Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Matter of Trust, A Wasted Monday, G.O.P. Response to SOTU Address and Two Short Stories

G.O.P. Response to President's State of Union Address Congresswoman Rodgers
Neat and trim Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, looking as American as motherhood and apple pie, delivered the official Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union Message last week.  It was filled with standard G.O.P. platitudes and offered no substance whatsoever, other than saying that her party “has a plan.”  I am surprised that her "handlers" didn't include a kitten in her lap or a puppy frolicking at her feet.  (In fact her response was so bland that more rightward-leaning Republicans such as Senator Rand Paul felt obligated to individually come up with their own stronger responses to the President.)

Despite the facts that Ms. Rodgers has been on one government payroll or another since graduating from college, that many of the uninsured in her district are running to enroll in an “Obamacare” insurance plan, that an Air Force base is a major employer in her rural district … where non- farm unemployment far exceeds the national average, she strongly advocates reduced spending and smaller government providing fewer benefits.  

Her success at the polls well illustrates the theory brought forward several years ago by Thomas Frank in his book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?  In it, he contends that poorer whites cast their votes based on social and cultural issues, ignoring economic issues and voting for candidates opposed to programs which are indisputably in their best interest. This is the real key to all Republican election successes.  It remains the Anti-Spending Party, dedicated to keeping higher bracket taxes low.


What’s on Kerry’s Plate in the Middle East 
A Matter of Trust

It has been said that the Iranians are extremely clever diplomats and negotiators and sometimes are willing to ostensibly agree to commitments which they have no intention of permanently adhering to, so long as they are able to strengthen the Iranian state.  In brief, one can negotiate with the Iranians, but can one really trust them?  Some say that to make them negotiate with sincerity, a "hammer" must be held over their heads.  At present, this "hammer" is more like a vise, consisting of economic sanctions imposed by other nations.  As Iran shows a willingness to honestly negotiate, at least temporarily, the vise is loosened.  Another “hammer” is the threat of mutual nuclear retaliation and destruction, should Iran ever threaten to use nuclear weapons against its opponents.  Both Israel and the West possess such hammers, and do not want Iran to develop its own hammer, which would permanently strengthen not only its nuclear capability, but its negotiating posture as well, and this is at the heart of the ongoing negotiations.

Iran's Foreign Minister, President and Israel's Prime Minister.  Can Netanyahu risk believing what they say?

Although the Palestinians are Arabs and ethnically unlike the Iranians, a similar question exists, that of whether or not they also can be trusted to live up whatever might be agreed to in negotiations to reach a two-state solution to the ongoing dispute between the Palestinians and Israel.   If they have their own state on the West Bank, augmented by Israeli land swaps so that Israeli settlements might remain in portions of it, and are given a capital in East Jerusalem, can they be counted on to remain “de-militarized,” to fully recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel, to permanently renounce a desire to “take back” Israel and to end anti-Israeli teaching in their schools?  This is the deal which is presently being negotiated.  Many in Israel say “No” to these questions and object to a two-state solution, not trusting the Palestinians to permanently live up to whatever they agree to in order to get their state.
Just as there are “hammers” in the negotiations with Iran, there are “hammers” which both the Palestinians and Israel can wield.  The Palestinians’ “hammer” consists of their willingness to wait and the belief that demographics are on their side and that ultimately, they will outnumber the Israelis within the State of Israel, and since that country is committed to remaining a democracy, they will take it over. Israel, on the other hand, has its economic and military strength as its “hammer,” but that “hammer” is not aimed at a permanent solution.  Rather, it is aimed at preserving the status quo for another century in the hope that during that time a sensible two-state solution, to which the Israelis feel the Palestinians will finally live up to, will be reached. 

Israeli President Shimon Peres, John Kerry and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in a seemingly agreeable pose.

These are the problems with which Secretary of State Kerry must deal.  I wish him luck.

Jack Lippman



A cacophony of explosions and screams surrounded the elderly husband Vincent and his wife Josie who’d come to enjoy an afternoon at the movies. The theatre was half empty, so they were perplexed when a young man and a woman came to sit directly in front of them, forcing them to crane their necks to view the previews on the screen. He thought about moving but asked himself, why should he? He chalked the young peoples’ action up to ignorance and decided to let it slide.  

