October 30, 2006

Out With the Old Nov. 7

According to Vice President Dick Cheney, “dunking” (also known as water boarding) is a “no brainer” if it gets us vital information that saves American lives. I have a great idea. Let’s water board Mr. Cheney until he agrees to tell us when he first knew the war in Iraq would be an absolute disaster.

According to President Bush and Mr. Cheney, we don’t torture. “Water boarding” sounds all too much like something we do on vacation on a surfboard. “Honey, bring the kids over and let’s all go water boarding.” That's why those nice folks at the CIA call it that instead of making someone think they are going to drown.

And, remember, our government has detained countless individuals without access to lawyers or anyone else. Just scooped them up as “possible” terrorists. In most cases it turned out later they hadn’t done anything. Oopsy. How many were blindfolded, shackled and while they were laying flat on their backs had water poured down their nose and throat, inhaling water into their lungs, unable to breathe until they thought they were about to drown? That’s water boarding. This is the first U.S. administration to condone the use of torture. Nice job, fellas. Love that moral high ground the height of an anthill you’re sittin’ on.

If you have any sense of history at all the parallels between Vietnam and the war in Iraq are striking. We were in the Vietnam War to prevent the spread of communism. For years we propped up a corrupt regime installed by us in the vain hope that democracy would take hold. Fifty thousand dead Americans later we left. We could have sacrificed another 50,000 and the end would have been the same. There aren’t enough dead Americans available to prop up a corrupt regime or one not supported by its people. Our president, secretary of defense and others kept thinking that if we just killed enough Vietcong and North Vietnamese somehow democracy would take hold. While we were waiting for that to happen, 10s of thousands of innocent Vietnamese were either napalmed or left homeless. Many who didn’t die got sprayed with Agent Orange as we vainly attempted to deforest sections of the country. Americans and Vietnamese will feel the resulting short-term and long-term effects from Agent Orange for generations.

In our zeal to stop the spread of communism we tore up an entire nation, with no net positive result. We achieved nothing and apparently learned less.

Fast forward to Iraq. It took George W. Bush Jr., surrounded by a phalanx of neo-conservatives, to take us into our second Vietnam. Like Eisenhower and later Kennedy and Johnson, Mr. Bush would commit American forces to a faraway land. This time it would be to stop the spread of another “ism” called terrorism.

Mr. Bush blithely ignored anyone with any sense of history or even common sense who suggested there were no weapons of mass destruction and that the region itself was significantly more fragile than he might believe. We were bringing democracy to Iraq whether it wanted it or not. We toppled the dictator, ignored Sunni and Shiite religious differences that go back thousands of years, installed a puppet government and wonder now why democracy isn’t taking hold. How intellectually empty headed do you have to be to not get this one?

I know, some will say we didn’t install the government; the Iraqi people did. OK, play this scenario out in your head: The Chinese invade the United States, have the president arrested, call for new elections and then keep “boots” on the ground occupying this country. You wouldn’t think the new government was a fraud?

So here we are, just about a week before Election Day. I keep hearing that Joe Lieberman, Rob Simmons, Chris Shays, Nancy Johnson, et al, should be re-elected because of their experience. Wages are stagnant. The housing boom is about to be a bust. We have federal budget deficits out as far as the eye can see. Homeland security needs to protect Puxatawney Phil but sees no “high value” terrorist targets in New York (c’mon, there isn’t just one?). And we are stuck in a war for which there seems no end.

Just like in Vietnam the president, generals and secretary of defense keep telling us we’re winning as more and more Americans come home in body bags. Yeah, those folks in D.C. have done a great job. I think we should send them all packing. How could the new bunch do any worse?

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

October 16, 2006

On the Brink of WWIII -- Are We Better Off Today?

It was Ronald Reagan who was re-elected by asking if “we are better off now than four years ago.” Excellent question. Let’s look at the last six.

In sharp and marked contrast to the last 50 years of diplomacy, we no longer have even passing relations with those who are not our “friends.” In a sharp turn off the edge of the cliff, the Bush Administration has decreed that a nuclear North Korea is “intolerable.” To some degree I agree with him. Kim Jung-Il is no leading light and the notion of his country having nuclear weapons is terrifying.

But let’s take a look at it from Kim Jung-Il’s position. He is now a hero in North Korea and in many Third World nations. He thumbed his nose at the United States. Hell, he thumbed his nose at the world and won. He has the bomb. What does that simple fact say to the leaders of Iran and the rest of the world? We drew a line in the sand, the North Koreans jumped over it. Oopsy.

North Korea may simply have just played its trump card in a hand the United States has been unwilling to admit was a loser. With 140,000-plus American troops tied down in a bloody civil war in Iraq, the United States is either unable or unwilling to take on anything additional.

Unfortunately all of this was predictable. President Bush doesn’t understand diplomacy. To him there are no shades of grey. Saddam Hussein was bad. We’re good. We must bring democracy to Iraq. The rest of the countries will follow. It is childlike simplicity on a grand scale. Unfortunately the rest of the world doesn’t always do what you tell them to do just because you tell them to do it. Funny, but nations and their people consider that just a bit paternalistic and have a tendency to rebel.

Which brings us to Iraq. The president and his allies maintain there is good news out of Iraq; that the country is turning around. I can’t count the number of times I have heard “there is progress being made,” usually followed by something about the mainstream media. Shoot the messenger.

In July of this year 1,063 civilians were killed in Iraq; over 2,700 in August; and 3,300 in September. And those are only estimates. There have been 25 percent more U.S. troop fatalities and double the number of insurgent attacks than a year ago. Journalists in Iraq have been killed in record numbers trying to tell the story the administration tries to hide. And ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff -- nearly killed last January by a roadside bomb while on assignment in Iraq -- has made it all too clear in his latest book: It is a civil war, it is out of control and the administration lives in a constant state of denial.

Yes, more students in Iraq have “education kits” and water treatment plants and schools are being built. But the electricity stays on less than 12 hours a day, and 20 percent of city dwellers say they still do not have running water.

The president maintains that insurgents have failed in their attempt to cause coalition countries to remove their forces. First, I’ve always been troubled by the term coalition when used by this president because it suggests the same type of coalition built in the ’90s by junior’s father.

Australia has 1,000 troops in Iraq. The United Kingdom has 7,500. Poland sent 900 but some are set to be rotated out and not replaced. Romania sent about 600. Georgia about 300. Lithuania, Bosnia and a handful of other countries have sent in 30 or so troops each. Some coalition. It is really the United States and the United Kingdom. Spain has already pulled out its 1,300 troops. The Ukraine is getting ready to do the same with its 1,650 soldiers. Just because the president says there is no mass exodus, doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

So are we better off now than we were six years ago? We’re tied down in a bloody civil war in Iraq with no end in sight. North Korea has “the bomb.” We have gone from being seen as a leader in the world of nations to being seen as the contemptible fool. Iran will soon have “the bomb.” The stock market is up. Our balance of trade with countries like China is out of this world. There is still no fix to Social Security or Medicare. And in six years we have gone from budget surpluses to $400 billion budget deficits with no end in sight.

