Saturday, February 27, 2010
If you are reading this article in Germany, please forgive me for delivering old news. Here in America, we do not hear about the Puhdys every day. My personal opinion is that they are one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and that American rock fans should have an open mind about music in languages other than English.
Back in 1973, I remember picking up a copy of "Neues Deutschland", the East German Socialist Unity Party official mouthpiece. The odd thought occurred to me that the weather report would be identical for East and West Berlin, despite the fact that they seemed to be separate worlds.
I have the same feeling about the Puhdys, who spent the first two decades of their stardom under East German rule. They composed soulful lyrics about everything from marriage to divorce to their feelings about Germany. There were even times that it seems that they used allegory to get around censorship. They had top quality music that sounded like it came from a real band and not from a computer. They had great lyrics, all of which csn be found on their web site. I wrote them a fan letter years ago and they sent me back a nice post card.
The Rolling Stones and the Beatles are all in their sixties. The Puhdys are in the same age range. Their band is together but the country (German "Democratic" Republic) broke up. I was worried about how they would adapt to the change of living in a united, capitalist Germany. They have done just fine.
How well have they done? I just heard a song they released in 2009, which was almost 20 years after their country (not their band!) went belly up. I was worried that they would get all modern and put out music that sounded like it was spit out by a computer. With "Hier Oben", a song that deals with flying above Africa, they had the old "real rock band" sound that has had me hooked since the 1970's. I was delighted of course that they have the freedom to fly over Africa that was largely unavailable to the average East German before the wall came down. The lyrics were well worth the trouble of translating them (As always) Please excuse my rough and unpoetic translation
Ich sitz im flieger schau ins all (I sit in an airplane and look at everything
Sterne scheinen so nah (Stars look so close)
Der mond scheint mir wie ein kristall (The moon looks like a crystal)
Und unter mir liegt afrika (And under me is Africa)
Erinnere mich an episoden aus meiner jugendzeit (I remember incidents from my youth)
An wilde träume und illusionen (Of wild dreams and illusions)
Vom fliegen um die welt (of flying around the world)
Erwachsen werden hatte zeit ((There was time to grow up)
Und jetzt bin ich hier oben (And now I am up here)
Vom boden abgehoben (plucked off the ground)
Und fliege durch mein leben (and fly through my life)
Dem neuen tag entgegen (to meet the new day)
Ich war als teenie schon ein rock´n roll star ( As a teen I was already a rock star)
Und elvis sang in meiner band (Elvis sang in my band)
Brigitte bardot hat mich geliebt wunderbar (Brigitte Bardot loved me dearly)
Doch leider ohne happy end (Sadly, it did not end happily)
Und jetzt bin ich hier oben (And now I am up here)
Vom boden abgehoben (plucked from the ground)
Und fliege durch mein leben ( and fly through my life)
Dem neuen tag entgegen (to meet the new day)
Und jetzt bin ich hier oben
Vom boden abgehoben
Und fliege durch mein leben
Dem neuen tag entgegen
Und jetzt bin ich hier oben
Vom boden abgehoben
Und fliege durch mein leben
Dem neuen tag entgegen
Dem neuen tag entgegen
Dem neuen tag entgegen
It is so good to hear new music from the band a generation of East Germans grew up with and to know that they are still doing well. Here is one Ami (German slang for American) who wishes them all the best. Thank you Puhdys. Ich Danke Euch. ( I thank you)
Thursday, February 25, 2010
It is common knowledge that Australia was founded as a prison colony for the British Empire. I used this bit of knowledge to my advantage back in high school to neutralise an Australian classmate who was taunting me with withering effectiveness in front of an entire class. Unable to tolerate it any more, I blurted out, "Shut the hell up ! You're descended from convicts!" It must have touched a raw nerve, because his face turned beet red as he fell completely silent.
Australians have learned to become proud of their history. A kid who steals a bag of apples doesn't exactly evoke moral indignation today. And most of those sentenced to "transportation" were not such awful people. Chances are, my Australian classmate would today be bragging of his convict ancestry in today's social climate.
I had always thought that Australia's history as a destination of exile and punishment ended in the 19th century. It now turns out I was mistaken. From the 1920's to the 1960's, British children were sent to Australia under a program known as the "Child Migrants Programme". In the program, they were consigned to Australian orphanages. Often they were subjected to harsh and grueling regimens that included physical and sexual abuse.
The victims of the forced relocations recounted their grim existence after listening to Prime Minister Brown's videotaped speech at a gathering in New South Wales, Australia. The Daily Telegraph reports as follows on the public apology of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for the abuses that were rampant in the ill conceived program.
Many of those who spent the six week voyage to the other side of the world ended up in institutions where they were physically and sexually abused.
They were times that those who suffered in this way have tried hard to forget, but like a recurring nightmare they admit the horrors will remain with them for the rest of their years.
Ask Ron Grant, 73, what it was like in the Sydney institution he found himself in and he shakes his head.
'No more - I can't talk about it any more. I will only say that it wasn't good.
'The worst part was that I felt completely alone, abandoned.'
Alone... abandoned... they were words on everyone's lips, more than the memories of any beatings or sexual abuse they might have endured at the hands of adult strangers.
The British government is now compensating the victims of the forced relocation by assisting them in finding families from which they had become estranged. In some cases, adults found out late in life that they had names, families and a prior life in Great Britain.
The case evokes memories of a scandal in Ireland, that of the Magdalene Sisters, about which a move was made. The Magdalene Sisters had a contract with the Irish Government that was a carryover from the early 19th century under British rule. It was essentially a church run reform school for "crimes" that could be as trivial as being too flirtatious. Needless to say, many girls who became preganant out of wedlock ended up under the care of the Magdalene Sisters or other religious orders. The Irish Spartacist web site is detailed in its presentation of the historical facts of the case. Their site reported as follows on the systematic abuse involved in subcontracting to the Catholic Church
"Approximately 30,000 mostly young and poor women were forcibly sent to these church prisons because they were considered “fallen women.” The four protagonists of the film depict reasons women were incarcerated in the laundries: Margaret is raped by a cousin, Bernadette (an orphan) is considered too flirtatious, Rose and Crispina each has a child outside wedlock. Rose has her baby ripped from her arms only hours after giving birth and Crispina is later driven insane by her brutal treatment in the laundry and her separation from her son. There are also many older women who had spent most of their lives there. Women are forced to slave from early morning to evening in the profit-making laundries. Sister Bridget is repeatedly shown greedily counting the money. The women are beaten, degraded and suffer sexual abuse. All this that they might do penance for their “sins”!
The women were imprisoned not only by the walls of the laundries, but also through rejection by their families and society. In one scene in the film, Margaret has an opportunity to escape, but doesn’t because she knows she has nowhere to go. When one of the other women does manage to escape, her father brings her back to the laundry and beats her. After Bernadette eventually escapes, she is terrified of being reimprisoned when she sees cops and nuns on the street.
Mary Norris recently described her experience in a Magdalene laundry in Cork:
“Plenty of people will think the events in the film have been exaggerated to make it more dramatic. But I tell you, the reality of those places was a thousand times worse. There’s a scene in which a girl is crying in the dormitory and another goes over to her bed to comfort her. That could never have happened. You weren’t allowed any private conversation."
