Thursday, July 25, 2002

From the Homeland Frontlines

From the Homeland Frontlines
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
July 25, 2002

This morning my wife awakened me with the statement that there were sharpshooters on our roof, to which I asked, “which direction are they facing?”

This was not Beirut. This was not Belfast either. This wasn’t even Jerusalem. No. When I awoke this overcast Thursday, July 25, I was in Alexandria, directly across the street from the federal courthouse where the John Walker Lindh and Zacarias Moussaoui, 34, terror hearings have been held and will continue to be held, despite the repeated protests by Carlyle Towers’ residents.

Making the most of the opportunity, I shot a half roll of photos of the sharpshooters from the recreation deck of my condo – even after being approached by an Alexandria police officer. Now, I’m a firm believer in respect for the men and women in blue – that’s just how I was raised, but I was on private property taking pictures of easily identifiable people in uniform in a public venue. And that is what I told the officer when he asked what I was doing. I got no argument from the officer, instead we engaged in conversation for several minutes, discussing the hearing to commence later that afternoon and the veracity of a potential trial.

This is a trial that should not be held at this particular courthouse in the first place. For one, the setbacks do not meet the zoning requirements. The City Council of Alexandria emerged unresponsive to the pleas of local residents concerned about their safety. As an aside the City Council should be taken to task for acquiescing to the media by allowing them a trailer park for the trials and helping complicate the lives of the residents – residents that put the City Council in office and hopefully will be defeated by candidates putting the citizenry ahead of potential city financial gains.

However, and this is important to note here, that once it became apparent that the courthouse would be the trial venue, residents called for, and received additional security – thus the sharpshooters. It was vital to include Carlyle within the perimeter. But there is a cost for such increased security. Residents cannot park on the street in front their buildings. The street can potentially be shut down to allow for the safe transport of terrorist defendants. A Carlyle shuttle bus is unable to complete its rounds in serving the residents here – an inconvenience to people trying to get to the metro in order to get to work. These are people who utilize the metro in order to not have to add to the traffic that already plagues this region. Also inconvenienced are the elderly who are unable to walk the distance to the metro without the shuttle.

Jamieson Avenue
is being torn up for the benefit of the media circus, causing residents further inconvenience. Hordes of media from the alphabet networks to the cable outlets such as Court TV, to out of towners such as the Hartford Courant and members of the press from France have descended upon Carlyle. They have clogged our streets, attempted to enter our condos and left coffee cups and cigarette butts as the reminder of their presence. Ultimately residents of Carlyle will suffer in the depreciation of their property values.

On the other hand, two Mondays ago Greta Van Susteren from Fox News Channel conducted her show “On the Record” in front of the courthouse. I know this as I was watching her program from my home. About halfway through the program as she went to commercial, Van Susteren announced that recently expelled Congressman James “Jim” Traficant (D-OH) would be her next guest. Interested, I went outside to watch the proceedings live. After the program I introduced myself to the news reporter and newsmaker as a viewer and across the street resident, and the pair couldn’t have been nicer.

Going to Court

At 11:30 a.m. I joined the assembled masses, media, residents, attorneys and law students alike in the lobby of the federal courthouse mere steps from my residence. Upon entering the courthouse identification became necessary and all belongings were to be placed on an airport-like conveyer belt for scanning. Guards scanned each person with wands prior to allowing us to retrieve our scanned belongings.

No electronic devices allowed. A cell phone rang and a member of the French media was shouted out of the courthouse by a guard – and rightfully so.

Up to the seventh floor for the Moussaoui hearing. Exiting the elevator, groups of 10 at a time were allowed to proceed for the next round of presenting identification and conveyer belting belongings. Then into the courtroom to wait until the hearing began at 1 p.m. Prior to the beginning of the hearing I allowed a reporter from the Hartford (CT) Courant to interview me as a local resident.

All rise for her honor Leonie Brinkema.

The prisoner, a French citizen of Moroccan descent is ushered in and called to the lectern where he said he needed no extra time nor had any desire to change his original plea of guilty made a week prior.

