Monday, January 30, 2006

Real Politik Primer

Occasionally I’m amazed at discovering that what I thought I knew isn’t really true. Take for example last week when I learned that I was wrong about the definition of “Gross National Product.” I had always thought the term meant the total value of goods and services produced by a nation. I could understand that concept and was comfortable with it. Yet, there in an Associated Press item on the Palestinian elections, I saw the statement that more than one third of the Palestinian GNP was foreign aid. So money which is given to the government of Palestine (I stumble as I write that phrase, finding it somewhat of an oxymoron,) becomes a “product” of the nation. They neither produce it nor receive it for services, yet it forms their GNP!

The whole disclosure of the volume of financial support which flows into that morass of terrorism is mind-boggling. It now becomes clear why Yassar Arafat was so revered. And it makes one wonder what leverage he had to extort that kind of money from world leaders. Clearly if payments generated some sort of national responsibility and maturity from Fatah, they might be considered money well spent. But, if we continued during all of those years to see the Intifada on nightly TV with masked, chanting, fanatical fools firing AK-47s in the air to celebrate everything from weddings to funerals to free pizza at the local disco, then what were we getting for our dollars? It makes “more bang for the buck” seem a pretty apt phrase.

That’s why last week’s elections in Palestine have some value for us. The election of Hamas to a parliamentary majority has highlighted a lot of things. Among them is the money issue. Hopefully, the U.S. will follow through on Secretary Rice’s promise to cut the stipend if the boys don’t play nice with the rest of their neighbors. No More Free Lunch

The whole idea of democracy in the Middle East has always seemed a good one to me. Yet, the evidence seems to show that the people of these Middle Eastern nations don’t understand the basic concept. So, it becomes incumbent upon me to try to explain a few basic principles.

Power of a government, Thomas Hobbes told us, comes from consent of the governed. Typically that means in a democracy that consent is expressed through elections. Simple, isn’t it?

Elections imply a choice for the electorate. And, in any competition there will be winners and losers. The winners get to set policy and govern, the losers get to rethink their policies and contribute what they can to the commonly held goals of the nation. Still with me?

If elected, your leaders have a responsibility to govern. A good short list of what governing is supposed to accomplish can be found in the Preamble to the US Constitution. Not on the list is a program of bribery, coercion, extortion, oppression, torture, and terrorism. When you miss the essential elements on the list, there is a good chance you will lose some future election or possibly even be violently overthrown. (For examples of this, look to Fatah for the former and Sadaam for the latter.)

When you participate in an election, you agree to abide by the outcome even if it doesn’t please you. You have the distinct possibility of losing and then you must support the folks who beat you. Tough, ain’t it?

Strange as it might seem for those of you who didn’t finish your education, the election will be won by the majority. And, if you live in a nation in which your particular party or religious sect comprises only twenty or twenty-five percent of the population, you are probably not going to gain a parliamentary majority. You might have to be satisfied with supporting the majority sect. I’m talking to you Sunnis here.

When you vote in an election, it helps to be voting FOR something rather than AGAINST someone. Things to vote FOR are stability, peace, prosperity, better lives for you and your family. Things not to vote FOR are terrorism, destruction of other nations, continued poverty, insurgency, illiteracy, or even religion. All those in favor of Hamas, pay attention here.

If you make bad voting choices your conditions may not improve. If you make really bad election choices your conditions might even get very much worse. That’s particularly true if your nation is almost totally dependent upon handouts and you produce little or nothing of value. Are you still with me, Hamas?

These things don’t seem that difficult to understand. At least they aren’t difficult for those of us in the Western World. We get it and we’ve been pretty good at implementing these simple ideas. As a result we live pretty comfortably. We’ve shown a willingness to help other people raise themselves and attempt to achieve similar circumstances. Occasionally we’ve failed, but in many areas we’ve been successful.

In the Middle East, however, it seems that we’ve got to start with some pretty basic concepts before we’ll achieve much success.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Oprah, Pick Me!

