Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"The Dating Game" Is Back!

Good news for game shows aficionados! "The Dating Game" is back! The weekly program, that was "must see" television for more than twenty years, has been reinvented, with changes in cast and venue.

The new scenario features participants who are members of Congress, and the locale is now Washington, D.C. It's still a game--a political game--and the first show will be broadcast live tonight--during the President's "State of the Union" address.

It's an amazing development in this time of bitter partisanship, when Democrats and Republicans have so often chosen confrontation over cooperation, and where verbal cruelty has replaced common courtesy and civility.

It is tradition that for "The State of the Union" address, Democrats sit together on one side of the aisle, while Republicans sit together on the other side of the aisle.
But this year, as the media has excitedly reported, the seating arrangement will, incredibly, be different.

Some very wise and wonderful members of Congress have called for a truce of sorts; a moratorium on the bitterness that has become so prevalent between the two political parties. Acting more like statesmen than politicians, a growing number of legislators are participating in a political version of "The Dating Game".

They are seeking out someone who holds a view opposed to their own, and saying, "Come sit with me during the President's address; so that for at least one night, we will sit together as Americans, and not as politicians"

Commentators will be pointing out tonight those members of Congress--from both parties--who are making this effort to soften political rhetoric, and create a spirit of bipartisanship. And tonight, as we see Democrat next to Republican, Conservative next to Liberal, the scene might well remind us of another popular TV show, "The Odd Couple".

But call it what you will, let us hope and pray that tonight's show will become as popular with the members of Congress as it is certain to be with the American people. May it be a hit, with everyone; and may tonight be just the beginning of a long, long run.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Three Cheers For Green Bay And Pittsburgh!!!

So it's Green Bay and Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl this year. That makes me a happy camper, but not for myself. I am a longtime. loyal Buffalo Bills fan.

I'm happy, though, for the good people of Green Bay and Pittsburgh. Football is the only one of the three major professional sports which gives the fans in these cities a reasonable chance of wining it all.

Neither city is represented by a franchise in the National Basketball Association, and Green Bay does not have a major league baseball team.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a winning season for two decades and the chances of them being in a World Series in the foreseeable future are zero to none. That's because--unlike football--smaller baseball markets such as Pittsburgh do not share television revenue equally with larger cities. The Pirates can not compete on the field because it is not possible to compete financially for the best players with wealthy, big-city teams like the Yankees and Red Sox.

Yep, until my Buffalo Bills get back to the Super Bowl (I can dream, can't I?), I will enjoy football Sundays like yesterday, when the Green Bay Packers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers knocked off the big city boys from Chicago and New York.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Baby Doc's Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Why did Jean-Claude "Bab Doc" Duvalier return to Haiti after 25 years of exile in France?

Was it to take advantage of the present political stalemate and become once again "president for life"? Or was it the result of a dramatic change of heart, and a recently-discovered desire to help his countrymen in their time of need?

There is evidence that makes the former reason a lot more plausible than the lattter reason. Bluntly put, any statement of good intentions from the former dictator is hard to believe.

After the catastrophic earthquake of a year ago this month, Duvalier pledged money to the Red Cross for relief efforts. His representative said later that the donation had been made.

Red Cross spokesperson, Laura Howe, said this week, however, that the Red Cross had no record of any donation from Duvalier.

But why should we care what "Baby Doc" Duvalier does? Why should we be giving him space in this blog? That's a fair question raised by a couple of readers--and one we will try to answer if the story unfolds as we think it will. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Baby Doc's Return -- The Morning After

When I rolled out of bed this morning, I still had Haiti and Baby Doc on my mind. That creepy feeling was with me once more as I recalled that movie I had seen years ago, about the brutal dictatorship that spanned--father and son--nearly thirty years.

I deferred the juice and coffee until later--choosing first thing to turn on CNN for coverage of, and reaction to, the return to Haiti of former president-for-life/dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

What I saw and heard reinforced my thoughts that were posted last night, that Baby Doc has come back to take advantage of the turmoil and lack of strong leadership in Haiti, in order to regain control of the country. His return, following a contested Presidential election, appears to be more than coincidence.

As more details become available about Duvalier's return last evening, his presence seems all the more ominous. Although almost everyone, everywhere was shocked by his arrival at the Port-au-Prince airport, there were a hundred or more people who did have advance knowledge, and were there to greet him and cheer him on. Among those supporters, who were obviously excited to see him, were former cabinet ministers and officials in the Duvalier regime.

