proud of the way we looked) We originally were going to meet at the Freedom Plaza at 11 but when we made it to Pennsylvania Ave. the march had already started and there were THRONGS of people parading down the street! They were cheering and chanting and carrying some great signs. We watched for a few minutes and then decided just to dive in and join the crowd!

WOW! what a rush to be in a throng of like minded, happy people ! Some had bull horns to start chants or encourage the crowd, others were in period costume or in some very creative outfits. There were babies and children marching with their parents, there were dogs and people on canes or in wheelchairs. Veterans proudly carried flags.... beside bikers who were said to have ridden from California to be part of this! One man walked along with a trash bag to pick up every little bit of paper so that we did not leave a trace.
The route was lined with others holding signs and calling out encouragement! We were contacted by cell phone by our friends who had taken the train in from Maryland... since they were just behind us in the parade we stood on the side awhile to wait for them to pass by and we were able to get lots of great photos and take our TURN cheering for the "Angry Mob" We were soon joined by our friends and we marched together to the Capitol.

On arrival at the Capitol we were then separated by yellow police line tape and sent in different directions. Many police officers were there and this "funneling' of the group into a small passage and then dividing up had a very negative feeling and immediately impacted the groups overall mood. Several of us wondered if we were going to be going through a metal detector, We were all then dispersed around the pond at the Capitol.... some grassy areas were actually roped off leaving not nearly enough room for people to stand or sit and hear.... the effect of putting the water between us and the steps and speakers was not a positive one.

I called our Son Jeff in Ohio and Daughter Stacy in GA. and asked them to e-mail Fox news to find out what was going on if possible. People continued to mill around trying to find a way to get closer . Later I walked back the way we had come and found that someone had pushed down a section of the cordoned off fencing and now the grassy areas were covered wall to wall with people while back as far as I could see marchers were still coming down Penn. Ave!

A person in a designated" Volunteer" shirt informed us that our group had applied for a permit to assemble on the mall but that it was denied. However a permit was granted to ACORN and at the far end of the mall by the Washington Monuement there were tents and loud music for a group with a sign that said "Black Family Reunion" This was understood to be the Collective Black Family not a family named Black.
We were also told that we were not welcomed on the mall because "THEY" (the administration) did not want anyone to be able to compare the crowd with the group size that assembled for Obamas inauguration ! And that if anyone went there we would not be allowed to have signs.

As you can imagine this did not go over very well with Flip and I ... so I immediately started telling the people who were just arriving and being herded into the crowded spaces that they should go to the MALL! Stacy reported by phone that there WERE protesters on the mall and they had signs! Flip and I then got our chairs and headed for the mall! We could actually hear better from this area.... and people continued to move around and parade along the walk that surrounded the grass in the center. Here we also found that many areas to the sides had been fenced off and again people had "adjusted" a section for access.
There was room for blankets and picnics, a juggler, some football, and a few people took naps. Most of us people watched!
We later broke camp again and moved up past the Conservatory until we wormed our way to the front just below the steps where the speakers were. We saw more costumes, a parade of workers in hard hats and many more creative signs.
There were numerous moments of loud cheering, some spontaneous "USA" chants , very little booing and we did not witness any negative confrontations. Actually only saw one group that opposed us and that was about 6 or 8 young adults in Formal attire....standing at the Navy Memorial. Very well mannered and respectful but stating their view through satire.

Litter was non existent. But trash cans were overflowing. When asked about this the security people explained that no trash cans were allowed within a certain distance of the Capital or other major building due to the possibility of bombs/explosives being concealed in them. Much later as the speeches were ending we made our way back to our hotel in a Sea of Patriots who all felt that the day had been worthwhile and vowed to each other to keep up the fight back home.

After a late night stroll around the historic monuments the Whitehouse we had to agree that there is much in Washington AND the United States that is worth fighting for. JS

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Confidence Men

"A proposed victim is known as a "sucker," to the confidence men."
-- H. L. Mencken

I came across that quote a couple weeks ago and I think about it every time I watch the current Administration try to slick that Health Care plan of theirs past us; that grandiose, ill-defined, 1,000+ pages of wonderfulness that just cries out to be called “too good to be true”. Only I don’t hear any one calling it “too good to be true”. Do you?

Take just a moment to stand back and watch them; the President, Congressional leaders, the majority of our elected representatives, news commentators, whomever… Do you get the idea that any of them are on the level as they try to push this thing through? Not quite as on the level as one of those nimble carnival sharpsters moving a pea around under the shells. The hand is always quicker than the eye.

Both the carnival operator and the big time con-man are generally charming, jovial fast-talkers. The suckers can sense they are dealing with a rogue, but he seems so likeable. They know he’s playing fast and loose, too. But, whether he is enticing suckers to put up dollar bills in hopes of finding the pea, or invest millions in the hope of getting rich, he makes them all feel that he’s their pal; that he’s only stealing from the other guy.

The bunch in Washington hasn’t quite pulled that off. The President and his staff are on television all the time. We see them; we size them up. There is something about them. Their charm is a little too surface, a little too phony. With all those tax-cheats in the Administration we know one thing for certain; they’re not just stealing from the other guy. By definition they’re stealing from the rest of us. Why would we think otherwise?

In fact, the Administration is starting to look grim and just a little bit angry at us for not buying the line they are selling. We keep asking too many questions. Before long, they are going to resort to low-end used car salesman tricks.