There’s a cliché in public relations: Is Any Publicity Good Publicity? Getting your name and product in front of the people means sales. Supposedly that works even when the name is attached to less than favorable comments.

For those who haven’t thought through the numbers, let me point out that there are thousands of books published each year in the United States. Most of them will sell in the thousands if they have something to say and are reasonably well written. Typically royalties to the author hover around a couple of bucks per copy. If you do the math, you’ll find out that flipping burgers at the local fast-food drive-through will pay you more per hour than getting a book published. The rewards for writing aren’t in dollars usually, they are in the feedback from folks who read and enjoy your tales.

Occasionally, however, lightning strikes. Get a couple of good reviews and your book may move. Get reviews in a major publication like the Wall Street Journal (that happened to me with “When Thunder Rolled”) or the New York Times and you sell a lot of books. Get an endorsement from Oprah and for some reason you’ll sell millions. That translates to a lot of money.

That is why the “A Million Little Pieces” is getting so much attention. Oprah recommended it and James Frey has made millions. That’s why it is so disappointing to those of us who right our memoirs and don’t reap the windfall. What’s his story? Well, he was a drunk and a druggie who went to rehab. On the way down to rock-bottom, he had painful experiences. On the way back, he experienced a moral and spiritual rebirth. Oh yeah, and a lot of the story is pure fiction—lies if you will.

Maybe Oprah should take a look at “When Thunder Rolled” or in two months at “Palace Cobra” when it is released. There are no criminals, thugs, drunks or druggies in the stories. But, at least they are true. There are heroes and patriots, but maybe Oprah doesn’t like that kind of person. There’s a war and a lot of men fighting and dying, but maybe her audience doesn’t think that sort of thing is admirable. There are conflicts and challenges as Americans fight their fears and cope with the need to do unimaginable things in the service of their country. But, why would someone respect those guys?

My memoirs are true, but the probability of Oprah reading them is pretty low. That’s okay with me. I like the guy who looks back from the mirror in the mornings. He still tells the truth.
When Thunder Rolled on Amazon
Palace Cobra on Amazon

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Who Asked? Who Told?

Interesting item on the Fox News site this AM about losses to the military of officers and medical professionals. Drummed Out of the Corps

From 1994 to 2003 the military separated 244 “medical and health professionals” for violation of the euphemistically titled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Wow, that’s almost 25 per year! And, excuse me for noticing that the period ends three years ago—is this NEWS? There are probably more folks drummed out for bad checks each month than over this ten year period.

But, let’s consider the issue here. Does anyone but me click on those links to find out just who or what is this “Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military”? A Narrowly Focussed Center Would it be wrong to wonder if they have a bias or an agenda other than a strong defense for the nation? And is this accurate, “’What advantage is the military getting by firing brain surgeons at the very time our wounded soldiers aren't receiving the medical care they need?’ said Aaron Belkin, associate professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara”? Might it be a bit of hyperbole on the part of ol' Aaron in calling “medical and health professionals” in the military “brain surgeons”? And am I being overly critical if I notice that the good professor is from UCSB, the university hosting the Center for the Study…? These 244 folks over ten years are in large part medical techs--shot givers and blood drawers. Pill pushers, if you will.

Let’s note some things. The military is tasked with fighting wars. That requires some discipline, some sacrifice, some difficult choices and some support. Medical support is obviously a requirement since it is very possible to get hurt while carrying out that primary mission. But, medical people aren’t warriors with rare exceptions. They aren’t “line” officers, NCOs or enlisted. They serve in a separate branch apart from the warriors with different promotion criteria and different qualifications. I”ve often thought it unfortunate that they wore the same uniform and had the same rank as line personnel since that confuses a lot of people, apparently some of them at Fox News.

So, we should admit at the start that the loss of a couple of medical techs who couldn’t quite live with not asking or not telling about their sexual proclivities isn’t a danger to the security of the nation.