To be completely fair, it should be noted that the children sent to Australia endured abuse under secular auspices. Great Britain could hardly be considered a stronghold of the Catholic Church. My gut feeling is that new abuses are being perpetrated by "enlightened" and completely secular agencies that have been put in charge of foster children and orphans.
From what I have heard from my contacts in the New York foster care and residential treatment system, there are plenty of human rights abuses that are being swept under the rug at this very moment. It is critical not only to spotlight past abuses, but to see what is going on in the present as well. As sad as I feel reading of the veterans of the "Child Migrants Programme" and the Magdalene Sisters, I feel no sense of reassurance that we have improved at all as a society in the treatment of orphans and difficult children.
What can help us as we face the future? Eternal vigilance, coupled with compassion for the voiceless is our only protection.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The vanity of a political leader is great fodder for cartoonists, critics and satirists. Does anyone remember when Nixon tried to redesign the uniforms of the guards in the White House. The Prussian look gave comedians a superb excuse to poke fun at Nixonian vanity.
President Obama has been far more generous to satirists struggling to earn a living in the Obama economy. On the one hand is the presence of his constant companion, not Michelle, but his trusty teleprompter. Then there is his imperious poses. Who can forget his rally in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin? It was the perfect photo op for delusions of grandeur.
The Obama Logo has morphed into various forms. It certainly raised eyebrows when a variant of it replaced the American flag on the presidential airplane. Now, the missile defense agency has a new logo that bears an eerie resemblance to an Obama campaign pin. Some critics are even comparing it to the star and crescent employed in Islamic religious symbolism. Fox News reports as follows.
"The Missile Defense Agency, which is part of the Defense Department, now features a circular red, white and blue logo on its Web site that has been characterized in some reports as "scarily" similar to President Obama's former campaign symbol. Others have noted that it has a crescent and star design, evoking a common symbol for Islam.
The logo, which first appeared on the Missile Defense Web site in the fall, was designed by TMP Government, a marketing and communications firm that has managed Web site redesigns and logos for numerous government agencies, including recovery.gov and more than a dozen Defense and intelligence-related sites."
I have worked under a few managers in my years on the job. The best managers want to leave their mark on day to day operations. They examine how things are done. Changes in office decor occur gradually, almost incidentally.
One of the worst managers I ever had spent the first three days redecorating his office, eliminating all traces of his predecessor. He was obsessed with image and fearful of substance. He gave beautiful speeches, looking off into the distance as things crumbled at his feet.
The Obama administration is still blaming its predecessor as it stumbles into a second year of misrule. It is churning out logos and photo ops. It is hoisting snappy new flags over a ship of state that zigzags aimlessly in the turbulent waters of modern events. The latest Obamaesque logo is like the doodles of a daydreaming child as the words of his teacher drift above his head. Minute attention is paid to the message conveyed by the agency logo, even as babbling incoherence.
There is a sense that has been lost by the current administration of transcendent concerns that unite all parties and ethnicities that make up our United States. We have an administration that is reaching out to enemies and snubbing its friends. It is becoming sadly apparent that Obamic vanity has not won over our nation's enemies. Indeed, the willing to stamp apologies onto every page of our nation's history stands in stark contrast to Obama's faith in his own grandeur.
When I see the missile Defense Agency logo, I see minute attention to style at the expense of substance. I see a President who is not taking notes, not studying the dangerous geopolitical landscape to which he is heir.
The beauty of our republic is the ability of its institutions to overcome the defects of its leaders. The grandeur of the American presidency is its continuity, of its succession of leaders bound by common laws. When I see logo after logo being made over in Obama's image, this beauty is obscured. He would do well to stop doodling and to open his books. Because there will be a test.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Over 30 years ago, I met Izzie Zimmerman. When he was a kid, he was involved with a tough crowd. Local cops and the District Attorney figured there would be no harm in cherry picking evidence. So they left out some exculpatory evidence, and stretched some other details. Izzy got the death penalty. It was later commuted to life in prison. He did 24 years until the state accepted the evidence that proved him innocent. He enjoyed 21 years of life as a free man. He died 4 years after receiving a million dollars. The state that took away his freedom took back his estate when no survivors could be found.
Another case has hit the papers of innocence lost to a state that doles out justice to all who can pay for it. In New Jersey, Biurny Peguro, 31 was sentenced to up to 3 years in prison for false testimony about a rape that sent a man to jail for a rape that never happened Associated Press reports as follows.
"A woman who fabricated a gang rape accusation was sentenced Tuesday to up to three years behind bars herself, saying she was riven with remorse for sending an innocent man to prison.
Biurny Peguero, 27, pleaded guilty in December to perjury, admitting she made up the September 2005 incident that unjustly put construction worker William McCaffrey in jail and prison for nearly four years. A judge overturned his rape conviction in December, with new DNA evidence also playing a role.
"I question myself every day as to how I could have done this," Peguero told a Manhattan state court judge.
Peguero originally said McCaffrey was the ringleader among three men who raped her at knifepoint after luring her into their car. She met them after a night out at a Manhattan nightclub with female friends.
McCaffrey, now 32, said she had agreed to go with them to a party. He said they dropped her off unharmed after she changed her mind."
Even in the age of DNA, you still have junk justice where emotion laden testimony can sway the hearts and minds of jury members. With an adversarial system of justice, you have two sides trying to get procedural advantage, in which evidence is excluded and technicalities exploited. Unfortunately, that is the state of our legal system, in which the truth is too often a casualty.
Even when he was guilty in the eyes of the law, there were citizens who stood up for the righst of William McCaffrey. In his quest for freedom, he was defended by Glenn A. Garber, a lawyer who works with the Exoneration Initiative, an organisation that identifies and takes on the cases of the wrongfully convicted. The EXI web site describes their mission as follows.
"Hundreds of DNA exonerations in the United States over the last 20 years have raised serious concerns about the criminal justice system's failure to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction. But the DNA exonerations are only the tip of the iceberg, representing a mere fraction of the wrongful convictions. However without DNA evidence, very few lawyers and organizations have the expertise and the resources to effectively handle these extremely difficult non-DNA cases. EXI was founded to take on this important work.
Expanding on the efforts of DNA-based organizations such as the Innocence Project, EXI is taking the Innocence Movement to the next level. When selecting our cases we apply the lessons learned from the DNA exonerations to non-DNA cases, focusing on the problems proven to cause wrongful conviction. We then approach prosecutors and Courts urging them to take a second look at convictions and undo injustices."
When there is enough legal work for nationwide organisations to take on the causes of the wrongfully convicted, then something is clearly wrong with our criminal justice system. When a person goes to prison, it rips a hole in the life of a family. Children grow up with a missing parent, often ending up at high risk of becoming offenders themselves. The violence of prison life is all too often tacitly condoned by the state and often contributes to creating criminals who are fueled by rage.