It is not that their Plan, so-called, just needs a little work here and there, but rather there are so many holes in it that need to be filled, so many internal contradictions that can’t be explained in plain English that the whole thing looks like a disaster ready to happen. Even the pie-in-the-sky promise of “look at all the money you’ll save” was swept away when the Congressional Budget Office published a report showing that instead of savings, we’ll end up with another Trillion dollars tacked onto the deficit in the next few years, maybe more. What the Administration is trying to sell is the is the medical version of the “free lunch”.

Worse, the plan fails to address the real problems. There’s no simplification, no tax relief for the self-insured, no market-oriented thinking at all: just the promise of cost cutting and Government efficiency, which means – let’s face it – “rationing”. In these economic times, if you work for a company that scrimps on pencils and booklets of Post-It notes, that defers fixing a toilet or changing light bulbs, you know what I mean.

As politicians and media acolytes yammer on about the plan’s promised benefits, more people see a health care-future of long lines in government-green waiting rooms with Federal Employees offering a choice between “the red pill and the blue pill”.

Doctors are already trying to get ahead of this thing by advising patients not to get sick.

About the only thing in the plan carved in stone is Government control. That part is for sure. Whatever shape your health care takes in the future, whatever the wording of the final bill the President signs – Washington will control it. Every thing else is up for grabs.

Well, not quite everything. Meaningful medical malpractice lawsuit reform is not on the table. Lawyers have an important lobby. But, the Public option? One day it’s in, the next it’s out, and then it’s back in again. Euthanasia, the so-called “Death Panels”? Absolutely not, except in special cases. Funding for abortion? Abortion was guaranteed by our Founding Fathers, sort of, so Federal Courts will no doubt insist. The same reasoning will require paying for the insurance of the 12-20 million Illegals already in the country. Once this plan is law these details will be out of our hands.

To fix the problems with health care, Congress needs to approach the problem like a Doctor. Faced with a problem here’s what a real Doctor would do, before even getting out his stethoscope: First, listen to the patient, then, Second, project confidence. The Administration has done neither. They have handled the health care debate like a third-rate confidence man trying to sell mining stock to a widow.

How badly have they handled things? For about a month, now, You Tube has been filled with clips from Town Hall meetings showing politicians being questioned about the Health Care bill by voters. At first some pols openly stated they hadn’t read the bill, had no idea what was in it but were prepared to vote in favor of it. The fewer questions the politicians could answer the angrier the voters got. Before long, things understandably turned confrontational. The video clips, while fine as entertainment, are actually pretty redundant. How many clueless politicians do we have to see? The public has already got the picture: Our elected officials are a bunch of quacks. And what is a quack? He is a confidence man who practices medicine without a license.

The politicians eventually realized they were not coming off well, so what did they do? First, they engaged in name-calling. They called citizens – their own voters – obstructionists, un-American, Nazis, stooges of Big Pharma. Next they tried bullying. They brought in members of public employee unions to “counter” the citizens, to shove them around a little.

When that didn’t work politicians went into hiding. They moved meetings to secret locations, inviting only favored constituents by special invitation. They held “electronic Town Halls” via video or by conference call. Or, they cancelled them altogether; anything to avoid contact with voters.

Recently they’ve begun “astro turfing”, bussing in crowds of the party faithful in order to show support for the plan. Hey, we don't want Republicans or independents to "win" on this issue, do we?

So, now that public support has fallen below 50% should we chalk up the score as American Citizens – 1, Government Bureaucrats – 0? Not on your life. Don’t open any champagne.

Government controlled health care has been a goal of Big Government types since the 1920s. There is a lot of money and a lot of power at stake and right now they believe it is all in the wrong hands. They will not give up just because of a few rowdy protests or bad polling results. They started this fight and they can’t just walk away. So, what will they do next?

Well, there’s another quote that we might want to keep in mind.

“Never give a sucker an even chance.” -- W. C. Fields

If those words are any indication, we can expect them to sharpen their game and come at us again. To them, we’re still “suckers,” and we still have money in our pockets.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Review of a Book I Haven't Read

Did you happen to notice last year, while plane loads of reporters were roaming over the tundra in Alaska trying to dig up a scandal they could connect to Sarah Palin, there didn’t seem to be any interest in sniffing around Barack Obama’s home town? Unless you're interested in moose hunting, seems like Chicago is where the action is.

Well, it looks like somebody has finally done some sniffing.

Michelle Malkin’s book, Culture of Corruption maps the murky waters of Chicago politics in which President Barack Obama swam during his formative years as local organizer and politician. Evidently, there exists a lot of curiosity among many in the reading public, because within days of its release Culture of Corruption became #1 on the non-fiction best seller lists.

I’d like to read the book myself. I work in a book store but have been so busy lately that I haven’t even had time to pick the thing up and flip through it to see if my favorite Chicago Stories made it into print. My wife and I have lived in the area for 21 years and from the day of our arrival we have been amazed at the political messes that the natives step around – and pay for – without even seeming to noticing.

"An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. From that standpoint alone it is easy to understand the book’s appeal to those who live in other parts of the country. We have a new president and a lot of people are curious about his Political Family Tree. A lot of people are watching the new administration's conduct in the current Health Care debate. Without reading the book, I can divulge the secret: his method of operating is Pure Chicago: avoid substance, pit constituencies against each other and take names.

