Sunday, May 31, 2009

Open Letter to the GOP

Dear GOP:

What the Hell is wrong with you people? Has the Party suddenly become collectively blind and stupid? Or has it contracted a consumptive case of Alzheimer’s thus failing to recognize even its most basic and core values? I’m going to opt for “blind and stupid” because I don’t want to think the “Party of Lincoln”- - -the party that freed the slaves, won the war and preserved the union- - -has forgotten its values.

Huh, you say? What the heck is this guy talking about? Let me be painfully direct: on the Sotomayor nomination the Party has allowed itself to fall into the trap of making her nomination all about race, gender and identity politics- - -just exactly the sharp-stick filled pit BHO and his merry band of “jivy-league” minions hoped you would fall into and hopelessly impale yourselves. Worse yet, you were led like sheep into the abyss by those two bleating windbags- - -Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck- - -under the less-than-watchful eye and limited intellect of Michael Steele. Pitiful. But it's not too late, I hope. You just need to drop this false foo-fa-raw over the ability of a “. . .Latina woman . . . being able to reach a better decision than a white male lacking the same experiences” and move on to what really counts. Like the law.

How does she view the US Constitution? Is it a living, breathing document capable of guiding us yet today? Or, is it archaic and in need of total overhaul as many on the Left insist? Does she believe the Courts should make law and policy or simply interpret law as the founding fathers intended? Does she think US Courts should look to European Courts for ‘precedents’ like so many liberals would have us do? Does she believe the Constitution guarantees ‘freedom of religion’ as our founders intended or does she see it as ‘freedom from religion’ as today’s atheists would have us believe? Do her rulings indicate she believes in opportunity for all or, instead, that opportunity for some can be achieved only by disenfranchising others? Is she a respecter and student of US history or is she a revisionist?

Interestingly enough, other than the widely publicized speech at Duke and the equally publicized ruling regarding the New Haven Fire Fighters, I cannot find, anywhere, her stated opinions or rulings that would give answers to any of the questions I’ve asked. But, with all your resources at GOP headquarters you should be able to do so. Just don’t let Limbaugh and Beck do the work for you. Remember, it’s Limbaugh who recently said that “80% of her cases have been overturned. . .” The facts are that of the 230 or so cases she has heard while on the Federal bench, only five (5) have gone on to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Of those five, three (3) have been overturned. That’s a 60% ratio (not 80%, Rush) of the ‘cases reviewed’ but only a scant 1.3% of the cases which she’s adjudicated- - -so far.

So how about it, GOP? Can you climb out of the trap BHO set for you? Can you start doing your jobs? Can you ask the tough but fair and meaningful questions that need to be asked of her during the confirmation process? Can you do it without resorting to distortion, innuendo or bad math? Can you stay away from the slippery slope of gender and identity politics? Can you find room for ideas and sensibilities that aren’t fed to us all by Limbaugh and regurgitated by Beck without choosing the “conservatism-lite” menu of McCain? I hope so. Because if you can’t, this registered Republican of some 46 years may just be forced to find a new political ‘home’. The Libertarian Party is looking better all the time.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Let's Challenge Hollywood To Be Truthful

We went to see "Angels and Demons" over the weekend. Good movie- -not great. Tom Hanks is solid. Ewan McGregor is excellent as the "Camerlengo" (Papal Chamberlain). Crisp Ron Howard direction. The screen play/adaptation is quite true to Dan Brown's novel thus pretty inaccurate about Catholic ritual. So, between this movie and "The DaVinci Code" you really have to wonder what's behind Dan Brown's 'mean-on' for Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular? You also have to wonder why Hollywood thinks it’s ‘open season’ on Christianity and feels free to impugn Christians but simply doesn’t have the guts to take on any other religion- -except maybe for Judaism. Finally, you have to question if Hollywood understands the kind of world it’s helping to create by doing so.

Of the world’s great religions Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and the lesser known Shinto and Bha'i, only one of them- -Islam- - teaches it’s alright to kill/murder other human beings and actually offers a reward- - -a place in heaven with 72 virgins- - - for those who follow through on it. (Question, what does a female suicide bomber get as a reward- -72 young virgin boys or does she have to be a lesbian to reap full benefit of the reward?)