America has one of the highest percentages of incarcerated citizens in the world. The first place we should look in questioning this state of affairs is those who have no business being there in the first place. Americans who care about justice should applaud and support the efforts of organisations like The Exoneration Initiative and The Innocence Project. It is a pity that there is even a need for such organisations. But as long as the need exists, we must not close our eyes or our hearts.
Monday, February 22, 2010
I was looking through links to quarterly periodicals, the kind of magazines you see in train stations that cost as much as a small to medium paperback book. The AL Daily has a superb list of links to such magazines. Some of these magazines have generous offerings of articles they will let you read on line. The sites also offer articles that can be read only with a subscription. It's a good way to sell magazines.
The UTNE Reader really caught my eye with some very good Indie music, spread out across a wide variety of styles, from bluegrass to world music. They had a phenomenal singer named Razia Said from Madagascar who sings in the language of her country. Another singer named Pale White Moon who does mood pieces for National Public Radio also has a song on this month's list.
When I buy a CD, I feel I have broken even if three or four songs out of twelve are songs that I like. The UTNE Reader gave me very pleasant surprise with Pale White Moon, Razia Said and other gifted performers. The UTNE Reader on line offers each month a list of songs from Indie musicians that you can lsten to and download for free. Out of nine songs with this month's issue, I found four that were really phenomenal. It motivated me to look at the articles in UTNE Reader as well.
I like articles that go into depth. A title like "Letter From Birobidzhan" with twelve pages of travelogue, factoids and history from the Soviet far east is right about my speed. If it includes a video clip of a Mongolian rock band singing hits from the Moody Blues in Mongolian, then I'm completely hooked.
The UTNE Reader passes my test for giving a topic a lot more than a couple of perfunctory paragraphs to a topic. The feature article in this issue was an article on prisons for immigrant criminals, many of whom have children and spouses who are American citizens. The article dealt with the social effects of treating immigration violations as hard core felonies. It also dealt at length with the privatisation of prisons and the corner cutting that goes with it. How bad is the corner cutting? The article opened with a prison riot that was sparked because a man in solitary confinement was denied medication for his epileptic seizures. The man died in solitary and left prison without even the dignity of a pauper's coffin. It described a labyrinth of paperwork and bureaucracy between the government and the corporations that house prisoners that is a nesting place for waste and corruption.
It is clear that the private prison industry is happy to have unsealed borders. Desperate fence jumpers will continue to come north. The unlucky ones will be caught and imprisoned, and someone will make their living off the deal. If you seal the border and set economically realistic quotas for immigration, then you will have an orderly process. The UTNE Reader article shed light on a whole range of complexities that are lost in fusillades of jingoism and cliches coming from both sides of the immigration debate.
I like to go "off the main roads" when seeking information. I also like to venture outside of my political comfort zone. Some of the UTNE Reader material definitely meets this qualification. The UTNE Reader provides information I might otherwise not find. One article The Dark Side of Dairies deals with the occupational hazards of working in a dairy. As someone who cares about the workers who produce my food, clothing and electronics, I thrive on articles like these. I may well consider subscribing to the UTNE Reader. At $36.00 a year, its price is reasonable.
I do one of my daily articles on a publication. Today I made an exception. I have what might be called a religious belief. I determine how religious a society is by how they treat prisoners and the unborn. Those are the polar extremes in my mind of the voiceless and those who evoke societal anger. It is because of this belief that the latest issue of the UTNE Reader caught my eye. Thank you UTNE Reader. I am glad I found you. And by the way, those were some real good songs.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
More than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the popular culture of communist East Germany is getting a second, more appreciative look from critics. Back in the 1970's an East German version of Jacob the Liar circulated in American movie theatres. I found it to be preferable to the American version starring Robin Williams, which came out later. The East German version of Jacob the Liar is actually available on You Tube in its entirety with subtitles. In the movie, a man pretends to have a short wave radio, and tells stories of the impending defeat of the Nazis which were of his own fabrication. It raised questions that would be certainly be interesting in a controlled society such as East Germany.
My favourite film from East Germany is "Bear Ye One Another's burdens. Set in the 1950's, the film portrays a Lutheran pastor and a communist true believer who find themselves room mates in a tuberculosis sanitarium. It is quite daring in exploring the psychology of faith refracted through vastly different ideologies. It was considered far too daring for East Germany, and was banned soon after it came out.
There is a series of children's fairy tales rendered into film that can be found on You Tube, although without English subtitles. I enjoyed watching Der Froschkonig", (The Frog King), a story of a girl who promises a frog that she would marry him after he fished her ball out of a well. The series of fairy tales are a reminder of a common cultural framework that existed in Germany before the Wall divided the country for 40 years.
A renowned Berlin film festival the Berlin International Film Festival is on its 60th anniversary honoring East German films. Der Spiegel reports as follows.
"In the beginning, films from the communist bloc were spurned by the Berlin International Film Festival. But as the Cold War thawed, movies from East Germany's legendary DEFA studio gained recognition. This year, the Berlinale is honoring the importance of East German film, even if they remain largely unknown to western Germans.
The article reports as follows on belated recognition being accorded to a renowned East German director.
"The 2010 Berlinale is honoring the 78-year-old screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase, who wrote the scripts for such classic DEFA films as the 1957 drama "Berlin -- Ecke Schönhauser" ("Berlin -- Schoenhauser Corner"), in its Homage section, which pays tribute to outstanding filmmakers. Several of his films are being screened and Kohlhaase was also presented with an honorary Golden Bear on Wednesday in recognition of his contribution to the German film." industry."
Even in times of conflict, it is good for some cultural bridges to remain open. Iranian films, for instance can be found in the United States and ordered on line. With the internet, it is far easier to cross barriers between nations than it ever was before.
It is possible to purchase East German films in the US. The DEFA Film Library of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst offers DVDs of East German films with subtitles for sale. They can be accessed at their web site. With a bit of effort, it is possible to get a fair number of East German films.
The East Bloc may have been far behind in technology, but there was an interesting cultural life behind the iron curtain. One of my treasures is a song by Ruth Brandin and the Sputniks titled
"Mich hat noch keiner beim Twist geküsst" (No one ever kissed me while doing the twist), a song that was a hit in East Germany in 1964. The song was recorded at a time when the East Germans were fearful of cultural inroads from the West.
For years, West Germans knew little of East German culture. Movies and music from the communist east were impossible to find in West German theatres and shops. In economic affairs, West Germany was dominant during the process of reunification. It is an encouraging sign that East German film and music are getting belated recognition. I look forward to watching the process unfold. I look forward to watching it continue.
Friday, February 19, 2010
The 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany is being celebrated in Russia. In addition to the focus on the heroic sacrifices of the people is a controversial component of the celebration. Josef Stalin, the dictatorial and genocidal ruler of the USSR from 1928 until his death in 1953, is being celebrated as a hero in many of the memorial observances. The Times of London reports as follows on this disturbing development.
"Stalin is to make a comeback on the streets of Moscow for the first time in decades in a celebration of the Soviet victory over Hitler in the Second World War.
Posters and information booths devoted to the Soviet dictator are to go up across the capital under a proposal by Moscow City Council to mark the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 9. The decision outraged rights groups and opposition parties yesterday, who condemned it as another step towards rehabilitating a tyrant."