On a lighter level, Chicago politics has a novel cachet in the rest of the country. People out there in Kansas or Texas or Georgia or where-ever voters feel is a safe distance from which to watch, wonder: “How do those people in Illinois put up with all of that?” It's like watching a three-ring circus complete with freak show, only in this circus it’s the monkeys who are throwing the peanuts at the people, and the people don’t seem to mind all that much.

Like I said, we’ve lived here for over twenty years and we still can’t figure it out. Every few weeks another miscellaneous official, from building code Safety Inspector all the way up to Governor – you name it – gets caught in some low intrigue or other. Not long ago we heard on the radio that "Fast Eddie" admitted to taking over a Million Dollars of public money. Admitted. He got off with a wrist-slap. No mention of whether he had to return the money.

Some of these shenanigans are laughable in their audacity. I hope Michelle Malkin included a couple of the goofier scams, just for laughs. A few weeks ago Alderman Issac “Ike” Carothers got popped for accepting $40, 000 worth of home remodeling in exchange for greasing through a $3 Million Dollar land deal. I know. I wondered the same thing: the developer gets 3 Mil and Ike gets a measly 40K? Never the less, that’s the case.

Other goings-on are less funny: In ’03 there was an early morning panic stampede in an illegal after hours joint, the E2 Nightclub, in which 21 people were trampled to death and another 50 were injured. The fact that the story disappeared from the news so fast – you’d have thought it was a fender-bender involving a yellow cab and a garbage truck – lends credence to the rumor that a big political family had a financial interest in the club. Twenty people dead and the story just went away? What about lawsuits? Was everything really cleared up quietly out of court?

A couple months later there was another disaster in which six County employees were killed in an arson fire that started in the Cook County Office Building evidence room. Another Keystone Cops investigation went nowhere. In 2006, US Senator Barack Obama endorsed the man in charge of the investigation, John Stroger for re-election as County Board President.

So here is what I suspect the net effect of Culture of Corruption will be: people will read the book from cover to cover. They will put the book on the coffee table, or pass it along to a friend, and they will sit back and reflect on The Chicago Way of doing things.

As it sinks in, they’ll begin to reflect on what the country can expect now that this same bunch has “gone national”. People from this soup, trained in these ethics are now filling Federal posts, tweaking the budget, fiddling with healthcare, and otherwise not looking out for the common good – just like they were back home in Chicago.

And, I have a point here…

Take for instance this story from last Friday’s Chicago Tribune(8/7/09), headlined “Daley Insider Corners Olympic Spots”. This may be illustrative of where we are headed.

The Tribune report is markedly "passive" in it's tone. So, allow me to put it into a nutshell for you:

Michael Scott is a member of Mayor Daley’s Chicago Olympic Committee, and he's a real operator. At the same time he's been working to bring the Olympics here he has been busy buying up land where the Games would be held should Chicago be named Host City. If that happens, Scott will be in a position to resell the land to the IOC.


Before you say “that’s just smart business”, consider that the City of Chicago controls many of the lots and is selling them at distressed prices of $1.00 apiece. I know, that doesn't sound right to me either. Chicago, like most other cities, is in sad financial condition. Why does not the City of Chicago sell the lots to the IOC themselves and let the profits give taxpayers a break? Why take what could be valuable land and treat it as the real estate equivalent of the Cash For Clunkers program, letting someone with political connections pocket the money?

And there’s more. Michael Scott is also President of the Chicago Public School Board. The previous CPS President is now Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration, in case you were wondering.

Pop Quiz -- What do you think of when you think of Chicago Public Schools? Yeah. You bet you do: Bullets, drugs, gangs, and chaos, along with low achievement and high drop-out rate.

But, in Chicago there are, effectively, two school systems; the so-called Magnet School Program for the City's best-and-brightest and the regular public system for everyone else.

If you are hip to the way government tends to operate, the minute you learn that there are two systems set up for anything you know that one system is for “us" and the other for “them”. "Them" being people with political clout, people who need to be attended to. Got it? Now hold that thought.

Students are required to test into the better schools. However, true to Chicago form, a phone call and a little curried favor will improve admission chances. There seems to be plenty of opportunity to sneak politically connected kids into elite public schools. Yet, for every under achieving student who gets in on Dad's clout, there is another, truly deserving student, who is denied.

This kind of thing goes on all the time. In fact, right now, there is a similar scandal going on at the Illinois State University level.

The easy question would be to ask, Is this fair? Of course it is not fair.

But there is a more important question we need to consider: What will happen when these people, these oily politicians and malleable bureaucrats, control our health care? I suspect, although I haven't read it, that that is the question left by Culture of Corruption.

What’s going to happen when you have to apply to a governmental body to get a knee replacement or a valve job or an MRI? While everyone knows there are problems with our current delivery system, I have never heard of anyone offering to “tip” the nurse in order to get the sheets changed, or donate to Congressman X’s campaign in order to get moved to the front of the line for a hernia repair. But that is how things are done in Chicago. And we should be considering the likelihood that this is how things will be done once the health care system is taken over by politicians and bureaucrats.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Budd Schulberg dies

On my way home from work last night I heard on the news that writer Budd Schulberg had died at age 95.

Budd Schulberg was the son of silent movie-era chief of Paramount Pictures, B.P. Schulberg. He was raised on studio back lots around the rich and famous of the day. It is said that his Dad, in order to show him what life is really like, made him sell newspapers on a corner. On the other hand, young Schulberg received an Ivy League educated.