Then the young man cast a glance backward, dismissing the old couple as if they were bugs. He grabbed a handful of pop corn from the cup which he shared with his partner and took out his I Phone, allowed it to light up. Ignoring the fact that his I Phone was shedding distracting flashes of light he began texting. This rudeness charged up Vincent’s pressure. His wife, Josie, sensed his increasing wrath which was coming upon them like the dark clouds of an approaching hurricane. Josie wanted to ask Vincent to move over. Vincent had other ideas. He softly tapped the shoulder of the man.


 “Do me a favor please. Don’t text.” implored Vincent in a low voice.

The young man twisted in his seat and growled “ Why not. These are only previews being shown now. I need to contact my babysitter. Mind your own business grandpa and don’t tell me what to do.” He continued to text. The old man persisted, his voice growing a bit louder.

 “Look here. I’m asking you nicely. Your texting is annoying all those around you. We paid our money to see a movie, not to be bothered by a rude dude with an I Phone. You can go out in the lobby and text. This is not the place to do it! The light interferes with my vision.”

The younger man became agitated. He rose, turned to face the old man and raised his voice too. “You’ve got to be crazy. You’re twice my age and half my size. If we got into a fight I’d cream you.” He leaned forward to emphasize his point.

 Shaking nervously, like a flag in a breeze, Vincent stood and said “I’m not scared of you. If you have to resort to violence, so be it. But right is right and wrong is wrong. Texting inside the theater is not right.” He looked the younger man in the eye. His hands were flat against his side and his right thumb brushed by his pant’s pocket with its slight bulge.

The young man was in a quandary. He didn’t want to hit this old man. Neither did he desire to back down. He had an idea. He pushed back on the popcorn container and made ready to fire away. As his arm went back a steel clawed grip took hold of his arm, stopping him in mid swing. “Stop it!” spoke his wife, the mother of his young daughter. Her voice cracked like a rifle shot. “You stop it this minute. Put the pop corn down and leave this poor old man alone. Didn’t you learn anything from church?” There was an instant transformation as the young man complied. She whispered into his ear and they sat back down. His wife looked at Vincent who had regained his seat next to his Josie’s. "Our apologies.“

“No problem. And thank you.” said Vincent. He and Josie arose and shifted their seats to another row. After the movie was over and they’d left Vincent said to his wife, “A kind word dispels all wrath.”

Josie spoke. “That man’s wife saved us all a lot of trouble. You’ve got to watch your temper too dear. Just because you’re carrying a gun doesn’t make you the town sheriff.”

Vincent took a slow deep breath. “You’re right. I’ll have to control myself.” He squeezed her hand and exhaled. From now on he’d re-examine the need to carry a gun. It seemed like it was more trouble than it was worth. Had he shot the man he’d be spending time in jail and shelling out a lot of money for a lawyer.

The next week a similar situation occurred elsewhere. Sadly, no one was able to calm a big man down. Popcorn was thrown into an old man’s face after bitter words were spoken. A shot was fired and someone died. What a pity.

 “It is honorable for one to stop pending altercations. Any fool can start a quarrel.” (Proverbs 20:3)

A Wasted Monday

About a month ago, I planned a midweek trip up to New York to visit with my daughter and grandson.  There was plenty of time, so I purchased a round trip ticket at a fair price online.    Usually, I prefer to deal directly with the airlines on which I am flying (after I pin down the flights I want and the price I want on   This time, since the most desirable flights had me flying north to LaGuardia on one airline on a Monday and returning on another four days later, I choose to book my flight through  to simplify the booking procedure.  I knew I would have to pay a bit more ($7) to do it that way, but it was worth it to me not to have to deal with two separate airline web sites.  And Expedia did a good job, providing me with all of the information I needed including confirmation codes for both airlines involved. 


So Sunday night, after packing a carry-on bag, I printed my boarding pass for the flight north.  But before retiring, when I went to shut down my computer, I spotted a fresh Email, sent a few minutes after I had printed the pass, advising me that the flight had been cancelled and I was re-booked on a Tuesday afternoon flight.  I got on the phone with Expedia and ultimately a nice lady in Manila fixed that by switching me from that flight to one on Monday afternoon, but only after I suggested she look at flights to JFK and Newark airports, where she did find a Newark flight about four hours later than my original now-cancelled LaGuardia flight.