During the period in Soviet history when Stalin was in power, he was accorded godlike reverence, with posters, songs and films devoted to his praises. The treatment accorded Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in North Korea is quite similar. The majority of Soviet citizens who lived under Stalin's rule remember this personality cult in the context of a tightly managed flow of information. Listening to the BBC or any other foreign news sufficed during that time to earn a trip to Siberia. When public figures fell from grace, they were airbrushed from photos and cut out of encyclopedias. People used to get letters at home instructing them to cut pages that had become politically offensive from the encyclopedias they had purchased. Across the USSR, dutiful citizens cut out missing pages and pasted in replacements supplied by the government.
A critical feature of Stalinist rule was purges, in which millions disappeared into the gulag, the Soviet prison network. This was particularly hard on the military leadership, which was weakened greatly by Stalinist purges. Additionally, the German Soviet Treaty of Friendship in 1939 weakened the Soviet Union. In June of 1941, when Germany shredded the treaty by invading the USSR, The Soviet Union was totally taken by surprise. The Germans came perilously close to capturing Moscow. Not only did the USSR have to recapture territory, it also had to revise its propaganda portrayal of the Germans as friends and partners of the USSR.
It is true that Stalin can not be written out of Soviet history, but in the post communist era, the peoples of the former USSR are finding out what was expunged from the history books by Stalin and his genocidal regime.
The real reason for the rehabilitation of Stalin is the desire of those who remain loyal to communism to stage a political comeback. This is happening against the backdrop of many who long for what is perceived as the security and certainty provided under communist rule. This sense of nostalgia is not shared by those who endured the forced collectivisation famine of 1932-1933, in which it is estimated that around 2 million people died. What also feeds into the sense of nostalgia is the anger of pensioners whose pensions from the Soviet era are reduced to a paltry pittance. Additionally, those who had savings in Soviet rubles found those savings wiped out with the fall of communism. A sense that the wealth generated since the fall of communism also adds to nostalgia for the Soviet era.
Nostalgia for Stalin and his times is still a potent political force in Russia and elsewhere in the former USSR. The attitude towards democratic rule in that part of the world remains significantly different from that in Europe and the United States. Economic prosperity would be a good part of the antidote to the appeal of communism.
The nostalgia for Stalin should not surprise us. But it should concern us. Because the revision of history is almost always a preparation for the future. It is in this light that the nostalgia for Stalin should be seen and not as an odd piece of news. Honest history and economic prosperity are probably the best remedies to this disturbing trend.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
I am shaken and saddened yet again by an accident involving a small child and a school bus. A little boy in Boro Park, Brooklyn was killed by a school bus when he slipped on ice and fell underneath the rear wheels of a departing school bus.
This is not the first time I have read reports like this. Several years ago, a 14 year old girl was killed when a school bus backed up into her. In both cases, the bus drivers were unaware of what had occurred in the blind spot of their buses. I drove a very advanced rental car once that shuts off the radio whenever you pull into reverse and gives you a moving picture of the action in your blind spot. It might be a good investment for large vehicles.
I do not like accident coverage that intrudes upon private grief. In general, today's coverage of the Boro Park accident was sensitive in that respect. But I do feel that accidents should be analysed to provide information that could protect others. I have read, heard of and unfortunately seen a few accidents involving pedestrians and cars over the years. I feel that it is worthwhile to try to prevent anguish to others.
One toddler a few years ago had returned with his family from a country bungalow when he wandered into the street and was struck by a car. I have heard of other cases where children on vacation were killed while out of town. It seems that children become accustomed to local conditions and are unprepared for the hazards of a new location away from home. The little boy who was hit after a trip to the country was accustomed to a fenced in, car free enclosure. Coming back to the city, he was unprepared for cars being in the same space as pedestrians.
Sometimes the changes are more subtle. A child who is accustomed to living on a one way street might have a dangerous lack of familiarity with two way streets. In a new environment, it is a good idea to walk around with one's children and focus on the shifted safety rules of new surroundings.
Some dangers are more subtle. I am still haunted by the death of a 17 year old boy many years ago, a couple of days before he was to celebrate Christmas with his family. I stood at the scene a couple of hours later. A pencil broken to bits testified mutely to the impact of the crash. I looked up the hill. A ripple in the incline obscured cars so they could only be seen at the last second. The spot where the boy crossed was a death trap. He could not see the car that hit him until the last minute. Of all the spots to cross the street, it was among the most dangerous. It was a terrible misfortune for him, his family and the driver.
The worst sort of hazard is jaywalking in the middle of the street from between two parked cars. It can thrust a driver and pedestrian into the center stage of a tragedy in seconds. Crossing outside a crosswalk carries with it a multitude of hazards.
Pedestrians in dark clothing can look like shadows until it is too late to stop for them. Wearing a reflective strip is a very good idea. A general mentality of being aware how one appears to drivers is also a good idea.
I think that children should take a modified driver's education class. Even a seven year old should be taught in school how he or she appears to a driver. They should be made aware that buses, trucks and even cars have blind spots. There should be discussions of city, suburban and country pitfalls. Children should be asked if they have been in such surroundings. There should be discussions of safety issues peculiar to particular environments.
Bus matrons might also prevent some tragedies. But educating a child to see the street as drivers see it could save some lives. My son told me a story of a bus driver who used to count the kids at each stop twice. He would count them once at the bus stop and yet again after they boarded. One time he realised he was one kid short. He went outside to check up on the missing boy. The boy had dropped his snack under the bus and went under the bus to retrieve it. The beauty of the story was that it never became a story.
My heart goes out to the family that lost their child today. Stories of accidents sadden me when I read of them. Studying such misfortunes to spare others heartache could save lives all across America. I believe that it also provides benefit to the souls of the deceased. Discussing accidents with one's children and what can be learned from them is a beneficial practice. There is a lot of news that provides no practical benefit. But news about accidents can if properly presented, save lives. That is how such stories should be presented. Let us do what we can to make such sad news a rarity in our time.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Poor Paris Hilton. She went down to Brazil and did a beer commercial for Devessa Beer in Brazil. From the look of the photos, I think the beer must have been pretty good. I think she could do a really good Tylenol commercial as well. I am, however shocked and dismayed beyond words at one glaring problem with the picture. Hilton is seen clearly drinking from a can. That is absolutely disgraceful. A woman of her means should be drinking draft from the tap. If she really wants to slum it, she could drink from a glass bottle. I am shocked. No one maintains any standards any more.
But now that I think of it, if you are going to fall to the ground clutching your beer, it is probably safer to drink from a can. I do not want to think what might have happened if Paris Hilton fell on the streets of Rio with a glass bottle.
I am very fond of beer commercials. I have no use for most television shows, but beer commercials are in many cases, works of art. As a testimony to Paris Hilton's attempt to join the ranks of beer commercial stars, I am pleased to present some of my all time favourite beer commercials.