And let’s not forget our own third world. New Orleans is still a train wreck. Hundreds of thousands of people can’t go home ’cause there is no home and no one willing to admit those homes are never coming back. Our own people slept in filth for days if not weeks because this administration not only hired and promoted people beyond their level of incompetence, but then looked the other way. Nice job, Brownie and Mr. President.

Back in the ’70s the Temptations sang, “Around and around and around it goes, where the world’s headed, nobody knows.” Now we know. Yeah, we really need to vote these folks back in again. They have done a simply terrific job.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

October 2, 2006

Know Your Candidates (Who’s Schlesinger?)

The underpinning of a democracy is that of an “informed electorate.” My civics teacher in elementary school made it perfectly clear that “government” acts as an agent of, by and for “the people.” When government does something it does so in your behalf and in your good name. It raises taxes, educates children, picks up the garbage (in most places) goes to war and dredges harbors because those who have been elected by us believe that those actions or services are in our best interest.

At least that is the way it is supposed to work. Sometimes it doesn’t. Lobbyists, special interests, campaign donors and just plain corrupt politicians circumvent “the system.”

I give my students at UConn a 10-minute ethics presentation. They’ve already taken ethics classes so I call mine an ethics tune-up. It goes like this: If the details of what you did wound up on the front page of the local newspaper with a banner headline, and a reporter asked your mother for her thoughts on your impropriety would she say, “I don’t have a son/daughter.” If so, then don’t do it.

Someone should have told that to now disgraced House Republican Mark Foley before he sent those sexually explicit e-mails to a male page. More amazing is that top House Republicans knew about it for as long as a year but kept the matter secret, allowing Foley to remain head of a congressional caucus on children’s issues. Now that takes chutzpah!

Which gets us back to that “informed electorate” thing. Fewer and fewer people read newspapers. There are also significantly fewer reporters. To the best of my knowledge, every newspaper in Connecticut has “downsized” or “right-sized” their editorial staffs over the past few years. That means less and less local news from which local people can make locally informed decisions. And don’t look to broadcast to get your news. Radio is no better. Consolidation and out-of-state ownership wiped whole news departments off the broadcast map. TV is a mixed bag. In some markets there is more news produced by more news outlets then ever before. In others, a lot less.

But the purpose of this column isn’t to rail against newspaper owners or broadcasters as it is to ask a pretty indelicate question: Do voters have enough information to make a reasoned choice on Election Day? Or have we as journalists failed in our primary if not only responsibility to inform the public?

For the moment we are going to deal only with local news. We’ll save the discussion about what Jack Cafferty of CNN calls the “F-Word Network” for later. You and I both know the “F-Word” Network isn’t impartial. That was never the plan. It is news designed and marketed to a certain segment of the population. It has a handful of seasoned journalists with the remainder of the bullpen made up of agenda-driven talk show hosts and at least one former house painter.

In my view, politicians should worry every time there is a reporter in the room. We’re supposed to ask the hard questions about the war, taxes, unemployment and anything else that comes to mind.

I remember attending a press conference when Joe Lieberman was running for Veep. Joe was going to talk about national security. The stock market had tanked the day before and it looked like it was going to tank that day as well. There was no small number of reporters and photographers there, and after the appropriate de-rigueur questions about national security one of us asked about the stock market. The answer was anything but comprehensive. I followed up with my own question on the market and the economy. At that point one of Joe’s “handlers” found his voice and said they weren’t there to talk about the stock market that day, but about national security.

Excuse me? Since when did the campaign flack tell me what the story is? I reported on the economy, the market and the nominee’s views (however brief) on them. So did most of my colleagues in the room. I probably didn’t cement any long-term friendships that day with Joe and the small troop that went around the United States with him. Being a good journalist was never about making friends with those we cover. But that’s OK. If I need another friend I can always go down to the local shelter and get a second cat.

Do you know what a candidate really thinks or just what the campaign wants you to think?

Do you really care or are you happy to vote believing what you want to believe?

Did either Joe Lieberman or Rob Simmons single-handedly save the sub base from closing? You might get that idea from their campaign ads.

Is John DeStefano’s plan for Connecticut truly any better than Jodi Rell’s? Exactly what are their plans anyway?

Those are the questions you need to be able to answer when you walk into the voting booth. It is our job as reporters to do our best to give you those answers. Read, listen and watch the places that tell you what you need to know, not necessarily what you want to know.

There are three major party candidates running for senator from Connecticut. Lamont is the Democrat. Lieberman is the Republican masquerading as an independent. So who is Alan Schlesinger? And why is he running for the U.S. Senate?

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 18, 2006

Hear Here the ‘Good News’

It is an almost daily harangue from the rightwing, which has somehow captured most of the available air space on radio and to a lesser degree on cable, that the “liberal old media” don’t tell us the truth about all the good things that are happening in the United States. Read that as “all the good things the Bush Administration and conservatives in Congress are doing.”

To a very large degree, they are right. We don’t spend any great amount of valuable broadcast time harping on all the things that didn’t go wrong. You wouldn’t listen to it and you certainly wouldn’t watch it. Back in the late ’80s into the early ’90s, some TV consultants did a bunch of focus groups and concluded that viewers wanted more “good” local news. Recognizing that this might be a trend, the consultants recommended “good news” to many of its stations.

It failed miserably. Ratings plummeted. In most cases, station management pulled the plug on this silly idea about the time they heard the collective TV turnoff click. Unfortunately, viewers don’t care how well their neighbor’s petunias are growing; they want to know who just stuck a stick in whose eye. It is for the same reason most of us slow down to look at a traffic accident.

Since good news has no real audience, ultraconservatives have no choice but to re-brand talk shows into “news-information” shows and sprinkle them all over the cable landscape like used kitty litter. Then, again, at least the litter served a purpose.

This current genre of blabbermouths is hopelessly short on facts but high on vitriol. They reduce even the most complicated of subjects to an issue of liberals versus conservatives. Our judicial system is spared no mercy, thanks to the inexcusable Nancy Grace, whose lot in life appears to be to pummel and berate some mother whose child is missing. Viewers secretly hope they’ll see something “bad” happen, something exciting. This time they almost got their wish. They didn’t see it but the subject of her relentless pursuit for “the truth” committed suicide. Blew her brains out shortly after being interviewed by this former lightweight prosecutor turned even lighter-weight interviewer. Nice job, Nancy. Keep up the good work.

Or they tune in to “Hannity and Colmes” for their nightly diet of bile. A card-carrying member of the flat earth society, Hannity’s sometimes self-deprecating style conveniently hides his true hatred of all that is truly democratic and all that is democracy. Conveniently, it is on the Faux (Fox) News Channel, which has the audacity to use “fair and balanced” as its marketing slogan. It is neither.

Short on correspondents in general, never mind a half-dozen with any institutional memory, the reporting is at best superficial and the whole channel looks more like a “Republican Party Campaign Commercial.”

