Sunday, January 28, 2007

Déjà vu Again

Navy Commander Paul Galanti is a friend of mine. He’s one of the NamPOWs—an organization of former prisoners of war from the Vietnam days. He was shot down over North Vietnam early in the war and spent many long years languishing in the most brutal of captivity. He’s a gentleman, eloquent in his speech and proud of his country—unashamed to be patriotic and willing to speak out for what he believes is right. Here’s an editorial he wrote for this morning’s Richmond VA Times-Dispatch:

The View From Inside

We’re in significant agreement on this. His view of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC is much like mine as expressed in the last chapter of Palace Cobra. It is much more about back-handed slap and mitigation of pacifist guilt than about honoring the warriors. But, that’s beside the point. The point today is whether or not we will continue to slither down the decline in our intestinal fortitude that renders us not only unwilling to defend ourselves and our nation from a very manifest threat, but to even be reluctant to allow others the wherewithal to defend us in our stead.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

“How Hard Could It Be?”

That was the campaign motto of Kinky Friedman during his recent independent run for Governor in Texas. It’s a slap in the face for pompous politicians who run for office and then muddle through their terms, dodging disasters, raising taxes, building campaign coffers and then getting re-elected because “we the people” are too stupid to demand more. Really, it is also a testimonial to the wisdom of our founding fathers. They devised a system that is pretty close to idiot-proof. There are so many checks and balances to impetuous government that the structure can survive fairly high levels of incompetence.

Certainly it still holds true in small towns and cities. Kinky was assuring us that it was true for even large states. But, does it still work for the single super-power in the world in these terrorist-filled times? Can it possibly be harder today than it was in 1787? Might the dangers be so great that we need some level of immediate capability when a new chief executive of the nation assumes the reins of power? Is on-the-job-training still a viable alternative?

I hope we don’t have to find out. Yet, the almost immediate anointing and impending canonization of Barack Hussein Obama as the Messiah of American politics is scaring the bejeezus out of me. He’s handsome, in a raw-boned, metro-sexual, ethnically correct sort of way. He’s clearly intelligent as his degrees would attest. He’s articulate and appealing in presentation as demonstrated in his Democratic convention keynote address and his subsequent national public appearances. He’s slick, all right. But, inquiring minds of crusty old-timers like me want to know what he has done. What are his accomplishments?

Here are some bios of the job applicant:

Barack Obama Bio

That’s fairly complimentary at least at first reading. But, then read between the lines. Catch this regarding that best-selling autobiography about all those lessons he learned from dear old absent dad ("Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance"):

Although Obama’s father only visited him once after he left, the son grew up with stories of his father’s brilliant mind.”

So, dad who took a powder shortly after Barack’s birth and left him all of this fodder for his book really wasn’t involved in the upbringing. The anecdotes are second-hand at best. Or, maybe they really are nocturnal imaginings, the dreams his father MIGHT have given him if he’d been around. OK, stuff like that isn’t disqualifying for the presidency. Bio Quite Brief

C’mon. You’ve got to be kidding. The official congressional bio source has one scant paragraph describing a life that qualifies him to be president? Where’s his employment history? What did he build, buy, own, design, develop, create? Where’s the payroll and profit statements of his business. OK, he chose to be a lawyer. Where are the cases he tried, the suits he won, the case law he established? OK, he chose to be a politician. Where are the executive positions? Was he mayor of a town and responsible for crime and garbage and potholes? Was he a bureaucrat? That’s not necessarily good, but it might indicate some management capability. Nothing there apparently.

What's In the Wiki?

At least Wikipedia gives some details. Yet, there’s almost a ten year gap between undergraduate college and completion of law school. In that period we find one year of employment. That’s hardly a career. When he hasn’t been in some welfare oriented sinecure, he’s been in school. Honestly, if a 45 year old man came to me and sought employment on this sort of resume, he wouldn’t enter the career ladder at the top rung in any company that I had an obligation toward.

