Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Victory Tour

Next Thursday evening I’ll be the featured attraction at the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum in Madison WI. One of the ways you can tell that you are getting really old is that history teachers bring you to class for “show and tell” and museums put you on display as an “event.”

I’ll be there to talk about my experiences as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam years, drawing upon stories from my first book, When Thunder Rolled, which was published in 2003 and my upcoming book tentatively titled, Phantom Flights, Bangkok Nights. Visit my web site at www.thunderchief.org for more details about the two books along with links to Amazon where you can check out what readers have had to say about the work.

The amazing thing about the various engagements I’ve had since the release of the first book is the number of places that were the most adamant in their opposition to America’s involvement in Southeast Asia which have extended invitations. The scenes of the most bitter protests against the war in general and the American military in particular have seemed to most eagerly embrace the memoirs and history of the individuals who were participants in the SEA War Games. Maybe it reflects a generational change in what it means to serve one’s country or maybe it simply is the tempering of bitterness over time. Regardless, the experience has been uniformly gratifying and the audiences have been sincerely interested in the history of the time while it can still be related by living participants.

Last November I spent successive days speaking first to history classes at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and then on campus at the University of Colorado in Boulder, often referred to as the intellectual capital of the “People’s Republic of Boulder.” It was, quite coincidentally on Veteran’s Day, and I will note that I did not encounter Pseudo-Professor Ward Churchill, although since the event preceded his fifteen minutes of fame, I could have bumped him in the hallways of the building. Suffice to say that the event was not protested as war-mongering, nor were there any effigies burnt in my honor.

I’ve done radio interviews for KSFO in San Francisco and Talk America out of Washington DC. I’ve been to the library in Columbus Ohio, just an hour or so down the road from Kent State University and, now I’m going to be a few blocks from some of the blood-stained draft protest sites in Madison where the AFROTC building was bombed by those pacifists who were willing to make exceptions to their peace-loving activities if it meant only patriotic fellow-students might be injured. About all that is left to fulfill the triumphal victory tour is an invitation to Berkeley California. Nah, I wouldn’t go.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Boycott Logic

Watch the conservative commentary shows and you’ll soon learn that the French are obstructionist, anti-American, self-serving, devious, ungrateful and desperately in need of being taught a lesson about who is really in charge of this world. French president, Jacques Chirac has clearly stated his opposition to the US efforts in Iraq and has actively undermined our policies world-wide and, the implied and occasionally directly stated reason is a desire to see a European balance to an American hegemony, preferably one controlled by France. Consequently, the likes of Bill O’Reilly, John Gibson, Rush Limbaugh, et. al. have urged that loyal, patriotic Americans unite to boycott French goods. Regular Internet users have probably even received those incredibly long lists of products and manufacturers to avoid because of their French ties. No more Bordeaux, Cognac, Champagne or Michelin tires, let alone the Brie, Camembert and tickets on the Cunard Line. Let’s even eschew the French fries at Mc-Burger-Wendy-Sonic in favor of “freedom” fries. Is this logical? Would it be effective? Is it worth it?

Unfortunately, as with all political questions, the answer is “yes and no.” Would a total boycott of French imports to the US have a significant economic impact? Absolutely. But, would that achieve the desired political outcome?

At the most basic level, we must first acknowledge an assumption about the rationale for boycotting. Aren’t the boycott advocates suggesting that French companies, French workers, and the French people are responsible for the policies of Chirac that we find offensive? If we consider our own recent election for just a second, it becomes clear very quickly that despite the tendency to characterize America as “red states” and “blue states”, there really is a very balanced split between those citizens who embrace one political ideology and those who embrace the opposite. Further, we aren’t really red and blue states because even the bluest of blues has a lot of red and vice-versa. The point I’m making here is that America is a very pluralistic society and the government’s policies do not represent some sort of monolithic thinking on the part of the nation. Ditto for France.

Then to punish the people indiscriminately for the actions of their government doesn’t seem particularly just. I don’t agree with your president, so I’m going to hurt your children by trying to make your business fail. But, is it that simple? Of course not.