Christianity and Judaism on the other hand are quite firm and very explicit on this subject going so far as to cite the teaching in two places in the Old Testament. The Book of Exodus, Chapter 20, Verse 13 states the Sixth Commandment very precisely, “Thou shall not kill.” The same commandment is repeated verbatim in the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 5, Verse 17- - -“Thou shall not kill.” Notice that it doesn’t say, “Thou shall not kill except for. . . .” or, “Generally speaking you probably shouldn’t kill. . .” No, the Sixth Commandment is plain and clear- - -you cannot kill. Buddhists, Shintos and Bha'is all have similar teachings and hold human life in the highest regard. But not Islam. It’s call to Jihad and to the murder of non-believers is well known in every corner of the world. Yet, Hollywood and it’s left leaning citizenry insist on taking on and maligning the Judeo-Christian sense of religion and morality upon which this country was founded. Why?

Could it be the Hollywood elite and powerful are simply gut-less and afraid of taking on Islam lest some Ayatollah somewhere issues a Fatwa calling for their deaths as was done with Salman Rushdie and Theo Van Gogh? [They succeeded in the case of Dutch film maker, Van Gogh, but not with British author Rushdie.] After all it’s pretty hard to imagine the Pope calling for the Death of Dan Brown or the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem putting a price tag on the head of Ron Howard. And, a vision of the Dalai Lama urging his followers to behead Tom Hanks on sight is impossible to conjure up. Thus taking shots at Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism seems to be the safer path for those “brave” Hollywood types. Not much chance of physical retribution for their actions.

Maybe it’s about time for Americans to say “enough” and issue a challenge. A challenge to all the folks in Hollywood and the movie industry around the world challenging them to either have the courage and moral integrity to expose radical Islam for what it is through the power of feature films and documentaries or- - - -shut the Hell up!! And to so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims everywhere in the world, challenging them to either take a vocal and highly visible stand- -in huge numbers- -against radical Islam or admit to being the purposeful hypocrites they appear to be. Unfortunately, I think liberal Hollywood lacks the clarity of purpose and spiritual integrity to do what’s right in this battle of cultures and ideologies. Instead they will continue to do what’s currently politically correct and ideologically expedient. Moderate Muslims will simply continue to lack backbone and courage. And the world will continue to be a dangerous place as a result.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Parents of 'Panty-Less' Teen Teach Wrong Lesson

The lead paragraph of a news story published online on May 16 summed up quite well what is shaping up to be the basis of a strong “culture war” debate in the Tampa Bay area and perhaps nationally as well. Here’s how the article starts out. “You remember the famous scene with Sharon Stone in "Basic Instinct," right? 'Nuff said. A 16-year-old teenager at Sickles High School in [Tampa] Florida is now facing the same "problem," as a result of going "commando" so as to avoid panty lines in a yearbook picture. Unfortunately, it's now resulted in the Sickles High School "yearbook crotch photo" incident.”

It seems the 16 year old who is the focus of the story, when deciding what to wear for the pottery club yearbook photo, opted for a green form fitting mini-dress. Worried that she might display ‘panty-lines’ she decided to pre-empt the problem by not wearing any panties at all. She then compounded the folly of her decision by being less than lady like in her seated pose and unintentionally doing her best Britney Spears imitation.

As expected none of this came to light until the yearbooks were printed and distributed at which time the “oops” was discovered subjecting the “unfortunate” teen to a lot of ridicule from her peers- - -so the story goes. And, just as unfortunately but also just as predictably, the teen’s parents have threatened to file a lawsuit unless the school- -at the school’s expense- - rounds up the yearbooks, corrects the photo and redistributes the redacted publication. In the meantime the ‘victimized’ teen is being allowed to stay home apparently too embarrased to show her face at the school.

This is so wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin. So let me just say that it would have been a cold day in Hell that anyone of my daughters would have been purposefully portrayed by their mother and me as an “unfortunate victim” for reaping the consequences of her own stupid decision.