For a while he was a member of the Communist Party but became peeved when the Party tried to tell him how to write his book, What Makes Sammy Run? He left the movement and banged heads with party activists the rest of his life.

I read What Makes Sammy Run? a few years ago with that little tid-bit of information in mind. I enjoyed it. As a Hollywood expose it works similarly to Billy Wilder’s movie, Sunset Boulevard, only it’s not nearly as operatic; there’s no dead monkey, no writer floating face down in the swimming pool, but, yes, there is a girl who wants to be a writer. Schulberg’s book is a darkly humorous story of the rise of an ambitious no-talent, Sammy Glick, and the people he tramples over on his way to the top. It serves as a Heads-Up to the rest of us: no matter where we live there are Sammy Glicks out there, in Hollywood, in Washington, or where you work and they will run right over you if you happen to be standing between them and what they want. It’s worth a read.

Budd Schulberg is most famous, of course, for writing On the Waterfront, which won him the Oscar in 1954. TCM ran the movie a few weeks ago when Karl Malden died. I stood right there in the kitchen and watched most of it on our little 11”. It is a beautiful work. Most film fans view the picture as an explanation of Schulberg’s decision (and director Elia Kazan’s as well) to testify about Communist influence in the film industry. Okay. But, beyond that, Waterfront is the story one brother who sells out another to the mob; a depiction of the betrayal by someone in a position of trust. He talks him into taking the short-end money and throwing a prize fight.

That scene in the back of the taxi between Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando is one of the single greatest scenes in movies. You can watch it on You Tube. You don’t even have to see it in context with the rest of the film to get the punch: “You’re my brother, Charlie. You should have looked out for me a little bit.”

But we all know what to really expect when we make a bargain like that: “A one-way ticket to Palookaville".

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Read the Bill

Want a quick peek at how things are being run in Washington these days? Make sure you’re sitting down and in a calm, relaxed state. Ready?

Check this :30 second clip from the Drudge Report, here.

Amazing, isn't it? Did you have to watch it twice just to make sure you heard what you thought you heard?

US Representative John Conyers, D. Michigan, basically came out and said he hasn’t read the Health Care Bill. Further, he left the clear impression -- and he was a trifle prickly about it -- that he has no intention of ever reading the bill. This guy is a party leader and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, too.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

But, what’s even more interesting is the fact that Rep. Conyers was speaking to a roomful of reporters at a National Press Club luncheon when he made this comment and, outside of talk radio and Fox News, no one reported it. Seems like this would be be kind of a big deal. The headline would write itself.

A follow-up question is hanging out there, waiting to be asked: “If you don’t read the Bill, how do you know which way to vote?” I’d like hear his answer to that one.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lost Horizon

I had a customer at the bookstore where I work ask me, “Aren’t you the guy that told me to get the DVD of Lost Horizon?”

I remembered him. “How’d you like it?”

“It was awesome. I’ve watched it twice, the second time with my girlfriend and she liked it, too.” Ahh, another satisfied customer.

The word “awesome” is a strong recommendation but not particularly descriptive as a review, so let me start at the top and recommend for your next movie-night the 1937 production of Lost Horizon.

The picture was produced and directed by Frank Capra, who specialized in romantic comedies and contemporary Americana. For the record, he also directed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It Happened One Night, Arsenic and Old Lace, and Meet John Doe. He made a slew of others that are, if not “great”, certainly interesting.

I like Frank Capra’s work a lot. He’s one of the greats and for years movie fans have enjoyed watching some of his films over and over again. Although he won Best Director Oscars three times, today he is known chiefly for the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, for which he did not win and, which in fact was not a box office success when originally released. But the way things have turned out over time it’s been a better-than-even trade off. When we consider the many Oscar winners of the past, many very well deserved, that are completely forgotten today it is reasonable to state that It’s a Wonderful Life, which is watched by millions every year, is monument enough for any filmmaker.

Capra’s best films hold up remarkably well today. Maybe this is due to the way that he reflected the Depression-era spirit. He was optimistic and positive and he loved America. Today we might even consider him an ambassador to us from that era. You can look at his movies and hear him telling us “This is how you do it: When you face tough times you need to work harder, stay true to your ideals, and stick together”.

Capra also loved innocent boy-meets-girl love stories. Part of Capra’s secret may be this: before he’d let his stories drift too far into sentimentality he’d knock the sweetness flat by throwing in a little raw brutality just to remind audiences that there was a real world outside the theater and they’d better stay awake for it. Think of young George Bailey getting slapped around in back of the drugstore. “You lazy loafer, you should have delivered those pills an hour ago.” Most people know there is a dark side lurking behind the warmth and love. Frank Capra could put it on the screen beautifully.

If you are an admirer of Its a Wonderful Life you will be especially intrigued by Lost Horizon. Though entirely different films, they share a similar theme: both are about a man who have something beautiful and yet decide to throw it away.

In Lost Horizon, we are given a hint of what is thrown away from the first frame of the movie. The moment the Columbia Pictures logo fades from the screen the credits begin to roll over a night aerial view flying up into icy moonlit mountains. As each successive peak is crossed, another higher, more distant peak is revealed in the altitude. With no limit we fly into a vast infinity.