But why is sexual orientation an issue in the military? Is it rampant homophobia or is there something else going on? First, I don’t accept the argument about sexual approaches in foxholes, submarine berths or barracks showers. Unwanted sexual advances are inappropriate whether homo- or hetero-sexual. There are regulations and mechanisms to deal with that.

The issue is sociological. Whether we like it or not, our society is still not accepting of homosexual behavior. It doesn’t take a lot of research to demonstrate this fact. While Brokeback Mountain is making shepherds into cowboys, a lot of the nation is saying that ain’t natural and they don’t like it. It’s bigotry and prejudice of course. But it’s real.

In the military, there is a requirement to advance in rank and responsibility. If you don’t gain promotions in specified times, you are separated from the service. With increased rank comes the requirement to lead others. Leadership is a difficult skill to master. Some folks are born with it and some will never be able to lead. For many people, management is adequate rather than leadership. But for warriors, effectiveness in battle will eventually demand leadership. That’s why as long as we live in a society which harbors folks in large numbers who don’t approve of homosexual behavior we will be unable to allow openly professing gay, lesbian, transgendered, transsexual, or whatever to serve in the military.

Maybe in another generation or two attitudes will change. But in the meantime, we will not be charging the enemy led by officers and enlisted who march to the beat of that different drummer.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Bullet We Dodged

Watching the news last night, I found myself reflecting on the life that could have been. I was watching Al Gore speaking, or more accurately ranting, to a group of the faithful regarding the sins of the Bush administration. What would life be like today had he won the 2000 election? Was this an example of presidential timbre? Dare I recall the questions of “gravitas” necessary for our chief executive?

As opportunity has presented itself today to see, read and hear more of the comments of Mr. Gore, I’m even more deeply astonished. Is this the level of leadership America should expect from one of the chief spokesmen of one of the two major political parties?

There was a litany of accusations in Gore’s diatribe, but the one that made the major news outlets was the issue of communications intercepts conducted by the National Security Administration at the direction of the President to gain intelligence on terrorist activities. The former vice-president characterized this activity as a grave threat to the very Constitution of the United States and a danger to each and every citizen. But is it?

The danger of erosion of the First Amendment is certainly omnipresent. We should strenuously safeguard our freedoms of speech and political expression. We should guard the Fourth Amendment’s protection of our privacy as well. Clearly listening in when we have an expectation of privacy in our conversations is something we should not let the government get away with. Or should we?

Then I came across this piece by Pete Dupont in the Wall Street Journal: Defending the Nation

It makes a very good case regarding what the Founding Fathers thought about intelligence gathering and the role of the Commander-in-Chief. And, I’ve got little reason to challenge the conclusions. Why then do we find the Democrats so active in what is apparently a defense of the freedom of those who would destroy us to be secure in the knowledge that they can communicate freely?

A favorite question of mine when starting classes discussing the Bill of Rights was regarding the meaning of the first phrase of the First Amendment. You know the one, “Congress shall make no law…” Clearly, the shelves of legislation passed over the last 200 years addressing speech, assembly, press, expression, searches, jeopardy and more indicate that “Congress shall make no law…” means nothing like what the plain English would indicate.

The Founders had no possible way of foreseeing the development of modern communication. They would be astonished, I’m certain, if confronted with the telephone, cell phones, the Internet and satellites. They did, however, understand what a threat to the nation looked like. And, they quite clearly understood the importance of providing the chief executive entrusted with maintaining the security of that nation with the necessary latitude of action to do the job.

I’ve got no expectation of security in my email or my cell phone conversations. I know that these methods of communicating pose a risk that someone may intercept the messages. Hence, if I’m planning some sort of nefarious activity, I find it prudent to avoid such risky behavior.