But never one to shirk my responsibility as a journalist, here is some good news:

  1. As of this moment there have been no tractor-trailer sightings on either the Merrit or Wilbur Cross parkways. It takes someone with the intellect of a broom to fail to understand the signs that say “No Commercial Vehicles.
  1. We haven’t heard of any state legislator being indicted or arrested today. But it is still early.
  1. Alan Schlesinger hasn’t said anything. Not that anyone would know who he is. Short on new ideas and even shorter on money, this one-time state representative, mayor of Derby and frequent visitor to Foxwoods and the New Jersey casinos using the pseudonym Alan Gold, he’ll probably need to hold a “Las Vegas” night at Mohegan Sun to raise any money at all. His poll numbers have yet to hit double digits. Just in case you didn’t know, he is the Republican running for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut.
  1. President Bush hasn’t tried to convince me again today that “waterboarding” isn’t torture. But it is still early.
  1. My mailbox remains unusually free of those sophomoric mailings from anyone running for public office. The ones with the picture of the whole family and the dog on one side and a short list of accomplishments on the other, making sure to point out that he/she is a family person. I’ve always wondered, if you don’t have a family can you borrow one for the picture? Who would know?
  1. Quinnipiac University hasn’t bought any more land in Hamden to build anything but housing for their students.
  1. At least one person went to church Sunday morning and didn’t immediately follow services with an epithet-filled harangue about liberals, commies or longhaired hippies.
  1. My microwave hasn’t exploded.

Happy now?

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 5, 2006

The Last Time You Expanded Your Mind?

About a decade or so ago a fellow by the name of Father Edmund Nadolny put up a billboard on I-95 that read: “Mom and Dad stop religiously abusing me … take me to church or synagogue.”

That is a pretty powerful message for an advertising medium usually reserved for selling jeans or up until recently the latest pack of smokes.

But when was the last time you went to your house of worship? For that matter, when was the last time you went to someone else’s? If you are a Christian, when was the last time you went to a synagogue or a mosque or some other house of worship not yours? If you are an atheist, when was the last time you went to any of them? In my somewhat worldly view, a key to understanding people is to understand their religions, how they see their god and how they see their place with their god. It might help to explain why thousands of years later some in the Middle East are fighting over what seems to us inconsequentially small tracts of land.

When was the last time you went to a foreign country where the people don’t speak your language? It is sobering to realize how hard it is to get along when you can’t communicate. Suddenly you are the foreigner. You are the outsider. You’re different. You stare at the restaurant menu trying to figure out what to eat all the while quietly praying you are not about to order something that would make you run screaming from the room. Imagine going into the supermarket and having no clue what is inside a can of food? Good thing most cans have pictures.

When was the last time you went to a museum? A museum of natural history is nice, but when was the last time you and your kids or grandkids went to an art museum? When was the last time you tried to look at someone’s idea of art, which you think is just plain kooky and tried to figure out what he or she was thinking? I’m still working on Picasso. A foot, an arm, a chair, an ax -- I don’t know what was going on in that man’s mind but I figure if I look long enough it might hit me. If nothing else, it makes me think.

When was the last time you cracked open a book or read something that was longer than four paragraphs? My wife has just about worn out her library card with what she describes as a five-book-a-week habit. She’ll read anything (except for anything that has to do with finance) and I have actually caught her reading vacation guides to foreign countries. That one has me baffled, but who am I to judge? I’ve cut back from my two-book-a-week habit and now spend more time with The New York Times and the New Yorker. Reading fills your mind with questions.

And that is the point of this column. When was the last time you did something not just for its entertainment value but because it would enlighten and enrich you? When was the last time you put yourself in a slightly uncomfortable situation just so you could use your wits and figure out how to become comfortable? It is easy to go to a ballgame, or to stay at home with the kids or grandkids and let them play on the computer. It is easy to let someone or something entertain you. You pay for someone else to do all the work. It is much harder, but I would argue much more important, especially if you are responsible for nurturing young minds, that you seek intellectual enlightenment and entertainment wherever you can find it.

With the exception of cowboys and the Wild West, I would argue there is nothing that is singularly the “American culture.” We are a melting pot of different races, religions and biases and it behooves all of us to understand what makes others tick. Thanks to eviscerated education budgets made all the poorer by the No Child Left Behind act (which I call “No Child Will Learn Too Much”), it terrifies me to think we are raising generations of children who have never studied comparative religion in school, never studied art above and beyond finger painting and read only what it takes to pass the exam.

So do yourself and your kids or grandkids a favor. Hartford and New Haven are filled with museums and galleries. The Timex watch museum is in Waterbury. There is MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art) and the Guggenheim (a personal favorite) and the Whitney in NYC. There is a library fewer than 20 minutes from where you live, with the world literally at your fingertips. Next time don’t just do the easy thing. Next time someone says let’s go watch football, you say I’d rather go look at Renoir.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

August 21, 2006

Joe's Chutzpah

Let’s put the defeat of Joe Lieberman nearly two weeks ago into perspective. Consider the amount of chutzpah it takes to ignore your own party and decide to run for election as an independent. The 18-year veteran senator who was his party’s nominee for vice president not six years ago lost to a political neophyte. And that political neophyte is within striking distance of winning this November.

At this point, if I were Joe Lieberman I would begin to see the handwriting on the wall. His own party faithful has deserted him. Virtually every Democratic political leader in Connecticut and most of the other 49 states has thrown his or her support for primary winner Ned Lamont.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll doesn’t show an insurmountable lead for the three-term incumbent. Remember, he is the three-term incumbent! Lieberman is running against someone who has a virtually inexhaustible supply of cash for his campaign even as he has to scramble to find any money for his.

Lieberman’s only friends? Why if they aren’t George Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Ken Melman -- the darling 4 Musketeers of the Republican right. How much better can it get? Your own party tells you to take a hike and the folks you have been allegedly running against are your newfound friends? Who says politics isn’t just a little bit unusual?

But Joe says he is a moderate and you should re-elect him because he is a moderate and “your” senator. So let’s take a look.

Joe favors big military spending increases and, in the past, the partial privatization of Social Security. In 1995, he was one of five Democrats who voted against cutting spending for the “star wars” space-based missile defense program.

He continues to support our failed war in Iraq and our continued occupation of the country. In the face of every reasonable, logical view, Joe continues to insist that we “stay the course” and do not “cut and run.” There were no weapons of mass destruction, we weren’t greeted as liberators and the county is now in the midst of a civil war and our troops are smack dab in the middle of it. People who are afraid or unwilling to admit they have made mistakes scare me.

And Joe says he is a “moderate.”

In the past Joe has been for “tort” reform. That is another way of saying, “If you get injured by an individual’s or company’s irresponsible acts, good luck getting any money.”

At one point, Lieberman chaired the Center for Jewish and Christian Values, a lovely little group that had on its board some of the true darlings of the fundamentalist Christian right like Ralph Reed and Gary Bauer. And no less than just-about-ready-to-fall-off-the-edge-of-the-Earth rightwing moralist Sen. Sam Browback (R-Kansas) opined in an op-ed piece in The New York Times that he and Lieberman were allies because, “(we) share a belief in universal truths, in a moral order ordained by God and discovered, not created, by man.”

Remember, Joe is a “moderate.”

It was Joe Lieberman who voted for a number of different school voucher programs in the 1990s.