Lost Horizon is based on James Hilton’s short novel of the same title. On the surface it is an imaginative adventure tale that concerns a small group of westerners thrown together escaping a bloody revolution in China. We meet a stuffy paleontologist; an ailing prostitute; a loud American businessman. All are flawed in some way. On the last plane out of Baskul they find that instead of traveling to safety in Shanghai, they have been hi-jacked and taken hostage and are being flown deeper into the interior of the country, then high into the Himalayan Mountains.

Principle among the group, and perhaps the real prize among the hostages, is a British diplomat, Robert Conway, portrayed by the great screen actor Ronald Colman. Conway is a disappointed idealist, a melancholy seeker who fears the world of the 1930s is sliding into another war.

An early bit of dialog as Conway despairs of the slaughter going on down below may have led to the film’s miss-interpretation as a pacifist message-picture. For a few moments he talks dreamily of dismantling the world’s armies and sinking the navies. It is a sophomore year speech, brought on by liquor and high altitude, after which Conway drifts into sleep. The real theme of the picture is left to be discovered somewhere high in the mountains.

Far into the journey the passengers are awakened by the sound of engine trouble just before the plane banks and crashes onto a snowy crag. The captives survive, but soon the severity of their situation sinks in. Hundreds of miles from any village, with inadequate clothing and no food they realize that they face death by exposure and starvation. They are discovered, however, by a group traveling from a remote lamasery. Instead of dying, the westerners are led on an arduous mountain journey that ends when they climb through a narrow pass and cross a gateway.

On the other side, separated from the cold and storms of the outside world, they find warm sunlight and lush greenery. They have arrived at the Valley of the Blue Moon and the welcoming monastery of Shangri-La. A paradise of peace, harmony and contentment stretches before them.

Out of curiosity, I recently read the book just to see how closely the movie follows it. It is a faithful adaptation. Capra and screen writer Robert Riskin tweaked the story here and there, supplying detail that the novel skimmed over, adding a character or two, but it is the same story improved for the screen.

The heart of Hilton's story is central in Capra's film; that of a man, Robert Conway, who finds his state of perfection and, yet, standing in it and experiencing it he cannot believe it is real. "Is it you fail to recognize one of your own dreams when you see it?" a monk asks Conway.

Among the others accompanying Conway is his brother, George, a shallow materialist. George is key to the impact of the story. Every bit of wonderment that Conway finds, his brother recasts as phony spiritual hokum. At every turn George sows dissension, or rails against the teachings of the monks or whispers in Conway’s ear. Even as the others in the group slowly adapt and then embrace Shangri-La, the brother plots a return to civilization.

There is a particularly striking piece of movie making near the end of the film, in the scene where the arguments of the brother finally break Conway down. “I wouldn’t believe this in an English monastery," the brother says. "Why should I believe it in Tibet?”

This scene is a minor masterpiece in itself. It builds to a lingering shot, nearly 45 seconds in length, of Conway as doubt creeps over him. The scene was made in one take with no dialogue. Ronald Colman plays it so clearly, in his eyes and through his body language, that you can read each of his thoughts as they drift across his face: What could I have been thinking? They seem so sincere. I could be content here forever. Those crazy stories of living for hundreds of years. They lied to me.
I was a complete fool to believe any of this….

Slowly, Conway ceases to accept what he has seen with his own eyes and agrees to accompany his brother out of Shangri-La. Consumed by doubt, Conway becomes George Bailey on the bridge.

And this is what makes Lost Horizon a great motion picture and one that is relevant to us today. If we were to step out onto the sidewalk in front of our homes and look up and down the street, or if we were to reflect on all that we possess and take for granted, all that we have experienced and regularly benefited from, how much of this could we be convinced was an illusion? A fraud? A lie? More importantly, how likely is it that we could be convinced that our existence is seriously flawed enough to warrant us throwing it away?

The magnificent Capra-ending I’ll not reveal but will leave to you and your DVD player.

The movie has a terrific cast. Opposite Ronald Colman, the quote-unquote love-interest in the story is played by Jane Wyatt. Never a major star in Hollywood, not glamorous in the usual sense, she is perfect in this part; intelligent, mature, appealing. Also included in the cast are the great Hollywood character actors Edward Everett Horton, Sam Jaffe, and Isabel Jewell, as well as Capra movie-regulars Thomas Mitchell and H.B. Warner who are seen in the featured rolls of Uncle Billy and Mr. Gower, respectively, in Its a Wonderful Life. And, it is important to note that John Howard, who played brother George, became a highly decorated soldier in WWII.

The knock-out photography is by Joseph Walker,ASC. There are lots of candlelight and torch-lit scenes and Walker made the most of them. The scenes surrounding the plane crash and the climb through the Himalayas seem bone-chilling cold. In addition the musical score, by Dimitri Tiomkin, is so good you’ll want to run the movie through your stereo sound system with the volume turned up loud.

Suffice it to say, Lost Horizon is a must-see for every movie fan.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Little Perspective on Sarah Palin

Depending on where you get your news you may not have heard this.

On Tuesday, July 7th, Barack Obama had to do some serious diplomatic patchwork as a result of statements made by his Vice President, Joe Biden, which set off alarm bells; statements which appeared to give the Administration’s go-ahead for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuke facilities.

“Absolutely not,” Obama said.

Biden had been speaking on ABC-TV with George Stephanopoulos. Obama was speaking in Moscow with Vladimir Putin.