I’ve got no doubt that Senator Obama is sincere. He’s intelligent. He’s certainly ambitious. I might even give him the benefit of the doubt regarding his professed intention to conduct politics in a more issue-oriented and less personally destructive style. But, is there a shred of evidence that he could manage, organize, lead, protect and defend the largest bureaucracy in the world. Does he have a clue about bullets and beans? Does he know which end of the jet the hot air comes out of?

Is America going to get caught up in the hype of a presidential race that is focused on a black face in a two-thousand dollar suit? Maybe we’ll see Paris Hilton on the ticket to round it out, pretty-face and gender-wise.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Embracing Defeat

So, we’ve heard from the party of the left that they want a new policy for the war in Iraq. Remember the run up to the elections? They were incensed that we needed more troops. They demanded that the President acknowledge mistakes and take responsibility. They wanted a clear statement of intentions. They wanted to hear a plan for the Iraqi government to handle security. “Step up so we can step down.” That’s what the election was about. That’s the mandate. That’s what the President did last night—at least as I watched the speech that appears to be what he did.

So, why then did we have to watch Dick Durbin come out immediately after with his simpering defeatist complaints? The President sounded pretty clear to me, but Durbin and the Democrats seem to demand defeat. They don’t care about the lives that have been sacrificed for the mission—they say they do, but to walk away from the battle at this point would be surely to underscore for the future the fact that America will never back up her troops again. The Democrat’s position seems to be that there is nothing worth fighting for, nothing worth dying for in this world. They might find a reason at some time in the future to apply military force, but if this war and the Vietnam experience demonstrate anything it is that they will then abandon the effort and undercut the sacrifice as soon as it becomes politically efficacious.

What do the Democrats want in terms of a policy? Do they have a coherent plan beyond total abandonment of the field of combat and huddling behind our oceans waiting for the next jihadist to situate himself in a crowd and claim his 72 virgins? Do they want a timetable for withdrawal on a date certain? Well, sometime they do but usually even they are smart enough to realize that isn’t reasonable. Emotional, yes, but reasonable? No.

Do they want more troops in the field? Well, I’ve heard them say it. Remember their regular and consistent pointing at General Shinseki’s comments about the insufficiency of the deployed force? They wanted more troops for the job. That’s what they regularly faulted Don Rumsfeld for—not giving the generals what they needed in terms of manpower. So, the Prez says five more brigades, but they’re unhappy.

Do they want the Iraqi security forces to be at the tip of the spear? That’s what they’ve said and that apparently is what the Prez has stated will be the policy. But, they’re unhappy.

Do they want us to deal with Muqtada al-Sadr? Who wouldn’t? Let’s admit that the core of the conflict today is a Shia’ majority redressing years of grievances against the Sunni Baathist regime. The Mhadi militia, with the urging of the Iranians, is stoking the fire of civil war. They see a power vacuum with Sadaam gone and the constitutional government weak. If they can seize power now, the Iranians will be happy, they will be in control and the US will be embarrassed. What’s not to like about that outcome? It seemed that the President said last night that this is going to be a focus. We’ll be supporting the Iraqi Army in controlling Sadr city. But, the Dems are unhappy about that.

I want to know the Democrats plan. I want to know what they would do instead. I want to hear more from them than the incessant whining that the people are demanding something different, but they don’t tell us what. It’s time for them to stop telling us we’ve got a problem and now tell us that they’ve got a solution. If they aren’t happy with the President’s admission of past errors, acceptance of responsibility and proposal for handling the situation, they need to provide a viable alternative. It’s got to be something more than a Cindy Sheehan rant about bringing the troops home now. It’s got to provide some semblance of a solution and it better come with a description of why their idea is better than what I heard last night.

Frankly, I don’t think I’m going to get that.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Recall your high school civics classes. Remember that dull block of instruction on “how a bill becomes a law”? There was introduction in either house of Congress. Then committee assignment followed by hearings and debate to insure that the law was going to be just, equitable and avoid unintended consequences. Then, assuming passage in committee, it went to the floor and more debate and maybe amendment before voting. Time to allow input from the people and to allow consideration of impact. Then, assuming passage, off to the other end of the building for the other chamber to do the committee thing and then the full chamber. Followed by conference to resolve differences. All of which were designed by the cunning founders of our republic to avoid helter-skelter populism and knee-jerk reactions to emotions.