After checking out the TV news, I went online to do a search for further information and comments. When I clicked onto Google, I got a big surprise. The first two items listed referred to my blog of yesterday, "Baby Doc Bad News For All Concerned".

As of this writing, there was been no official government reaction--in Haiti, or here in the United States. Remembering that the United States escorted Duvalier and his entourage out of Haiti on a military flight 25 years ago--to avoid further bloodshed and restore order in Haiti, I'm wondering if, and hoping that, someone in our government will be passing along to Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier a blunt piece of advice, "Don't even think about it!"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Baby Doc" Bad News For All Concerned

Learning tonight that Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier unexpectedly returned to Haiti earlier today gave me that hard-to-describe, "funny" feeling that comes with bad news. And having "Baby Doc" back is bad news, to be sure, for all concerned.

It is certainly bad news for the people of Haiti. After years of poverty, and then a catastrophic earthquake, followed by a deadly outbreak of cholera, the last thing the Haitians need is to be confronted again by the man who fled the country, with millions of their dollars, 25 years ago--after subjecting them to 15 years of a brutal dictatorship.

For the Obama administration, Baby Doc's sudden appearance will add one more hard-to-handle item to an already long, long list of problems. What to do about this new development, however, is likely to turn out to be one of the few areas where the President and Congress can find common ground.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to hear what the administration, other politicians, and the media have to say about Baby Doc come Monday morning. I'm wondering if they will envision the scenario that I see as very possible.

Duvalier returns to a country without a strong government, and teetering near chaos. It could look to him like the right time to take control again--declaring himself president for life again.

It's also a good time for him money-wise. Baby Doc is back flush with four million dollars in working capital, which can provide him with immediate support; which can buy him a support following. Last year, the Swiss banks released to Duvalier

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Helping The Haitians Help Themselves

While there are obvious differences between the people in our country, and the people who live in Haiti, there is at least one similarity.

In both countries, the vast majority of people who are unemployed are more than willing to work--they are eager for a job. This thinking is based on firsthand experiences with America's jobless; and on recent conversations with volunteers who have interacted with the Haitians, since that catastrophic 7.0 earthquake of January 12, 2010--which killed nearly a quarter of a million people, and left countless others homeless and jobless.

Tim Geske is all too familiar with unemployment in both countries. Since becoming a casualty of the recession--being laid off from his job with a non-profit organization in Memphis, Tim and his wife have moved to Florida, where the climate allows for more year-round job possibilities. He has taken, and continues to seek, whatever is available; wherever that might be--even if it means only temporary employment.

While going through an especially bad period with no prospects in sight, Tim decided to make use of his time by volunteering to go to Haiti to work with a medical team. There he found people worse off than him--not only without work, and any hope for income in the foreseeable future, but also without a place to live, and minus some of the necessities of everyday life.

Tim found, during his time in Haiti, that just as it is here in the United States, those without jobs do want to work. Tim tells us that the most difficult part to accept about the situation in Haiti is that, "there is no lack of work in Haiti; there is just a lack of money to pay the workers".

Tim returned home full of admiration for the Haitian people, whom he found "courteous and polite", while they are "making the best of it". One thing that made a lasting impression on him was seeing so many "conscientious parents".

As for the unrest that has been reported, Tim wants to spread the word that the Haitians are not a violent people; but are simply voicing justified displeasure with the corruption in their country, and with the unjust treatment of ordinary citizens by the government.

I think that the most important thing that Tim had to say during our conversation was about helping the Haitians help themselves. He doesn't think that simply pumping more money into Haiti for "aid" is the cure-all answer.

He believes that much of the relief funding should be redirected to making the countryside suitable for farming again. Putting available funds to work to establish agriculture, and to rebuild infrastructure, are two ways to create jobs, and eventually make the workers self-sufficient.

Kudos to Tim for his efforts in Haiti, and many thanks from this column for sharing his thoughts about the situation there.

Meanwhile, the students and faculty of the University of Florida have also been busy helping the Haitians help themselves. These volunteers, who are known as the "Gators United For Haiti", made their first trip immediately after the earthquake.

The group included medical personnel, who treated victims. They have been back four more times since that first visit. To date, the Gators have raised $41,000. for relief efforts, and that sum has been matched by the University Athletic Association.

University of Florida pharmacy students have also been busy--assembling hydration packets, and preparing educational brochures--one more way to help the Haitians help themselves.