I do have an expectation of my government doing the very best job they can with all of the modern gadgetry at their disposal of protecting me and my country from further attacks. Why can’t the liberal left figure this out?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Reflections on The Dream

It is virtually impossible to talk about race in America without offending someone. To mention statistics on crime, disease, education, income, performance, employment or any number of other factors when sorted by ethnic demographic cohort is to risk labeling as racist. Yet, it is important to face these issues head on and not to shield ourselves from truth.

A few months ago, Bill Cosby had the courage to stand up and challenge African-Americans to take charge of their own destiny. He spoke from the security of his own success and with the obvious qualification of his own ethnicity readily apparent. Yet within days of his comments, he was targeted by Black apologists who denied the truth of his comments. An entire segment of the political spectrum in America is populated by those who cloak every decision in a mantle of racist motivation. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Andrew Young, Sheila Jackson Lee, Eleanor Holmes Norton and a host of others regularly accuse society at large and whites in particular of being responsible for the plight of Blacks in America.

That’s why on the eve of a national holiday to recognize the life and achievements of that great leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, it is appropriate to look at some comments made recently on the state of African-Americans in our society. Three weeks ago in an opinion piece in the New York Times, Bob Herbert wrote of the need to recognize the issues and, most importantly, to do something about them. A New Civil Rights Movement

It is undeniable that the statistics tell a story. And if progress is to be made, then blaming is pointless. There is certainly a case to be made that civil rights have been regularly and routinely violated throughout the history of this nation. And, it isn’t difficult to trace the slow progress from the days of slavery through the bitter Civil War to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments which ostensibly corrected the problem. It took a lot more to progress from “separate but equal” and local Jim Crow laws to the mid-Twentieth Century and Brown v BOE.

We’ve got voting rights and equal opportunity commissions and fair housing practices all enacted into law, but we’ve still got a deep undercurrent of racism in America. Dr. King spoke of a color-blind society, one in which worth was measured by “content of character” and not skin color. Yet, we still have judgments routinely rendered on face value in the most basic meaning of the term. And do not doubt that the color judgment cuts both ways. Take a moment to consider this essay by Roland Fryer: Acting White What a shame that succeeding in education would be viewed as a negative and cause an individual to be shunned by their peers.

There is work to be done. It won’t be done quickly. It will take generations. And, it may not be done at all.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Embarrassment Continues

They’re baaacck! Remember that cry from the young boy watching television in the movie Poltergeist? Today it’s the much more frightening collection of U.S. Senators conducting the confirmation hearings of Sam Alito. We thought they were dangerous, demented and demonic during the John Roberts hearings just a few weeks ago, but now they are proving conclusively that their venality, ignorance and blatant character assassination knows no bounds.

The scariest aspect of this horror show is that they are so confident in the willingness of the American electorate to accept without discrimination the “facts” that they pontificate upon. There’s Joe Biden showing up wearing a Princeton baseball cap! Is this the level of professional conduct we expect from our most exalted legislators? Pat Leahy is mumbling his way through a long preamble to an irrelevant question. Ted Kennedy is expressing the highest of umbrage that Arlen Spector didn’t get a letter he supposedly sent and he threatens to bring the whole process to a petulant halt. Gimme a break.

Want an example? Take a look at this: Are you now or have you ever been a member...

Here’s the issue and you tell me if it’s a critical shortcoming of Judge Alito. He went to Princeton. He joined an organization in 1972 called Concerned Alumni of Princeton. That organization was composed of alumni who were bothered by the rampant affirmative action programs they were witnessing that were bringing women and minorities into the previously all male halls of the university. Their concern seems to relate (as many concerns regarding equal opportunity, diversity and affirmative action do,) to the question of whether standards were being lowered to insure quotas were met for certain categories of students. (It should be noted here that the very Supreme Court which the Senators are vetting Judge Alito for, has since 1972 ruled that quotas are unconstitutional as are arbitrary or unequal qualification standards.)