More recently it was our very own Joe Lieberman who voted for Alberto Gonzalez our new attorney general, who helped write the legal opinion allowing torture of enemy combatants. It is Gonzalez who finds no problem with illegally listening into telephone conversations under the guise of “protecting” Americans, and has threatened to start prosecuting journalists who leak classified documents that might embarrass the government or expose illegal activities. The fact that just about everything these days in Washington is stamped “classified” -- probably including the White House toilet paper -- a requisition form is of little import.

And Joe says he has saved Connecticut jobs. Just look at the ones he saved at Sub Base New London. I was at the Base Realignment and Closure Commission hearing in Boston. Joe had a minor part. That sub base is where it is today because everyone including the governor crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” in the presentation to the BRAC.

Besides, Joe’s 18 years weren’t enough to keep the presidential helicopter contract -- built at Sikorsky since 1957 -- at the Stratford-based helicopter manufacturer. Now every time the president gets on a "helo" from the south lawn at the White House he will be doing so in an aircraft whose engine and transmission are made overseas. Oopsy.

In his defense, Joe has been a longstanding supporter of abortion rights and voted to repeal the Bush tax cuts.

There it is! I knew if I looked hard enough I would find the “moderate!”

He says we should re-elect him for his experience and that now is not the time to go with someone new. Funny, that is not what he said when he ran against Lowell Weicker 18 years ago.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

August 7, 2006

Goodbye, Joe

If (and I increasingly suspect when) Joe Lieberman loses to Ned Lamont tomorrow he will only have himself to blame. And you’ll be able to see the skid marks all along the political highway from politicians slamming on the brakes of support and driving to the sidelines if he tries to run as an independent. Mainstream Democratic politicians have supported Lieberman as much out of a sense of loyalty as out of a sense of necessity. Joe was a winner for the party and political parties survive by supporting their own.

And what will have caused the former darling of the Democratic Party, the former vice presidential nominee to fail? Cowardice and a failure to ask questions.

Joe didn’t ask the hard questions before we shipped almost 200,000 troops over to Iraq to topple a dictator and allegedly liberate a country. He blithely ignored those who said it was going to be a “slam dunk” or a “cakewalk,” preferring instead to believe the rosy scenarios presented by the Bush Administration. Just in case you forgot, it was President Bush on May 1, 2003, who declared an “end to combat operations in Iraq.”

Good thing he told me that.

But faced with what is now both a political and operational quagmire -- in part of his own doing -- Joe has decided he doesn’t like the war anymore and instead is running countless ads promoting his positions on the environment, jobs, health care, you name it. Good thing no one asked him if in an earlier life he would have called that the mark of a shallow politician, one unable or unwilling to admit his mistakes. If he is so proud of his position on the war in Iraq then why not make it the central part of his campaign? Why not stand straight up and say, “I think going into Iraq was a noble idea and I believe we are there for all of the right reasons, and if people die then people die but it is worth it.”

Instead, the junior senator from Connecticut downplays both the war and his position on it. Instead, he attacks Ned Lamont as being a one-issue candidate. That is not true but begs the larger question: Please senator, tell me what issue could be more important than our new Vietnam in the desert where American troops increasingly find themselves in the middle of sectarian violence in a country slipping into civil war?

Jobs? Healthcare? Social Security?

How could any of them be more important than this train wreck of a war? Daily we send Americans off to die fighting a war in a country where it has become increasingly apparent there was absolutely no justification. There were no weapons of mass destruction and arguably very few weapons of minor destruction. Congratulations, in three years we’ve empowered Muslim extremists and united our enemies. Good thing we weren’t trying to make a mess of the region.

And for the love of all that is holy, please don’t tell me that we have to ignore how we got into this terrible mess and focus on how we implement what the president now calls a “plan for victory.” Every action has consequences, and committing a nation to a war we never should have gotten involved in in the first place should be a prime example. It is an insult to the brave men and women who have given their lives in the service of their country to suggest that jobs, spotted owls or anything else in Connecticut are of greater importance.

When this is all over I hope someone will find out what happened to the Joe Lieberman I once knew. As a Connecticut attorney general, there was none better. Some say he actually made the job into the one Dick Blumenthal now has. Clearly Joe was unafraid to take on special interests and defend the little guy. After all, it was Joe Lieberman who took on Stop & Shop and other supermarket chains over their attempt to get rid of double coupons. Think about it, an AG who thought so much of the little guy that he went to battle over supermarket double coupons.

That was the guy Connecticut elected and re-elected as its senator. Now he tries to either ignore or defend the indefensible. I don’t know what happened to the old Joe Lieberman but I sure miss him.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

July 24, 2006

With Just A Veto, Death to Many

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that President Bush vetoed a stem-cell research bill. It goes to prove not only his moral bankruptcy, but also the shallowness of this thought. He is unable to tell the difference between a microscopic stem cell (hundreds would fit in the "dot" on top of the "i" in "microscopic") and fully developed human life.

In theory, a stem cell could someday become a life. Juxtapose that to one who is a living, breathing, sentient being and there should be no question as to the "winner." But in the closed, narrowly focused inept mind of the president, all life is life. That those stem cells might one day assist in finding a cure for Parkinson's disease, cancer and a list of other human aliments is unimportant to the president and his Bible-thumping ilk.

Rosalind Kalb died just over six years ago. If I were to best describe her it would be as a cultured woman who challenged everyone around her to think. She loved the opera (why, is still beyond me) and made every opportunity to see it. Hardly a rich woman, she had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera and ushered me along to every new art and history exhibit at just about any museum in New York. She enjoyed traveling and was a voracious reader, making it a point until very late in life to read The New York Times every day along with a short list of magazines, books and even the supremely badly written local newspaper. She was the first in her family to go to college and took great pride in getting a master's and becoming a teacher, and later on a guidance counselor in the New York City public school system.

I tell you all of this in order to put a human face to the story. We probably started noticing something was wrong when Mother was in her early 60s. Her hands shook every once in a while. Not much at first but by the time she turned 68 it was all too evident the shakes were worse. Eventually, she went to see a doctor and after countless tests they figured out that Mother had Parkinson's.

If all the disease ever did was make your hands shake, I guess Mother could have lived with it. She was a Depression-era baby and had learned to live with many things. But if you know anything about Parkinson's, you know that the most insidious part of the disease is that it steals your mind and your motor skills. I suspect Mother was not very troubled that the disease made it impossible for her to play tennis or golf. She never had played either and saw them as clearly pointless. After all there was so much to still learn and see.

But steal her mind? It infuriated her. Of all the things she valued it was the ability to think, to remember things that happened both that day and years ago. Parkinson's steals that. It steals your ability to remember even the things you did just minutes ago. I remember the time I tried to teach Mother how to use a remote control for her TV.

She was living at home in the apartment where she had lived for 40 years. She had a 24-hour aide because she couldn't bathe herself and was forced to use Depends. From a woman who was fiercely independent, my Mother had become someone who was dependent on virtually everyone. She was ashamed and hurt but she still hoped to be a little independent.