A professor Reza from New York University Law School met with Moussaoui for roughly 20 minutes. He answered Brinkema’s questions the same way, “I have
no representations to make regarding Mr. Moussaoui.”

The defendant’s mother sent a letter saying, in French, not to let her son plead guilty without the services of council – council Moussaoui has continued to reject at every turn. At the end of the July 25 hearing, however, Moussaoui said he would utilize court appointed attorneys only to find witnesses to defend himself.

It came as little surprise that Moussaoui recanted his initial guilty plea. “Because of my obligation to my creator Allah and to save and defend my life, I withdraw my guilty plea,” he said.

But Moussaoui rambled, initially saying that “the fact that I will enter a guilty plea will help my case with the jury. I want the people to hear why I came to the US, what I did here. I want to talk to those 12 people who are my enemy. In the name of Allah I will tell the truth to the best of my ability.”

Six Counts to Oblivion

At the outset, Moussaoui decided he would plead guilty to counts one through four, but not guilty to counts five and six.

Count One: Conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.

Count Two: Conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy.

Count Three: Conspiracy to destroy aircraft.

Count Four: Conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

Count Five: Conspiracy to murder US employees.

Count Six: Conspiracy to destroy property.

Each count exposes the defendant to a sentence of death if a death resulted from the conspiracy, explained Brinkema, adding that the US government has alleged death. Other possible penalties, per count, included life imprisonment, up to 20 years in prison followed by a five year supervised release requiring the defendant to remain in the US.

Regarding potential supervised release, Moussaoui queried, “I would have to look for a job?” to a room full of muffled laughter.

“The maximum penalty can be death,” said Brinkema.

“I am not concerned about this,” said Moussaoui just prior to asking for a 15-minute recess to contemplate a guilty plea regarding Count Number Two.

Upon returning from the break, Moussaoui uttered a barely audible praise to “the prophet Mohammad,” before reminding people that “we’re here today because I want to plead guilty. I cannot endorse any matter that will lead to my death, according to Islam. I must withdraw my guilty plea.”

”That’s not an unwise decision,” said Brinkema. “You clearly are not admitting guilt. You have a right to go before a jury,” she said.

Brinkema seems to have bent over backwards to ensure Moussaoui’s rights are not violated in an effort that an appeal not come back to haunt either her or the nation as a whole.

“I want to put my story forward. I have a change of tactic. Ask the French consular and French government to assign Mr. Freeman to be my counselor,” said Moussaoui of the Houston resident not admitted to the Virginia Bar. “I will talk with Mr. Reza,” he added.

The trial is expected to begin on Sept. 30.

Following the adjournment for the day, at just after , reporters, both print and electronic alike, stampeded in droves for the elevators, as the stairs in the courthouse were blocked from use.

Once outside and in front of the courthouse, six members of the Black Panthers gathered at a central microphone to remind media and other onlookers that there are, in their opinion, other forms of terrorism in the United States such as corporate terrorism, police terrorism and domestic terrorism.

Later in the afternoon, around Moussaoui’s mother, with translator in tow, took to the microphone to defend her son, claiming he had nothing to do with Sept. 11.

Prior to returning home I spoke briefly with representatives of the Bloomberg news outfit and the local CBS affiliate channel nine. If Court TV or some other network has the right to broadcast the upcoming trial, I plan to watch from home when time allows.

As a local resident I want the trial and potential sentencing hearing over and done with as expediently as possible. As an American I want justice served – justice for the families of the 2,823 killed and missing victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer living in Alexandria, VA.

Sunday, July 7, 2002

National Pastime Strikes Out Before it Strikes

National Pastime Strikes Out Before it Strikes
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
July 7, 2002

Let’s start with the simple notion that the farce the Major League Baseball All-Star game turned into Tuesday night, July 9 in Milwaukee is merely a microcosm of what is wrong with our national pastime.