Cheerfully, I parked my car at the airport about two hours before flight time on Monday, but only after cautiously verifying with the airline’s phone line that all was well with my new flight.  Arriving at the terminal after a ten minute van ride, however, the departure board indicated that flight also had been cancelled, and there on my smart phone was a brand new Email telling me it had been re-booked for Wednesday afternoon.  

A call to Expedia’s customer service line indicated a two hour wait for an agent, so I called the airline’s site which only had a 25 minute wait.  There a nice lady (in the USA, not outsourced) thought she might get me on a flight later that night, but confided that she suspected that would also be cancelled and really advised against it.  The best she could do was Wednesday morning.  Biding her adieu, I tried the airline’s customer service desk where a local agent confirmed that Wednesday was the best they could do, but “Hold on,” she said.  “Something just opened up first thing early tomorrow morning to JFK.”  “Sold,” I said, but when she looked at my boarding papers, she said, “Sorry, we can’t switch you to that since you purchased it through Expedia.  You gotta call them.”

So I called Expedia and without much of a wait, a nice man from Manila said the airline agent was wrong and that she should have been able to switch it.  In any event, the seat was gone by then and he couldn’t even find a flight for me on Wednesday.  I asked if I could cancel the whole trip without a penalty and he said, “Sure, I have the airline’s ‘waiver code’ issued by the airline due to the weather right here.”  The girl at the counter, anticipating what would happen, had given me that code too.  So I cancelled my entire Expedia itinerary and they authorized crediting the money going back onto my credit card.  Without that 'waiver code,' incidentally, no refund would have been possible on either of the "non-refundable" economy tickets I had purchased and which are the kind of tickets most economy class travelers buy.  (As of this moment, I am still waiting for that credit to appear on my credit card.)

By then, two hours of this nonsense was depleting my smartphone’s battery and I was getting hungry, so I left the terminal and drove home.

Once home, my daughter suggested that a Wednesday flight might not be so bad, if I stayed an extra day or two, so I called Expedia again.  Nope, they couldn’t reverse the cancellation which was already being processed, but they would try for a Wednesday morning flight for me.  It didn’t amaze me that they couldn’t find one, but they did locate a seat on Tuesday morning, one that all of the other people I had been speaking to had apparently missed.  But to get that, I would have to pay about three times what I had paid on my original, now-cancelled, reservation.  So I waited twenty minutes to speak to a supervisor, who was polite, but powerless to do anything, and he couldn’t even find that Tuesday morning seat anymore. 

In retrospect, I wonder whether it might not have been a smart move for me to accept the replacement flights that the airline had offered to re-book me on, however undesirable they initially may have seemed.  These were the Tuesday and Wednesday flights that I did not accept because at the time I still had hopes of getting re-booked on a Monday, and eventually, a Tuesday morning flight on my own.  If I had accepted these replacement re-bookings, however, and they were not cancelled, I doubt that I would have been subsequently eligible for the refund of my fare which I am getting, because of having the benefit of the 'waiver code."

There are distinct difference between the flight schedules and seat availability as shown on various internet web sites and on the airlines’ own sites. An available seat on a flight might appear on the airline web site and be gone before it ever reaches the sites such as Expedia’s.  And of course, the flight information available to airlines and middlemen such as Expedia to work with is probably different from what the general public can access on a computer or smartphone.  Nevertheless, Kayak (which doesn’t sell tickets) is a good starting site for use by the general public.  Be sure to “uncheck” the options Kayak offers to access links to Priceline, Expedia, and such other sites’ price quotes.  All you want are Kayak’s flight and price information.

My recommendation:  When booking air travel, try to do it yourself on one airline’s own web site.  First, find out what carrier to use by accessing where most airlines other than Southwest are included.  Calling an airline to make a reservation usually incurs about a $25 charge, so stick to the internet.  It’s quicker than a phone call, and you don’t have to wait listening to elevator music.  When only one airline is involved in a round trip, avoid using an intermediary or middleman such as Expedia, Travelocity or Orbitz, since doing so impairs your ability to deal with the airline yourself. 