Undeniably, a massive boycott of a nation’s products would have an impact on the economy. Profits would drop, jobs would be lost, and government tax revenues would drop. That should get those Frenchies in line pretty quickly. Would it? Maybe momentarily, but in fairly short order the response would be government intervention to retaliate. Punitive tariffs, counter-boycotts, economic leverage through third-parties and other responses would ensue. Next development is an economic impact in the US. Who would have thunk it?

Of course, there is the basic Jeffersonian principle that governments gain their power from the consent of those governed. If true, then the French administration of Chirac receives its power from the consent and approval of the French people. If a boycott causes discomfort to the French people, they will manifest their displeasure at the policy of their government by withdrawing their consent. Chirac will be forced to modify his stances or be unelected at the next plebiscite. That might be a desirable outcome of the boycott. But, the government may be reflecting the preference of the electorate by opposing US policies. Then, the boycott will supply their comeuppance. So, points for the boycott notion.

Now that I’m ready to boycott, who do I avoid? Once it was pretty easy to determine who was who, but today with Hondas made in Alabama and BMWs in South Carolina how can we be sure that we’re hitting the right target? It’s pretty easy for Americans to avoid buying a Peugeot or Renault, they simply aren’t found here anymore. But what about Cognac—I know it’s French because only brandy made from that region in France can be properly titled Cognac. But who owns the company? In many cases the Cognac producer is simply one component of a multi-national corporation. So, my boycott may be penalizing workers in the Netherlands or Great Britain which has been our staunch policy ally. Now it gets confusing. Well, those Michelin tires can come off the car. But, close examination of the sidewall might disclose that the rubber that’s meeting your road is from Mexico or Brazil. Oops. How does one precisely aim this boycott thing?

And, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of the nuances of foreign policy. It would be nice to simply say, France-bad, boycott-good. That would leave us feeling warm and fuzzy about “showing them who’s boss.” But a nation isn’t politically in lockstep. A “national” product may or may not be isolated to a particular nation. An economic impact is almost invariably going to create a backlash of some kind. And whether or not the boycott has the desired outcome is pretty dubious.

Meanwhile, I’m drinking Spanish brandy because I prefer it. I’ve put Bridgestone tires on the sports car because they had better performance stats than the Michelins I replaced. I’m still buying French wine, but also Italian, Australian and US as well. My car is Japanese, my clothes are made in Asia usually since they seem to have cornered the market on pants, shirts and associated items, and whether or not French policy gets impacted by my purchases is very low on my list of concerns.

Oh, and by the way, French’s Mustard isn’t French. For that matter it isn’t quite American either, since it is part of a conglomerate that is British-based.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Aliens!!!

No, we’re not talking about drooling, reptilian, extra-terrestrials that gestate in Sigourney Weaver. The political issue is probably more horrific and if not, at least it is more immediate. The debate percolates to the surface and usually comes down to a discussion of how terrible the President’s proposal for dealing with the problem is. There’s a lot going on, but the heat usually overcomes the light and the end result is that both sides of the aisle come together to oppose the President’s solution.

The conservatives adamantly oppose “amnesty,” arguing that rewarding illegal behavior by allowing it to stand without penalty is wrong. They will then put forth the principle that illegals are a drain on our society, they consume governmental resources, they are a criminal underclass and finally, they should all be packed up and shipped back where they came from. OK, got that.

The liberal side of the aisle, seeks to support their constituency of recent immigrants and oppose registration, identification and denial of benefits on grounds of the blatant inhumanity of it all. No, they shout, we can’t have these hard-working contributors to a better life for themselves penalized, ostracized or spot-lighted like coyotes in the desert on a moonless night. Right, got that too.

