Tuesday, November 18, 2008

There Is Always A Silver Lining

It is becoming clear why most Republics won't support a bailout for the Big 3 auto makers, they see a failed auto industry as a chance to bust the unions.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Margin Of Mischief - Again?

It is election eve and there are concerns about what kind of difficulties voters will encounter tomorrow. We can hope there will be few, but the question is, why should there be any?

We cannot call ourselves a democracy if we cannot hold a fair and accurate election. Another election won by either candidate within the margin of mischief is unacceptable. In a landslide, a few uncounted or miscounted votes, while not acceptable, will not affect the outcome of the election. But in an election that is close, especially with our outdated electoral college, a fair and accurate count is essential.

In a democracy, holding fair and accurate elections must be the number one priority!

We accept the thought that people should pay their taxes, but they shouldn't have to pay one more penny than they are legally obligated. Said differently, do everything you can to minimize the amount you must legally pay, but if you can cheat and not get caught - go for it. Our current system treats elections much the same way. If you can manipulate an election to you or your party's favor, go for it. It doesn't matter if what you are doing is essentially preventing a qualified voter from voting or tricking them into voting the way you want them to vote. As long as you don't get caught - go for it.

I suggest that for presidential elections, the ballot be limited to federal offices, president/vice-president and Congress. Why should there be long lines because of long ballots? Why should elections be swayed by contentious ballot issues whose main purpose may be to affect presidential voting? Democracy is worth the cost and inconvenience of having another election for these other issues on a different day.

While I'm not in favor of the federal government running the national election. I would be in favor of a non-partisan group establishing requirements that states would have to meet. Our current system allows local and state politicians to game the system to their party's advantage.

I hope this election is not won within the margin of mischief, but I can't understand why, eight years after we saw what problems incompetent and/or malicious election officials can cause, we are still facing a national election with worries about whether or not it will be fair and accurate.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Dark Side

Jane Mayer's book "The Dark Side" was more disturbing than Woodward's book. I have to admit I started to read "Hubris" (by David Corn and Michael Isikoff) right after I finished "Cobra II" (by Michael Gordon and Gen. Bernard Trainor) and had to stop reading because I went into overload. The lies, deceptions and mismanagement were just too much. I was getting sick. So I waited a few month's before tackling Jane Mayer's book. Even with the pause to calm my anger, several times while reading this book I had to pause again for fear I would soon jump up and start screaming. At other points I just became very sad for the things that were done in our name.

Much of the story about torture and the attack on civil liberties had already been documented in the press., but I was struck by several points.

It is clear that the emotion driving the White House after 9/11 was not fear, but panic. The basic policy mandate was not analyze, but act. The extent to which panic overrode everything, even the Constitution, was amazing.

I was also struck by their total disregard for civil liberties, international law, the Constitution of the United States and in many cases, common decency, fairness and common sense. The guidance from the top, particularly the Vice-President, was that we are in a war for our existence and we should do anything and everything to counter this threat. One can understand this rational on 9/11, but that mind set prevailed for several years.

People who were identified as "bad" were no longer human. They no longer had any rights including the right to know what they were accused of or defend their innocence. While there were terrorists in the group of people that were tortured, there were also many innocent people who were tortured for extended periods. The fact that they were innocent didn't really seem to matter. It also sounds like there are still people, dead and possibly alive, that we do not know about. I think the torture program was much broader than I thought and there may still be people imprisoned, tortured and killed that we will never know about.

I was amazed at the lengths people would go to sanction and defend these terrible torture policies.

I was also amazed with how many people had no moral compass or whose compass always pointed up. When legal opinions were needed to justify torture, the question was not what does the law tell us, but how do we twist the law to justify what the people we report to want us to do. The extent of this legal and moral plasticity was at times breathtaking.

I was somewhat surprised, and a little ashamed at my surprise, at how many good people stood up to authority, resisted pressure and took personal risks to do what they thought was right. Much went wrong in the last few years, but even when this administration went to great lengths to surround itself with right thinking, compliant, sycophants, it managed to let in some people who were willing to take risks to do the right thing. There are heroes in this book.

I think it is important that people read Jane Mayer's book. The use of torture was more widespread than I had appreciated. But even more importantly, I came away with the strong feeling that freedom is tenuous and the threat is more internal than external. I can't seem to find the right words to explain how this book has affected me, but it did. Of all the terrible things that happened on 9/11 and since then, I wonder if the Bush descent to the "Dark Side" is the worst.