Her Parkinson's was pretty advanced. She always smiled when I walked into the room, clearly remembering who I was. She could talk for hours about the past, but couldn't remember who the president was or when I had last visited.

Once, after I finished showing her how to use her new remote control (with very large buttons) she said, "OK, you try." She looked at me with that blank stare I had come to know and said, "First you have to show me how."

I tell you this not to make you sad or feel sorry but to hopefully make you angry. There is a cure for this disease and others like it, but our president and those like him have put their personal views above those of everyone else. In their world, extending the life of brain dead Terry Schiavo was right and all of the might of Congress and government would be brought to bear to do that.

As for the thousands who die quietly because their mind and motor functions have just slipped away, only a veto. Not even a peep. Someone needs to explain that to me. It is going to be really hard.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

July 10, 2006

The Unknown Versus Joe

A little less than a month from now Connecticut Democrats are going to have to make a hard choice. Do they vote for a guy who has stood up for them in the U.S. Senate for the last 18 years or do they go with a political neophyte? Actually, does it really matter?

There are roughly two million registered voters in Connecticut, according to the office of the Secretary of the State. Of those, 900,000 are independents, 700,000 are Democrats and 500,000 are Republicans. Both Lowell Weicker and John Rowland (two opposites if ever there were two opposites) proved a long time ago that you can win if you get support from independents, some Republicans and some Democrats. It's in the numbers.

So when Joe announced he was willing to run as an independent it had nothing to do with "giving all the voters in Connecticut a chance to vote for me." It was a pretty loud: "I dare you." Go ahead, vote for the other guy. See if I care. I'll win without you.

And if you are a Connecticut Democrat, Joe is not an easy guy to dislike. Especially if you are a liberal Democrat. He is pretty good on most of the issues. Gets money for housing, lobstermen and Long Island Sound cleanup. Saved jobs at Electric Boat. I've covered Joe as a reporter for almost two decades and he appears to be a genuinely nice guy. Sounds like the guy you have to vote for if you are a "liberal" or "progressive " Democrat.

But then there is that "oopsy" problem. That is my way of saying you will not have to wait long to hear the sound of the other shoe dropping. If Joe was anti-war in the '70's, he became GI Joe in the '90's. He has supported virtually every new weapons system and military-budget hike including the now infamous "anti-ballistic missile system" -- the only one of its kind that comes with its own seeing eye dog and cane. Not only has it missed five of the last nine target tests (oops) but it has budget-busting, billion-dollar-cost overruns that would make any Pentagon procurement officer proud.

Joe has sided with the likes of the Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed and Conservative Sen. Jesse Helms. In the case of Reed it was to create the "Center for Christian and Jewish Values," a lovely little group that promotes prayer in schools and vouchers for private school tuition. It was Joe Lieberman along with Lynne Cheney who started up the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, another warm and fuzzy bunch whose mission it is to hound university professors it sees as liberal for criticizing foreign policy. He voted for the under-funded loophole laden No Child Left Behind Act, and the seemingly morally bankrupt Alberto Gonzales for attorney general. It was Gonzales who wrote the legal opinion that has allowed the United States to torture or look the other way when others torture "enemy combatants" with impunity.

As for Lamont, the worst thing you can say about him if you are a Democrat is that he is a rich Greenwich political neophyte running for senator. For some that may be damning enough.

I hope a lot of Democrats come out and vote in the Aug. 8 primary. For some it will be a referendum on the Iraq war and the failed foreign policies of the Bush Administration, which also sees the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as a nuisance. For others it will be a chance to tell Connecticut's junior senator and possibly the rest of the United States that if you run on your record you have a responsibility to tell people about all of it, not just the parts you think your constituents will like.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

June 27, 2006

Bring Back the Sunday Blues

With the exception of purchasing an occasional food item, I don't shop on Sunday. It is not that I'm in church. I'm Jewish. My Sabbath starts Friday. It is a philosophical thing. Sunday is the day I reserve to spend with family and friends -- not on line at Target.

To hear some of my friends talk, they are always on the run. Their kids are off to soccer, basketball, baseball, dancing, prancing, painting, swimming, skating. They are zipping here, zipping there and zipping everywhere. No free moment of their or their children's lives has been left unaccounted. Life has been reduced to organizing a calendar.

A few months ago, I returned from visiting family in Denmark. It had been all too long and I had forgotten the differences between this small country and the United States. Of all the things I remember it is not the food (although very good), the aquavit (a Danish drink barely similar to vodka, which one drinks ice cold with a beer chaser) or the history (Denmark is over 700 years old). It is the relatively relaxed way in which people go about their lives, in marked contrast to the 24/7 way of Americans.

I'm sure that Annelise makes sure her sons get football (soccer) practice the required number of days a week. I have no doubt she also goes to the supermarket, pays bills and does all the things U.S. mothers do.

I 'm sure Henrik spends the day doing whatever it is that he does and then bicycles home. Most Danes use bicycles and mass transit rather than cars. You don't see as many fat people in Denmark, but that is another topic for another day.

However, there is one thing Danes, Belgians, Nova Scotians, residents of a handful of other countries and those curiously of Bergen County, N.J., all have in common: you can't go shopping on Sunday.

History sidebar: They are called "blue laws" and they regulate what can and cannot be done on Sunday. The blue laws have an interesting history, having been initially created by Connecticut Gov. Theophilius Eaton with the assistance of Rev. John Cotton in 1655, for the colony of New Haven. The following year they were printed in London and then distributed to New Haven households. But this isn't a history lesson.

What I noticed more than anything else in Denmark was that with stores closed on Sunday, people have time for one another. Think of it, a day when you can't go shopping, can't go to the mall, can't do much of anything except spend time with family and friends. Families get together and -- talk. People go out for a leisurely lunch or dinner on Saturday night or Sunday. Leisurely defined as three to four hours. They don't race between this store and that one hoping to get 10 percent off exactly what I am not sure.

Now you might be thinking: "How would I live if I couldn't go shopping on Sunday? When would I find time to go to the mall, buy clothes, makeup, you know, stuff?"

Well maybe that is part of the problem. Shopping is now a recreational event. Judging by ever-increasing waist sizes, for many it is the only recreation they get. Flush with disposable income or a credit card that hasn't been completely maxed out, people go shopping. They don't need anything. They may not even want anything. But malling has become entertainment.

Parents send their kids to the mall. Why? Because there are things to do and food courts to empty. Adults wander the mall sometimes with kids in tow, sometimes not. I overheard a parent one day say she left her kids with a neighbor so she could have some privacy. She was going to the mall to relax.

But here is another curious thing. If closing stores and banning Sunday sales of just about everything would actually get families to spend more time together, where is that stalwart supporter of the American Family: the church?

Why isn't the church leading the charge to bring back Sunday blue laws? Faced with the horrific thought of actually having to spend time with their spouses and other assorted relatives, many would seek refuge in their house of worship. Better to pray to your favorite deity than have to actually talk to Aunt Jeanine or Uncle Joe.