That Joe Biden could make such a misstatement at that level should come as no surprise. We’ve had plenty of warning. Biden had been in the US Senate since the early 1970s and he’s left a trail of BS going all the way back to his college days when he had to repeat a law class after he was caught cheating. Over the years the press has watched the man cheerfully brag, boast, bloviate, lecture, shoot off his mouth, and get busted for plagiarism without exerting much editorial pressure on him to clean up his act. To them, it’s just Joe. Guys like him come with the furniture in Washington. Everybody’s supposed to know that.

Remember during the election last fall, Joe Biden at that rally telling the wheelchair guy to stand up and take a bow? Remember his cure for the economy was “a three letter word: J-O-B-S, jobs.”? Remember him talking about his favorite eating spot back in Delaware, Katie’s Diner, which and when somebody tried to locate the place turned out to have gone out of business years ago? Biden himself recently referenced last fall’s campaign when he admitted that they had “guessed wrong” about the economy. Guessed? By now even the casually informed have gotten the picture: One heartbeat away from President Barack Obama, a smoker, sits Joe Biden, a nincompoop.

Since Biden’s elevation to the Vice Presidency he’s been painting his gaffes across a larger and more consequential canvas, making intemperate remarks about the economy, joshing in public about the President’s dependence on a Teleprompter, telling people to stay away from public transportation during the flu scare, giving away secure locations, approving the aforementioned Israeli attack….

I mention this as preface for a couple of remarks about Sarah Palin, who was painted as the dangerous dim-bulb during last year’s election.

A lot of editorialists and commentators are wondering what led her to resign the Alaskan Governorship. Sure, there could be some grand reason behind it; a run for the Presidency, or a scandal about to hatch. Maybe, but I doubt it. Rather, I think her reason at least in part could be small and personal. It could be something that might look insignificant to an outsider but to her family, up close, looms big.

Nobody in the press has yet made an attempt to get acquainted with Sarah Palin. Every major interview with her was conducted with an eye to banging her around. No… I take that back. Greta Van Susteren from Fox News covered her pretty closely during the election, spent time with her and her family, and presented a rounded picture, or at least as rounded as you can get on a Sunday night TV show. But nobody else has fairly examined her that I can recall.

From the moment Sarah Palin was introduced as John McCain’s running mate on a podium in Dayton, Ohio the mainstream press jumped on her with both feet. TV talking heads openly derided everything about her, from her Alaskan accent to her hair style. A whisper campaign was revved up on the internet spreading stories of sexual infidelity, abuse of power, book-banning, even witchcraft. Plane loads of reporters went to Alaska to dig up dirt. Her trash was sifted through, not with an idea of fairly evaluating Sarah Palin as a human being or discovering who she is, but in an effort to destroy her, obliterate her, to wipe her and her entire family off the planet. Nobody seemed the least bit curious about her. Outside the Red States and what remains of the Wild West she was openly reviled. It was a public stoning.

Strangely, even a lot of Republican insiders held her in low regard. Why? What did Palin ever do to the GOP besides kick a bunch of Republican grafters away from the public trough in Alaska?

The election is over and we’re well into the Obama Administration. From a perspective of mid-summer of ’09 we can now look around and get an idea of how all that “Hope and Change” is likely to work out. As for the Vice President, I don’t think Joe Biden would be an improvement over Clem Kadiddlehopper. Clem Kadiddlehopper would at least know when to keep his mouth shut.

So what was it about Sarah Palin that generated all that ire and raw hatred?

Some time ago I read an article in a business publication talking about the sorry state of so many advertising agencies. The key point that I recall lay in the fact that most agencies, flat out, don’t know what they are doing. Think about that. They don’t know what creative advertising is, but they have a pre-conceived notion of what creative advertising is supposed to look like, and they always go with the looks.

We’re kind of like that, “we” the voting public. We have preconceived notions of what a politician is supposed to look like. We know that many politicians are BS artists or worse, but we go along with them. We are accustomed to pretense. Image is everything: John Kerry in a duck blind with a 12 guage resting in the crook of his arm. Bill Clinton coming out of a church carrying a Bible, with his finger tucked between pages marking a favorite passage. George Ryan escorting a bus load of orphans around the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield. Come on. Who are they kidding? Well, they’re kidding us. And, for the most part, we know it.

And then, out of the blue, there’s a chance that the genuine article may have come along. Then what do we do?

I am not willing to do more than speculate that Sarah Palin is the “genuine article”, but I allow that she could be. None of us know. We didn’t take time to look.

Human beings like the familiar. We like traditional imagery. Most of us in post-agrarian America are unfamiliar with anyone like Sarah Palin. She is from another century, the kind of woman who helped win the West, hunting, fishing, cooking, raising kids and looking good doing it. She is a reflection of the old hymn “It’s a gift to be simple, It’s a gift to be free, It’s a gift to come down where you ought to be.”

Sarah Palin is so old she is completely new. And while she instantly connected on a basic level with a lot of voters, others were stopped dead in their tracks. To them, she was the “other”; an un-cool graduate of some third-tier, no-name university. While some looked at her as an American original, others saw her as a hayseed who killed and cooked innocent animals and couldn’t name a decent pinot noir if her life depended on it. And her pro-life beliefs are so déclassé.

But, I’m just going to go out on a limb and suppose that at least part of Sarah Palin’s reason for giving up the Governorship is her husband, Todd Palin.