Even before the earthquake, another UF group, known as Project Haiti, had been sending to Haiti--since 1996--med students who used their spring break time to provide free health care. The trip this year, however, is in jeopardy because of the current ban on official student travel to Haiti, due to the cholera outbreak. Since October, 3,500 Haitians have died from cholera. That's more than were killed by the earthquake.

Haiti is arguably the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and it will take years for the Haitians to get back on their feet. With our own needs so urgent--so many people needing help in our own country, I believe that Tim Geske has it right--give what we can in financial aid, but concentrate on what will help the Haitians help themselves.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Should The Tucson Shooter Die?

Capital punishment is one of those divisive issues that splits the nation. A 2010 poll showed that 39% of Americans favor the death penalty, while 61% prefer an alternate form of punishment, such as life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The subject, and the debate, come front and center every time there is a horrific event, such as the shooting spree last Saturday in Tucson, Arizona. There are many who are already clamoring for the death penalty; while others are speaking out against the taking of any human life, even that of a murderer.

There is absolutely no question about the guilt of Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year old man who committed pre-meditated murder--carefully putting together a plan, over time, and then carrying out that plan--executing six people by firing repeatedly at point blank range. The witnesses are numerous, who will testify as to the who, what, where, when and how of the crime.

Future proceedings will determine if Loughner was legally sane at the time of the massacre, but his actions and demeanor before the shootings, and at his court appearance, seem to indicate that he knew what he was doing, and that he has no remorse after the fact.

I have been, and continue to be, an opponent of capital punishment--except for crimes such as this one. In my mind, everything about this crime makes the death penalty a necessary punishment.

It is the knowledge of guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt, and the belief that psychiatrists will attest to the sanity of Jared Lee Loughner,--before, during, and after the shootings. It is seeing him in the same light as Timothy McVeigh, and Hitler, and Osama Bin Laden--all of whom not only displayed no regret for the mass killings of other human beings, but actually conveyed a certain satisfaction with what they had done.

I am troubled at the prospect of Jared Lee Loughner being sentenced to life imprisonment. He has been described by people who know him as "a loner", and so a future of isolation, with the necessities of life (and some comforts) provided, might not be, for him, any punishment at all.

Meanwhile, his victims, and other citizens will pay a staggering amount of money to provide him with food and lodging--and health care, perhaps for as long as fifty or sixty years. And, meanwhile, his victims will suffer every day for the rest of their lives.

The parents of a nine-year old girl, and the families of the others who were slain will never completely get over their loss. Some of those wounded may never completely recover from their wounds.

I do not feel good about thinking that someone should die. I do believe that, "Thou shalt not kill", is still a rule by which we should try to live. But I can not help feeling, at the same time, that there are, indeed, exceptions to every rule.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Long Life Of The First Organ Donor

As more and more people contemplate signing on to become organ donors, I wonder if some of them hesitate due to questions in their minds about the effect of organ donation on their own lives--especially their longevity

The lifespan of the very first organ donor sheds some light on this question. The first man to provide an organ for successful transplant lived 56 years after donating a kidney.

Ronald Lee Herrick passed away two weeks ago today in Augusta, Maine. He made history in 1954 when he donated a kidney to his brother. He was 23 years of age at the time. He was 79 years of age when he died. His gift gave his brother, Richard, an additional eight years of life.

It would seem, from this and other examples, that donating an organ has no significant effect on life expectancy. As for recipients, it is now possible to live long--and productive lives following transplant surgery.

Two examples are former professional basketball players--Sean Elliott and Alonzo Mourning. Both men had life-saving kidney transplant surgeries, and eventually, once again played professional basketball. Alonzo Mourning, playing with that transplanted kidney, was a driving force for the Miami Heat when they won a championship in 2006.

Both men are also making good use of their "borrowed time" through their significant charitable contributions of time and money.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Something That's Right About Health Care

Most of us grumble once in a while, and some of us rant and rave from time to time, about what's wrong with health care in this country.. And much of the discontent is justified.

But there's still a lot that's right with health care in America, and something positive was on display today. It was a televised press conference at the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.

Dr. Peter Rhee, Medical Director of the UMC trauma center, and Dr. Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery, explained in layman's language the details of emergency treatment and surgery provided yesterday for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and ten other persons, after they were shot by an apparently deranged 22-year old man. Six other people were killed in the shooting spree.