But, read the article at the link. Notice that the organization (CAP) was established in 1972 and disbanded in 1987. Alito joined in ’72. Might lead us to believe that he possibly didn’t know all there was to know about the organization. Even if he did, that was 34 years ago and a lot has passed over the sociological dam since then.

Now, notice the reference by Senator Kennedy to an article written in a magazine of the organization in 1983 (I’ll do the math and point out that was eleven years after Alito graduated from Princeton). Kennedy infers that Alito is somehow responsible for an article that someone else wrote for a magazine for an organization of which the judge was once a member. That’s like saying every member of every organization ascribes to every position of every author in every publication of those organizations. Ludicrous!—even by Ted Kennedy standards.

Return to the article and notice the comment attributed to a 1975 Princeton alum, Steven Dujack suggesting that, “the most disturbing aspect of CAP was not its members' beliefs, but the methods they used to convey their ideas.” Have I got that right? I don’t disagree with what you say, but I don’t like the medium of the expression? Huh?

The extension of concern regarding the presence of ROTC on campus (Alito’s reason, he says, for joining CAP) to some sort of prejudice against women and minorities is ridiculous. Equating a concern in 1972 by Princeton alumni that their alma mater was being degraded through declining standards of admission to insure proper representation of various demographic groups with some sort of racism is even more ridiculous.

I read in the papers yesterday that someone had been monitoring the hearings with a stop watch. They determined that the questioners exceed the time of the respondent by a ratio of six to one. Does that tell the American people that their Senators are seeking information from Judge Alito or that they are pontificating, bloviating and posturing with little interest in truth, justice or the American Way. (Sorry Superman…)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Foreign Relations in Biblical Terms

The ancient Greeks called it hubris and the Jews call it chutzpah. It’s pride, which we all recollect goeth before a fall. It’s egotism. It’s claiming with little basis beyond your own assertion that you are right and, without a doubt the place where I see it most is in that group of fundamentalist preachers who seem to place themselves above the rest of us unwashed masses in the ability to communicate with God. And, surprise! I’m not talking here about Imams or Mullahs who somehow want us to suspend common sense and hate others with the particular vehemence that their religion seems to command for them. No, this time—or maybe once again—it’s Pat Robertson. Take a look at this: How Does He Know?

Is it not obvious that a loving God would not support the bloodshed, suffering and hatred that has permeated the Middle East for the second half of the Twentieth Century? Would a deity of mercy and dignity not want peace and sharing and co-existence among people in the Holy Land? It seems to me that would be the case. After a bloody half century of fighting for a homeland, we see glimmerings of hope that the legacy of terrorism that featured Nobel Peace Prize recipients Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat elevated from terrorist bombers to the Rose Garden of the White House might be coming to a slow end.

Arafat is dead. And Ariel Sharon, founder of Likud tires of the conflict and hard-line approach. He moves his party to the center and seeks a modus vivendi in Israel that would somehow give the Palestinians a reason to cooperate. He believes, apparently, so much in his peace “road map” that he confesses that his plan is not consistent with the ideology of Likud and removes himself to create a new party. Surprisingly (or maybe not after so many decades of war,) the majority of the electorate seems to agree with him and all the polls have been indicating that he would win a landslide in thirty days and carry enough seats in the Knesset to establish a stable government.

Now, fate has stepped in and Sharon lies in a coma after a massive stroke and extensive surgery. Most are saying survival is questionable and even with a miraculous recovery Sharon would not be able to provide the leadership needed.

So, we’ve got that great intellect Pat Robertson, as a national leader lies stricken on his (apparent) deathbed spouting that it is God’s punishment for “dividing” his land. Excuse me, but isn’t all of the land God’s if you are a true believer? And, if God steps into the fray to administer punishment when his land is divided, why didn’t he torch the UN in 1948 after partition?

Can Robertson possibly be taken seriously? If the Reverend is hearing voices and they are telling him not to seek peace and to delight in the loss of a nation’s leader, then I don’t think Patty is talking to God—at least not any gods that I’ve heard of.