You know what I think? We have become a country of hypocrites. Let's stand up for the family and good moral values so long as it doesn't mean we actually have to stay home and talk about them. We'd rather be shopping.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

June 12, 2006

'We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident'

Let me see if I get this right. It has been 1,138 days since President Bush declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq. Thanks to the last five years of profligate spending and unheard of tax cuts, the national debt approaches $1 trillion, Social Security is in trouble, New Orleans could be flooded by a long drizzle and hundreds of thousands of Americans have little or no medical insurance.

Against that backdrop the Bush Administration and its supporters in a genuflect Congress have decided all of those issues are secondary to protecting marriage.

You and I both know it is just politics. Faced with what may be a crushing defeat this coming November, the Republican Party believes it must shore up its crumbling base somehow. Can't start another war. It is too early to decry a war against Christmas. Time to haul out those time-tested flag burning, prayer in public school and save marriage constitutional amendments. It is an every four-year spring ritual with the same kind of timing as the swallows returning to Capistrano -- but more like the buzzards returning to Hinckley, Ohio.

I may have missed something someplace but is "marriage" under some grand assault similar to the landing of Normandy? Are throngs of gay men and lesbians lined up at every town hall demanding the right to marry? If one million gay people in the United States want to marry, that would only represent about three-10ths of one percent of the total population. That is also a big if. These are people who in many cases have been living together for decades. Their relationships are no less important and no less vibrant and vital than their heterosexual counterparts' -- yet you would think the world is about to stop spinning on its axis if these folks legally exchange vows.

But let's think about this. It wasn't until the 12th century that the Catholic Church and other orthodoxies officially recognized a marriage as that of a man and woman. Marriage exists to provide social and legal recognition for a relationship. In the case of a religious ceremony, the religious authority acts as both a representative of the religion and an agent of the state. In a religious ceremony the officiate affirms the marriage under God. In a civil ceremony it is a contract. Either way it is still a "marriage."

I have a good friend named Mark. He and his partner, Paul, are raising a thoughtful, bright young boy. And I along with anyone who knows either or both couldn't care less they're gay. I can't think of two people who are more concerned about each other or the welfare and well being of their child. Isn't that what marriage is supposed to be about? Are they any less bonded or any less concerned with each other because they are of the same sex? With one of every two heterosexual marriages ending in divorce you go ahead and try proving that one. I'll stand on the sidelines and laugh.

So the real problem with gay marriage is religion. The church through its various dignitaries and representatives wrings its hands and ruminates on the end of society at the thought of gay marriage. Its representatives, both political and religious, whisper in the ear of politicians that their supporters will look to others if they don't "save marriage." The devil has a new friend: homophobia covered in a sacramental cloth.

Final thought. With one out of two marriages ending in total failure, I'd first make it harder for heterosexual couples to get married before I worry about the homosexual ones. Where is the hue and cry about the divorce rate? I don't see anyone beating their chests too hard about that one. Is it perhaps because many of the "save marriage" types have been divorced so many times they have a divorce attorney on retainer and their pre-nup is thicker than the Bible?

Marriage isn't dying and certainly doesn't need "saving, " but if you are hell bent on doing something just to say you did it, then require that people who want to enter into "the bonds of matrimony" actually have a clue before they take out the license.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

May 30, 2006

Defining Insanity

Since this column is in a Hamden "newspaper," it probably makes sense every once in a while to focus on Hamden issues. I've tried to stay away from them for the most part because you get a fairly high diet of opinion on this town from just about everyone else, so why add to the chorus?

But I have to tell you, sometimes the news is too good to pass on. Rather than do a long disposition on any one thing, I have clumped them all together. Individually, they are bothersome. As a collection, they indicate some real problems with this town we call home.

I've lived in a bunch of cities and towns both in Connecticut and a small collection of other states. Politics is politics whether it is here, Boston, Philadelphia or Youngstown, Ohio. You can find clones of the political hacks in Pittsburgh residing very nicely within the confines of Hamden and its immediate neighbors. Or maybe it is the other way around. Maybe they cloned here and went there. Either way, they procreated.

Let's start with a small level of insanity and move upward to some of the larger examples. How about the library director? Could someone explain to me the convoluted logic of eliminating his position? The library is one of the most visited places in town so it makes perfect sense to have it go headless. There is a classic sign of dumbness in action.

Dumb idea No. 2: splitting the mil rate for residential property and automobiles. An idea that achieves what? Raising taxes on automobiles and lowering it by a pittance on residential property? Pandering. Sounds good on paper but doesn't do much. Great when you're running for re-election. It is right up there with the idea promoted by at least one councilman of rolling layoffs. Who in their right mind is going to agree to a week without pay so that they can come back and catch up on all the work that didn't get done while they were gone?

Then there is that little "perception is reality" problem. Did I miss something or has gasoline suddenly gone from $2.10 per gallon to about $3? So could someone please explain to me why the mayor sees it necessary to buy an SUV? I know, it is a gas-sipping SUV that gets 16 mpg instead of a Hummer that gets, oh I don't know, probably 3 mpg. Probably runs on cooking oil. Should run on hot air.

Why not a nice, reasonable four-door anything? It could be a Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda -- you name it. It should get 25 mpg. Why? Because perception is reality, and the perception is that starting right at the top no one appears to give a damn about the taxpayer. I'm all for paying taxes but I hate seeing money get wasted. On a good day an SUV is a waste of money and resources. Do I want a "sport" for a mayor (one who needs a sport utility vehicle) or do I want a chef executive? Have I missed some incredible off-road hills in Hamden he must climb? The SUV is a "spoils of war" for winning the election. Shame on you. I expect better of my elected officials.

Everyone picks on education. "It costs too much." "We don't get our money's worth." "Teachers don't work hard enough."

OK, let me disclose that my mother was a teacher and I have a few good friends who are teachers. They get to spend six to eight hours a day in rooms filled with well-behaved little darlings, like your sons and daughters. Now, I want you to imagine that for a moment. Six to eight hours a day in a room with 20 to 25 well-behaved, quiet, attentive children just like yours. After all, your kids never act out, are never impolite and are always attentive.

Of course they are. I also believe in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. And we expect instructors to teach them something, too. We pay them too much? Hah! We can't pay them enough.

That said, I think we should get back to teaching and education. Get rid of half the principals and burn at least half the paperwork. Save plenty of money there. Oh yeah, institute a "pay to play" sports program and make sure it covers the real and full cost of the program. Let's not confuse sports with culture. It isn't. We should involve students in music, art, history, science, mathematics as a core curriculum in and out of the classroom. Football? Field hockey? Feh!

While I am at it maybe someone can explain the hiring process in the town of Hamden. Seems that connections, not qualifications, matter if you want to become, say, fire chief. I say we abolish the position all together just like we did the library director. See which one we'll miss more.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

May 15, 2006

TV Reporters, a Serious Bunch

Part of the deal when I started writing this column was that every once in a while I would write about broadcasting. I've been a journalist in one form or another for almost the last 30 years. Most of my professional life I've been a reporter. We get paid to see stuff, put it into some perspective, provide some context and tell you what we know.

Read that last sentence again because that is the crux of today's commentary, or diatribe if you prefer. It is our profession not to just get it on the air but to get it on the air once we know it is right -- and once we can put the facts we know into some perspective.