My all time favourite is a Fred Flintstone beer commercial from back in the 60's when there was very little regulation in advertising. Some of the European beer commercials are almost entirely visual, like the Tuborg commercial that shows a girl getting prettier and prettier as the man in the commercial keeps drinking. Then there is the commercial in which a girl tries to put a voodoo curse on a man who is drinking beer , with comical results.
I wish Paris Hilton success in her new career doing beer commercials. I am looking forward to checking out Devessa beer, but only in a bottle.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Joe the Plumber, also known as Sam Wurzelbacher has announced his disillusionment with Senator John McCain. Scott Detrow of National Public Radio reported as follows on his blog.
"Wurzelbacher touched on several different points during his speech, and many of them were surprising. He said he doesn’t support Sarah Palin anymore. Why? Because she’s backing John McCain’s re-election effort. “John McCain is no public servant,” he told the room, calling the 2008 Republican nominee a career politician.
I pointed out he’d just be plain old Sam Wurzelbacher of Ohio — Joe the Plumber wouldn’t exist – without McCain. His response was blunt. “I don’t owe him s—. He really screwed my life up, is how I look at it.”
Wurzelbacher said, “McCain was trying to use me. I happened to be the face of middle Americans. It was a ploy.”
It sounds like an impulsive statement on Joe the Plumber's part to say that McCain ruined Wurzelbacher's life. The events of the campaign turned "Joe the Plumber" into a household name. He is still giving out endorsements and making speeches. He had a shot at fame and he used it wisely, speaking well for the Second Amendment, the rights of states and other items close to his heart. Wurzelbacher seems to have kept his integrity. He is now full of righteous indignation at John McCain, who he feels used him, as well as Sarah Palin for supporting John McCain.
Sam the Plumber should not be surprised at John McCain for "using" him. That is what political figures do. They splice a few useful sound bites from what you say, and hit the mute button when you are no longer useful. "Bipartisans" are probably the worst of the lot. In most cases, they want to spotlight themselves instead of the issues. If McCain had won in 2008, it is quite likely that he would have given the Democrats a lot of help that they could not have gotten from their own party. His positions on immigration are not substantially different from those of the Democrats. The campaign finance reform bill that he co-sponsored with Russ Feingold was a drop kick in the gut of the constitution. He served with honour in Vietnam. But one must still look at his actual opinions and voting record.
There are people who will bend with the wind to get your vote. And there are partisans who will stake out a position or ideology and defend what they believe. A large portion of the Republican party is simply imitating the Democrats and leaving some ideological battles unfought. New York City's mayor, Mike Bloomberg is strongly in favour of gun control. He joined his Republican predecessor in Gracie Mansion in not enforcing federal immigration laws in New York City. If those issues matter to you, liberal Republicans offer no alternative.
Ronald Reagan was someone who tried to win over and persuade his opponents. Whether you agree with him or not, he was honest about his convictions. Joe the Plumber, like many Americans wants leadership that will state honestly their beliefs and defend them. He provided useful sound bites to the McCain campaign and now he feels used. Many feel that the "bipartisan Republicans" of 2008 were just going to cut a deal with the Democrats if they would have won. At least Obama was somewhat honest about his convictions.
Joe the Plumber should realise that the McCain campaign provided him with his first shot at a national platform. He was talented enough to keep the attention of the media a long time after he hit the spotlight and long after McCain's defeat in November of 2008.
Why did Joe the Plumber support McCain? Probably for the same reasons I did. What are those reasons? There is a story that explains why.
A cowboy walked into a wild west saloon. There was a card game in progress. He walked up to the table and said "Deal me in."
After a few minutes of playing, someone tapped him on the shoulder and said, "If you've got any sense in your head, you'll quit this game, because it's rigged."
The cowboy kept on playing and replied, "I know. But it's the only game in town."
Joe the Plumber and millions of other Americans knew they were playing in a rigged game in 2008. Most of those who supported the Republicans,(and a lot of independents as well) want to check the deck before the next game starts. If that is what Joe the Plumber wants, I don't blame him.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Air, water and ground pollution under communism was endemic. From burning soft coal to flooding rivers with toxic waste, governments from the Soviet Union to Romania polluted the lands they ruled with no fear of an uprising of angry citizens. Now that communism has fallen in much of the world, it is clear that the land, air and water are recovering as much as the people
Lake Baikal in Siberia is the largest fresh water lake in the world. It contains 20% of the fresh water on the planet. It contains about 1500 of wildlife, including the only species of fresh water seals in the world.
Along with native tribes that consider lake Baikal to be sacred are ethnic Russians who were drawn to the Soviet far east by petroleum and other industries. Under communism, the pay was spectacular. When communism fell, those who invested their lives in sacrificing comfort for prosperity found their savings wiped out and their jobs endangered by the profound displacement in the economy. Today, there is poverty, unemployment and uncertainty in the Russian far east.
It is against this backdrop of endangered humans that the future of Lake Baikal's wild life is being discussed.
Industries located on the shores of Baikal polluted parts of the lake under Soviet rule. Under the post communist government, some industries closed down for reasons of environmental impact and economic inefficiency.
Last week, the reopening of the Baikalsk Pulp & Paper Mill was greeted with protests by environmental activists. It was also greeted with enthusiasm by residents of Baikalsk, who considered the reopening of the paper mill as a new lease on life for the one industry town and a second chance for the 2000 families that would now have a bread winner.
Reuters News reports as follows on the controversy surrounding the reopening of the paper mill.
"The loss-making plant, which is the main employer for the 17,000 inhabitants of nearby town of Baikalsk, was shut in October 2008 after the government ordered it to install a system for drainage away from the world's largest freshwater lake. Environmentalists say the waste from the plant, situated on the shoreline, contains harmful substances that destroy the lake's wildlife -- 1,500 species of animals and plants, including a unique type of freshwater seal. "We came here to show that people are against [the reopening]," Marina Rikhanova, head of Baikal Ecological Wave, which organised the protest, told Reuters by telephone."
Everyone agrees that Lake Baikal is a national treasure. Vladimir Putin conducted a personal fact finding dive into its waters and consulted with scientists to assuage concerns that the wildlife in the lake was in danger. Russian policy makers are faced not only with saving wild life and protecting the citizenry from pollution borne sickness. They are also faced with the heart rending, bone chilling poverty of thousands and thousands of citizens whose loss of livelihood blights their future.
Could economic diversification among the human population of Siberia create a more hospitable natural environment? Is there technology available in the west that could make a difference in the Russian Far East? Helping create peace between the fresh water seals and other wild life and the human population would not involve sending in soldiers. It would involve investment. It would involve bringing technical knowledge to bear on the problems on the shores of Baikal and elsewhere in Siberia.
Making the Russian Far East thrive economically will lay stable ground for the development of democratic government in the former USSR. Partnership between east and west in facing technical and scientific challenges could create friendship that could be the basis for lasting friendship across the Bering Straits. The beauty of involvement in this area is that the challenge is not military but environmental and economic.
The USA is only half a mile from Russia. The Russian Far East is an untapped zone of economic and scientific opportunity. From their fresh water seals to their hardy citizens, the region deserves our concern and our involvement. Saving wildlife and enhancing human life can be done together. If successful, solving problems in the Lake Baikal region could be a prototype for resolving similar conflicts elsewhere.