But, is there more here than pandering to voters in the hope of maintaining political power? What has the administration proposed and how does it fit into the matrix of solving the problem, maintaining the economy and, maybe most important, securing the homeland? Well, here’s what I see are the elements of the proposal:

1. Require all illegal aliens currently within the country to present themselves for registration.

2. Issue a three year work visa to them.

3. Require employers to verify that aliens employed by them are registered.

4. Require employers to demonstrate that the jobs held by these registered aliens are not fillable by US citizens.

5. Review work visas upon expiration for renewal. If the worker has violated terms of the visa, if the employer cannot demonstrate a requirement, or if the worker no longer wishes to remain in this country pursuing citizenship, they are deported.

6. Simplify a path to full citizenship.

7. Establish a program to enable visa holding aliens to save and invest their earnings in their future.

8. Collect income taxes and social security from visa holding aliens.

So, what’s the issue? First let’s acknowledge that there is an illegal alien problem. There are millions in this country illegally and we don’t know who they are, where they are or what they are doing. Sending them back where they came from is impractical at the minimum. It would bring large segments of our economy to its knees and it could very well be unconstitutional. So, registering the ones that are here without penalty is a step toward controlling and curing the problem. It isn’t amnesty, it’s finding out what we’ve got.

Second, issuing work visas lets us collect taxes, find out where these folks impact our economy and forces employers to put their labor force on the same playing field as the rest of the country’s workers. A huge segment of the underground economy is brought under control and the social costs of supporting this population begins to be paid by those collecting the services. Not a bad thing.

Third, the registration, visas, renewal and employer regulation aspects of the program create a governmental agency with responsibility for managing the alien population. Whereas the INS today has no idea where these folks are, after implementation, they will be able to monitor and when necessary deport those in violation of the program. Criminals, trouble-makers and drains on the society will be more readily identifiable and can be dealt with. Gaining something when today we have virtually nothing would be progress.

Fourth, a clear and well-marked route to citizenship would be a reasonable goal. Those wishing to either build a better life for themselves or to improve the lot of their families in their native land will be aided in achieving that goal. Those who mean us harm will be more readily identified and dealt with. Today, the plight of the illegal alien is that they must remain hidden and denied success or risk loss of anything which they have achieved. Not good.

Fifth, the program recognizes that there are a lot of jobs in this country that aren’t attractive or desired by our citizens. We need this guest-worker force to help our agricultural industry, support our hospitality industry, and bring their manual labor skills to our construction industry. That isn’t a pretty conclusion, but it’s true. Removing this manpower without consideration of what they do each day would quickly be reflected in sky-rocketing prices in the grocery store, the housing market and the hotel business, to name just a few. So, let’s be honest.

No, the President’s program isn’t perfect. But, it also isn’t amnesty. It recognizes some realities and it seeks to start on the road to correction of the problem. Will it fly? I’d like to see it happen, but somehow I doubt that it will get very far out of the starting gate. And, ten years from now we will be asking ourselves what we should do about the illegal alien problem.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Emperor Is Naked

Come together, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. They’re crawling out of the ivory towers of academia and bemoaning the assault on poor ol’ Ward Churchill. It’s an assault on his freedom of speech to question his anti-American ravings under the color of his authority as a tenured professor of the University of Colorado. Oh, it isn’t? You mean that he can really say whatever he wants, but if he wants to be a guide on the road to intellectual superiority at the same time he must limit his rants to facts? So, he isn’t being denied his Constitutional prerogatives? Well then, it must be his academic freedom that is being denied. Certainly this demand for a review of his writings, his teaching, and his qualifications for his job in the first place is intended to quell his academic freedom. Yeah, that’s it.

The Denver Post led the state and local section, above the fold, with a frightening headline today: http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36~53~2723527,00.html. If this review is allowed, then the University will crumble as first there is an inability to hire quality faculty, then the endangered intellects currently on the faculty will flee and finally, the students, with their innate ability to recognize the total lack of competence of this crumbled school will choose elsewhere for their indoctrination. Bull!

It’s hard to read quotes like this without scratching your head: "Young scholars with promising academic careers ahead of them will have to think twice about CU, no doubt about it," said Carlos Munoz, ethnic studies professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley. "Scholars want to go somewhere they can do their research in a relatively peaceful environment where they will be respected. It is very difficult to teach in that kind of atmosphere that is so super-charged."