Think about national politics from his point of view. Todd Palin is 45 years old and in perfect condition. He is a licensed pilot and runs his own commercial fishing business, which is dangerous, hard work. In the off-season he works in the oil fields, also not for the faint of heart. Along with this, his sport of choice is Iron Dog racing of which he is a recent champion. He spends much of his life in a wild, unforgiving environment where a simple mistake at the wrong time can finish you; drowned, frozen, augured. As importantly, he comes from a world where your word and your handshake mean something.

His wife, already Governor of the State, is put on the National Ticket. Todd is a supportive husband and a good Dad. The family that campaigns together stays together, so he and the kids got on the plane and whistle-stop their way across America. Before long he discovered that he was looking at The Dark Side of American politics; the handlers, the dealmakers, the press people. Lots of smiles, lots of back patting, lots of hurry up. John McCain may have been aces in his book, but few of the rest of them were Todd Palin’s kind of people. Then, it comes to his attention that stories are being floated that Trig, their youngest, the one with Down’s syndrome was the result of incest. He sees internet sites gain attention by speculating whether Sarah had ever had affairs with co-workers. There were stories of wild spending sprees, attacks on the family’s religion, even on the number of kids they had. Late night hosts told jokes about her. Tina Fey becomes a television star for portraying his wife as a ditz, week after week on Saturday Night Live. He notes there were no jokes about Joe Biden, though, much less about Barack Obama. Television commentators like Keith Olbermann and Jack Cafferty looked like they had to go wash their mouths out after even mentioning the Palin name. And then the press hits pay-dirt; one of their daughters is pregnant. And there it was, the family laundry all over the news.

And as for Feminists “women looking out for women”, and supporting the sisterhood, how about that bumper sticker: “She’s not a woman. She’s a Republican.”

Through all of this Todd Palin stayed with the program, a dutiful husband, on stage, in the motor home, in the background, watching. I thought about Todd Palin a few times last fall, wondering what he thought of the Eastern educated, soft-handed people holding microphones and writing copy. Did he respect them in even a grudging way? I thought about him again a few weeks ago when David Letterman yucked it up about one of the Palin daughters getting boffed by a baseball player during seventh inning stretch. It was probably a good thing David Letterman was in New York and Todd Palin was in Wasilla or David Letterman would be wearing his face backwards.

So, what do you suppose the likelihood is that at some point Todd Palin turned to his wife and said, “Honey, do we really need this?”

Most politicians I’m not saying are heartless bastards who care nothing for their families, but they have at their disposal a support system built to suit the peculiarities of their lives. They have nannies, and tutors, and private schools. They live in family “compounds”. And, after Teddy Kennedy drove Mary Jo off the bridge 40 years ago, they don’t drive their own cars. Right now, for example, here in the State of Illinois a mess is brewing over the ease at which children of the political class are admitted to universities, bumping the more deserving children of others. A phone call or a note is all it takes.

Most politicians live inside a protective “bubble”. What goes on inside the bubble is for the most part invisible to us on the outside. Once in a while there is a gap in the defensive layer and we get a glimpse of someone with their hand in the cookie jar, or going into rehab, or caught with their pants down having affairs with staffers or lobbyists, and once in a while, as in the cases of John Edwards or Elliot Spitzer they peg the Scandal-Meter right off the scale. But for the most part unpleasant occurrences are softened. The press may report, but in a sympathetic, passive-sort of way. Those inside the bubble live and move in a world apart from the rest of us.

Sarah and Todd Palin and their kids live outside the bubble, out here with the rest of us, which is part of her appeal. The bumps and bruises that come with life in the real world are not softened for them. No one is watching their backs, no one with any clout that is. To make things worse the attacks upon Palin were hatched by political and media people from inside the bubble’s protective barrier. It is difficult to shoot back.

Sarah and Todd Palin are family people and all of this must have taken a toll on all of them. So, on 4th of July weekend, 2009, Sarah Palin announced her resignation as Governor. It’s too bad. I’d hate to think that the hacks and the pundits and the late night comedians got to her, but I’d understand it if they did.

It is worth bearing in mind that just a month earlier the Governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, disappeared for a week. It turned out he was not hiking along the Appalachian Trail, as he’d told his staff. He was in Argentina for the fifth or sixth time in a year visiting his girlfriend. Mark Sanford is still Governor. Sarah Palin is the one headed for the door.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Filtered By Time...a book worth reading

My cousin, Robert Faulkender, served two tours in Vietnam.

One evening in the mid-1990s I was sitting in his living room, near Atlanta, and happened to mention a television project I had worked on that aired on the CBS network.

The letters “CBS” was the last thing Bob heard me say before his gaze drifted off into space and he disconnected from the conversation.

As I continued my comments to his wife, Luanne, Bob sat next to her on the sofa, distracted and glowering. A moment later he muttered something, “Those sons of bitches.”

Luanne nodded toward her husband and said, “Bob won’t watch CBS. Don’t even mention it or you’ll get him started.”

“You got that right,” he said. “Those little piss-ants came down to our district to do some filming. I led them around the Village and showed them what was going on. I answered their questions and filled them in on what we were trying to accomplish…And then they went back to New York and lied.”

Luanne put her hand on Bob’s knee. “Calm down. There’s no reason to let yourself get worked up about it now.”