One of the most widespread conflicts on our planet is the competing yet reconcilable needs of the human race with the plant and animal kingdoms. Peace in this conflict could unfold on the shores of Lake Baikal. We have to work to make it happen.
Journeyman video about Lake Baikal
Thursday, February 11, 2010
I promise you I did not make this up. If you live in South Carolina and plan to overthrow the US government, you have to register as a subversive. The Raw Story blog reports on the Subversive Activities Registration Act , which stipulates as follows on the South Carolina Legislature web site.
"Every member of a subversive organization, or an organization subject to foreign control, every foreign agent and every person who advocates, teaches, advises or practices the duty, necessity or propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States, of this State or of any political subdivision thereof by force or violence or other unlawful means, who resides, transacts any business or attempts to influence political action in this State, shall register with the Secretary of State on the forms and at the times prescribed by him."
There is even a five dollar registration fee. If you get pulled over for being an unlicensed radical granola munching commie pinko subversive radical, you can get a $25,000. 00 fine and up to 10 years in the slammer. There is a pdf form on line that you can download for your very own subversive license.
I don't know why, but I have this strange desire to register as a subversive. I want to have one of those little cards so I can cash a check with it, get a new library card with it or pass it around on my lunch break at work. I'll bet it might even be good for discounts on espresso at funky little coffee houses with underground newspapers on the tables and waitresses with multiple piercings.
What I first want to do is start my own radical group so I can infiltrate it and be a paid informer for the FBI. I could sit around eating schwarma sandwiches with my revolutionary cell and get all my expenses paid by my handler. I'll bet it pays a lot better than blogging. Maybe the FBI would even help me create a web site with my own revolutionary writings.
Now what kind of fool who wants to overthrow the government is going to stand in line for six hours down at the South Carolina Subversive Registry? The parking lot will probably be filled up with old Volkswagen buses from the 1960s and Volvos with bumper stickers all over the trunk.
Imagine the loudspeaker announcements.
"Communists please wait in line 7. Pacifists wait in line 8. Nazis wait in line 9. Nazis and Communists please fight out in the parking lot, and don't beat up the pacifists.
Imagine the problems when sectarian strife breaks out in the Subversive Registry. Stalinists and Trotskyists hate each other's guts. They have to wait in separate lines. Then the various radical Muslim splinter groups who are at each other's throats. They would need separate lines for Muslim men and Muslim women so the 72 Virgins For Monogamy Now and Forever wouldn't end up being stoned by the Taliban in the parking lot.
Imagine filling out the form while your line slowly inches forward.
Do you or your organization directly or indirectly advocate, advise, teach or practice the duty or necessity of controlling, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States, the state of South Carolina or any political division thereof ? (Check Yes or No)
If yes, please outline the fundamental beliefs. If applicable, attach a copy of the bylaws or minutes of meetings from the last year.
Here would be my answers.
"I believe in complete equality, in sharing all property equally. Everyone in the world should split their wealth with me."
"I believe in complete freedom of speech. This includes the freedom to shout through bullhorns loudly in the middle of speeches of people I disagree with."
"Please name all other members of the organization located in South Carolina. If the space on this form is not sufficient, please attach additional pages referring to this section."
Let me try to get this straight. They expect you to hand over the minutes from the molotov cocktail party you attended last year. Then they expect you to rat out all your comrades voluntarily, without even water boarding you or hooking you up to a set of jumper cables.
What about address changes? What if your organisation splits into two factions? Don't you have to fill out a special form for that ? Then there are the name changes. Rodney Miller changes his name to Rodney X. Jill Johnson gets married to Rodney. And as soon as she marries him, she's his X. How do you fill out the paperwork on that? Then Izzy Berkowitz the communist becomes Mustafa Burqawitz , the Muslim radical. It's all so confusing. I really feel sorry for the clerical staff down at the subversive registry. They're probably real stressed out .
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
At least a couple times a year, I check up on the survival of the Gaelic language. Although I haven't a drop of Irish blood, I grew up near Boston. My classmates and friends who were of Irish ancestry shared family stories with me. Even as an outsider, the universal themes of struggling to make it in a new country still resonate with me.
The news of Irish language survival is encouraging. Even the BBC does broadcasts in the language. Books are being published in it. What is even more encouraging is the news that 25% of people in the Irish Republic claim to speak Gaelic regularly.
A reporter for the Guardian wanted to test the 25% figure, as well as rules that require that government offices make accomodations for Gaelic speakers. Manchan Magan set out on a tour of Ireland in which he would only speak Gaelic. Despite being fluent in five languages, he toured Ireland pretending to speak only Gaelic. He wanted to see if There was a viable Gaelic speaking presence outside of some of the remote rural villages maintained by the Irish government as Irish language areas.
Magan did a documentary about his tour called"No Bearla" (Only English) which was broadcast on the BBC. Clips of the documentary are on You Tube.
Starting off in Dublin, he found his first day as a Gaelic monoglot to be most draining. Some of those to whom he spoke were downright rude. He described one such encounter as follows in his Guardian article.
"I went first to the Ordnance Survey Office to get a map of the country. (As a semi-state organisation it has a duty to provide certain services in Irish.) "Would you speak English maybe?" the sales assistant said to me. I replied in Irish. "Would you speak English?!" he repeated impatiently. I tried explaining once again what I was looking for. "Do you speak English?" he asked in a cold, threatening tone. "Sea," I said, nodding meekly. "Well, can you speak English to me now?" I told him as simply as I could that I was trying to get by with Irish.
"I'm not talking to you any more," he said. "Go away."
Magan contrasted the reaction of ordinary Anglophone Irish to those who spoke Spanish, French or other languages of the European Union. He found a friendliness that contrasted with some of the tense hostility he experienced as a speaker of only Irish. He attributed this to guilty conscience. The Irish Republic was founded as an Irish homeland. The revival of Irish as a national language was important to those who believed in Irish independence. Even among those who speak English only is the nagging thought that perhaps their ignorance of the ancestral tongue is a victory for the British.
Magan found that Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline had no Gaelic language option on their web site. He dispatched a disgruntled e mail to customer service which was ignored. Although the article and his documentary are almost three years old, the Aer Lingus web site still does not feature Gaelic.
Magan was systematic in testin the public's fluency in Gaelic. He stood on the street singing filthy songs in Gaelic. The overwhelming majority of passers by showed no comprehension whatsoever of his dirty songs. Not one person took offense. He even stood outside a bank and asked passers by if they would help him rob it. No one who had any felonious proclivities was fluent enough in Gaelic to investigate his "job offer".
He found enough people who did speak Gaelic to save him from despair. What was even more encouraging was the discovery that there are schools where Gaelic is the medium of instruction. Far from being archaic, the schools are academically competitive. The language of the young students is an evolving modern Gaelic with its slang and terminology for everything from hiphop to the world of computers. Among some young people, Gaelic has achieved a sort of hipness that bodes well for its future. In the rural areas, the government has a program where those families that pass a test in Gaelic fluency receive an annual payment from the government.