Excuse me? Does Dr. Munoz really mean that serious scholarship doesn’t actively seek out peer review? Does he intend to assert that “research” unsupported by fact, citation, reference, measurement and logic is acceptable? Ersatz scholars who simply assert what they wish were true despite that it might be unsupportable will no longer want to come to CU—ahh, the tragedy of such a loss. Sorry, Doc, but the whole point of intellectual pursuit is to delight in the challenge to your controversial thinking and to defend the irrefutable logic of your reasoning. It isn’t running around mouthing propaganda offensive to the masses and totally ungrounded in reality and then hiding when someone says they will inspect your bona fides.

And, the limit of absurdity in the defense of Churchill isn’t drawn around Berkeley. There’s this quote from Ruth Flower, director of public policy for the American Association of University Professors, in Washington, D.C.the regent-authorized review of Churchill could inhibit faculty already at the school” So, Ms Flower feels that thinking should not be challenged and the Regents should not maintain standards of academic rigor for the faculty? It’s hard for me to understand how a demand that professors support their arguments with facts can be inhibiting. I would think exactly the contrary; that a university which did not demand intellectual discipline would be a place for serious thinkers to avoid while one that required logic and reason in contrast to emotional rhetoric would be a highly regarded environment. How could I be so misguided?


But, maybe I’m prejudiced. Might it be coincidence that the staunchest defenders of Professor Churchill are high panjandrums of ethnic studies departments? Here’s another example: “The outcome of CU's review of Churchill, due March 3, is being watched closely by the academic world,” said Larry Estrada, president of the National Association for Ethnic Studies, representing more than 1,000 faculty at universities nationwide. "Those of us in academia are looking at this as a landmark case. It certainly will have implications for campuses across the country in terms of how academic freedom is upheld," said Estrada, a professor at Western Washington University, in Bellingham. "I think over time it could inhibit faculty coming to a campus where academic freedom is threatened."

So, let me see if I’ve got this right. These ethnic studies gurus are made uncomfortable by having their writings, teaching, and speaking challenged by those tasked with maintaining the integrity of the University. They demand high pay, tenure and the right to speak freely regardless of accuracy. Academic freedom is the license to shout not only “fire” but the most vile inaccuracies to the heavens without risk of question or censure. Excuse me if I become the one in the crowd who suggests that these emperors are naked. They’ve got it wrong and it’s about time someone noticed.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Churchill Plot Thickens

On Tuesday, CU/Boulder Prof. Ward Churchill conducted a rally, mustering his supporters and gathering the leadership of the American Indian Movement to give him authenticity. This despite some postings on the AIM Web site indicating some level of conflict with the demagogic pseudo-Native-American. Now he was in his element. Despite his allegations that nearly 3000 office workers in the World Trade Center on 9/11 were "little Eichmanns", he looked not so much the man of the people as the revolutionary leader punching his fist in the air in an ominously Fascist-like salute and leading his sycophants in cheers as he defied the Governor of Colorado and the Regents of the University. (See Denver Post for 2/8/05 at :http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E23827%257E2700550,00.html)

He was defiant, he was messianic, he was theatrical, but most of all he was inflammatory. Of course, that's what the college aged audience loves. Those chronologically college-aged, as in students, and those mentally college-aged, as in faculty and media. It was just like rap music where talent, tune, lyric or art are secondary to a deluge of gutter language which titillates the immature.

Churchill, in populist mode, noted that he didn't work for the taxpayers and he didn't work for the Regents. He worked for the audience present. He worked for his followers. He labored for them. But, somehow this intellectual giant missed the point that those loyal, if misguided, fans didn't really sign his paycheck. No, it really us we taxpayers and his position really is dependent upon those Regents. Just as with his writing, poor Churchie doesn't let fact get in the way of a good argument.

He then lamented the challenges to his "Indian-ness". Poor Ward, on his behalf AIM leader Russell Means noted, he is one of "the only ethnic group in the world that has to prove our blood like dogs." Ahh, how sad. Might it be that only dogs which wish to compete in beauty contests need to prove their blood lines? Or, might it be that only those hyphenated Americans who wish preferential treatment or a government handout need to establish their qualfications? Somehow, I've never been challenged on my Lithuanian-Polish-American credentials. But, there is no affirmative action program to compensate us for our past travails. Maybe I should seek reparations for the burning of my great-grandfather's village by the Russians a hundred years ago. I've been traumatized ever since.

A student lamented the treatment that poor Churchill has been receiving. "I'm already embarrassed to be a student here." Wow, and all of the rest of the citizens of Colorado are embarrassed that we've got folks like Prof. Churchill on the payroll who have failed so obviously in providing that young lady the intellectual wherewithal to discriminate between fact and fiction. If she is so embarrassed, she could consider an intellectual defense of Ward's arguments, but then she might discover that simply "believing" isn't adequate at the college level. You've got to base your thesis in reality.

Now, the professional community is beginning to smell blood in the water. It might be the breaching of the ivory tower by this upstart pseudo-intellectual who with only a Master's degree from a one-horse revolutionary hot-bed college in southern Illinois has become a tenured professor and a department chairman. How does that happen? Everyone else needs a PhD to be titled "Professor" and most assuredly a terminal degree is de rigeur for chairmanship. Now, they are looking at Churchill's research. They are finding assertions, urban legends, misstatements, and even a bit of plagiarism in the closet. (Denver Post 2/10/05: http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E23827%257E2702788,00.html)
Wow, what will they discover next? There have already been questions about his military record and other claims. Now it appears the intellectualism is crumbling.

Me, I'm still unhappy about his characterization of the air over Baghdad being "undefended" during Desert Storm and the accusation that our Air Force, Navy and Marine tactical aviators who braved that firestorm were indiscriminate in their weapons delivery and targeting. Churchill doesn't deserve this fifteen minutes of Warholian fame. He doesn't deserve this celebrity. He doesn't deserve his job. And, he doesn't deserve any respect.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Budget Sausage

Ya gotta love federal budget time. I mean, where else can you get the American political process of pandering, posturing and politicking in such a condensed and meaningless format? The entire year goes by and each bloc incessantly demands that the opposition cut the fat, stop catering to special interests, start prioritizing, begin chopping at the debt, and most of all, “live within our means.” Noble sentiments all.

Then the budget is delivered to the legislature. It’s a huge document, dwarfing even the telephone books of major metropolitan areas. Congressional staffers, media pundits, citizen watchdogs and Capital janitors all scramble for camera shots of themselves picking up the massive tome. Then they retire to their Punxatawny burrows, supposedly to pore over the details and prepare their support or opposition as they guard every penny of the public’s sacred tax dollars. Does anybody believe that this massive missive will serve as anything but window dressing or DC paper-weight for the next ten months until the end-of-fiscal-year deadline arrives and Congress will once again have failed to enact a budget?

It isn’t going to happen this year. Just like it didn’t happen last year, or the year before. Why? The reason is the fundamental flaw in the American democratic process. There are two conflicting principals at work here and there is no easy solution to the conflict.

One, nobody likes to pay taxes. If low taxes are good, then no taxes are better. Nothing is more certain to lose a politician support from the electorate quicker than suggesting that government services don’t come for free. Now, even the most politically na├»ve among us will, if pressed, admit that they want government services. They might not want all of them, but everyone has a short list of things the government does that they would like to continue. It might be schools, or healthcare, or defense from terrorists, or preservation of endangered wombats, or a retirement guaranteed when they reach their dotage. Everybody wants something but no one wants to pay. The best alternative is getting someone else to pay. Hence, America’s convoluted tax code.

Two, nobody wants less than they already get. We want more, not less. If we get hospitalization, we want prescriptions. If we get schools, we want more subsidy for our tuition. If we get welfare, we sure don’t want to lose that check—we would much rather see an increase to meet our never ending need for fast foods and hip-hop CDs. Suggesting that balancing the budget without paying more taxes might mean a reduction or elimination of anything is suicide for the congress-critter.

The planned spending of an entity the size of our federal government is huge. The programs in operation number in the hundreds of thousands. There is even one twit in a clownish, question-mark-festooned suit who has made a business of publishing huge books telling you how to get the government’s “free money.” The only way to reduce the deficit and nibble at the debt without raising taxes is to cut some of these programs. Eliminate duplication, cut overhead, improve efficiency, consolidate functions, reduce dependency, etc. You get the picture. But, each place you touch with the budget knife produces a squeal. Probe here, jab there, you’ll find no place without an ox beneath the budget entry resisting being gored.

Dispute over priorities is inevitable. Ask the man in the street about the budget and he will look at you like you are insane. Provide him with some forced alternatives and you’ll get whatever result you want to help shape your political party’s priorities. Should we pursue democracy in Iraq or reduce federal funding for higher education? Shall we subsidize Amtrak or promote exploration for renewable energy sources? Would we be better off with a new carrier or an extra squadron of F/A-22 Raptors? You will get answers and if you make your pairings to suit your agenda, you can create a justification for whatever course you want the nation to take—and in the process you can smear the opposition for their lack of foresight in meeting the needs of the people.

It’s a dirty business and there is no way to make it better. It was Otto von Bismark that said, "People who enjoy eating sausage and obey the law should not watch either being made". Keep in mind that passage of the federal budget is the ultimate example of making a law.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Death of Discourse

What ever became of logic and reason and, maybe most important, courtesy? I’m talking about the ability to debate a topic using facts and a constructive argument while avoiding the cutesy nicknames, innuendoes and inevitably, the personal insult. Does anyone but me recall the days when the word argument meant a challenging conversational exercise on the merits of an issue. Today it means a Jerry Springer style battle royal with verbal folding chairs being slung across the TV studio and brawny “technicians” separating the arguers. Have we been watching too much reality TV or maybe it is too much Barbara Boxer on CSPAN.

I’ll admit it. I ask for it. I like to debate, AKA argue. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed teaching political science at the local college so much. It was always a challenge to try to get the students to think, preferably before speaking. Forcing them to support their side of an issue while demanding that they avoid name-calling and ad hominem attacks was part of the classroom game. I confess that I would argue either side of the issue to achieve that goal, which probably made me an exception in a college setting since I wasn’t advocating that they adopt my position, only that they understand theirs. What a concept.

On day one of each of my courses I would point out to the students that political questions inevitably have two sides. If everyone agreed, there would be no debate and a public policy would be easily enacted. But, issues arise on the political agenda precisely because there is a conflict. Understanding the positions of the two sides is part and parcel of the job of the political scientist. Recognizing that the advocates of each position are deeply committed to their cause, the difficult task is finding the commonalities of the question rather than the conflicts. We seldom succeed in changing the other person’s mind, but if we can find the points of agreement, we can begin to craft a tolerable policy.

Read the editorial page of your daily morning fish wrapper. Try to see if the commentary is to the point or if it is an exercise in name-calling and deprecation of the opposition. Do you see persons in authority respected, even if their position is contrary to that of the author? Of course not. Does Molly Ivins really think that she raises her intellectual stature by referring to the President of the United States as “the shrub”? And, that doesn’t even begin to approach the disrespect for the individual and the avoidance of meaningful dialogue of political cartoonists—can anyone really embrace the characterizations of then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as some sort of female Steppin Fechit? What happened to focusing on the issues while respecting the other person’s right to hold a different view?

Sit around with a couple of friends. Pick friends with a long friendship and a good sense of humor for this. Steer the conversation to a hot-button issue like maybe abortion, gun control, immigration, the war in Iraq, prayer in schools, or taxes. Now, take an opposing viewpoint to that of the group. See how long it takes to have the volume rise. Watch for the first “red herring”—the unrelated “fact” that is thrown on the table because like the spoiled fish that gives the tactic its name, the fact is so odious that it will distract the opponent from the issue at hand and overpower the topic with a stench. Notice whether derogatory names get substituted for the real titles—is the President referred to as “Bushie” or “Junior”? Does the SecDef become “Rummy”? And notice that it isn’t one-sided. Both progressives (nee liberals) and conservatives (now neocons) resort quickly to these tactics. How soon do you, their friend but now opposing them, get called stupid, ill-informed, or worse?