No matter how “embarrased” she might claim to be she would be in school, all day, each day. She would also be “grounded” for at least 30 days. Every morning before leaving for school she would be subject to an “underwear check” from her Mom and again when she got home. Then, the cost of a one week “charm school” class focusing on how to be a “lady” would be deducted from her allowance/savings. Any lawyer attempting to represent her in an action against the school, the photographer, or the yearbook publisher would be physically rebuked, publicly named and actively reviled. In short, my daughter would have been allowed to learn the lesson that stupid decisions make you the “unfortunate” but deserved bearer of lousy and often embarrasing consequences but NOT an “unfortunate victim

For more detail go to:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What Your Wife Told Me and Hundreds More On Mother's Day.

On the currently popular TV show, “Desperate Housewives” there is a recurring scenario in which the women of Wisteria Lane gather for their weekly poker game and, more importantly, their weekly gripe session. As cards are dealt and coffee is consumed, the 5 protagonists relate anecdotes describing- -sometimes in painful detail- - their banal lives, each being more desperate than the others, of course.

As expected, one of the most often repeated themes of their gripes is that of the stupid, selfish, insensitive, dopey, over-sexed, moronic, clueless husband/boyfriend who has somehow managed to be, yet again, the source of their desperation. It is a scene every male in America in a committed relationship with a woman knows exists in their circle of friends, if not through card games then via such seemingly innocent gatherings as book clubs, charity work or community activism. And every man is glad he is not there to hear what’s being said. Instead we have always taken comfort in the fact that such gatherings are what pass for “social contact” in well defined local circles of close knit friends and the comments are unlikely to travel beyond the limited number of people involved directly in that group. Like the five Desperate Housewives, for instance.

But, guys, if you still think your reputation among your wives/girlfriends is pretty much contained within “poker-club” or “book-club” and immune from spreading to the wider world, such as your workplace, you are clearly clueless about something called “Social Media” in general and “Face Book” in particular. Wikipedia defines social media, in part, as “…a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologue (one to many) into dialog (many to many)…” Whereas “book-club” or “poker-club” and the like is/was a form of monologue, Face Book and its cousins My Space and Twitter are definitely about dialog and “many to many” communication. So, gentlemen let me tell you what I learned about you- -none of whom I know- - and what I think of you thanks to Social Media this past Mother’s Day.

It began with a post from a FB “friend” of mine a college educated, 40ish woman, married with two children. I’ll call her “Pea”. I’ve never met Pea but became her FB friend a few months ago through a mutual friend we have in common. We have maintained our FB friendship because of like politics, a similar sense of humor and shared conservative values. Pea opened a “thread” of communication in which she grayly viewed Mother’s Day as “just another day”. Her posting was immediately available for all 80 of her ‘friends’ (including me) to see and to add comments. It didn’t take long before her female friends started adding their thoughts about Mother’s Day, family and husbands, each comment immediately being made available to every other commenter and every other ‘friend’ of Pea. I decided to “sit it out” and be a passive observer as one after another of Pea’s friends weighed in about her own lousy Mother’s Day. I was the proverbial “fly on the wall” at the book club. I was invisible but none-the-less seated at the poker table with the Desperate Housewives, all thanks to my Face Book account and my “friend” Pea. No subject escaped my eyes. None of the many profanities- -including countless f-bombs - - eluded me. No pang of unfulfillment went un-noticed. And, boys, here’s what you need to know.

Pal, if you think a pair of bejeweled Japanese chopsticks is an endearing gift to a smart woman, you’re a moron. Amigo, if you think a pig-out brunch is a treat to a woman who already thinks her ass is too big, you’re an idiot. Mon ami, if you think a $99 bauble from McJewlers is gift enough for a woman who stretched her vagina out bearing your 3 brats, you really are clueless. Friend, if you thought a Hallmark card and a few posies would bring tears of joy to her eyes instead of tears of frustration, you get the dope of the year award. And by the way bubba, if you thought you didn’t have to honor your princess bride at all on Mother’s Day because she’s not your mama, there’s no hope, you are just plain retarded. Oh, and did I forget to mention that every one of your wives is very well acquainted with the f-word and capable of using it as every other word in a complete sentence with a clueless you as the subject?

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Because if you haven’t figured out by now that your 40ish, Gen-X wife is not really a radicalized feminist but just another person who wants to be loved, appreciated and respected, you really are brain-dead. And finally, if you still think your short-comings are known only to the precious few in the book-club or at the poker table in what ever town you live- - -wise up and shape up. I’m the “Sage of Tampa” and I know about you and thanks to Face Book it won’t be long before everybody else will, too. It’s a brave new world, chum. Start living in it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Only Muslims Can Save Muslims

Two days ago, at the gym, I bumped into my friend Raj. You may remember from my post of May 1, 2009- - -just one week ago- - that Raj is from Pakistan and is a devout Muslim who opposes the hardliners but is concerned his country will fall to the Taliban by the end of 2010 unless “something is done.” After the usual warm greeting and exchange of polite pleasantries with each other Raj got straight to the point. The events of the past week in that part of the world have done nothing to calm Raj’s fears. In fact he was more agitated than I’ve ever seen him and extremely concerned for his family in Karachi. Soon our casual meeting at the gym turned into a conversation I doubt either of us will ever forget.

As we started our cardio workout on the elliptical exercisers Raj said to me, “Hal, the situation in Pakistan gets worse by the day. The Taliban”, he continued, “have successfully convinced people in Pakistan the armed effort against them [the Taliban and other radicals] is strictly the work of the USA and the USA is waging a ‘War on Islam’ itself.” He went on to say even large elements of Pakistan’s Army believe this and therefore, “will not pick up arms to wage war on fellow Muslims.” “Somebody has to do something” he said, “or Pakistan will be lost for good and nuclear weapons will find their way into the hands of the Iranians as well as Osama bin Laden.” What he said next stunned me.

“Hal,” my friend said, “please get me in front of as many groups as you can . . . churches, Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce . . .anyplace where I can tell them the truth about what is going on in Pakistan and seek their help in stopping it.” Please note that in the previous sentence I purposefully emboldened the phrase “seek their help” for added emphasis and made the word “their” red to further stress who, in Raj’s thinking, had the ‘responsibility’ to get Pakistan out of this mess and keep control of the country in the hands of more moderate elements.

As we moved from cardio training to large muscle routines I explained to Raj that I could, in fact, get him in front of many of those kinds of groups but his message, while powerful, would amount to nothing more than preaching to the wrong congregation. “If you are ever going to be successful in trying to keep your country relatively free you need to preach your message in the Mosques in this country, not the Churches and Synagogues,” I told him. “If the Taliban has been successful in convincing Muslims that Christians and others are waging a ‘War on Islam’ and they, as fellow Muslims, must defend their brothers in Islam at all costs then, sending 10,000 American civilians like me to stand on every street corner in Islamabad passing out pamphlets in Arabic promising Pakistani Muslims there is no “War on Islam” but merely an armed struggle against totalitarianism would do no good - - -not because of the message but because of the messengers. No, Raj, if this battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan (and Afghanistan and Iran) is to be won it must be won by Muslims seeking to share the truth with fellow Muslims. But, until your people here and their representative organizations like CAIR (Counsel on American Islamic Relations) have the courage to speak up about their duties just as forcefully as they do about their rights- - -the radicals will get all the TV time from Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya and only their message will be heard and seen on TV in the middle east.” Now it was Raj’s turn to be stunned. We moved away from the equipment, stopped exercising and sat on a bench in a quiet corner. Then I explained.

I have lived in the Tampa Bay Area for almost 8 years now. Muslims in this area are represented and often “spoken for” by Mr. Ahmed Bedir, Director for the local chapter of CAIR (see above). I’ve never met Mr. Bedir but people I know who also know him tell me he is a decent guy trying to do right by the people he says he represents. Good enough. But, his public image is quite different and if he’s aware of it he doesn’t seem to care to change it. You see, every time- -yes, I mean every time- -I see Mr. Bedir on TV or read a story about CAIR in which he is heavily quoted it is always about a Muslim who has been discriminated against in some way, or a Muslim who has had his/her rights denied or a Muslim who has somehow been infringed upon, or a Muslim who is unwilling to assimilate to any degree at all and insists the larger culture accommodate him entirely- - - in short, a Muslim who is a victim due to some perceived short coming with the laws and the culture in the US.

I don’t think any fair-minded American wants anyone discriminated against or persecuted for their religious beliefs- -or even a total lack of religious beliefs like those pesky Atheists. It’s un-constitutional. It’s unfair. And it’s downright, out-and-out WRONG! But wouldn’t it be refreshing and confidence building to see a TV story with Mr. Bedir and his entire local membership talking about the duties (not just the rights) American Muslims have to their adopted country? How about film clips of American Muslims celebrating the 4th of July and honoring the nation’s Flag? And instead of TV stories of 500 angry Muslim cab-drivers in Minneapolis protesting the rules for carrying passengers (including those with seeing-eye dogs and those carrying unopened packages of liquor) and demanding foot-baths be installed at the airport, we were to see 10,000 Muslims marching on Washington DC in support of the US Constitution and its ‘Bill of Rights’? And when will I read a story in the local paper or Time or Newsweek magazine about Muslims assimilating into this country and its code of laws rather than insisting this country has to change its laws and customs in order to accommodate them?

When Mr. Bedir and his flock stop listening to the radicals, rowdies and resenters among them selves and start paying attention to the guys like Raj who understand just how good they have it here and what a wonderful instrument of satisfaction compromise can be, then maybe- -just maybe- -we will see more positive messages being broadcast to the middle east by Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and others. Only American Muslims can save Middle-East Muslims from a despotic existence under a radical and extremist form of Islam. We non-Muslims cannot do it no matter how much we want to or how much we try. However, American Muslims cannot save Middle East Muslims until American Muslims publicly stand up against radicalism in all its forms, deliver positive rather than negative messages about the US and respect our nation’s Constitution. In other words, American Muslims cannot save others until they first save themselves.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The REAL Reason AIG Had To Be Rescued

The mere mention of insurance giant AIG can start a highly polarized and emotional debate in a roomful of near-comatose Quakers with one side shouting AIG must be allowed to fail and the other screaming AIG must be rescued and neither side knowing “why” for certain. To get a handle on the AIG issue one needs to understand the Federal Regulations that were put in place in the 1930s regarding the Banking, Brokerage and Insurance industries- - -regulations that arose as a result of the “Great Depression”.

Prior to 1933 it might have been difficult to tell a commercial bank from a brokerage house because their business activities were often similar. But the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 changed all that and unambiguously defined what activities could be engaged in by banks and which ones could be pursued by brokerage firms. Glass-Steagall had the clear intent of separating the two businesses thereby limiting the risk to any given sector of the financial services industry and the nation’s system of payments, loans and settlements as well as the consumers’ ability to invest in “Corporate America”. The Act also made it clear that to mix the two activities was a violation of federal “Anti-Trust” laws.

Glass-Steagall gave rise to a host of federal administrative rules and regulations that still pertain to banks and brokerage houses today. It created a layer of federal regulation to which banks and brokerage houses had to adhere in addition to the regulations that might be imposed on them by the individual states in which they did business. Significantly and specifically missing from this attempt to federally regulate financial services was the insurance industry. In 1945 a similar attempt to rein in insurance industry was made via the McCarran-Ferguson Act but a last minute heavily debated political compromise which stated, “. . . federal anti-trust laws will not apply to the ‘business of insurance’ as long as the state regulates in that area. . .” effectively emasculated McCarran-Ferguson by prohibiting any federal layer of regulation from being imposed on the industry and making the regulation of the insurance industry a state-by-state issue.

Over the past 60 years or so various attempts to make insurance companies subject to federal anti-trust and other regulations have been defeated by a well financed and immensely effective lobbying effort orchestrated by the insurance industry and their buddies- - the trial lawyers. As a result here’s where we stand today. If your bank fails you can expect the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC) to protect you in amounts up to $250,000. If your stock broker defrauds you (we’re not talking about regular market risk investment losses here) the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) is there to protect you in amounts up to $500,000. But if your insurance company fails or defrauds you, your only recourse is to file a complaint with your State Insurance Commissioner’s Office. Oh, and did I mention that in almost all of the 50 states the Insurance Commissioner’s Office is headed up by a former insurance agent, lobbyist or similar industry veteran. (Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!)

So, AIG was not under any real federal scrutiny thus any meaningful regulation or watch dog efforts were, by law, up to the Insurance Commisioner and/or the Attorney General of the State of New York. But the New York Insurance Commissioner’s Office was ill-equipped to deal with AIG’s fast and loose securities dealings- -especially their huge dealings in mortgage backed securities and their derivatives. Interestingly enough former NY Governor, the now disgraced Eliot Spitzer, when he was the NY Attorney General, made a run at reining in AIG but was politically steam rollered by the vast resources of the insurance lobby. There are even some who believe Spitzer’s recent downfall was a successful act of vengance perpetrated by a cabal of industry lobbyists. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.

Now to be fair AIG didn’t invent the mortgage backed security or any of its derivatives (the credit for that generally goes to Lehman Bros.) but AIG sure raised the purchase, sale and accounting for them to a new level which probably might have been OK had the housing bubble not burst taking sub-prime mortgages along with it. However, if the insurance industry had been subject to federal regulations similar to those limiting the activities of banks and brokerage firms the chances are that AIG would never have been allowed to engage in the selling of those securities in the first place. OK, you say. So what? They took the risk and it flopped so why shouldn’t AIG be allowed to fail just like Lehman Bros. was allowed to fail? The answer is something called “re-insurance”.

In Florida, where I live, insurance companies writing business in this state are required to purchase a certain amount of “re-insurance” to further secure their risks beyond just their immediate cash reserves. So, Allstate, State Farm, Gieco, Progressive and the rest must back up their liabilty to the automobile policy holders in this state by purchasing “insurance” of their own to back their promise to pay me if I have an accident. This is known as “re-insurance”. This regulation requiring “re-insurance” also applies to homeowner’s policies and other forms of insurance as well. Virtually all 50 states have “re-insurance” requirements. And just who is, by far, the single biggest provider of re-insurance to all these companies- -in fact the biggest single provider of re-insurance in the world? Yep, you guessed it- - -our friends at AIG.

If AIG were allowed to fail the domino effect would be catastrophic. It would simply mean that Allstate and most, if not all of the others, would have no re-insurance and would therefore be out of compliance with state regulations in every state. Again- - OK and so what? Why shouldn’t each state suspend that particular regulation and allow State Farm (and all the others) to operate without re-insurance? Well, that would be OK if they all had sufficient cash and other reserves to handle the next big hurricaine in Texas or spate of tornados in Kansas but they don’t. That leaves only one other option- -let each individual state provide its own re-insurance fund. An OK idea except that it shifts the payment burden away from the insurance companies themselves and onto the backs of the taxpayers instead. And Heaven knows we already have a heavier tax burden than we deserve. Just imagine what the cost of picking up re-insurance premiums nation-wide would add to the tab.

You’ve probably wondered when this “essay” would turn political- - -well here it is. In bailing out AIG and making noises about finally putting the insurance industry under some umbrella of federal regulation it would appear the Obama Administration got it right. In my opinion, they did. But not without charges of “nationalizing businesses” and turning the US into a “European model of socialism”. Charges they continually defend without explaining the “why” of it all. Treasury Secretary Geithner has been hammered about this issue in press conference after press conference and all he offers are vague answers. Even BHO was asked about it in his nationally televised news conference and made some vague reference to wanting to make sure he had “all the facts”.

Yet, in less time than it took you to read this post, Secretary Geithner (or BHO himself for that matter) could have made this exact same explanation to the American public and would have silenced the critics quickly. But the fact that the Administration has not done so makes me ask myself - -and you- -three questions:

1. Is the Obama Administration just another bunch of biased, bumbling beaureaucrats who accidentally stumbled on the right solution? Or. .
2. Are they so arrogant they actually think the public doesn’t need an explanation and should just follow their decisions blindly? Or. .
3. Now that AIG has been rescued will the momentum to finally bring the insurance industrty under federal regulation be buried in an avalanche of industry contributions to campaign coffers of local, state and national politicians everywhere?

Use the “Comments” link below to let me know what you think.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Has Time Run Out for Pakistan?

Recently I had a long overdue catch-up lunch with a young Pakistani friend of mine, Raji Khan. Raj, as his friends call him is well educated and comes from a highly successful family of merchants in Karachi. The youngest of 5 siblings, he is the only member of his family to have left Pakistan. He’s been in the US for more than 15 years now (almost all of that in Tampa) and is married to an “American” girl- - -a Catholic. Yet Raj is a devout Muslim, practices his faith daily and often quotes the Prophet Mohammed and the Qur’an. His 10 year old son is being schooled in both traditions and will be free to make his own choices as he gets older.

Clearly, Raj is no “hard-liner”. He numbers among his friends other like minded Muslims, a large number of Christians and several Jews. His family in Pakistan doesn’t quite understand Raj’s “multi-cultural life in America” but they do respect it out of the love they have for Raj, their grandson and . . . their Catholic daughter-in-law.

My young Pakistani friend is in the import business and his current “hot item” is “Salt Lamps”. Made from salt mined from the foothills of the Himalayas the lamps, when burned like a candle or heated with a bulb, ionize and purify the air in the room thus providing relief to people with asthma and similar disorders- - -so it is claimed. As usual we talk business first. Raj has never had any formal course work in “sales and marketing” and often uses me as a sounding board and unpaid consultant (which I am happy to be). Today we talk about “Product Life Cycle” and as expected he gets the concept quickly and immediately applies it to his business. Raj is one of the smartest guys I know.

After we’ve eaten and I’m sure all his business issues have been addressed I switch the conversation to what is currently happening in Pakistan, notably the Taliban being on the move and seemingly headed for the Capitol, Islamabad. I’m eager to understand how a group such as the Taliban driven by a fundamentalist and repressive view of Islam can make political and military gains as easily as they do and, apparently, with open acceptance by the general population. Here’s what Raj told me.

The current national government of Pakistan like every government before it for the last 60 years is corrupt and cares about two things only- - -enriching themselves at the public trough and getting re-elected to office. According to Raj the police and military are equally corrupt thus no one is looking out for or cares what happens to the ordinary Pakistani citizen. As a result “justice” of any sort has become a monetized commodity for sale to the highest (wealthiest) bidder. The secular courts are clogged and any attempt by an aggrieved party to attain justice, restitution or even retribution depends solely on how much one can afford to pay police, judges and local politicians.

It is possible, Raj tells me, that you could have six viable witnesses who saw you get robbed and beaten but unless the police are “motivated” (in the form of Rupees the Pakistani currency) to investigate, your case will never make it to court. And unless the judge is similarly “motivated” your case will never be heard much less adjudicated. On top of that, the process takes several years and just as many rounds of “motivation”. But even if you are successful in “motivating” the police and the courts there is always the chance the assailant or his family is wealthier than you are and can “motivate” his release, clearance and freedom leaving you poorer and without any modicum of justice or restitution. Enter the Taliban with its strict and repressive interpretation of Islam and its even stricter imposition of Sharia Law.

If you were robbed and beaten on Friday in a town controlled by the Taliban and had several reliable witnesses to the crime the chances are your assailant would be arrested on Monday and tried on Wednesday. And if the adjudication included punishment, such as a beating or worse, it is likely to be carried out by Friday with little regard for an appeal and no chance to buy a not-guilty verdict and freedom. This truly is "swift justice".

Apparently what we in the West do not comprehend- -and neither do those who have formulated foreign policy for the US Department of State, from Eisenhower to Obama- - is the overwhelming need for the masses to know that justice is available to all regardless of class and not just to the highest bidder. In fact, according to Raj, this need to know your government will protect you from robbers, rapists, murders and thieves is so compelling that even the educated classes in Pakistan are willing to make the trade off that comes with the Taliban. They are willing to reduce their wives and daughters to little more than ‘chattel’. They are willing to revert to a 700 year old standard of living that bans electricity, indoor plumbing and almost all modern conveniences while imposing strict dress codes, dietary laws and rules for doing business. All while the Taliban leaders themselves use cell phones and computers, own TVs and drive automobiles.

Our politicians are proud of giving the people of Iraq and Afghanistan the right to vote and choose their own destiny. But until our attempts at nation building include installing an incorruptible federal government as well as local police and military thus assuring the populace the right to justice and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” the Taliban will always have the edge. Raj thinks we have until the end of 2011 to make that happen in Pakistan- -a nuclear nation- - otherwise the Taliban will walk into Islamabad without resistance. Can anyone say he’s wrong?