Every rule has an exception: When circumstances put you in the position, however, of dealing with more than one airline on a round trip reservation made separately with each airline on your own, it might be difficult to get a refund from an airline whose flight was not cancelled, when the other airline’s flight was cancelled!  Getting the round trip on one itinerary, as I did with Expedia, facilitates getting a refund of the entire itinerary if one of the flights is cancelled and the airline provides a 'waiver code' as they did for me due to the weather. Consider doing this, but only if more than one airline is involved in your round trip, and don't forget that doing so will compromise to some extent your ability to deal with the airlines on an individual basis.  It is a choice you must make. 

Also, be very careful when there’s bad weather anywhere in the country since a storm far from where you are flying can immobilize a plane which never gets to the sunny airport where you are booked to board it.

Finally, bear in mind that some airlines are more prone to cancelling flights than others, for reasons I do not comprehend.  The government’s Department of Transportation’s FlightStats ranks airlines’ cancellation rates as follows (best to worst):  Delta, Frontier, Virgin American, Alaska, Southwest, Jet Blue, USair, United, and American.

So my Monday this week was wasted.  Or was it?  I consider it a learning experience and I did get to write this boring piece for the blog.  Flying for three hours is still better than driving for twenty.
Sid's Corner


Sid Bolotin

When I opened the door, I saw the latest in a long string of Comcast service technicians who had arrived to solve our latest malfunction. He looked to be in his late teens or low twenties and lacking in years of experience. His scrawny six foot height, crowned with a baseball cap, his thin, scraggy beard along his jaw, and his bored stare made me think that he was fresh out of high school.

My negative initial judgments resulted from our prior week’s tortured chasing of a plethora of Comcast telephone reps around the world that failed to produce a fix that lasted. And, I was having flashbacks to the failure of previous Comcast servicemen to provide permanent solutions.

As he stepped through the door and quietly announced, “I’m Troy. What seems to be the problem?” my wife immediately assailed him with a recount of Comcast’s failings over the past week to fix the problems with our phone, internet, and TV service. To his credit Troy stayed calmly settled as she vented her spleen and softly responded with, “Well, I apologize for all the trouble you’ve had. I’m here now to fix the problem.”

His can-do demeanor caused me to consider that maybe this “kid” could accomplish what his predecessors had failed to do. I took him through the house while explaining that, although all devices were working at the moment, we are still plagued by the TV pictures scrambling into “tiles”, and one DVR having to be repeatedly rebooted.

His assessment in the crawl space over the garage produced the usual tsking over the number of branches splitting off from the main signal-booster to feed our seven TV’s…but he did acknowledge that the primary splitter needed replacement.

When he went outside to inspect signal strength and connections, I resisted my urge to hover over him as I usually do. In some strange way Troy’s persona brought to mind Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke” and “Hombre”…or maybe Gary Cooper in “High Noon”.

When I brought Troy a bottle of water, my gut feelings were proven correct as he told me all the problems he found that were causing the weak signal in the house. Ala Sherlock Holmes this conscientious problem-solver walked me through all the trouble spots that previous Comcast technicians had created over the years, and then were missed by others who came out on service calls due to the faulty installations.

Calmly, and with no edginess to get to his next call, Troy assured me that he’d fix them all…excess cable lengths being so tightly coiled and tie-wrapped that the signal was compromised, lack of rubber-sealed waterproof connectors in the outside junction boxes, an ungrounded splitter, and a twenty foot extension cable that had been routed under the lawn along the wall and was being chewed by the grass trimmers.

When he finished, I enthusiastically thanked him, slipped him a few dollars, and promised myself to report Troy’s performance to a Comcast supervisor.  The irony of this promise is that my subsequent call to Comcast resulted in the usual globetrotting series of connections that ended with a rep in Tennessee who told me that the best he could do was to enter my praise into the computer, and a supervisor would somehow see it. 


Yes, Yes, Mr. Sid. I understand you want to commend Mr. Troy, but  first, would you like to order up the pay-per-view Extreme Bullfighting Championships on April 31 in Cordoba?


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