That two starting pitchers, Freddy Garcia of the Seattle Mariners and Vicente Padilla of the Philadelphia Phillies could not, or in Padilla’s case, would not pitch more than two innings when they would normally pitch at least six, is an absurdity. Allegedly Garcia claimed he was willing to keep pitching after his two-inning stint.

In days gone by the All-Star game starter pitched three innings, not the two we have witnessed in recent years, and many of the next several pitchers have been starting pitchers and have also gone two innings – or at least one complete inning – unlike Barry Zito of the Oakland A’s who pitched to exactly one batter on Tuesday night. The National League roster featured only three starting pitchers of the 10 that took the mound, so naturally the seven relievers were only expected to work one inning.

And the two managers, Joe Torre for the American League and Bob Brenly for the National League exhibited nothing but fear – fear of the players and fear of the all too powerful players’ union in sheepishly claiming that there was nothing they could do.
But the blame should be shared equally amongst the players, managers and the poor excuse for a baseball commissioner Bud Selig, legally the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, entrusted to his daughter as he serves in his current post.

The inmates are running the asylum in Major League Baseball. With a pending work stoppage potentially on the horizon, there are deeper issues than the all-star game itself, and I am not taking sides in this one. I have no sympathy for either the players or the owners. Each one’s greed begets the others’.

For only the second time in 73 Major League Baseball All-Star games, last Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic as it has been dubbed lo these many years, ended in a tie at innings as both managers complained that they had run out of players. (The first tie occurred in 1961 due to rain.) After Tuesday’s display it should be redubbed the Midsummer Classless. And it’s a shame because until Larry (Torre), Moe (Brenly) and Curly (Selig) – that’s for my friend Kenny – huddled together to decide the fate of the game during the middle of the 11th inning, the fans were treated to a good game with some stellar defense, good hitting and overall action on the field. And thus because there was no winner, no MVP was named. It’s ironic too, because the MVP award was renamed for the late, great Ted Williams who died just last Friday, July 5. Ted Williams, a.k.a. Teddy Ballgame has been called the greatest hitter of all time, would have rolled over in his grave were it not for his son John Henry wanting to put him on ice. Williams played the entire 1941 All-Star game ultimately hitting the game-winning home run in the ninth inning. Yes, this was a farce.

That there hasn’t been a policy regarding extra innings has to do with the fact that baseball does not have a discernible end and will continue until there is a winner. Nine times all-star games went extra innings – all won by the National League incidentally. In 1967 the late Catfish Hunter of the Oakland A’s tossed five extra frames in a 2-1 loss by the AL in 15 innings. As it is, the rosters, at 30 players per team are already larger than a regular season roster of 25 players. However, this is an exhibition game and the managers do attempt to give all players an opportunity to see action.

In 1960 when Major League Baseball fielded 16 teams, all-star rosters were 30 players. In 2002 with 30 teams in the big leagues the rosters are still set at 30 players. The rule calling for each team to be represented at the All-Star game should remain in place. As a long suffering New York Mets fan I could count on seeing the likes of Lee Mazzilli or Jon Matlack make the all-star team. First expand the rosters to 35 players. Second, those elected to the starting line-up should play at least half the game. The fans voted for these players, the fans should get to see their picks play.

Third, hold back two or three players – at least one of which should be a starting pitcher just to avoid the embarrassment that took place Tuesday evening. These are grown men, supposedly, and not little leaguers. If they don’t all get to play, so be it. Who would have missed Adam Dunn, Robert Fick, Jose Hernandez or Randy Winn? In fact bonus points for the person who can tell me what teams they play for – no peaking.

To hell with the contract incentives. The average salary in the majors is just over $2 million per year. And while on the subject of dollars, the players ought to reimburse the 41,900 fans attending the game at Milwaukee’s Miller Park for the cost of their tickets. Prices ranged from $125 to $175 per ticket. That totals out to between $5,237,500 and $7,332,500, or between $87,291.67 and $122,208.33 per each of the 60 players in Tuesday’s game.