So, we’ve got Nancy Pelosi posing with a bull-whip and suddenly abandoning her preachments about bipartisanship and comity. She’s got the 100 hour agenda on her mind. Wow, it sounds great to the unwashed masses. Simple phrases appealing to emotions and getting things they want. Can’t beat that for a re-election platform in two years. Let’s look:

Day One: Put new rules in place to "break the link between lobbyists and legislation."

We seem to be overlooking that fact that lobbyists, for all the bad press that Abramoff got, are the voice of large interest groups—you may translate that as “we the people.” It seems that Ms Pelosi seeks to eliminate public input to the legislative process in favor of disorganized “squeaky wheel seeking grease” mass demonstrations. It’s an idea that sounds good, but really is counter to what representative democracy is about.

Day Two: Enact all the recommendations made by the commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Let’s note that the 9/11 commission was reviewing events that took place five and half years ago. Their report had some good recommendations, but let’s acknowledge that a lot of water has passed over, under and around the dam since then. As with any bi-partisan, independent commission, there are degrees of relevance and efficacy to the recommendations. Not all merit implementation and not all are still relevant. Simple adaptation of all the recommendations is nothing more than abrogating the Constitutional responsibility to make choices. Once again it is a populist appeal and probably ineffective. It might even be counter-productive. Can anyone say USA Patriot Act?

Time remaining until 100 hours: Raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, maybe in one step.

Oh boy. That’s easy. The people love it, and it doesn’t even take any tax dollars. Just issue a royal edict that businesses must pay more than their labor is worth to people. The money will simply come out of thin air. I’ll bet Socialist Nancy can even orate for an hour or two on the social justice and need for living wages and the responsibility of the bourgeoisie to support a family of four above the poverty level. And it really will boost the economy and no one will pay higher prices, etc. Bottom line is that the founders never in their wildest dreams envisioned the government dictating private business wage rates.

Cut the interest rate on student loans in half.

Here’s one that I’m ambivalent about. There’s a good case for student loans by government. And, they should be subsidized or at least affordable for students who might otherwise not be able to get a college education. But, there should be qualification standards, grade requirements and, most important, a well regulated pay-back program. No forgiveness, no ignoring defaults, no amnesty. Period.

Allow the government to negotiate directly with the pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients.

No! Did you notice the free market response of Wal-Mart (villain of the Democrats) recently? A huge formulary of $4 generics available to everyone. That’s free-market, folks.

I just explored Part D and Medicare supplement insurance for my 91-year-old mother-in-law. Would you believe there were more than fifty plans to choose from for her—someone I thought virtually uninsurable? Would you believe that the most expensive plans were less monthly cost than what I pay as a military retiree for my supposedly guaranteed health-care for life? That’s the fact. We don’t need government setting drug prices—that’s what this is about, not negotiation but dictation of prices. The free market does a great job of promoting research, finding effective drugs, making them available at prices that people can afford with or without their insurance plans—which are also free market. No government intervention required. It’s a slippery slope first step to national healthcare.

Broaden the types of stem cell research allowed with federal funds -- "I hope with a veto-proof majority," she added in an Associated Press interview Thursday.

This issue is based on a false promise. The fervent hope is that embryonic stem cell research will lead to solutions for a wide range of medical problems. The evidence for this assumption is minimal, but “hope springs eternal” particularly for those with terminal or debilitating illnesses. It further assumes a significant difference between embryonic stem cell research, which is anathema to the pro-life crowd, and other forms of stem cell research. Finally, it once again imposes government in a place it shouldn’t be; legislating on the directions of scientific inquiry. Science should not be reverted to the days of the Inquisition. Neither the cardinals nor the congressmen should be telling scientists what they can explore. And, as a corollary, government should stand aside and let free enterprise fund the research.