The Doctors spoke in a professional manner, but they also came across as being genuinely concerned and compassionate about their patients. They reminded me of how blessed we are to have people in the field of medicine who are both competent and caring.

But how we take for granted, that whenever a tragedy like this occurs, there will be doctors, surgeons, nurses, technicians and medical staff immediately available to handle the crisis.

One detail that came out of the news conference is truly remarkable. Within 38 minutes after being brought to the trauma center, Rep. Giffords underwent brain surgery. That these medical people could be so ready and efficient is nothing short of incredible.

The press conference reminded me, too, of a relatively new friend who is a first-year med student at the University of Florida. James is heading in the same direction as the Doctors I saw and heard today. His plans are for a career in emergency medicine.

So, yes, today--as there will be tomorrow--there's something right about health care in America.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Random Thoughts About The Unemployed

Editor's Note.....The following blog originally appeared on October 9, 2009.....

The day before yesterday, I had three different unplanned conversations with people who are out of work. Yesterday--Thursday--was a travel day, and I had some quiet time to reflect on the subject of unemployment, in general, and the folks I had met, in particular. I reached three conclusions.

First, the vast majority of those who have lost their jobs are trying hard to find work. On my way to the library in Indianapolis on Wednesday, I walked the last two blocks with a lady named Rebecca. She was also on her way to the library--to go online to find a job. I asked her what type of work she was looking for, and she answered emphatically, "Anything! I'll take anything....clerical, retail, anything! I am getting desperate".

On the way back to the Greyhound terminal, I saw a man sitting alone at a picnic table in one of those beautiful downtown Indianapolis parks, and I detoured into the park out of curiosity. I guessed that he was homeless, but I was wrong. He still has a place to stay, which he shares with his girlfriend; but James has recently lost his job, and his future is in doubt. He had just spent another day "looking" and he fears losing his apartment--and his girlfriend.

Back aboard Greyhound, I sat near a laid-off truck driver. It seems as though every bus I ride has at least one truck driver who is on the way to apply for work with another trucking company. Everywhere I go, it is the same. When nearly seven million Americans have lost their jobs since this recession began, it is not unusual to come across some of those folks every day--and in almost every case, they are doing everything they can to find work--any work.

The second thing that I concluded, was that most of the out-of-work people I meet are trying to find a job, while also trying to handle a great deal of stress. Hanging like a dark cloud over the unemployed is the grim knowledge that the move from jobless to homeless can happen quickly.

The third conclusion is that unemployment insurance is far from the answer. Few who lose their jobs can pay the mortgage or the rent with what they receive in unemployment compensation.

As a nation, we are somewhere around ten percent unemployment at present. That is still, thankfully, a long way from the twenty-five percent unemployment of the great depression. But knowing that is small relief to those who are already out of work, or who are in danger of losing their jobs.

What we need ASAP as a country, of course, is the creation of jobs. What we need to do, meanwhile, as individuals, is to understand the plight of those affected, and support them in any way we can.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Do The Unemployed Really Want To Work?

Yes, the overwhelming majority of people who are unemployed would gladly work if they could. Furthermore, most of those folks wouldn't be "picky", or "choosy".

The question was raised by a regular reader, and neighbor, after last Wednesday's blog, "Defending The Unemployed". She tracked me down early this morning to give me,in her words, "a piece of (her) mind"; and she wasn't smiling.

My outspoken friend offered her opinion, that extending unemployment benefits will only make for more "vacation time" for recipients, whom she believes are mostly "slackers"--lazy people who have no desire to go to work each day.

I couldn't disagree with her more, but she didn't give me an opportunity to provide the rationale for the way I feel. And the way I feel comes from being up close and personal with a lot of people who are unemployed, or who are living in fear of a pink slip.

I've seen countless people riding buses cross country in search of a job. Some were leaving homes in the east to go west, while others were boarding in the west to go in the opposite direction. None of them were content with accepting, and trying to live on, unemployment compensation, which doesn't provide nearly enough money to meet the requirements of most families.

I've watched librarians in public libraries across the country add something new to their job description, as they--and volunteers--helped jobless people go online to do a job search, or create a resume. The unemployed were there--often waiting in line for assistance--because they wanted to work.

I can come up with a lot of specific examples of people whom I have met who went the extra mile because they wanted to work; and who were willing to do whatever was necessary to find that work.

I have written about some of them, and tomorrow we will publish examples of unemployed persons who really did want to work, and who put forth incredible effort to find it.