Reporting is not about seeing who can get the most information to the public as quickly as possible. You don't need reporters to do that. Just aim the camera, point and shoot. The job of a reporter is much more than just to be "eyes and ears." That is a subtlety lost to the "we report, you decide " crowd. Our job is to make sure the information is accurate and to weigh it against what we know. Our job is not just to report, but to separate truth from rumor.

That's the difference between most of the talking heads on the "fair and balanced" channel and those who are reporters for a living. We don't have the luxury of just telling you what we think; our job is to tell you what we know. Don't confuse the two. Talk show hosts aren't reporters. Rarely do they report facts and on the oft chance they do, they do so with their own agenda in mind. Get your "news" from talk show hosts? Good luck.

I tell you all of this having just returned from the Radio-Television News Directors Association annual convention. Let me assure you that local TV news is alive and well and thriving in most of the country. Yes, there is always one newscast in every market that truly stinks, but for the most part serious journalists are doing serious journalism.

Well sort of.

One featured speaker was ABC's Charles Gibson. In a speech to the convention he pointed out that more people get their news from local TV news than from any other news source. Not newspapers, not magazines, not radio. Local TV.

From 1998 to 2002, the Project for Excellence in Journalism catalogued and cross-referenced 2,400 newscasts from 154 stations in over 50 markets. Sixty-one percent of those newscasts began with a crime, accident or disaster story. In half of those programs, the first three were from those categories. In marked contrast, government or politics was one in 12; education one in 41.

And here is the interesting part. The authors of this study found more people watched TV programs about ideas, issues and policies than about crime, accidents or disasters.

Then why do so many local newscasts lead with "breaking news" about a squirrel -- someone's pet squirrel -- that has been hit by a runaway child's red wagon?

We're fed a steady diet of stories on homicides, car accidents, downed trees, floods and other apparently cataclysmic events. They are reported breathlessly at the top of the newscast. They are the easiest things to report. Roll a live truck, plant a reporter in front of a good backdrop and off you go. Anyone can cover crime. It is easy to be the police and fire blotter. It is much harder to cover stories that require "reporting."

Richard Salant is one of the smartest men I was ever fortunate enough to have dinner with. For a time he was president of CBS News, and heralded by those in and out of the business as one of the best in running a great newsroom. He was the fellow who was heard to say on more than one occasion, "Our job is to tell you what you need to know, not necessarily what you want to know."

The fact that the audience may want to know that story about the squirrel is irrelevant. The story is irrelevant and we do nothing short of pander to the audience when we report it. Shame on us.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

May 1, 2006

Bring Back The Draft

Twenty-four hundred American servicemen have died in Iraq. Tens of thousands have been wounded. Iraqis? The number is conservatively estimated at 30,000 dead.

There is one and almost sure way to end the war in Iraq. It is called "selective service."

As a child of the '60s, and one who helped close his high school repeatedly to protest the war in Vietnam, I was one of those who applauded the end of forced conscription. Selective service (or the draft) required every able-bodied 18-year-old man to register. Then the draft board would randomly select birthdates for the coming year. If your number was high enough you were off to fight in the hell that was Vietnam. More and more of us rallied against the war, some fled to Canada others went to jail rather than fight in an unjust, illegal war.

The sharp minds in the Pentagon realized that taking everybody isn't a good idea. You want minds you can control and if you randomly take everyone you get lots of warm bodies, but those bodies have families at home. Some of them might not like the war. Freethinking and questioning authority is not a good thing for the armed forces. The answer? Drop this draft thing. And in its place, establish an all-volunteer professional army. An army of mercenaries with a single employer.

Before I met my wife, I dated Barbara. One of her few claims to any accomplishment in life -- other than being from Fairfield County -- was that of having been married. She had a 17-year-old son and a father who made Rush Limbaugh look liberal. We'll call him "Bill." (I really forget his name.) He had retired from the military after doing his 35.

One night we got into a discussion about invading Iraq. We had yet to invade and Bill was making his usual case for America as the arbiter of what is right and wrong and how in the aftermath of 9/11 we should not only invade Iraq but keep right on going and bomb Iran, Saudi Arabia and a host of other countries.

"Might as well do it all at once" he said.

Seeing an opportunity, I asked him where he planned to find the troops to invade and subsequently occupy a handful of countries for an indeterminate period of time. He replied that we would probably have to bring back "selective service." I inquired further and found out he was also against most student deferments. Turn 18. Practice saying "hoorah."

I smiled. It was "that" kind of smile.

I reminded him that he had a grandson and wouldn't that strapping young gentleman look truly "smart" decked out in fatigues. He turned white as a ghost. He hadn't thought this all the way through. He sputtered something about having "different plans for my grandson than a tour in the military." His daughter, my then-girlfriend, tried vainly to come to her father's rescue but to no avail. Here was the double standard. Forced conscription was fine so long as it didn't involve his family.

I was reminded about all of this while reading a copy of the Sunday New York Times on a flight from Hartford to Las Vegas, where I attended a three-day broadcaster's convention. In the article, retired Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold -- a former operations officer for the Joint Chiefs -- is quoted from an article he wrote for Time magazine. He wrote: "My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions -- or bury the results."

That short paragraph by Newbold more than anything else sums up our current national problem. We invaded someone else's country illegally but most people don't care because their own kids aren't threatened. It is easy to cheer on someone else's child.

So bring back the draft. It would puncture the comfortable bubble that surrounds this war. Send a draft notice to the president's daughters and the sons and daughters of every member of the cabinet. Don't stop there. Send one to the sons and daughters of every member of both the House and Senate. No exemptions. You turn 18. You say hoorah!

The war would end in a week.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

April 17, 2006

The Morning After

Sometimes it is all I can do but shake my head in wonderment about what we do in the name of religion. People kill in the name of religion. Some of them want to kill us. We haven't gotten that far yet but we are willing to use religion as a weapon. We will use it as a means to relegate women to second-class citizenship in Connecticut.

Here is my problem. Our Catholic hospitals in Connecticut refuse to dispense the "morning after" pill. It is called "Plan B" but if you are raped I suspect it is "Plan A." The argument used by these four hospitals is that the pill is a form of abortion and Catholic hospitals don't do abortions. Maybe they are confused. RU-486 is the "abortion pill." No one would suggest it is anything less. The "Plan B" pill works by preventing a pregnancy rather than by ending one. Some anti-choice groups claim it is an abortifacient. Oopsy! They have confused politics with medicine again.

Full disclosure: I am the 1990 Media Award recipient from Planned Parenthood of Connecticut. I believe they do God's work. Maybe not your God's, but my God's. Mostly what they do is educate and, yes, they do some abortions. My $25 a year clearly doesn't make me one of their larger donors.

Second disclosure: I'm Jewish. I'm writing this on Easter Sunday. Good thing I don't believe in hell.

Back to the four Catholic hospitals. Try to imagine what it must feel like to be raped. Against your will someone has physically violated you. The one thing you can truly call your own -- your body -- has been ruthlessly attacked. Somehow you get to the hospital emergency room. Chances are he probably didn't stop to put on protection. You remember from your 10th-grade biology class that it only takes one of those little fish to get you pregnant and your mind races with the incomprehensible thought (as if being raped isn't enough) that he might have made you pregnant!