All the days after that: "Pay as you go," meaning no increasing the deficit, whether the issue is middle class tax relief, health care or some other priority.

That’s one I’ve got to see. Can you believe for one minute that the party of welfare is really going to be constrained by revenues, particularly in the run-up to the presidential election of 2008? That simply is an unrealistic expectation. Certainly avoidance of deficit budgets is desirable, but if necessary, particularly in a time of ongoing hostilities, deficits might be necessary.

Note further the caveat that Ms Pelosi introduces—“whether the issue is middle class tax relief…” Is she saying that she is willing to avoid deficits by piling taxes on the man in the street? That could be what she means.

I remember the “Contract With America” of Newt Gingrich and the fresh majority of 1994. Those goals were a bit more objective and not quite so emotionally appealing. They didn’t have the time constraint of Ms Pelosi’s agenda, but they were pushed through the House fairly expeditiously. Then, they died unceremoniously in the Senate. And, the “Contract” got morphed by the left-wing media into the Mafia-tinged “Contract ON America.” Pretty soon, no one wanted the actions.

This time around, I wonder whether common sense will prevail in the Senate. I somehow doubt it. This is a time of populism, of “bread and circuses” that pander to the demands of the masses. There’s little consideration to what these proposals really mean and how they will impact the future erosion of our capitalist system and our republican form of government. I’m afraid. I’m very afraid.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Creative Accounting 101

A big appeal when I first considered moving to Texas was the lack of a state income tax. As a former beneficiary of that policy when I was moved by the Air Force for a couple of years to Texas, I appreciated the idea that government wasn’t getting paid even more of my hard earned dollars. Yet, way down deep inside I know in my heart of hearts that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you want to have schools and roads and police and parks and the other niceties of living in society, you’ve got to pay somewhere and somehow. It could be property tax or sales tax or licensing fees or excises or something. Yet, it won’t have that progressive tax stigma of demanding more of my money the harder I work. I really stumble over being penalized for success. I like to pay my share and I may even accept the social responsibility of a bit of contribution for the benefit of those less fortunate. But it ends there.

That’s why I had to read this piece in Dallas Morning News a couple of time to try to understand it:

Riddle Me This

You might not see it at first glance. But let me simplify. The “budget mess” that is reported on is that tax cuts enacted last year to reduce the fairly heavy ad valorem property taxes for homeowners are listed in the budget for the coming year as an expenditure. And, despite those cuts, revenue projections are indicating a huge surplus based on the booming economy with rises in sales tax returns and new levies on sinful activities that government is trying to (tongue-in-cheek) discourage, like smoking. Lots of money coming in despite tax rate cuts—remember Reaganomics? Remember David Laffer? Remember that voodoo about letting people keep more of their money and the economy booms sending tax revenues skyward? Still works!!!

So, a simple mind like mine would say no problem here. That’s where we stumble across the illustrative insight of the legislative mind. See, there’s a budget cap imposed by the voters on the legislature. They can’t spend more than a pre-established increased each year. Fine, you think. No problem really if revenue is up, you’ve got the money to cover the necessities. But, alas, there is the rub. Under the convoluted thinking of the bureaucratic mind, the tax cut is AN EXPENDITURE! That’s right; the legislature is making a payment. They are spending by letting us keep our money in the first place.

They just don’t get it. It isn’t their money to spend. It isn’t their largesse that lets us keep what we already own. Reduced tax rates aren’t a payment. They shouldn’t be in the budget anywhere. The budget should list expected revenues based on tax rates in effect for the period. Then the expenses should reflect payments out of the funds. Money in on the assets side. Payments out on the obligations side. Revenue that doesn’t come in because taxes don’t exist anymore shouldn’t by any convoluted thinking be considered as a payment. It can’t be a payment because it isn’t their money to pay!

But, they roam the hallowed halls of Austin befuddled by how to “pay for our tax cuts” and still spend the excess revenues from a booming economy. What am I missing here?