“There were five of us assigned to that district. We had a bottle with a little brandy in it and a few cigars that we saved for occasions. They smoked our cigars and drank up our liquor and then lied about us.”

That was the evening that Bob Faulkender told me that “someday” he was going to write a book that told the real story of Vietnam.

Well, “someday” has arrived.

His book, Filtered By Time, just came out. And while Bob Faulkender is neither the first guy to be lied about in the news, nor the last, he is one of the few who have attempted to set the record straight. And, doggone, he did a fine job of it. I work in a bookstore. I read more than most people, and I got into this and couldn’t put it down.

Filtered By Time is the true account of Robert Faulkender’s first tour of duty in 1964, when he went over as part of the Kennedy “adviser” program. This was about a year before all hell broke loose. He doesn’t attempt to write the complete word on the Vietnam War. But, in terms of a focused, narrow look at a specific slice of that war, it succeeds fully. It is the record of five American soldiers sent to Vung Liem, Vietnam, to organize the locals and in the midst of a guerrilla war. I had a blast reading it only partly because I’m related to the guy who wrote it and there is some pride involved.

In real life Robert Faulkender, Lt. Colonel, retired, has done more things than ten other people put together; hitch hiking around the country in the early 1950s, The US Military Academy class of ‘57, hiking in the Rockies, Ranger School, Vietnam, assignments with foreign governments, tossed into an Afghan jail, world figures, beautiful women, exotic locales… You name it. Put your finger on any spot of the globe. If he hasn’t been there, he’s been close by. I remember my Mother trying to get me to study harder in Spanish class by telling me, “Bobby Faulkender can speak six other languages. You ought to be able to handle just one.”

On top of everything else, Bob is a terrific story teller. Raconteur, I believe, is the 50 cent word. Reading Filtered By Time is like sitting across a table listening to him spin yarns over after dinner drinks. The book is by turns, exciting, funny, informative, and personally revealing.

In writing the book, Bob was advised not to use real names. Thus, Bob renamed himself in the book “Ed Skillman” in honor of our grandfather, Spanish-American War vet and real-life Texas cowboy. Other than that the author’s notes clearly state “The Vietnam events in this book actually occurred.”

While some sequences have the feel of a detached reporting of events, others are very suspenseful or wryly humorous, told with a practiced story-teller's charm. The sketches of people were truly impressive, by far my favorite aspect of the book. They form a warmly human parade of beautifully drawn faces. We meet the province “chief”, an old man who at first seems no match for the Viet Cong, but as the story continues we begin to see from his perspective and he emerges as a crafty old fox. We meet an Indiana farm girl, working for the Department of Agriculture. She’s a handsome, confident young woman who has learned, maybe the hard way, to guard her heart. We meet a trained VC assassin, cut down to size, captured by the local militia and now scared to death. We meet a middle aged German-born US soldier who is using his leave to journey to a small village to look for the young Vietnamese girl he has fallen in love with. We meet American diplomats and bureaucrats, some serious and dedicated, some just putting in their time. And everywhere there are flocks of children. All are memorable people well portrayed.

Strangely, the descriptions of most of the other guys in the unit seem a little too surface by comparison. We get to know them, "K.C." in particular, but not too closely. I got the feeling that Captain Skillman was operating on a different awareness level than the others. I don’t know whether this was intentional or not.

The picture of how the War was being fought at that period of time is interesting. For instance, following a shoot out, we learn that a near-by three-man South Vietnamese guard tower is equipped with only one rifle. One of the other guards carried a sword in case he needed it, but that’s it. I will not spoil Bob’s story by telling you the job of the third guard. He definitely had a job, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it was, and it was a doozy.

Then there is the dark side, the Big Questions that after a while begins to nag in the back of his mind: Is the US government truly committed to winning? Are the American citizens supportive? What he sees and what he hears from official channels does not make him comfortable.

Filtered By Time
is not an action-hero book. There are fire fights and tense scenes regarding an assassin or guerilla attacks, but there are no Hollywood action scenes. At one point Captain Skillman hits a landmine that puts him in a military hospital in the Philippines for a month. I remember when that incident happened and the concerns of my parents for Bob. This book is about real men in a real place getting shot at with real bullets. They are doing a job that ultimately turns out to be thankless. This is not “Rambo”. To the contrary, there is a surprising amount of “nation building” involved; new schools, new market place, improved roads, functioning medical facility, and the like. Bob displays a surprising amount of zeal in guiding this. And, he offers an interesting commentary on that, too, later in the book. Along the way he ponders “productivity”, “capitalism” and “self-help”, and “street-gang politics”.

Something else, too: the book has a strong sub-text. In its pages we see notes from a lab-test on social structure and human nature in the raw. What happens in a community when people no longer can count on their own government to protect them from violence? In what ways do bribery and corruption at the national level affect things locally? How can young men be induced to join a force that is fighting against their own families and their own people? Is individual freedom necessary in order for the common people to achieve prosperity?

Filtered By Time
is a good read and offers a lot to ponder.

One more thing: the CBS News team that started this whole project? That incident is given throw-away treatment, less than a page. After the build-up I was sure Bob would bang on those guys with a vengeance, but he didn’t. He didn't even mention the brandy.

To order a copy of Filtered By Time, you'll find it available directly from iUniverse at 1-800-Authors. Use ISBN #978-0-595-52888-2 or at by clicking here: