Monday, December 26, 2005


Call me paranoid. Even if I am, that doesn’t mean that someone isn’t still out to get me. I’m beginning to get a bit apprehensive about Hillary. I lived through the eight years of Bill’s administration, and saw scandal after scandal. I watched the attempt to nationalize health-care by creating some sort of socialistic expectation that everyone has a right to have someone else pick up the tab for what had traditionally been your individual responsibility. I observed the “loathing” of the military and was even willing to argue for some reductions of the force due to changed threat in the world. I read about the FBI files, the real estate deals, the travel agency firings, the cattle futures killing and more. I even wondered how someone could argue that fellatio in the Oval Office wasn’t really sexual relations. I know what my wife would have to say about that if I brought that rationale home.

But, Americans have short memories. They also seem to have very poorly developed reasoning skills. That’s why two opinion pieces in this AM’s Dallas Morning Fishwrap scare me. There seems to be a concentrated campaign to reshape America’s scariest woman and purge the memories. First, we’ve got Richard Cohen: Damned with Faint Praise He seems to be saying that Hillary is way wrong with a pandering bill to outlaw flag burning. Yet, if you were a bit paranoid, you might spin that as an attempt to show how “conservative” she is and help to make her just a teeny bit more palatable to the moderate mainstream.

Then there’s Kathleen Parker. I like her columns usually, but today she paints a Hillary that sincerely wants to shed the far left abortion position for something much more palatable to moderates. Try this: Praising with Faint Damnation Yes, there’s good ol’ Hil’ feeling the pain of pregnant women, yet acknowledging the sanctity of life and seeking to really solve the problem for them without being either pro-life or pro-choice. It’s an example of Clintonian triangulation at its finest. Have it both ways and draw votes from everywhere.

Yep, there’s reason for paranoia this morning. I’ve got nearly a full page of opinion in my major metropolitan newsrag that labels the argument as opposing sides but really is an orchestrated effort to groom the witch for a run at the White House in ’08. I knew she was coming, but I didn’t realize the level of the indoctrination that would be part of the campaign. I’m paranoid. I’m afraid they might even get me liking her and respecting her ideas. Nahhhhh, that ain’t gonna happen. Fellatio ain’t no peck on the cheek and Hillary ain’t no moderate. She wasn’t then and she won’t be in two years. But I’m scared.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Correlates of Democracy

We had a chapter in the Introduction to Political Science course that I taught which dealt with “correlates of democracy”—the factors of the political environment which contribute to success for a democratic form of government. It was enlightening and should be included in any serious political science curriculum.

Most Americans will offer the knee-jerk opinion that democracy is the best form of government and will often add the Winston Churchill witticism that “democracy is the worst…except for all others.” The truth of the matter is that democracy requires a lot of things to come together. The chapter of the textbook we used offered a list of factors and I likened it to a checklist for democracy. You could go down the list and the more factors that were present the greater probability of forming a stable democratic government.

Events in Iraq make this discussion relevant. Using the checklist, it is easy to come to the conclusion that there is little hope yet the landmarks along the path since the overthrow of Saddam seem to indicate that the Iraqi people are defying the odds. Yesterday’s election and the accompanying news coverage of smiling, dancing, exuberant men and women at the polling places lead me to the conclusion that incredible progress is being made.

One of the most critical correlates for a successful democracy (one which, by the way, defies America’s obsession with diversity,) is that a society should be homogeneous. Take a society with ethnic, cultural, religious, historic, philosophical, moral, and language similarities and you’ve got a better chance of establishing democracy than in a society that is fractured in any of those characteristics. Iraq clearly fights an uphill battle in this area.

Historically, Iraq is a colonial construct of the British. They carved out a nation with little regard for the regional differences of Kurds, Shi’ia and Sunni. There are deep differences between the religious and tribal views of these groups, yet they are bound together today inside a border drawn by a regional outsider. Despite this, they have in the past two years come together to attempt a difficult task. Most impressive has been the shift over the last eight months of the Sunni segment of the population from boycott of the provisional election to enthusiastic participation in the recent polling. Recognition that the process would go on with or without them, they chose to join and become a player in the government.

Other correlates, though not as distinct as the issue of homogeneity in society, include:

a.) History of democracy—not much to build on here.

b.) Democratic neighbors—decidedly absent in the Middle East, unless you’re willing to count the theocracy of Iran.

c.) Plurality—an uphill fight for a region with intense religious influence in all political matters. Building coalitions on various issues from hugely divergent religious sects is incredibly difficult.

d.) Sense of nation—the colonial history followed by the years of autocratic minority Ba’athist rule denies a strong identification with the nation. Individuals are having to overcome identification as Shi’ia or Sunni and think of themselves as Iraqi.

e.) Free market economy—good results in the Kurdish sector and some influence in the south, but an uphill battle for entrepreneurs in much of a previously state-centric economy.

f.) Fair taxation—governmental services cost and there needs to be confidence in equality of burden-sharing. Not a historic strongpoint for the region which still sees the excesses of Sadaam’s palaces.

g.) History of freedom—political process takes freedom. Free speech, free press and free assembly are basic. These have been absent for a long time.

h.) Political parties—it’s tough to know what a representative stands for. Parties fill that need by defining an agenda. For years, Iraq has been a one-party system. Now it’s a system of hundreds of parties, many of which are not yet clearly defined. This will need to evolve and better sooner than later.

i.) Civilian control of the military—here’s an area where the coalition influence on rebuilding can have great dividends. Modeling the new security system on ours and making them responsive to the new government will be a difficult task.

j.) Independent judiciary—always difficult to establish. The people must have faith in the rule of law and not of the privileged class.

k.) Middle class—a strong plus here for the urban areas of Iraq. As rebuilding proceeds, the middle class should stabilize and grow, creating a buffer between the historic privileged and the downtrodden breeding grounds for insurgency.

These are a few of the “correlates” and it is easy to understand the magnitude of the task of building a democracy in Iraq. They’ve got few of the success factors in place, yet they have come from total dictatorship to a provisional government, a constitution, and now free elections for a permanent government in a matter of months. Progress has been impressive.

The unifying factors vary, but whether it is a desire for power-sharing, a patriotism seeking to build a modern, free Iraq, or a simple desire to stabilize the nation and open the door for the coalition forces to leave; the result is good.

It will be interesting in the next few days to see how the failure-mongers of the left will try to make lemonade out of these very sweet lemons.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Play It Again, Sam

Talk about dodging a bullet. If you had any doubts regarding who was really telling the story over Vietnam heroism and sniveling anti-American libeling of our military during the 2004 presidential campaign, the Swift Boat Vets and former POWs or Senator John Kerry you should have the answer now. Coming back to his apparently very profitable refrain from the 70’s when his performance on the guerrilla theater stage of anti-war protest thrust him into the national spotlight; Kerry cast the same despicable assertion on America’s best again last weekend. Facing the nation on last Sunday morning, Kerry sang the same disgusting song about America’s fighting men and women as terrorizers of the weak and helpless. Take a look at: Same Song Different Verse

Has this man no shame?

Unfortunately there are far too many who are willing to believe the worst. They love the thought that America’s elected leadership; in collusion with the highest level military staffs would direct a policy of targeting women and children. They like the guilt and shame that would be associated with that sort of disgrace. They fervently believe that those who don the uniform of their country would follow such blatantly unlawful orders. They want to think that anyone who serves willingly and values his nation and our heritage is some sort of thug. Where does such misguided thinking come from? If you reflexively jumped to the conclusion of the mass media, Hollywood dim-stars, pointy-headed university pseudo-intellectuals and pandering politicians I am not about to attempt to disabuse you of such a notion.

So, here we have Senator John Kerry, the man who wrapped the mantle of patriot and war hero around his shoulders during his presidential bid once again showing his eagerness to discredit America’s military. He’s the whiz kid who stood before an audience and uttered that fateful quote of “voting for the war before voting against it,” apparently hoping to be able to have it both ways. He’s the one who tried unsuccessfully to distance himself from his Senate testimony from long ago in which he accused us all of committing to a policy of atrocity. Now, he’s still willing to paint America’s heroes as the terrorists of Iraq.

And, if one really wants to point out the moral bankruptcy of Sen. Kerry, you need only to consider the implications of his full quotation:

"And there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the – of – the historical customs, religious customs," Kerry said. "Whether you like it or not ... Iraqis should be doing that."

Yep, he goes on to suggest that the terrorizing of women and children is really kind of OK. It’s merely that we should be out-sourcing the task. This guy shouldn’t be allowed out alone. He’s going to hurt himself.

I can’t wait for the Senator to kick off his next presidential bid.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Much Ado About Nada

I’m as guilty of self-promotion as the next guy, but when it comes to John Gibson on Fox News, I’m nowhere near as guilty as he. He’s written a book. It’s seasonal and emotional and it strikes a chord in those who know that they have embraced the one, true and exclusive faith. The book is titled “The War on Christmas” and the thesis is that there is this huge, coordinated secular attack on recognizing Christ as an essential part of Christmas. He contends that political correctness and a malicious intent to deny Christianity as the religion of choice for America is causing folks to say, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Well, the foolishness about crèche displays on City Hall lawns has gone on for a long time. Yet, there are plenty of shepherds and Magi being arranged in public places for reminding us about the holiday. I know I’ve used “Xmas” as shorthand for Christmas for many years and somehow knew all along that the derivation of that abbreviation related to the Greek spelling of Christ. It didn’t seem problematic to me.

Christmas trees didn’t originate in Bethlehem, but are a more pagan or Druidic expression of the season. Doesn’t bother me. I enjoy the display.

Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Reindeer and Santa the Fat Guy all seem harmless enough, even though they never appeared in the stable around the manger. They all give me an opportunity to feel good and it’s nice for little kids to have fun with them.

Gift giving is a wonderful expression of love and affection. Families coming together are good whether the reason is a sharing of Christian faith or a Hanukkah celebration or a Kwanzaa teaching of principles of life, or even a Costanza family tradition of Festivus. It actually IS a holiday season and offering an inclusive wish for happiness in no way demeans Christians.

Why then does John Gibson have to flog his narrow-minded book every single day? I mention my books when the subject seems appropriate, but I don’t feel the need to interject “When Thunder Rolled” or “Palace Cobra” into every conversation. Gibson, of course has the benefit of the very bully pulpit of a national broadcast news network. He’s also got the team of willing allies like O’Reilly and Shep Smith and Greta and Geraldo. They mention his book this week and when they have their book released, Gibson will return the favor.

But, it’s all a non-issue. It’s a trumped-up charge. Two nights ago I watched ABC air “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” for the 40th time. Note the title and if you watched the show, you also noticed the very prominent bible quotations solemnly intoned by Linus. This is major network stuff and if there were some sort of war on Christmas, I’m certain ABC would be in on the strategy.

John Gibson is going to sell a lot of books. A lot of concerned Christians are going to studiously boycott Coke for replacing Santa Claus this year with a bunch of polar bears and penguins. (Why Christians would prefer one secular cuteness for another escapes me at the moment.) Wal-Mart is going to sell a lot of Christmas stuff as will Best-Buy, Sears, K-Mart, Circuit City, Toys-R-Us and the other big and little box stores. Many clerks will say Merry Christmas and many will wish us Happy Holidays. The distinction between the intent of the greetings is not major.

That’s why I liked Mike Straka’s brief editorial on the subject. His “Grrrr…” pieces usually hit the nail on the head. The oblivions he routinely identifies won’t change their behavior because of his columns and the religious folks supporting Gibson won’t change their thinking about the secular conspiracy, but Mike says it well and just the way I’ve been thinking about it. Take a look here: Couldn't Have Said it Better

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Listen to the Logic

Regular readers know how often I bewail the reduction of political discourse in America to propagandizing, sloganeering, over-simplification and outright pandering. That’s why it is such a relief to read the report of Dem. Senator Joe Lieberman after his most recent trip to Iraq: Listen to the Logic of Lieberman

Here’s an individual who, without the byline, we would quickly describe as an objective, non-partisan observer. Consider that for a moment. If you didn’t have the name and didn’t recall the leadership position in his party, you would be hard pressed to think the report was coming out of our Senate.

He actually was on site, not writing from an ivory tower of academia or a bastion of pacifist idealism. He went and drew his own conclusions. Notice that there is a recommendation to get over the continual talking point emphasis about what was the reason for going to Iraq in the first place. Quite correctly, Lieberman points out that it really doesn’t make any difference anymore whether we accept the reasons or the revisionism. We are there and there are more good reports than bad reports when you actually consult with the people on the ground—both coalition and locals.

Maybe there is hope after all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Balancing The Scales

There’s a saying in the military, slightly scatological, that one “aw shit” wipes out a hundred “atta-boys.” Yesterday, an American hero was on display after totally discrediting himself and his office. He wiped out a lot of atta-boys. Maybe it is the syndrome of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Maybe it simply demonstrates that one can no longer serve in Washington without falling victim to the power hunger that warps morality and convinces you that what you know is fundamentally wrong might be acceptable for you.

Randy “Duke” Cunningham became a legend in the Vietnam War when he became the first ace of the conflict—a fighter pilot with five confirmed kills of enemy aircraft. It was hard to become an ace in that war principally because the opportunities for air-to-air combat against the North Vietnamese were rare. Most pilots could fly an entire tour against the North and only see MiGs on a couple of missions. The MiGs didn’t like to enter prolonged engagements and we weren’t tasked to fight them—we were going against ground targets and the MiGs were only an incidental inconvenience.

Then, along came Duke. He’d been an instructor at the Navy’s “Top Gun” school and really knew how to handle his airplane, his weapons and his tactics. He came on cruise when the war against the North resumed in 1972 and in one remarkable day—the 10th of May—he got three kills on one mission. With his two prior victories, he became an ace.

Instant fame leads to opportunity and as the years passed, Duke left the Navy and entered politics. With his name recognition, a hero and patriot had a chance to run for Congress and he took it. Over eight terms, he was one I pointed to when asked if it was possible for a noble man to serve in politics. Yesterday, he proved me wrong.

Duke disgraced himself and in the process has inevitably spattered the slime of his disgrace on his service and his peers in the profession of arms. He didn’t mean to give the military or fighter pilots a bad name. He only meant, apparently, to take his share of the big pie. He didn’t mean to make us look bad. He only needed a Rolls and a 42-foot yacht and a $2.7 million dollar crash pad.

There’s no apology for Duke. He must live with his mistakes and I can still believe that it will dawn on him quickly that he squandered his legacy. It’s too bad.

But, almost at the same time, there’s this piece about another Vietnam era Fighter Pilot (the capital letters are intentional.) This guy served his country in World War II as a Marine. Then he went to college on the GI Bill and became a Fighter Pilot in the Korean War. He returned to combat during Vietnam and helped found the “Misty” FAC program, using F-100 Super Sabre aircraft as forward air controllers in high threat areas. He was shot down and spent a lot of years with the North Vietnamese. Bud Day is the real deal and he balances the scales of honor after the disgrace of Duke Cunningham: Balancing the Scales

I’m fortunate to know Colonel Day. I see him almost every spring when I attend the annual Red River Valley Fighter Pilot Association (River Rats) reunion. He attends with his beautiful wife and is always accessible to talk with old friends and new young fighter pilots about the meanings of our very special profession. He works hard for the things he believes in—like the promised healthcare for life that military retirees were told we would receive. Bud spearheaded the class-action suit that brought the Congressional reneging to the forefront and got reinstatement of benefits for a lot of us.

He also was a prominent spokesman during the Swift Boat Veteran’s for Truth ad campaign in the last election. He had no reason to stand up and speak beyond his personal experience during that long ago war in Southeast Asia and his belief in honor among warriors. He had much to lose and predictably the media weren’t reluctant to disregard his comments.

Still, one Bud Day can outweigh a hundred Duke Cunningham’s on the scales of honor for Fighter Pilots.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Now It Makes More Sense

I’ve often wondered at the seemingly increasing level of ignorance that surrounds me. I’ve mentioned it before—how we seem to delight in over-simplification of complex issues and readily embrace the most revisionist of histories simply because we can sloganeer the answers. Even more stunning is how folks with education, experience and the unbelievable responsibility of governing our nation can continually spout the stuff that they do. I mean, can we really believe that folks like Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid think that what they say is reasonable? And, don’t point all the fingers at the left side of the aisle. The right side often doesn’t show much more intellectual prowess.

Well Holman Jenkins, an email editorialist for the Wall Street Journal, explains it very clearly for me. It’s called “rational herding” and depends on something called an “availability cascade”. Don’t let that put you off—take a moment to chase this link and read what he says: Herd Behavior

It’s downright scary. We’ve got the leaders of the nation doing what they think is required to fulfill the erroneous notions of the electorate. If there were ever a recipe for the failure of a democracy, this has got to be it. They know better (supposedly) but rather than attempt to enlighten the unwashed, they cater to their ignorance. Rather than fulfill democracy’s mandate to do what is best for the nation, they respond by reinforcing the propaganda that the poorly educated mainstream seem to suck up.

The herding concept now explains how folks who recall the run-up to the invasion of Iraq can grab onto the “Bush lied” mantra even though they lived through the reports of the various national intelligence estimates from not only the U.S. but from the Brits, Germans, French, Russians and others. They heard the speeches and saw the UN Security Council votes. They may even have lived through the Israeli raid on the Iraqi nuclear facility at Osirak back in the early ‘80s. They probably caught the news reports of Saddam’s yellow rain chemical weapons attacks on the Kurds in the North and the Iranians on the Southern front. But, despite the history they viewed with their own eyes and the Congressional record of the votes cast, they now cling tenaciously to the idea of some sort of presidential vendetta that brought us to war.

The herd mentality explains how otherwise rational individuals can see the elections and the development of a constitutional democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan while still spouting that the war effort is doomed and not winnable. They can ignore the often depressing numbers of casualties among the native peoples in these liberated areas while fixating on the remarkably small casualty figures of our own military. They can make the mathematical leap from single-digit death tolls to massive losses in Vietnam and consider it as equivalence in support for their defeatism.

The herd principle explains much about what is wrong with America’s political process, but is there any way to correct it?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Misguided Marketing

I’m trying to understand the concept of the rebate. The basic idea of selling something is for a willing buyer and a willing seller to agree on a price. That’s not quite the more liberal philosophy of “reasonable profit” which assumes someone exists with Solomon’s wisdom to determine what a seller is authorized. No, I like the idea of free market forces. If a seller can get more for a product because it is highly valued or in short supply, then more power to them. If they price too high, then I don’t buy. (Apologies to Johnny “the Glove-man” Cochran.)

But, that ignores the rebate. Here the situation is that the price is too high for me to buy, so the seller says he’ll give me some money back. Ahhh, but it isn’t just a price reduction. That would be a “sale” price. No, here I’ve got to jump through some hoops first. If I get a receipt and I get the UPC bar code off the box, and I fill out the application and I mail it within the allotted time, I might get some money back in six to eight weeks. If I’m lucky.

Recently you’ve probably received these yard-long cash register receipts at big-box stores. They include a copy of the receipt so you don’t have to scout up a copy machine. They’ve got the address so you don’t lose it. They’ve got the form so you don’t need a separate piece of paper. How much corporate money do you suppose is spent preparing the software for all of that? Why not simply lower the price and charge that? Lots less overhead if you ask me. And, the seller is ostensibly willing to sell for the price after rebate, aren’t they?

We know, however, that a lot of us never bother with the red tape. We buy the product, throw out the paperwork, and skip the rebate. Who needs to spend a 37-cent stamp to get a $2.00 rebate check that you then have to deposit at the bank? They want you to “skip it” and we do.

Occasionally, however, the rebate issue becomes money worth fighting for. That’s the case with me. I’m wrapping up construction of my new home and needed a full suite of appliances. I did my Internet shopping homework and knew what products I wanted and what they should cost me. I was armed and ready.

I wound up at Sears. I’ll confess that I’ve been a major cause of Sears financial woes over the last couple of decades. No good reason for animosity. It just worked out that way. I don’t shop regularly at Sears. But, I stopped in while at the mall and looked around. They had a lot of the stuff I wanted. So, I ordered four major appliances. The icing on the sales cake was a Sears/GE rebate offer of $300 back if you bought four appliances. Great deal.

Problems arose immediately. The form listed models from the GE Profile series that qualified. All of my products were GE Profile, but two were not listed. Further, since my home would not be ready for delivery for a couple of months, I wouldn’t take immediate delivery. The form required serial numbers, which weren’t available. They wouldn’t be available until after delivery. I called “Customer Service” at the rebate center. No problem, said the representative. Send in the form and the receipts.

Naturally, the rebate didn’t get paid. Question arises, with a paid receipt in hand, how can they deny that you made a qualifying purchase?

Delivery occurred yesterday. I find now that GE is reluctant to clearly identify which of the half dozen or so long and random numbers on the box are the “serial” number. Regardless, I copied them all down and sent them off today. We’ll see if I get paid.

Chapter Two:

Returned to Sears. (How dumb is that?) Found a nice washer and drier set. Salesman says that there is a 15% rebate if you open a Sears credit card account. I don’t want or need a Sears card, but 15% is about $400, so I sign up. Naturally there is a form to send in.

I note on reading the fine print that Sears credit charges 24% interest. This is a bit beyond outrageous, but I intend to pay in full and cancel the card immediately.

Next, I receive a nice letter from the Sears credit card folks thanking me for enrolling in the AccountCare insurance program—which I had specifically declined! In the cutthroat world of long-distance phone service that used to be called “slamming.” I called and cancelled.

Now, I’m waiting for my second significant check.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever receive either of these payments. I know I’ll dun them until they wake up at night screaming. I also know that they’ve done little to convince this customer that they are worth doing business with again. So, what’s the point of a rebate? Did I buy? Yes, but I would have bought at the basic price anyway. Could they have had a satisfied customer if I were not exercised with mail-in forms, serial number hunts, credit card usery and insurance slamming? Yes. Did they miss a chance? You bet.

Sears? Never again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Who Will Guard?

A very basic and fundamental role of national government is defense. Maintaining a nation’s security from external threat is critical if the citizens are to be free to pursue their lives, raise their families and build a prosperous future. I’m at a loss to build a strong opposition argument to that basic postulate.

I can most assuredly build an argument against war. It would depend upon some assumptions that I’m not too comfortable with. I would have to assume rational threats as a starting point. Or, maybe no serious threats at all. Evidence in the current world, even if we insert some media-driven skepticism regarding the accuracy of our intelligence, leads me to conclude that there are serious threats against our nation and when I see the video replaying in my head of the airliners being driven into the side of the World Trade Center towers I can harbor no assumption of rationality.

But, if I surrender entirely to emotion and eschew harsh reality, I can say that war is bad. Peace is better. Killing is part of war and we shouldn’t kill. We should negotiate, appease, love and nurture rather than destroy, hunt and kill. Going to war is unpleasant and some percentage of those who go to war will be hurt. That will not be nice. Families (stand up back there in the corner, Ms Sheehan…) will be torn asunder and suffer loss of loved ones. This is not good. Better not to go to war, not get people killed, not be separated from loved ones and live happily ever after. Can I note that as being extremely unlikely?

That’s why I was appalled the other night when I saw the video of the protests in Seattle against military recruiters in schools. Take a look at: Seattle Hates the Military and, be sure to watch the linked video. Pay particular attention to the vapid expression of the young man who thinks it wouldn’t be good “like, doing war stuff,” as a profession. You will be given a short break after watching to rush to the bathroom and attempt to avoid regurgitation. This punk makes me sick.

What is wrong with these people? Who will defend them? Why should anyone sacrifice for these pitifully self-centered pacifists who not only won’t take responsibility for their own safety but are also unwilling to even listen to the offerings of their ideological opposition?

It is tolerable, if not intellectually honest, to embrace pacifism. It is not tolerable in a free nation to attempt to muzzle those with whom you disagree. Allowing military recruiters access to high school campuses is not going to lead to unwilling students being dragged kicking and screaming off into service of their country. These aren’t British impressment crews seeking to Shanghai teen-agers into a life of military servitude. How can a school system determine what is best in terms of career opportunity for all of their students based on a narrow world view of an elitist few? Is the predominant pacifist view of the Seattle schools’ faculty and student body so fragile that it cannot stand before an NCO in a pressed uniform who wishes to describe an opportunity for graduates to serve their country?

And, how can a school system which has this perspective be expected to teach history and government and philosophy to prepare their students for real life in a harsh world?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Knowing the Day

A couple of years ago on this calendar day I started my political science class by asking the assembled students if anyone knew the significance of the day. This was a college American Government class in the decidedly military-oriented community of Colorado Springs. Two Air Force bases, a division sized Army Fort and one of the nation’s three service academies gives COS a bit of a conservative tilt. What’s significant about November 11?

Thirty students scratched their heads and wondered. One from the back of the room (characteristically when students choose their own seats, the “light” gets dimmer toward the rear,) suggested that it was “Tuesday”. Correct, but not the answer I was looking for.

Nothing more came out for several seconds. When it became apparent that I was still waiting for some brain-storming to take place, a young woman near the middle of the class volunteered that it was “Veteran’s Day”. Ahhh, yes. A day set aside for Americans to remember those who have sacrificed for the preservation of the Republic. But, what’s significant about November 11?

Had anyone in the class ever heard it called something else? Blank faces looked at me expectantly waiting for wisdom to be offered. Anyone ever heard of Armistice Day? Some had. Did they know what an armistice might be? Some head-scratching, then a query whether it might be something like a peace treaty? Yep, a cessation of hostilities; a treaty if you will. A treaty to end a long and very bloody war; the “war to end all wars.”

What was this “war to end all wars”? Does anyone know? C’mon now, this is a college class in American Government, not a fourth grade class, not a collection of computer science students. This is about the world and the things that have taken place that make it what it is today. This about the lessons that George Santayana says we must learn or risk repeating. What war?

Now it’s pure guessing time. No knowledge on display here. One wag suggests maybe the Korean War. No cigar for that one. Another, pulling up the knowledge that the chubby guy teaching the class in front of the room was a vet of another conflict wonders if it might have been the Vietnam War. Wrong again. None of these young adults knew that it was the termination of World War I. None of them!

The history of our nation is filled with wars and yet we have been neither a colonial nor expansionist power. We’ve studiously tried to avoid wars and in general have only gone to battle reluctantly and when offered few other choices. World War I had raged in the trenches for almost three full years before we entered. World War II was a result of the punitive treaty of Versailles and a studied commitment to ignoring the growth of imperialism in both Asia and Europe. Again we joined the war late and only after being viciously attacked.

Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom; all proving that the War to End All Wars was nothing of the sort. Yet, we have young men and increasingly young women who value freedom and are willing to make sacrifices well beyond what most Americans would consider to preserve America. We are very fortunate as a nation to have such people.

Take a moment today to think about the veterans of America. If you’ve got friends, family, co-workers or neighbors who have served or are serving, take a second to thank them. And, if you’ve got a son or daughter, cousin or nephew, ask them what the meaning of this day is and be sure they understand. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month was the moment when hostilities ended in Europe, but not for long and vigilance, commitment and courage are always going to be necessary if we are to survive.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Reality Sinks In

Those who have consistently argued that drowning the puppies of terrorism only causes the dogs to breed more will have to explain what is going on these past two weeks around the world. Not drowning the puppies has not done a thing to reduce the problems. When the U.S. went to war against those who demonstrated undeniably that they wished to bring our nation down, there were those former allies who hemmed and hawed and then respectfully declined to join us in the endeavor. Among the most duplicitous was the French ambassador to the UN, Dominique de Villepin, who now is Prime Minister of France. Along with his president, Jacques Chirac, they undermined the US and loudly pointed out that the attacks against us were a result of our failed foreign policy and that the real way to succeed was through increased understanding of the Arab nations and the Muslim culture.

Now the dirty little secret is out for all of the world to see. France didn’t “get it” and now they are paying a price that may result in the collapse of the government and possibly even the downfall of the Republic. Glee at their misfortune isn’t appropriate. But, a reorientation of thinking with regard to what is going on most definitely might be in order. With Arabs taking to the streets throughout Europe, not to picket, vote, debate, petition, influence policy or even market their positions, but simply to destroy civilization you might really want to ask the pacifist left-wing spokes-creatures in the US what they have learned so far.

Israel, which has long been on the frontlines of the widening intifada, certainly can tell us a lot about the situation. With tongue decidedly planted firmly in cheek, Steven Plaut offers a “modest proposal” for the French: Ooo La La, Intifada?

Complex political and societal questions don’t get solved in blog opinion pieces. They are only a starting point for grasping the issues and revolving them in search of new perspectives. Turn them this way and that to find how they work and where to apply the tools to dismantle them. They offer a first step in determining our options.

Let’s ask some questions. And, let’s take the current French situation for the source of the queries.

Who is burning, looting and destroying France? The answer appears to be second and third generation immigrants from former French colonies in North Africa. Predominantly Arab and predominantly Muslim. We’ve known for a long time that the aftermath of colonialism would be a lot of problems.

Why are they doing it? The newspapers tell me it is to express their dissatisfaction with France’s attitude toward them. Racism and discrimination are mentioned. But, they’ve been in France for a long time. They’ve soaked up the handouts of the welfare state. They’ve chosen not to be assimilated into French culture. Who’s fault is that? I’d suspect it isn’t a one-sided cause.

What is the meaning of “unemployment”? The reports note that unemployment nationwide runs around 10% (relate that to the US economy which we are continually told by the left is a disaster at four or five percent), but within the Arab regions is variously reported as 20, 30 or even 40%. I ask what the term means because it makes a difference whether someone is without a job because of discrimination, the lagging economy, or simply a choice not to work. Clearly the parents of these criminals and thugs who are rampaging nightly throughout France must have had some means of support when they arrived years ago that allowed them to procreate, sustain themselves and nourish their families. If conditions were so oppressive, why did they stay so long?

How do they think their actions will improve their situation? Oh, you’ve burned my car, looted my store and trashed my neighborhood? Thank you very much. What can I now do to express my gratitude and correct your situation? Un-bloody-likely outcome.

What might come of this? Who knows? I suspect, there will be a crack-down by the French government and a lot more violence. I hope that there will be recognition by a lot of nations that terrorism, whether an international jihad or a local rampage, should not be tolerated. I fear that the repression necessary to quell the violence will simply spawn a wave of copy-cats around the world.

The Chinese curse was laid upon us with a vengeance. We do indeed live in interesting times.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Good Questions to Ask

A little while ago I mentioned the gang that couldn’t indict straight and discussed the investigation of the “outing” of Valerie Plame. This is an issue from which wiser heads in the opposition should be distancing themselves. They are going to look increasingly petty and ridiculous as more intellectual news sources start repeatedly pointing out that obstruction of justice isn’t possible if there is no crime that has been committed. The Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece that really highlights the questions that folks should be asking: Can I Say "I Told You So?"

I’m more than willing to establish an attitude of intolerance for perjury and I don’t like politicians who lie to me, the people they represent or the courts. But, there is room for “misremembering” in life, particularly when one works in the high intensity environment at the top of government. The bothersome aspect, however, is the entrapment that seems to be on the way to becoming standard operating procedure. We find an inflammatory incident. We demand an “independent” counsel to investigate it. The counsel spends millions, compiles masses of testimony, creates months of headlines and eventually is hoist on the petard of demands for indictments. If there’s going to be no indictment at the end, how can he possibly justify all the money, subpoenas, news coverage and expectations of bringing down the mighty?

The first and most essential aspect of the whole Plame business doesn’t revolve around Vice-President Cheney, Karl Rove and “Scooter.” The first and really the only relevant question should be whether or not Valerie Plame was, at the time of the Robert Novak editorial, a covert CIA operative. If she wasn’t, and I don’t think working an analyst desk at Langley qualifies as actual cloak and dagger stuff, then the whole mess is a wheelbarrow full of barn muck.

The muck, however, should be useful for plastering all over the next braying politico who demands immediate resignations of all of those at the White House who endangered the covertness of the Vanity Fair cover couple.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Who Dare Speak Truth?

It would be only a Rip Van Winkle in America who has never seen or heard of al-Jazeera. That’s the Arab TV network that somehow manages to get regular and frequent access to homemade videos from Osama, al-Zarqawi, al-Zahiri and the cast of psychotic jihadists that seem to populate the Middle East. When one of these nut cases seeks to get the latest word out on how evil the great American Satan is, they simply fire off a DVD to the producers at al-Jazeera and within minutes it’s on the air. Need to show a recent beheading? That’s the network of record for the task. When the Arab street seeks the news, it’s al-Jazeera that they go to.

And, not surprisingly, when al-Jazeera speaks, the American mass media seem to listen more than a little intently as well. It isn’t more than seconds after an al-Jazeera airing that the defeatists of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, etc. are editing the video down to the most grizzly, anti-American details. Then they shake their heads piously and intone the latest slogans from the anti-war left. Put a potato sack on a terrorist’s head and you’ll get fifty hours of outraged editorializing for the five o’clock news.

Last April, Wall Street Journal contributor Dorrance Smith had the temerity to notice this linkage and opine regarding the connections and the results of those emphases on American policy. Hardly a demand for subversion of the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment, Smith simply noted that there seemed an unnatural eagerness to cast the U.S. in a bad light and an aggressive policy of publicizing whatever al-Qaeda and the jihadists want distributed. It’s almost romantic to see the beleaguered Osama trudging stoically through the Afghan hillside, beset by the enemy yet still advancing the cause of Islam—reducing the technological progress of the modern world to that of the third century. When a whimpering French journalist is surrounded by strutting kidnappers and about to be shortened by about a head, it’s all America’s fault.

Now, Mr. Smith has been nominated by SecDef Rumsfeld for the position of Ass’t Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. That seems to be a job for which he would be qualified. He’s opposed, however, by that guardian of the nation, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) based on the observations of Mr. Smith regard the apparent collusion between the American major media outlets and al-Jazeera. Take a look here and be sure to follow the link to the original Smith editorial: Calling a Spade a Spade?

Can Mr. Levin argue with the opinion of Mr. Smith? Can he refute the allegations? Does he suggest that questioning al-Jazeera’s objectivity indicates some sort of subversive tendency? What is Sen. Levin suggesting? Does he suspect that America is better off with more jihadist propaganda on the nightly news? Is it essential to Sen. Levin’s re-election that America take a more Osama-friendly view of life?

Just one more example of how warped and convoluted the political process in America is today.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Rarely Written Book Review

Book reviews tend to not get published when the reviewer is really not impressed. Read a poorly written book and you will usually forgo the pleasure of trashing it publicly. The cliché about even bad publicity being good is in play. Tell the world that a book really stinks and people will be attracted to it as surely as they stop on the freeway to gape at a fender-bender. Even if you do write a scathing review, there’s a highly probable chance that the editor will dump it. People read book reviews for recommendations, that’s why good reviews predominate. Bad book reviews don’t go to press.

When the author is famous, the likelihood of a good review of a bad book is pretty high. When the author is a former president of the United States, the sales of the book are a virtual certainty. The advance is usually very big bucks and the editorial assistance to make the work readable is self-evident. One need only recall the incredible contract numbers for the weighty memoir of our most recent ex-president—the impeached one. That’s why it is so unusual to read what the Wall Street Journal wrote about Jimmy Carter’s recent scribbling. This is trashing of an incredible level. You don’t have to read between any lines or fill in any subtle connotations on your own. Take a look: Prez Jimmah Takes a WSJ Beating

Bret Stephens does a job on this one. He dismantles the title, takes issue with the premise, destroys the thesis and totally discredits Mr. Carter by clearly listing some historic facts. From Carter’s embrace of reprehensible dictators around the world to his misguided acceptance of Marxist economics, the review builds a pretty clear case for the foolishness and ineptitude of our arguably least successful 20th Century president.

I recall the tenure of Mr. Carter. I was in the military at the time and serving in Europe. The dollar was in serious decline against the local currency and each month as I exchanged dollars for Deutschmarks to pay my rent the cost was going up. The pain was multiplied by the fact that Mr. Carter chose simultaneously to either freeze our pay or offer only partial cost-of-living increases for three of his four years in office. If you were around then and of bill paying age, you might recall the inflation rate rising to over 20% and mortgage interest rates peaking at over 18%. All the while, Carter was lamenting a malaise in America. Yeah, it’s pretty hard to get enthusiastic when you can’t afford to maintain your standard of living while defending your country around the world.

However, it was his foreign policy that was the worst aspect. The partnerships with folks like Arafat, Kim Il Sung, Ceausescu and the admiration for their policies that WSJ editor Stephens describes are frightening, but indicative of the skewed world view that seems to permeate the idealists of the political left. The major international disaster of his administration, of course, was the collapse of the Shah of Iran and the seizing of the US Embassy in Teheran. The hostage-taking and the rise of the Islamic fundamentalist movement in the region might well be accepted as contributing to the Jihadist mentality that now fuels the terrorist campaign.

I’ve never read a book review that so thoroughly discredits a work by a major public figure. Yet, I think that the WSJ and Mr. Stephens have performed a valuable service for the nation by clearly delineating what Carter says in his book and why his thinking is so off track. Might be good to keep this around for a quick reread when the next presidential election comes around. It could help you decide whether to go with a one-world liberal or not.

Oh, and if you want to see what the Journal had to say about another book, take a look at: Combat and Courage: A Review by Dan Ford

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Occasionally one must forego pedantic posturing for some good old fashioned heart-thumping hardware pictures: Edwards Air Force Base Airshow


Monday, October 31, 2005

The Fallacy of Fortress America

I had a commander in the Air Force once who taught me a valuable lesson. I learned it too late to make much of an impact on my military career, but it has served me well in my later years when I have become slightly more mature. The boss pointed out to me that while it is indeed valuable to note the nakedness of the emperor occasionally, it is more beneficial to the situation if you provide some alternative clothing. In other words, the benefit of coming up with solutions will be appreciated while the continual pointing out of shortcomings is likely to alienate those whom you wish to impress. We all know what’s “wrong” but the winners are those who can tell you what to do to correct it.

Simple, yes. But let’s look at the American political situation. We’ve got a two party system for better or worse. And these days it looks like much worse. There is a dim bulb at the end of the tunnel here in Texas where the independent candidacy of Kinky Friedman for Governor next year seems to be gaining momentum. (Seriously!!!) Nationally though, we see the two tall dogs in the fight nipping at each other and perpetuating animosities with little positive occurring. It’s easy to see why people get depressed and cynical about government. The Bush administration is fighting daily to keep their heads above water and the opposition is piling on with continual finger-pointing regarding what is wrong.

Yet, if we step back from most of the arguments, we should be able to come to agreement where things could be improved and further agreement on where things could have been better. Fault is independent of party. Example: hurricane relief. Were there failures? Absolutely. Were there successes? Of course. Could things have been done more efficiently? Should the feds have been in quicker? Could the locals have prepared better? Could people have saved themselves by planning ahead? We’ve seen three hurricanes in a very short period and seen one total debacle, one serious traffic jam, and one major power outage with minimal injuries. Three levels of disaster, each with some level of blame and some level of competence displayed.

Maybe the biggest issue for the national government today is the global war on terror. To isolate it to Iraq is popular shorthand, but a foolish economy. The war is global and it will be expensive in both blood and treasure. On this big issue, I’ll argue strongly that the administration is right.

The opposition, that would be the Democrats, bemoans the loss of life and the cost. They point at failures and seem to overlook the despotic regimes that have been replaced in Iraq and Afghanistan. They don’t notice the impact of the effort on other areas in the world—Libya denouncing WMD research, North Korea sitting down in six-party negotiations, Israel withdrawing from Gaza, etc. They don’t seem to care that there’s a constitution in Iraq, free elections, an emerging democracy in the Middle East. They simply reiterate, “quagmire” and “exit strategy” and “skyrocketing death toll” and “roll back the tax cuts”. They seem to be very good at pointing out exaggerations of problems, but they don’t seem very adept at proposing solutions to the situation.

The philosopher Santayana gave as the cliché quote about failing to learn lessons and condemnation to repetition. There’s a lot of truth to it. So, what has happened in the past when the US attempted to stay home, guarded by our coastal oceans while the rest of the world rolled around in the mud?

Remember (I know you didn’t live it, but you might have read about it,) World War I? The Triple Alliance and Triple Entente dragged into hostilities over a simple little assassination of a low-level royal in the Balkans. We tried to stay home. Did pretty well from 1914 to 1917, but we couldn’t hold out forever. We got dragged in and during the process demonstrated the fact that America was finally going to be an international player. We had no choice.

Remember World War II? No, it didn’t start on December 7, 1941. I know you think it did, but a little historical research will leave you thinking that 1931 might be a start date in Asia, or maybe 1937 in Europe, or at least 1939 during the Battle of Britain. Pearl Harbor demonstrated pretty clearly that we couldn’t sit out a war on the sidelines. Bertold Becht was responsible for the famous anti-war quote about “what if they gave a war and nobody came?” The next line is overlooked by the pacifists, “then the war will come to you”!

Remember Berlin and the blockade? What if we had stayed home? Korea and the invasion by the North? What if we had allowed the communists to invade without reaction wherever they wished around the world? There’s be no Kias or Hyundais on the road today.

Should we have stayed home from Vietnam. You might argue in favor of that, but you would be ignoring the long term economic impact on the Pacific rim of rampant communism. China today is most definitely a capitalist economy. Japan remains a powerhouse and S. Korea is a pretty good outcome as well. Even Vietnam is much more capitalist than communist economically. Commerce is good for peace and communism didn’t really enhance global trade with the free world.

Had we not followed Kennan’s recommendation for containment, Truman’s doctrine on alliances to resist communist expansion, Dulles’ view of dominos, and eventually Reagan’s policy of strong deterrence and defense, the Soviet Union would never have collapsed and the world would still be poised on the brink of nuclear holocaust. We had an obligation to come to the party and to play hard. The results are hard to dislike.

Would it make the American left happy for us to fold our tents and slip quietly out of the sandbox of the Middle East? Sure. Would it let us live peacefully at home, secure in our lives and insulated from the 21st century world? Hardly. Can we let the jihadists fight among themselves, push Israel into the Mediterranean, bomb the occasional disco in Indonesia and derail transit in central Europe knowing that we are safe behind our oceans? No way!

I’m willing to entertain the arguments of the left. Tell me what’s wrong in the Middle East and what the cost of US intervention is. I’ll listen. But be sure to tell me what the alternative is. Tell me how withdrawal is going to solve the problems. Tell me how we will be safe from future 9/11 tragedies. Tell me how our economy will thrive with a hostile Middle East throttling the oil pipeline to Europe, Russia and the Far East even though we have enough of our own oil to meet our needs. Tell me your solution. I know what the problems are.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

Jimmy Breslin wrote about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. They were a ragtag, bumbling bunch who ineptly tried to commit crimes while displaying a level of incompetence that made them more absurd than threatening. I’m increasingly viewing the Valerie Plame investigation as another incarnation of the gang.

In a nutshell, we’ve got a case which purports to revolve around the malicious disclosure of a CIA secret operative’s identity. That would be undeniably bad. Illegal even. But who publicly disclosed Ms Plame’s surreptitious occupation? Robert Novak, syndicated columnist is the guy who printed the name and job description. Anybody see him being called to testify? Any charges? Nope.

Then, we’ve got New Yawk Times writer (I hesitate to call her “reporter”,) Judith Miller. She goes to jail for months for refusing to disclose the name of her secret source. Commendable, I suppose. Except the secret source, VP Chief-of-Staff “Scooter” Libby apparently sent her a detailed email saying he authorized the disclosure. The excuse we get from Ms Miller is that she read between the lines that when he said “yes” he really meant “no” and besides, who’s going to get a Pulitzer nomination for giving up someone who doesn’t mind being given up?

Then, when she finally decides that “yes” meant yes, she testifies that her notes really don’t pin the naming on Libby at all. Miller even misspelled the name she might or might not have gotten from Libby. All of this amid disclosures that her reputation at the Times was of a loose cannon with well-lubricated carriage wheels. When even notorious anti-administration pundit Maureen Dowd says Miller is squirrelly, you ought to begin discrediting her. Dowd on Miller

Now, just for a moment to play lawyer…I’m not one and I didn’t even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night…let’s examine the elements of the crime which may not have been committed, but if it was it was done by Robert Novak. The info had to come from classified sources. It had to name the name of a covert agent. It had to be done knowingly. Was Plame a CIA employee? Yes. Covert agent at the time of the disclosure? No!

The entire Washington community is in high palpitation mode awaiting indictments. The independent counsel has launched a Web site! What kind of jurisprudence is this? A bloody Web page? No indictments, no crime, no smoking guns and very questionable sources but we’ve got a prosecutor initiating a public relations campaign regarding his work?

The latest is that Libby and presidential advisor Karl Rove may or may not have disclosed that “a CIA employee” who may or may not have been named “Flame” or Plame according to Miller’s garbled notes, but it might also have been other sources. And, it may or may not have been the Vice-President who might have introduced the name to Libby or Rove to tell Miller who might somehow get it to Novak to publish it.

Why, you may ask? Well it was an alleged conspiracy to discredit a man who needs no discrediting, managing quite well on his own to besmirch his credibility. Joe Wilson, who should be embarrassed that he required his wife to get him a job, was sent to Niger to investigate sales of yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Qualifications, notwithstanding, he got the job. His report, largely ignored as incompetent and meaningless by the CIA and the administration, is supposed to be a “causus belli” for the administration. It’s the linchpin of a rush to war with Iraq based on that nation’s possession of WMD. Disregard the other twenty-five or so reasons given for the war in Colin Powell’s address to the UN prior to initiation of hostilities.

Gimme a break. Wilson was and is no friend of the administration. Plame was no covert operative. The Wilson report certainly wasn’t critical to the war decision. Yet, we’ve got all of this posturing about resignations of high members of the administration being necessary. The talking heads mutter about Rove and Libby “doing the right thing” and casting Cheney as the mad monk of the White House manipulating the President.

Is there no one who can see the humor in this whole fiasco? How can we keep giving credence to the likes of Miller who can’t even get support from the left-wingers of the NYT? Does the long established cry of “resign” under indictment—despite the concept of presumed innocence—now extend to mandatory resignation when even threatened on the basis of no evidence for no crime with a non-indictment? Soon it will be expected that administration functionaries will quit on demand from the opposition anytime there is disagreement.

We’re well into the world of Oz here. Don’t look behind the curtain. And don’t bother ducking; the gangs out there can’t seem to shoot straight. But, we should consider laughing at it all.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Wonderland World

The Queen of Hearts was fortunate in that she could say whatever she chose and she ascribed to herself the power to have it mean whatever she intended for it to mean. That’s flexibility with language that those of us in the real world aren’t privy to. We’ve got to be satisfied with the language as it is commonly understood. But, what are we to make then of the continual wailing with regard to appointment and confirmation of a Supreme Court justice who will refrain from “legislating from the bench”? How are we to deal with this aversion of the ultra-conservatives for anything but an embracing of “original intent”?

The goal seems to be an overturning of Roe v. Wade, the keystone Supreme Court decision that provided for legalized abortion. The argument regarding abortion has been addressed in these pages before. It’s a thorny question; whether on one hand the government can interfere with a woman’s right to have control over the processes of her own body, or on the other hand whether the requirement of the government to protect the helpless (AKA “unborn”) from death should prevail. Both sides of the issue make strong arguments and there isn’t a clear majority of the electorate that would establish a mandate for policy at one extreme (abortion-on-demand) or the other (total prohibition of abortion under any circumstances.)

Now we have one side demanding a cessation of “legislating from the bench.” They want it stopped right now! That implies that it must be a bad thing. Yet, they also want the appointment of a justice who will be sure to overturn Roe v. Wade! This demand is without a case in question—although most surely one would appear in short order. And, without any knowledge of the details of such a case that would differ from the existing precedent of Roe. And, maybe most importantly, with more than 30 years of no evidence that the political process demands “legislating from the legislature”! If we can’t get our way through the standard political route, let’s see if we can fix a solution in a smaller number agency. Five justices would be easier to manage than uncontrollable majorities in both houses.

I’ve listened to Rush waxing ineloquently about the sanctity of the Constitution and the deeply inscribed intentions of the Framers. He, and most Americans, seems oblivious to the many ways that the basic document changes continually. We don’t like to acknowledge it. We think of the Constitution as some sort of inviolable document that only gets modified through amendment. Only twenty-seven times has the document changed…

Really? Nah! The Constitution has only been amended 27 times, but it has changed thousands of times. The legislature changes the Constitution each time they pass a law. The laws are subject to Constitutional review, but they add nuance, definition, elaboration and interpretation to the basic document. The First Amendment starts with a clause about “Congress shall make no law…” but they’ve made thousands of laws abridging those freedoms, haven’t they?

And, the Executive has modified the Constitution. Each agency in the Executive branch writes libraries of regulations and those have the power of federal law. They change the basics of our Constitution as well.

And, of course, each time the courts rule, they are adding to the body of law that governs the land. Supreme Court cases, in particular, change our Constitution.

How did Roe justify abortion? I’d have to bet that most of those demanding a reversal haven’t read the opinion. They’d be demonstrating a level of understanding if they could tell you it is based on a “right of privacy”. They would really be showing off if they went a step further and said that there’s no mention of “right of privacy” in the Constitution. The right was “derived” by the justices writing the opinion.

How big a stretch was that derivation? It’s spelled out pretty clearly. It comes from the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. That’s a pretty hefty collection I think. Do they guarantee privacy?

Well, the First lets me speak what I wish and associate with whom I choose. That’s a right to some private actions I would think. The Fourth guarantees me security from search in my home and person. That sounds like privacy. The Fifth protects me from self-incrimination and extends protection over my most trusted confidants—my spouse, attorney, doctor and clergyman. Seems pretty private. The Ninth isn’t often invoked, but it lets me retain every right that isn’t specifically delegated to the Federal government. And, the Fourteenth guarantees me equal protection with all other citizens so that my state or local government can’t reach any further than the Feds in denying my rights.

So, I have a tough time despite any desire I might have to decrease the number of abortions balancing the need for a supporter of original intent with an overturning of Roe. I can’t quite see the distinction between those nasty liberal judges exercising that “legislation from the bench” stuff and a properly conservative justice applying some morally defensible but constitutionally questionable reasoning to gut the rights described by Roe’s opinions. That looks like the same sort of legislating from the bench that has been so universally decried. A conundrum I’m sure that only the Queen of Hearts could unravel.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Make My Day

It’s a bright, sunny day in Texas and my outlook improved drastically over the second cup of coffee when I found Steve Chapman’s column displayed in the Dallas Morning Fishwrap. Common Sense Prevails

There may be hope for the mainstream media yet. When a Chicago Tribune columnist can write a column extolling the values of an armed citizenry it’s noteworthy. I grew up in Chicago when the Trib was still owned by the McCormick’s and it was the neo-fascist voice of the Republicans in the boss-run Democratic bastion of Richard J. Daley’s machine. The Trib was the newspaper that declared Dewey the winner in ’48, probably setting the precedent for the entire current crop of left-wing print media which report the news they wish was rather than that which actually exists.

Chicago is a leader in anti-gun legislation. They’ve embraced the philosophy of disarming the citizenry by convincing the masses that if they don’t own guns the police will be there to protect them. You can’t own a gun in Chicago. Do you suppose that means that the gargoyles of the streets don’t have any guns? Ahh, but I digress once again.

The Dallas Morning News is a pretty good newspaper. They report a lot more national and international detail than I was accustomed to in Colorado Springs. They pick the scabs off Dallas municipal scandals with aplomb. They name names and dig into the dirt of City Council almost daily. But, when it comes to the editorial page, particularly the selected publication of letters to the editor, they really don’t measure up. Rather than challenge the “conventional wisdom” of the undiscerning masses, they seem delight in reinforcing the ignorance and misunderstanding of the man on the street. There’s a lot of dumb on display in those contributions.

Yet, Chapman’s truth was right there on the opinion page in black and white—and only one day after it ran in Chicago. Maybe someone on the DMN editorial staff was napping when a low-level functionary chose to publicize such heresy. Why, there’s this columnist suggesting that the Brady bunch is wrong in their studied mischaracterization of Florida’s laws. He dares to imply that telling the citizenry that they don’t have to cower and flee when threatened with serious bodily injury isn’t a bad thing. He dares to point out that there’s a big difference between being attacked maliciously and having someone raise their voice in disagreement. He even goes so far as to suggest that an obligation to flee may not be practical for many folks when threatened.

I’ve got to admit, that now that I’m a more seasoned citizen, my time in the 100 yard dash is extended considerably from even the outrageously slow numbers that I posted in my warrior prime. I’ve always been slow and now I’m not even that. But, I’m also a CCW holder and I practice regularly. I can’t flee from a handful of aggressive young thugs who would like to commandeer my vehicle, steal my wallet, attack my family or enter my dwelling. But, I undeniably can do some very serious deterrence to the thugs that remain standing after the first three or four are dropped.

The gun control argument is filled with clichés. Both sides resort to oversimplification of the issue. They make assumptions that aren’t supportable to bolster their arguments. History and the data are pretty supportive however of the cliché that “an armed society is a polite society.” A cursory review of areas with high incidence of violent crime seems to correlate with draconian gun control measures while a check of those states and regions with “shall issue” legislation for concealed carry and high percentages of gun owning citizenry look pretty safe for both persons and property. Who’da thunk it?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Chicken Little Go Home

There’s a reason I read the Wall Street Journal. It isn’t my investments. I’ve long said that I’ve got all of my money in commodities and utilities—I buy groceries and pay the light bill. No, I read the Journal because there is calm amidst the sea of hysteria that is the remainder of the media. There apparently are thinking folks there. One of the best is Holman Jenkins. (Unfortunately, the editorial that prompted this lurks behind a subscription gate, so you’ll have to seek it out on your own if so inclined—“There’s Something Catching in Washington” from the 12 October edition.)

I was nearly atwitter with fears of dying before Christmas from the bird flu epidemic. Why, I saw it in the papers, heard it on CNN and even saw the President being questioned by some “stuck on stupid” media mavens on what he’s doing about it and whether anyone at FEMA had been put in charge of pre-positioning body bags. Words like “pandemic” become necessary addenda to everyone’s vocabulary. Consultants are saying “it’s not if, but when” the virus mutates. I even saw some dire forecaster stating that it’s going to be so bad that time henceforth will be measured as “before” and “after” we got the bird…flu that is.

But then, there’s this: World Health Organization opinion

So, to get to the basics of what we know so far: sixty people have died worldwide. SIXTY! And, they were predominantly handlers of diseased birds in third world countries. The virus does not infect humans. Only birds get it. Here’s where Chicken Little should be afraid and Turkey Lurkey as well.

It might mutate. And, then look out. It might—that’s the operative factor. It also might not. But Holman Jenkins really puts the issue into perspective, and in the process takes a mighty jab at the intelligent design boobacracy.

Sure, the virus might mutate. But, it might mitigate considerably if, not when, it does. Sure it might mutate, but if it is to create this global catastrophe it will probably have to insure that its hosts live long enough to infect others. High and prompt mortality isn’t conducive to global travel and “Typhoid Mary” cruises. Ever wonder why ebola isn’t rampant? It might mutate into something that looks a lot like something we’ve already built up immunity toward. Ever notice how last year’s flu vaccine won’t work against this year’s mutation, but you still seem to survive anyway? Jenkin’s real point is that nature reflects a lot more UNintelligent design than ordered architecture.

Yet, we’ve got the New Yawk Times screaming that we’ve got to start stockpiling anti-flu vaccines—despite the fact that an as yet unmutated virus won’t be responsive. The NYT wants to prepare quarantine materials, activate the military, stockpile blankets to later dispense to indigenous natives and generally spend an extra couple of billion dollars to “do something” and do it now. We were slow on Katrina and Rita, so let’s not fall behind on Ducky Lucky and the falling sky.

Can’t we spend our time better talking about whether or not Harriet Miers ever said she was for or against abortion?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Feed on Greed

You haven’t bought a lottery ticket in at least five years. You’re intelligent and capable of weighing the odds and when the small print at the bottom of the ticket says, “odds of winning 1 in 75 million,” you figure you’d be better off walking the golf course holding up a five iron to attract lightning twice in a row. So, why is it that some twit floods the world’s email inboxes with notices that the recipient has won and all they need to do is click on the link and give the info requested so that the check can be sent? Do a lot of folks do this?

Is it even slightly plausible that out of nearly 300 million Americans you, and you alone, have been chosen by the widow of the deposed minister of finance of Nigeria, Liberia or Lower Slobovia to help recover the hundreds of millions he salted away in tax-exempt accounts prior to his death? Do people really respond to these scams? Or, is it merely that the first iterations of the spam somehow entered a cyber-nursery where they were nurtured and cross-pollinated so that they have taken on a life of their own forever to repeat in a new and slightly modified format until the end of time?

If you don’t have a Pen-Pal account, never sold a thing on E-bay, and have no money in City Bank, why would you click on a link to update your account information? Does anyone respond to these “phishing” ploys?

When you get a message that informs you, “here is the information you requested,” but you’ve never heard of the sender and it’s addressed to someone that only has one or two letters in common with your email address, do you eagerly click on the link to check it out? And, what benefit does the idiot who sent this crap derive from his malice?

I know, we all know, that these spams, scams, worms, and Trojan horses are a cost of living in the digital age. But, increasingly they seem like the graffiti which festooned the New York City subway cars a few years back before Rudy Giuliani came along. It isn’t “art” or “self-expression” and it isn’t really going to get some “genius” programmer identified so that Bill Gates can offer him a million dollar a year programming job. They should not be tolerated and the dim-witted perpetrators should be uncovered and suffer the penalties that can be properly imposed by an intolerant society. Personally I think flailing is pretty good, although the old business with tying the limbs to four wild horses has a certain attraction.

What causes this tirade against the obvious? It’s the blogging life and my part of it. I blog to be read. It’s that simple. There is a choice in how the blog is set up regarding the posting of reader comments. I choose to allow folks with something to say about my musings to offer their opinion. There aren’t many takers and thought could be someone’s way of telling me that there aren’t many readers. That’s fine. I still like the idea of allowing comment.

Recently, I’ve been getting comments on some posts. Great, I thought until I read them. It seems that the creativity of the spammer, scammer and adolescent programming misfits extends to automatic blog commenting. Commenters note that they love the blog and, by the way, they have bargains on insurance, a great page on multi-level-marketing opportunities, an outlet for deep discount sex aids, and the lowest prices on imported illegal pharmaceuticals. Sorry, but that’s not the political dialog that I wanted this site to generate.

There’s a solution however. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it appears to be necessary if I want to keep the comments option open. Should you wish to comment, you’ll be asked before posting to use a simple word verification window. The blog server will present a distorted word graphic and you will be required to type in the letters displayed. Supposedly this confounds automated comment posting software and should minimize the amount of trash generated in the comments section. Let’s give it a try.

Now, I’ve got to go get my credit card and bank account numbers because I need to help out a surviving nephew of the Defense Minister of Kuala Lumpur who needs assistance in getting his money freed up. I’m going to get a pretty good commission out of this…

Monday, October 10, 2005

JCS Football Rules Announced

Great satire always has a lot of truth in it. Here's a wonderful item describing how the US military handles the rules for a football game. Those with some insight into the machinations of the JCS as they fight for their parochial piece of pie will recognize the truths:

Joint Chiefs Issue Inter-service Football Rules

Friday, October 07, 2005

Reap The Whirlwind

I love baseball. While the rest of the athletic world is filled with explosive violence, baseball stands aloof as a respite of intellectual challenge. It’s a chess game played with bat and ball. There is strategy and drama. There’s surreptitious communication. There’s feint and parry. There’s the ballet-like skill of the 6-4-3 double play. Occasionally there’s madness like Billy Martin’s tantrums or Mark Fydrich conversing with the ball between pitches. There’s time to enjoy the blue sky, the green grass and discuss the merits of putting the mustard on a hot dog before or after the onions. There’s cold beer.

Steroids are the danger and the lack of leadership by Bud Selig and Don Fehr in combating the problem is a conspiracy, but the real crack in the integrity of the game is the designated hitter. There, I’ve said it. I hadn’t thought about such a weighty problem for a year or two, preferring to dwell on more solvable crises like the war on terror, the decline of morality and the inability of science to cure the common cold. But, today I read an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that focused on the American League MVP debate. (I know, today is Friday and WSJ readers will point out that the piece ran on Wednesday.)

Frankly, I don’t care for the American League. I grew up on the north side of Chicago, so I was a Cubs fan. I got to a few White Sox games, since my college was right next door to Comiskey, but the real deal was on Addison in the “Friendly Confines.” (Damn those lights!) Over the years, I’ve usually lived in a National League city and for the last twenty I’ve felt as comfortable rooting for the cellar-dwelling Rockies as I ever did for the Cubbies.

But, Allen Barra writes in the Journal about the argument over whether Alex Rodriguez or David Ortiz should be the MVP. It’s classic conflict, Yankees versus Red Sox. It’s a hot discussion because of the emphasis that the rivalry attracted last year as “the Curse” was shattered. It’s topical because of the ongoing play-offs with both the Yanks and the Bosox in the running for the AL pennant. And, it got my attention because all of this week I’ve been on a baseball marathon, exposed to three games a day of playoffs.

Barra wants to know, as do I, why a hulking, overweight gorilla should even be in the running for the MVP nomination against an athlete. It’s the designated hitter at its ugliest—I’m speaking here of the concept/rule, not of Mr. Ortiz’ physiognomy. The Ortiz supporters tout his hitting prowess and his incredible RBI stats. He rouses his bulk from the bench every three innings or so and then clubs the ball somewhere they ain’t. Result is runs scored and quite often team wins.

A-Rod, on the other hand, plays shortstop. He hits about as often as Papi. His on-base percentage is similar. But, he also runs bases and often advances by stealing them. Since he plays defense he is forced to think on the run, make choices and execute remarkable athletic feats. He seldom hits into double plays since he is fast enough to challenge the fielders, unlike Mr. Ortiz who blots out the sun in his passage, but takes nearly as long as that sun to transit the horizon.

The American League, and unfortunately all of the lower echelons of baseball, adopted the DH ostensibly to increase offense and scoring thereby making the game more interesting to the fans. Statistically that hasn’t panned out as we routinely see higher scores and better batting in the other major league.

Do designated hitters contribute to the steroid problem? It’s hard to know for sure, but since the majority of them appear to be pretty bulky types it isn’t a great reach to accept that conclusion. What is possible to know for sure is that the DH has changed baseball and not for the better. If we find Papi to be the most valuable player in the American League, what does that say for the hundreds of thousands of kids growing up in America today aspiring to be good baseball players? Should they try to learn the nuances of a complex and intellectual game? Should they hone skills in throwing, fielding, running and positioning? Should they seek to develop hand/eye coordination and the judgment to know when to make that break for second on a pitcher’s give-away move to the plate? Or should they simply bulk up, put on fifty extra pounds and lift a lot of weights? Yeah, aspire to be David Ortiz, that’s the ticket.

I hope that A-Rod gets the nod and Ortiz gets realistically over-looked in the MVP choosing. But either way, I sincerely wish for something I know won’t happen—a re-examination of the DH rule.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Downside of Diversity

The Supreme Court is very loosely defined in the Constitution. It is authorized, but not much information is offered regarding exactly how it is to be composed. The number of justices is unspecified—there have been as few as seven and as many as fifteen although the current quota of nine has been in place long enough to insure that will be the size for the future.

There is some mention of original jurisdiction limits and a notion of ultimate appellate authority, but it took Chief Justice John Marshall to give the Court its real power, that of judicial review. It isn’t specified in the Constitution, but since Marbury v. Madison, we’ve come to agree that the Court has the authority to declare acts of the legislature and executive as unconstitutional, creating the ultimate check in the scheme of checks and balances. The balance, of course is in the power of the President to appoint justices and the requirement of the Senate to consent to those appointments. We’re getting another opportunity to see how the process has degenerated.

You don’t have to search your daily fish-wrapper to find plenty of analysis of the President’s latest appointment, Harriet Miers. There is input from the conservative side of the house, which isn’t sure what she will be about and whether she is appropriately reactionary for their taste. There is wailing from the liberal side of the aisle that she doesn’t have a judicial record to evaluate. In a rare moment of insight, I see that Chuck Schumer said something I can agree with—he announced that “I don’t know enough.” I’ll take that as his personal recognition of a short-coming he has displayed proudly for quite a while rather than a comment on the bio of the appointee.

Yet, there is something in the background here that needs to be mentioned. It’s the “affirmative action” factor. Unintentionally we’ve created a Supreme Court Quota System which seems to be generating its own influence on the checks and balances.

When Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Court by Lyndon Johnson, it was a moment whose time had come. The civil rights movement in the United States in the ‘60s had clearly highlighted the fact that a white court was not representative any longer. Marshall was a leader of the civil rights movement and a capable judge. He was the Jackie Robinson of the Supremes. Was he the best qualified of all available at the time? No one can say. But, it was time and it was right and it happened.

When Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed by Ronald Reagan, it was a moment whose time had come as well. For too long the court had been a male reserve. We can ask a similar question—was she the best qualified of all available at the time? And we get the same answer.

But—there’s always a but—when Marshall left the Court, it wasn’t a matter of replacing him with the best qualified. It was a given that the seat on the bench which Marshall had held was to be viewed as a black seat. An African-American on the court had become a requirement. The appointment needed to be black. And, that gave us what became the debacle of Clarence Thomas. The law of unintended consequences intervened and the demand for a black replacement for the Marshall seat hadn’t considered the possibility of a black conservative. The left-leaning Senate of the time was faced with a conundrum—how to oppose a member of a core constituency who just happened to have the wrong political ideology. The result was the innuendo laced campaign to discredit Thomas. Did Thomas sexually harass Anita Hill? I don’t think we will ever know for sure. What we do know is that his tenure on the court has been curiously quiet, largely as a result of the character assassination he experienced in confirmation.

Now, as we review the run-up to the Miers appointment we witness demands for diversity on the court. Bush bucked the trend by choosing John Roberts as the O’Connor replacement. He might well have been considering the health of Chief Justice Rehnquist and hedging against the immediate need for a replacement there. But, he resisted the demand to keep the O’Connor seat as a woman’s quota.

Still, there was pressure. Even Laura Bush went on record as advising the President that a woman should be high on the options list. And, we began to hear the demands for a Hispanic justice. Is this a good thing?

When society’s evolution leads to equality for ethnic minorities and women, it is right and proper to provide increased opportunity. Marshall and O’Connor were the right appointments at the right time. But, now that we’ve opened those doors, is it good to institutionalize the percentages? In a nine member court, can we have a proportional representation of women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, etc? Once the discrimination barrier has been broken, should we expand the categories and allocate reservations of seats on the Court? Clearly the answer is no. We don’t get good government by a quota system just as we don’t get good government with a discriminatory selection process. An all-white, all-male court was not appropriate, but a diversity score-card on a nine-member panel is similarly wrong.

All that being said, is Harriet Miers a good choice? From what I’ve read this morning, it looks as though she is qualified, experienced, and capable. She’s been a leader in local and national organizations ranging from City Council to state bar associations to the right hand of the President. Now, we’ll see what the Senate circus does.

Bring in the clowns.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Core of the Issue

Just north of Dallas, where I now reside, the morning paper is full of Tom DeLay. When a leading congress-critter gets indicted, it is going to be big partisan news. When he’s a local, the news takes on an entirely new dimension. It’s huge! It’s evil! It’s a whitewash! It’s a witch-hunt! It’s something or other, but it ain’t good for democracy.

Here’s just one example of reporting on the issue, from a “fair and balanced” source: Spinning Wheel Keeps Turning

Even the most objective of readers will find it difficult to avoid some sort of visceral reaction to the reportage. Why how could a respected member of Congress flout the law like that? Or, maybe, how could a district attorney stoop so low as to attempt to bring down a high-level member of the administration? Or, possibly, how corrupt are the Republicans? Or even, how scurrilous are the Democrats?

Yet, we seem to be missing the essence of the argument. What is going on here? The charge is that DeLay solicited corporate contributions for candidates for local office. That doesn’t seem either evil or unusual for a political leader. But, he “laundered” the money, by taking it for a PAC (Political Action Committee) which then contributed to the Republican National Committee. OK, that still doesn’t seem bad. The RNC then contributed to the Texas Republican committee. Of course, that seems reasonable. The Texas folks gave money to local candidates for office. And the rest, as they say is history. Texas Republicans took control of the State Legislature. Good for Republicans, bad news for Democrats. Violation of Texas campaign contributions restrictions.

The essence of money laundering is that you put dollars in one pocket, and then engage in a series of transactions at the conclusion of which money shows up somewhere else. Along the way the routing is so circuitous that it is difficult to recognize if the same dollars show up or they are entirely different dollars.

Did DeLay raise money? Surely he must have. Did Republican candidates win? Yep. Ergo, Q.E.D., therefore, and to wit, there must be a violation of the campaign finance reform laws.

Ahh, did you now get the core of the issue? Yep, the core of the issue is whether or not it is reasonable and proper for an involved citizenry to express their political will in support of a candidate or an issue.

But, you point out, money is the root of all evil and giving large sums of money to a candidate must be stopped at all costs. Yet isn’t support of candidates who espouse your own ideology the very essence of political participation? Should you not be able to speak your mind (think 1st Amendment here,) and associate with like minded folks (think 1st Amendment here,) and write your political opinions for publication (think 1st Amendment yet again.) The best way I can think of to express your political preference is NOT a vote for the candidate or issue of your choice! Sounds heretical, I know. The best way to express your political will is with your checkbook. Vote, of course, but contribute.

If someone passes laws (they have and will do so again) that prohibit you from expressing your political will, they are violating the first amendment. If they pass a law that says you cannot express as much support as you want for a candidate—from whisper, to spoken word to exuberant shout, they are violating the first amendment. If political support is equivalent to contributions then limiting the dollar amount of your participation is muzzling in violation of the 1st Amendment. C’mon, how can we say $5 is OK, and $500 is still acceptable, but $1500 is too much? Setting arbitrary numbers is a feel good solution to a perceived, but generally non-existent principle that large contributions result in a corruption of government.

It isn’t whether DeLay solicited contributions. No doubt he did. It isn’t whether those contributions came from someone seeking to aid a candidate. Clearly they must have. It isn’t whether those contributions went to candidates. That was exactly the point. The core issue is the unconstitutional restriction of our freedom of political expression that the campaign finance reform acts represent.

Maybe the DeLay indictment will bring attention to this disenfranchisement of the electorate, but somehow I doubt it. I was naïve enough to believe that McCain-Feingold would be overturned by the Supreme Court a while back. Maybe next year…

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Charity Flawed?

I recall a proposal during the George H. W. Bush administration to reduce the dependence of the American people on government largesse. It made sense, it was ridiculed by the leftist intelligentsia, and it didn’t seem to go very far. Maybe it was the oft-touted lack of “the vision thing” that was used to make fun of Bush-41’s often imprecise language. Maybe it was a sincere conviction that government is the nanny of us all and should not be undermined in taking care of us. He called for “A Thousand Points of Light”—a metaphor to reflect the fact that the social structure and man’s inherent charity can often do a better job of easing life’s woes than a government bureaucrat.

The idea was that families, friends, charities, faith-based organizations can all help us when things go poorly. I don’t think that was a throwback to a long-gone generational concept. I’m pretty well convinced that if I’ve got a problem I’m more likely to be helped by my old buddies, my veteran’s organizations, my school chums, my family, my church, my fraternal groups, and the guys down at the local watering hole than I am to be bailed out by (pause for drumroll….) FEMA. Yep, charity begins at home. And goodness is its own reward.

But, what then of this piece from the Washington Post: Flickering Points of Light

When Katrina and Rita laid thousands low, there was a huge effort by those unheralded Thousand Points of Light to aid their fellow man. Churches, schools, small communities, groups of all kinds leaped forward to offer assistance. It shouldn’t have been unexpected. It’s what good people do. It’s right. It’s appropriate. It’s the essence of humanity.

But, what’s going on now with the expectation that FEMA and/or the federal government should be reimbursing churches for their charity? The blatant politicization of the issue is appalling. First, we’ve got politicians scrambling all over themselves to dispense money. Send a check from Washington and take credit when re-election time rolls around. And, there’s no downside. Later you can use the expenditure to clamor for higher taxes, demand withdraw from world responsibilities, support cuts in defense, and demonstrate to the masses the failures (if you’re in the minority) or the successes (if you’re in the administration) of your party and yourself.

Then, we’ve got the usual suspects from the secularist movements. No! God forbid (excuse the descent into religious-based vernacular,) that non-denominational money should flow into religious coffers regardless of the reason. That’s a non-hunting dog from the git go. If an organization, regardless of fundamental or fundamentalist beliefs, experiences a reimbursable loss, they should get paid. But, that begs the question of whether or not this is a reimbursable expense.

Third, there is the natural emotional reaction. “We”, meaning the nation as a whole and specifically the dispensers of dollars in the capital, should bear the expense and cushion the blow to the locals—even when it is a church. Sorry, but call me hard-hearted here. Emotion always makes bad public policy. Reason trumps emotion every time. If you give because it’s right, should you later demand repayment for the “gift”?

So, what gives here? If one of the “Points of Light” steps forward voluntarily and does what their faith directs them to do for their fellow-man, then they should take pride in their charity and go on their merry way. They should not expect reimbursement, particularly if there was no promise of compensation before the expenditure.

When I give to a church or a charity, it should be for the purpose of them doing good works with the money. That’s the essence of the gift. If I give to the church or charity for them to do the right thing, then they get reimbursed by the feds, where does my money go? Why should I ever contribute? What’s the point of the sermon about sacrifice, if there is no sacrifice involved? If Big Brother will handle it, why have private charitable organizations in the first place?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Presidential Pick Influences?

Kathleen Parker offers an enlightened over-view of presidential history of the second half of the Twentieth Century in an editorial on the possible results of the recent hurricanes: Parker on Presidential Picking

She’s got a summary of succession that should be mandatory reading for every high school government student in the nation. It’s true beyond question that events, the more current the better, will influence the next presidential election. When good things happen and a leader looks competent, we get re-election. We sometimes get re-elections that suspend common sense and abandon the Washingtonian tradition of self-limited tenure. Franklin Roosevelt seemed to be overcome by his reshaping of the Constitution and the relationships of the nations of the world while simultaneously expanding the power of the federal government, correcting the economic woes of the free-market and curing the common cold. He sucked up a third and then a fourth term and led us inevitably to the 22nd Amendment. When the system can’t be trusted to limit power, we modify the system.

But, will Katrina and Rita call the election of 2008? Nah! It’s way too far away and events move much too quickly in the modern, media-driven world. George Bush can’t be re-elected and Dick Cheney won’t be the candidate under any circumstances. We’ve got three years of developments to weather before we get to tap those touch screens, blacken those bubbles, punch those chads or clip the wings of those butterfly ballots. There will be new names, new issues, new tragedies to rehash by then.

It is undeniable, however, that events color the perceptions of the body politic. When the economy is soaring, we will re-elect the incumbent. When unemployment is high, we will flush the bums out of office. When we feel threatened, we will grab the aggressive candidate who promises us security. If we feel discriminated against, we will lean on the left for sympathy and policies that will empower us. It’s all natural.

Ms Parker notes that Bush 43, who (at least now) doesn’t drink, party or engage in illicit sex was a natural reaction to Clinton who seemed to do all of those to excess. Clinton’s voluble nature was a reaction to the Ivy League reserve of Bush 41, who was a backing off of the cowboy confidence that we saw in Reagan. Ronaldus Magnus was a correction from Carter’s pacifistic preaching and economic disasters while Jimmah C. was a breath of moral fresh-air to recover from the scandals of Watergate. Nixon was a reaction to LBJ’s socialist tendencies and JFK was charm and culture after the dullness of Ike. All true, as far as it goes.

Yet, Parker’s examination is too superficial. While her summary succeeds, it ignores the most important aspect of 21st Century presidential politics. It doesn’t notice that what we think are the important issues and what we think the character of a candidate contains is quite often only what we get from the loudest braying of the media.

Repeatedly we were told of the 10,000 dead in the wake of Katrina. How many died? Regrettably a few hundred. Sad, but a long way from the headline numbers. Was Mayor Nagin as incompetent as some portrayals? Hard to believe. Was Governor Perry in Texas that much more in command than Blanco in Louisiana? I don’t know for sure. The point is that what we read in the headlines caters to what we want to be told. What the facts are can often be quite different.

Why is that important? Because, if a republic is to function; if a representative democracy is to be effective in selection of its leaders; if voting by the citizenry is to be efficacious at all, we must know what is true. The over-simplification of complex issues is the norm and it also holds the potential for the death of the grand experiment in governance which is America.