There is a developing rift between urban speakers of Gaelic and residents of the Gaeltacht, (the Gaelic speaking part of Ireland) due to outside influences in urban areas as well as the simplifications created by those who have mastered the language through study.
There are problems with preserving Irish. It is divided into regional dialects, which makes it difficult to adopt a uniform spelling system. Despite spelling simplification, those who want to read Irish classics will still need to learn the old system of writing. But most languages that are preserved are also changed in the process. It seems as though Irish will survive, changing as it does so.
I wish the Irish people success in preserving their language. And I thank Manchan Magan of the Guardian for sharing his story about modern Gaelic with an English speaking audience.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
The Obama administration is going to unveil an 80 billion dollar jobs bill which will feature extended unemployment benefits and highway spending according to Reuters News.
Am I missing something? The only way the government can create a job is by collecting tax money to pay the worker that they hire. The government does not turn a profit. They skim the profits of those who are making money and use it to pay government workers. The way they get the money is by taxing workers and private businesses.
The private businesses create jobs so they can make money. They pay close attention to profits and losses. They can't make up losses by raising taxes. There is competition out there. So workers and management have to work together to have an efficient business.
A well paid worker can get by without any government help. He will have vacation time, health insurance and other benefits that he helps pay for by making money for the company. His natural loyalty will be to his employer who pays his salary, instead of the government that is giving him a handout. Is that a problem?
The government can create a climate in which job creation is encouraged. They can reward companies for creating American jobs that will be a tax base for the government. They can also adopt policies that would discourage private job creation. Like it or not, the government can influence unemployment and job creation. But they can not realistically create jobs that will last.
The only way the government can come up with more money when the tax base is eroding is to print it. anyone who has seen inflation in Germany after World War I, Yugoslavia in the 90s and currently in Zimbabwe does not even want to consider this course of action.
When I hear Obama talk about creating jobs, he seems afflicted with a dangerous naivete or a demagogic cynicism.
What will encourage job creation? What will encourage millions of Americans to invest again? These are the questions that should be asked by our policy makers. Until they start asking, I don't see any solutions coming from Washington.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Electric cars have been a dream of those who wish to cut down on gasoline usage. It now appears that Israel is well on its way to establishing the infrastructure that would make electric car ownership practical. Associated Press reports that Israel, in conjunction with a California based company called Better Place will be setting up dozens of recharge stations all across Israel, where owners of electric cars will be able to park and charge their cars. For longer trips, there will be stations where a machine will remove the car's lithium ion battery and replace it with a fully charged one, enabling a traveler to go on his way in the same amount of time a regular driver would need to fill up his gas tank.
Like Europeans, Israelis pay a far higher price for gas than do Americans. The higher gas prices come out of a far lower average income. additionally, the tension between Israel much of the oil producing nations makes lessening oil dependency a high national priority. When a car is electric, the matter of producing electricity without using oil or coal can be tackled as a separate problem. This is of course not possible if a car runs on gasoline to begin with. In parts of the world with a lot of sunlight, such as Israel and Arizona, it would be possible for car batteries to be recharged with solar power
Associated Press reports as follows on the upcoming development in Israel.
"Better Place has said users will pay for a monthly package that will include the price of the car, the battery and use of the grid. But it has yet to announce how much all of this will cost, saying only that the price will be equal to or less than the price of a regular car.
The company, founded by Israel-American businessman Shai Agassi, a former top executive at software giant SAP AG, raised $350 million from an HSBC-led investor consortium last month, one of the largest clean-tech investments in history. The new financing values Better Place at $1.25 billion.
Speaking Sunday, Agassi said his goal was to help end global dependence on oil."
Up until now, "green friendly" cars have been so expensive that their purchase has typically been a political statement made by those who can afford such gestures. The Israeli program , with its electronic grid promises a model that will be far more affordable to a wider range of automobile owners. It is fortunate that Israelis are reacting with creativity to their difficult international situation. If they are successful, it will provide great benefits for the rest of the world. Implementing an energy grid across a small country will be a prototype for those who wish to duplicate such a model elsewhere.
What is most interesting is that it was the economic situation in that part of the world that is providing the incentive for Israel's electric car grid. It is not a government mandate or a government program that produced the Israeli prototype but a group of investors with an eye on the bottom line as well as their own idealistic motives. Market driven changes tend to be far more thorough and long lasting. My dream is that one day, blue collar consumers will be able to "go green" in a manner that impacts positively on their monthly budget. I wish "Better Place" success in their undertaking in Israel. and I hope to see something similar in the US and elsewhere.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
It's hard to forget the raid on the Agriprocessors plant in Postville Iowa back in 2008. Helicopters swooping overhead, mass detention facilities prepared in advance made for high drama. Out of the raid grew a massive list of charges that fell into two categories, "white collar" accusations of defrauding banks and failure to repay lenders as well as immigration charges. It was a daunting list of charges.
It now turns out that the trial itself may be the greatest scandal, with irregularities that should disturb anyone who feels that the accused citizen deserves a fair trial.
What initially transfixed the nation was the laundry list of charges linked to immigration violations. Judge Linda Reade ruled that these charges could not be mentioned during the bank fraud trial, that they would have to be dealt with in a separate trial. On repeated occasions, Judge Linda Reade disregarded her own ruling and allowed immigration charges to be mentioned during the trial on financial charges.
It should be noted that the immigration charges were shaky at best. At one point, the FBI sent in someone with bogus papers. Twice the person was rejected by the Human Resources department at Agriprocessors. Eventually, the person was hired, only when they had "genuine" documents that were supplied by the FBI that met the legal standard required of employers. The Des Moines Register reported as follows.
"Fischels told jurors that the informant, “S.A. 007,” first applied to work at Agriprocessors on Nov. 8, 2007. The informant — who, like many workers, was Hispanic — entered the plant wearing a hidden recorder and transmitter, Fischels said. Plant managers rejected the worker because his Social Security and resident alien cards were clearly fraudulent, he said.
The informant applied again on Dec. 11, 2007, and was once more rejected, Fischels testified.
Agents then furnished the informant with legitimate documents from a forensic laboratory in Washington, D.C., Fischels said. The informant was hired in January 2008, and provided authorities with information about happenings inside the plant, Fischels testified."
There were other irregularities as well. A judge is supposed to be impartial, with no connections to either side of a case being heard. Judge Reade, who presided over the trial of Shalom Rubashkin authorised and assisted in the logistics of extracting pleas from groups of defendants, as reported by the American Immigration Lawyers Association website.
The WFC Courier web site notes as follows Judge Reade's involvement in drafting time sensitive plea bargains and depriving defendants of effective counsel.
"Some of the charges leveled against the federal government include: Denying adequate legal representation by assigning as many as 17 defendants to an attorney; the breakdown of separation of powers when Chief Judge Linda R. Reade participated in ex-parte communications by approving plea agreements and moving the court an hour north to Waterloo without the defense's knowledge; and the use of aggressive plea agreements that expired after seven days.