There are exceptions, but they are becoming increasingly rare. The television culture which demands that every complex issue be condensed to an understandable-by-the-masses slogan in less than two minutes has robbed us of our ability to understand each other. Two responsible debaters from opposite sides of the spectrum on the current political scene, both of whom have strongly held convictions but can express them in courteous terms, are former Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett and Democratic Senator and former VP candidate, Joseph Lieberman. Listen to them the next time you have the opportunity and don’t bother with whether you agree or disagree—consider only the demeanor of the discussion. It borders on adult behavior. Debate and discourse is not a zero sum game. You don’t have to lose for me to win. But, we as a country will be finding it increasingly difficult to effectively govern ourselves when we no longer respect those who don’t fall into lockstep with our thinking.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Show & Tell in Denver

It was “show and tell” in Denver yesterday. The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado was convened to discuss the question of loose cannon professor Ward Churchill. As could only be expected, there was an assembly of the usual suspects. Faculty and student sympathizers filled the plaza in front of the building and then moved into the hearing room. It caused flashbacks to the ‘60s with only the “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho” chants missing. Signs demanding freedom of the Chicago Seven….ooops, I meant the oppressed professor. Signs accusing the Regents of McCarthyism, signs demanding academic free speech, shouts of fascist and nazi….oops again, wasn’t that Churchill’s original characterization of the workers, janitors, firemen, police, secretaries, bankers, lawyers, capitalists and entrepreneurs who died in the World Trade Center?

The question was how to spin the brouhaha to get the beleaguered Regents off the public hook while still preserving their avant garde professor’s big bucks job. But, the show was about what kind of education such a faculty provides for the students of CU/Boulder and the telling part was how pathetic the results displayed were. There was pushing, shoving, TV-posturing, arrests, and the usual array of guerilla theater. What there wasn’t, was reasoned argument weighing the facts and finding the truth.

This has never been a question of Free Speech, that chimera of America that all support but few of us really fully tolerate. It has been a question of how we teach the students of a university to seek the truth. Speaking freely in the public square is fine. Speaking as the representative of a university, tenured and chaired, without regard to truth, without evaluation of your assertions, without concern for fact, but only with your own, ill-founded emotions as your guide is not protected by the Constitution I swore to defend and protect.

University students have a right to unbiased argument. Faculty has an obligation to teach their students that what they want and what they feel may not be in agreement with the facts of the issue. Hating America is fine, but if the assertions that you use to bolster your argument are simply your own creation and opinion, then your hatred is unfounded. Students need to learn that what they think must be tempered by a search to find out what really is. The whole purpose of higher education is to prepare the student to function effectively in a world populated with conflicting, emotion-laden messages. The leader of tomorrow must be guided by reality that agrees with the dreams.

The display in Denver didn’t give much support to the premise that CU was doing that job. Students supporting their prof admitted to not having read his diatribe. They packed up in Boulder, cut their classes and came to follow their demagogue without consideration for what he wrote. While the man-in-the-street can be excused for taking the condensed version of Churchill’s screed, the students of the university can’t be excused for failure to spend ten minutes reading the cause celebre of the moment.

The faculty arrived shouting academic freedom, confusing the concept with free speech. The freedom they support involves discipline and rigor, along with the courteous and respectful consideration for other’s ideas. But, the faculty demonstrating in Denver hadn’t learned that part of the contract.

When the Regents convened, the students and faculty shouted them down. Ohh, freedom of speech for those I disagree with is dictatorial, isn’t it! When the meeting didn’t go the way they planned, the students rose in disagreement and in short order were being arrested for assaulting police officers. What fine reasoning skills we are teaching these students for $30k per year. When it was all over, the Regents appointed one of their members to investigate the writings and speeches of Prof. Churchill to determine if there is cause to dismiss him. He’ll report back in thirty days. They clearly hope that the scandal will be overcome by other events by then.