Apparently money is the only thing the players understand. That is just one of the reasons for the potential work stoppage brewing on the horizon, but unlike the season ending strike of 1994, there may not be a comeback for our national pastime. The strike of 1994 caused the cancellation of the World Series, something that even World War I and World War II could not accomplish. Baseball enjoyed a revival thanks to Cal Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles surpassing the late Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees in consecutive games played in 1995 and the epic home run battle between Mark McGuire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs in 1998.

But in 2002, we are 10 months removed from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington. We the people have more important concerns right now. While the players, making millions, are battling the owners, making even more millions, we as a nation are battling terrorism. While the players and owners are disputing revenue sharing, major corporations have disputable accounting practices that are costing thousands of workers not making $2 million a year their pensions.

Fans may not come back to the game that has put them last – even diehards. Some have decided to avoid the proverbial Christmas rush such as my friend Troy a huge Cleveland Indians fan and my father a former Brooklyn Dodger fan, now a New York Mets fan. They opted not to watch the All-Star game on Tuesday.

I don’t begrudge anyone the right to make as much money as they can – it’s a simple concept of supply and demand. As long as fans are willing to pay the price to visit a ballpark, the players will continue getting richer – and I’m just as guilty – I go to the occasional game as well. I therefore, do not support a salary cap – that smacks of socialism.

But the owners are just as guilty of being as greedy as the players. In order to procure the best players, owners are willing to cough up the big bucks. In this case, it’s a case of Darwinism – survival of the fittest. Reports indicate that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had to secure additional credit in order to make July 15 payroll. Selig supposedly said this practice is no longer acceptable.

I agree. If a team cannot support itself financially, like any other business that goes bankrupt, so too should the team. It should fold up its tent and go away. People stopped shopping at Montgomery Ward’s – they went away. I do not support revenue sharing – that smacks of communism. Having two of the lowest attendance figures in the majors, the Devil Rays and the Florida Marlins should be contracted and their players – about 300 between the two teams’ organizations, should be available in a dispersal draft.

Teams, from worst records to best records would select players from the two teams. This would weed out players that should not be wearing a major league uniform in the first place. Besides, Major League baseball should not be played in Florida after April 1.

Eliminating two teams would strengthen the pool of players in the big leagues.
After eliminating two teams – which will not happen due to the unconscionable power the players union wields – they don’t want to see the loss of jobs by players unworthy of slipping on a major league uniform in the first place, teams unable to survive financially should be given the opportunity to move – once, before folding.

If the Expos can’t make it in Montreal, perhaps they should relocate. If the Royals can’t make ends meet in Kansas City or if the Padres are floundering financially in San Diego, there are no doubt cities that would welcome them with open arms and open wallets. Cities such as Portland, OR, Memphis or Nashville, TN, New Orleans, LA, Charlotte or Raleigh-Durham, NC could possibly support a major league team. Certainly our nation’s capital is long overdue for the return of a major league team – we now need to solve the infighting going on between the two leading forces supporting the move of a team to the DC area.

Then there’s the issue of testing players for steroid use. This should not be a debatable issue. I do not support random testing of ballplayers for steroids. Every major and minor league ballplayer should be tested for steroid use. As in baseball, three strikes and you’re out. The first test of positive should cost the guilty player a month long suspension without pay. The second positive should result in a one-year suspension from the game without pay. The third positive should result in a lifetime suspension and loss of pension.

Selig has performed his duties as commissioner poorly and should be removed from the position. I wouldn’t mind taking the job.

As for Dunn, he plays for the Cincinnati Reds, Fick plays for the Detroit Tigers, Hernandez plays for the Milwaukee Brewers and Winn plays for the Devil Rays. How many did you know?

Baseball will either fix itself or it will implode. The choice is theirs.

A final word –

The pre-game show provided a nice waltz down memory lane. What marred it was the embarrassing interpretation by Anastacia in her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. She made several glaring mistakes. All potential singers of the anthem should actually know all the words and sing it the way it was meant to be sung.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer living in Alexandria, VA.