The tactics have made a huge splash in the legal community nationwide. A judicial clerk for Reade, the presiding judge in the Agriprocessors criminal proceedings, authored a law review article entitled, "Butchering Statutes: The Postville Raid and the Misinterpretation of Federal Law." In it, Peter Moyers argues federal prosecutors misused the criminal identity theft and judicial removal laws that made the speedy mass prosecutions possible.
In February, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case about the use of criminal identity theft charges against undocumented workers who don't knowingly steal identities because they don't know if their Social Security numbers are fake or belong to another person. The case originated in the Southern District of Iowa."
Linda Reade was involved in the logistics of the immigration raid that found Shalom Rubashkin charged with immigration violations over which she later sat in judgement. She made arrangements to extract guilty pleas from illegal immigrants involved in the case in an assembly line fashion. How could she subsequently have remained unbiased when presiding over Rubashkin's trial? Had she not dismissed the immigration charges, these troubling questions would surely have been aired.
The defense in Shalom Rubashkin's trial had a daunting task in conforming with Judge Reade's rules excluding the mention of a laundry list of topics. Perfidy in Iowa, a compilation of articles dealing with the Rubashkin trial mentions one such surreally absurd exchange during the Shalom Rubashkin trial.
"The suppression of other important testimony had the effect of straightjacketing
the defense. It cleared the way for the prosecution to paint Reb Shalom Mordechai as a conniving law-breaker who enriched himself and his family by defrauding the bank and exploiting the immigrants in his employment.
Witnesses came forward to challenge this image, but jurors were instructed by Reade to leave the room while they spoke. The witnesses recounted examples of Reb Shalom Mordechai’s unusual humanitarianism and acts of kindness toward Jew and non-Jew alike. They testified to his stainless reputation in his own community and far beyond as a man of his word, honorable and trustworthy in business.
Even when attorneys argued that the above testimony was important in disproving money-laundering allegations, or to dispel insinuations that Reb Shalom Mordechai lived a lavish lifestyle by misappropriating funds, Judge Reade rigidly imposed her restrictions.
At various points in the trial, the hamstringing of the defense reached the point of absurdity. A prosecution witness testifi ed that she was often asked by Reb Shalom Mordechai to drive her and his son to meetings. Prosecution attorneys insinuated that the defendant and his son were engaged in clandestine activity at the office and therefore preferred not to have the family’s car in the parking lot.
During cross-examination, the witness admitted that when Reb Shalom Mordechai needed a lift, it was usually because he had put his car at the disposal of one or other of the many visitors who found their way to his Postville address, seeking help. As for the son who accompanied his father to the “secret” meetings, “Are you aware that the defendant’s son, Moishe, is a special needs autistic child?” Cook asked the witness. “Objection!” the prosecutor exclaimed. “Sustained!” snapped the judge, sharply admonishing Cook for mentioning the forbidden topic of the autistic Moshe."
Moishe, Shalom's son was on the list of forbidden topics. Reade decided that mentioning Moishe's autism would elicit unfair sympathy from the jury. Yet in discussing attendance at a business meeting that was being examined in a court of law, it was necessary to mention all present at the meeting. It had to be established that Moishe was a non participant in the meeting, that he was incapable of taking part in the proceedings or even understanding them. Why was that not clear to Judge Reade? Why is it that the prosecution had free rein to paint a picture of Shalom Rubashkin's motives, character and lifestyle yet the jury was banned from hearing information that might contradict that betrayal?"
A critical defense in the Rubashkin trial was that the bank chose not to examine figures presented by Agriprocessors, that the bank and Agriprocessors had a productive relationship in which interest was paid on time. Yet again, Judge Reade stepped in and prevented the Jury from hearing expert testimony. Again, Perfidy in Iowa notes as follows.
"Working pro bono, Roth came to Sioux Falls of his own volition, prepared to demonstrate to the judge and jury a fact vital to the defense: that it was virtually impossible that the bank was unaware that some of the paperwork submitted by Agriprocessors contained inflated numbers.
The discrepancies were too glaring to go unnoticed, Roth stated, indicating that the bank was complicit with the infl ated sales numbers; due to the immense profits it reaped from the credit it extended Agriprocessors.
Roth never did get to present his findings to the jury. In one of many rulings that smacked of one-sidedness, Judge Reade ruled in pre-trial discussions that Roth’s testimony was inadmissible, since it represented his “opinion,” as opposed to “evidence."
I could understand a prosecutor making such an assertion about a defense witness. But for a judge to make such an assertion and to so heavily censor what is presented to the jury is both prejudicial to the defense and insulting to the jury. Numerous witnesses, such as a hog farmer who lost all his livestock and was helped by Shalom Rubashkin as well as numerous indigent Jews and gentiles who received generous help were excluded from testifying.
Even the government's star witness was shredded on the stand. That exchange, in which Shalom Rubashkin's alleged money laundering was discussed, went as follows. (Perfidy page 71)
Bensasson testified against Reb Shalom Mordechai, his former boss and close friend. He said that Reb Shalom Mordechai orchestrated the fake invoices, and that instead of sending bank payments directly to the lender the money, depositing it in the grocery store or the community yeshiva, which Agriprocessors owned. The prosecutioncalled this “money-laundering,” insinuating that Reb Shalom Mordechai withdrew this money for his own use. Guy Cook challenged this charge while cross-examining Bensasson.
Cook: To your knowledge, did Shalom siphon off money from these funds for his personal use?
Bensasson: No, sir.
Cook: Are you aware of any outside bank accounts to which he re-routed any of it?
Bensasson: I am not.
Cook: Granted that the money was rerouted for a couple of days, didn’t every penny of it ultimately reach the bank?
There were other witnesses who testified that Shalom was disorganised, and that most of what appeared to be irregular was simply due to lack of professional training. Such testimony was also excluded.
Evidence cropped up during the trial that witnesses were coached and coerced. One witness admitted under cross examination that he was threatened with deportation if he did not do as he was told by prosecutors. Another witness named April Hamilton stated as follows.
“I was told to speak only about Shalom Rubashkin, and to say nothing that would implicate anyone else,” she admitted under cross examination.(Perfidy in Iowa p72)
Is that not distorting testimony? What ever happened to telling the whole truth and not suppressing evidence?
The implications of the Rubashkin trial for the average citizen are chilling. In repeated instances, Judge Reade excluded evidence that would have been exculpatory or favourable to the defendant. She had a prior role in the immigration raid that led to Shalom Rubashkin standing before her in judgement. She even helped draft plea bargains designed for use in assembly line justice in which bewildered defendants in the same case were given inadequate counsel.
Based on this trial which was riddled with irregularities, Shalom Rubashkin is facing the prospect of the rest of his life in jail. The precedent this trial sets for anyone facing a federal trial in the future are chilling. If this verdict is allowed to stand, a judge will be able to disregard his or her own rulings when it serves the case of the prosecution. The judge will be able to cherry pick evidence and blindfold the jury when that would aid the cause of securing a conviction.
Our judicial system operates on a system of precedents. if the rampant and systematic irregularities that riddled the trial of Shalom Rubashkin are allowed to stand, it will be a dark day for American jurisprudence and for the American people. Shalom Rubashkin's guilty verdict should be overturned. Justice demands it. And we should as well.