But, the questions arise. Why didn’t Churchill’s writing and speaking get investigated before he was hired, tenured or offered the department chair? Why isn’t there a program in place to vet the writings of faculty to insure that while they are not censored, they do receive the peer review that insures they meet the basic research criteria demanded of every freshman in a term paper? And, maybe the real question, what has the Board of Regents been doing for all these years while CU/Boulder has moved increasingly away from the mainstream of America?


Thursday, February 03, 2005

Creating the Perfect Retirement

I confess to bias. Not everyone will make that confession, but a bit of scab-picking will quickly confirm that all of us approach political issues with bias. That’s why I liked the State of the Union speech and many didn’t. I got what I came for and then got a whole lot more when I paid attention to the details. Then again, some hated every word, relished every smirk, fixated on the “puppet-master” Cheney behind the speaker whenever he smiled or applauded. They waited for the rebuttal—finally an appropriate response time, rather than the non-sensical “pre-buttal” of the day before. They got what they wanted as well.

Two issues were central to the speech; the war on terrorism and the question of Social Security. All of the arrows were plucked from the progressive (nee liberal) quiver when the Iraqi election came off so well. Now, they could continue to assert their quixotic demand for “detailed timeline for democratization and withdrawal” and a firm estimate of the cost of the war—imagine making such a demand of FDR in January of 1942! Neither request can be met rationally and therefore the demands provide an excellent platform for appealing to the party base who never get encumbered by fact.

Social Security, however, gains a lot of leverage with the populace. Everyone is a player and has an interest. The elderly fear for reduction in benefits. The middle-aged want to protect their investment. The business owners want a change to the burden they bear in funding their contributions for their workers. The young want justice in expecting a return for the payments they are forced to make. Everyone has a dog in this hunt.

That’s why I liked it when the President emphasized that no one over 55 years of age would experience any change in their entitlement. Start by assuring those most prone to fear that they aren’t going to be damaged. Hopefully the older folks were listening and they believe.

Then, despite the discourtesy of the left side of the chamber, the President clearly delineated a time table. By 2018, the input contributions will no longer equal the output payments. That’s not a long way away and the exact date could be debated, but it is definitely within a small plus-or-minus variant. By 2042, the choice becomes more critical. There is no more surplus, excess, trust-fund, or shock-absorber capability. The choice is cut benefits—and politically, that isn’t a choice at all. Again the exact date can be debated, but the inevitability is unquestionable.

Conclusion has got to be that action is necessary. The rebuttal, however, seems to be simply to continue to snap our fingers and keep the elephants away. No elephants? See, it’s working.

The President then struck to the philosophical heart of the progressives. He cited a litany of liberal saints who have recognized the problem and suggested actions. How can poor, dedicated, sycophantic Nancy Pelosi possibly argue against Roosevelt, Moynihan, Kennedy, et al?

Then, he offered a menu of options. He was not proposing a solution but merely outlining a range of alternatives for a start to discussions. We can cut benefits, change indexing, delay eligibility, offer investment alternatives, or maybe a combination of cures. But, we must begin to speak productively. How does Harry Reid confound the mature logic of that, does he recall a ten-year old in Searchlight and seek wisdom from the mouths of babes?

Finally he pulled the plug on the arguments of the risk of partial (NOT total) privatization. He set a 4% of contributions limit. He offered limited fund choices. He suggested a market threshold for federal intervention to protect. He described a final years safety-net to insure that no one suffers a retirement fund collapse on the eve of eligibility. Anyone who listened, could see that this was far from a risky proposal and most assuredly had considerable safeguards built in.

In all, a tour de force that left the progressives gasping at straws to rebut. The empty rhetoric and emotional appeals that followed from Reid and Pelosi must have struck home somewhere, but my suspicion is that their audience was somewhere else watching re-runs of sitcoms or maybe MTV beach-blanket competitions.