Against that backdrop, the four Catholic hospitals would take the "moral high ground" of refusing to dispense the "morning after pill." Here is the cab fare, go to that hospital down the street. It is run by Muslims or Jews or maybe even atheists. But they're not Catholics. Catholics protect the unborn. What about protecting the currently living? Well, that is another matter all together. Compassion and understanding at its finest.

I'm having trouble with the notion that a Catholic hospital can decide what kind of emergency treatment it can provide. Could a radical-Muslim fundamentalist hospital refuse to treat Jews? Could a Christian Scientist hospital refuse to operate on anyone?

The need for the "morning after" pill comes at a time when an individual is most vulnerable and most traumatized. Part of the responsibility of religion is to provide compassion and understanding. The failure of Catholic leadership to understand that little bit of reality terrifies me.

In its wisdom, some legislators have tied "Plan B" to fuel assistance for the four hospitals. Bad idea. Treat the four hospitals just like Wal-Mart -- if you don't agree to provide "Plan B" to those who need it, we'll stop doing business with you. By the way, that includes taking away your operating certificate. You're licensed to treat everyone, not just the people who agree with you.

When people show up in an emergency room they should not have to check the religious affiliation over the front door. The state licenses hospitals to do business and at the end of the day a hospital is a business. So it all comes down to money. Too bad. Obviously in their zeal to protect what they see as their moral high ground some religious leaders have forgotten religion must provide compassion and understanding -- not just to those who might become sentient living beings but also to those who are now.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

April 3, 2006

There's a Liar in the House

Tune in to anything that currently and laughingly passes for "talk" radio or a cable TV "talk" show and you will conclude that all of the world's problems are caused by the American Civil Liberties Union.

It is the ACLU that is making it harder for the administration to fight terrorists. They are against Christmas, Easter, the Pledge of Allegiance, marriage, the family. Listen to some of these bile-belching hate-mongers and you might even begin to believe that the ACLU is "un-American" -- whatever that means. I am happy to tell you that I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. Those are the folks whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights. The question isn't why I am a member of the ACLU. It's why aren't you?

On the oft chance that the ACLU hasn't ruined your life, there is always President Bush. I don't know about you but I can say without reservation that I love this country. I also think it has been taken over, at least temporarily, by liars and thieves. How so? President Bush has lied to the American people on more than one occasion either through omission or commission for at least the last five years. For reasons escapable to me we can't seem to call George Bush a liar. We say he "misspoke." Or he "failed to be clear."

The latest "oopsy?" He now says he never explicitly linked al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein. Did someone in the White House press office forget to remind the president that his press conferences are videotaped? He says he doesn't read newspapers but can we pray that he at least turns on the TV now and then, if only to watch himself or to see if Bill O'Reilly has gotten in trouble lately with a loofa sponge? President George Bush lied when he made the linkage between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. He knew it then and he knows it now.

Then there was that pesky little revelation in The New York Times last month that he and Tony Blair talked in private about what needed to be done to invade Iraq. Not a problem except that publicly he was saying he was doing all he could to avoid war. The president has repeatedly said, "No president wants to go to war." This one did. Why can't we admit we have a liar in office?

When the president took it upon himself to approve the eavesdropping of American citizens he violated the law. He keeps saying that we are only wiretapping terrorists, but how do we know who is and who isn't? Obviously we listen to everyone and then "filter out" the ones we think are terrorists and then listen to them. Are you comfortable with some functionary in some government office listening in on your conversations to decide whether you're a terrorist?

So we have a lying, lawbreaker running the country. Forget about blaming liberals. Worry about the so-called conservatives. They're the ones who invaded a sovereign nation without provocation. Who listen in on your phone calls. Who run roughshod over the Bill of Rights. And who lie to you with a smile.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

March 20, 2006

Please Raise My Taxes

Sometimes I think it is best to start off a column (especially a new one) with a sweeping generalization. Here's mine: We pay too little in taxes. There it is. In one sentence I have alienated some random percentage of readers and piqued the curiousity of the other. I've also set myself apart from at least 60 percent of elected officials.

Say "tax increase" and you can watch politicians race for cover. Can't say "taxes" without saying "cut" right next to it. So we don't raise taxes anymore. We have "user fees" (taxes) or "revenue enhancements." Call it anything you like but it comes down to a simple point: government needs money to do the things you expect it to do. That loud sound you hear is the president extolling the virtues of tax cuts, saying that the economy is improving because (and I paraphrase), "When the people have their money in their pockets then it is good for the country." Sounds like the president, doesn't it?

If I ever decide to run for elected office it will be on the "You Pay $4.95 Tax Plan." You and I will pay $4.95 in income taxes. Everyone else? Who cares? You see, I suspect you want your taxes to be lower. And if I only talk to a few people at a time I could probably get some people to actually buy into my plan. You and I should pay less because we're paying too much. Everybody else should pay more.

In case you are wondering, we have some of the lowest taxes in the world. Taxes in Denmark, Finland (both have socialized medicine) and France were in the mid-40 percent in 2000. Sweden just over 50 percent (and everything there is socialized.) Great Britain and Germany just under 40 percent. The United States, 30 percent. And that was before the tax cuts.

So cutting taxes is good, right?

For you and me it is because we get to buy large-screen TVs and clothing made by people who are paid pennies a day in countries I can't even find on a map. But cutting taxes now only increases taxes later. Yes, the president is absolutely right when he says federal income taxes were only 17.5 percent of the gross domestic product in 2005, down from an average of 18.2 percent from 1965-2000. But there is an unstated "oopsie" there. In the long run taxes reflect spending. Spend more and you have to tax more. There is a practical limit to the size of budget deficits and the federal debt. As we spend more every year, sooner or later taxes will have to go up. A lot! In 2003, the interest on the federal debt was $153 billion. In 2010, the Bush Administration has projected it to be $310 billion. That is just the interest! Where do we think that money is going to come from?

So we now have a $9 trillion federal debt. I have no idea how much money that is but I know it is a lot. The country will run a deficit this year of $400 billion or so. That comes after last year's $500 billion or so "we can't spend what we take in" budget debacle. We don't want our trains to stop running or our roads to fall apart or our elderly to eat Alpo tuna. We want our congressmen to "bring back the bacon." In other words, spend more money.

Sooner or later we're going to have to start acting like adults. We're going to have to demand our elected representative do two things: stop pandering to our every want and start being responsible. We're going to have to raise taxes, cut spending (there is that bridge in Alaska) and realize that the legacy we leave our children should be more than a $9 trillion "credit card" bill for our lack of responsibility. Me? I'm sending in my $4.95.

Steve Kalb is a Hamden resident, a former TV news director and radio talk-show host, and is currently a reporter for WELI radio and an adjunct professor of journalism at UConn-Storrs. Every other week, he will cleanse his brain of extraneous thoughts by jotting them down here. You can reach him at sdkalb@gmail.com. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

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