If you read this book, hang in there and read the entire book. It has a lot of details that get wrapped up into a hell by the end.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The War Within

I recently finished two books, Bob Woodward's "The War Within" and Jane Mayer's "The Dark Side"

Woodward's book was interesting, but most of it was confirmation of information that I already knew. What was particularly interesting was the description of the organizational dysfunction that existed in the White House. I know that this is not unique to the Bush White House. I suppose that when you have that many smart, powerful, egotistical people in close proximity, squabbles and fights are to be expected. I did wonder how useful work or sound policy making was ever accomplished. I also wondered if a less ideological group could have worked together more effectively.

I was taken by President Bush's seeming serenity and resolution in the face of such obvious failures. Obvious even to him, although there were incidents that seemed to indicate he never knew or, at least would never admit to himself, the full extent of the problems. I still think his psychological defense is to refuse to acknowledge failures and "Stay the Course." I don't believe that the Surge was so much a new strategic direction as much as it was the only option available that let him continue on the same path and not have to challenge his basic beliefs or admit fundamental errors.

I'll discuss Jane Mayer's book in a later post.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Right Of What Center?

Fish scuplture by Niki de Saint-Phalle
While reading an article I came across another comment that the United States is a right of center country.

That may be, but a more accurate statement would be, "This is a right of center country on a political path that historically tacks to the left."

Another way to say this might be "The United States is a country that dislikes change, but can't resist its innate appetency to be better."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let's Hear From Sarah

An elephant never forgets, but no one said they don't lie.Senator McCain again tries to manufacture political theater rather than address issues.

He is so absorbed in the current financial crisis that he has suspended his campaign (or so he says). And his leadership is so desperately needed to resolve this crisis that he really can't afford the time to fly to Mississippi to debate Senator Obama (but it took him about 5 days to find time to read Secretary Paulson's plan).

I suggest Senator Obama tell Senator McCain that he and Senator Biden will be in Mississippi tomorrow night, so if Senator McCain can't make it to the debate, Senator McCain could send Governor Palin so she and Senator Biden can debate. Senators McCain and Obama could then have their national security debate next Thursday when the Vice-presidential debate was scheduled.

Hunt And Peck Works

Twice in the last few weeks (once on Fox) I heard outrage over comments from people who criticized Senator McCain for his lack of knowledge about "the email." The outraged response was something about how Senator McCain's war wounds prevented him from using a keyboard.

Aren't these comments demeaning of people with disabilities? We've all worked with people, or seen their stories on TV, whose disabilities are much worse than Senator McCain's. Many of them have made the effort to learn and utilize new technologies. I've been watching Senator McCain and it sure looks like he can use his arms and hands well enough to send an email.

Sending and receiving email may not be a good use of Senator McCain's time, but to blame his lack of knowledge about a basic technology that billions of people use on his war wounds is disingenuous.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

You can you put a tutu on an elephant...

An elephant never forgets, but no one said they don't lie.This lipstick fiasco is just more of the same from Republics.

I suggest using the tactic against McCain.

Obama should use the same lead up attack in every speech, but every time change the ananolgy.

You can put mascara on a pig, but it is still a pig.

You can put tennis shoes on a turtle, but it still can't run.

You can put ketchup on baloney, but it's still baloney.

You can put a dress on lassie, but she is still a.........forget that one.

Pretty silly isn't it.

You can put a tutu on an elephant, but it is still the same old GOP.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Would you marry the President?

It occurred to me while watching the conventions, that in the age of 24/7 news coverage, politics is like a soap opera. You might think it is more like a reality show, since they generally have winners and losers, but at the end of each season the reality show cast goes away.

Like a soap opera, politics has a long history. Plot lines can go on for years, even decades. Some characters hang around for years and some fade quickly. New faces are brought in when ratings sag.

While in this pensive mode I also decided that most people choose their president using the same logic and though processes that they use to pick a spouse. And with about the same results. I haven't given up on this election, but I do believe that whichever candidate wins it will have little to do with reality.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Grandpa and Ellie Mae in '08

An elephant never forgets, but no one said they don't lie.I don't know much about Sarah Palin, but then again who does? Probably not even John McCain. But what little I know takes my breath away.

The man who famously says he would rather lose a campaign than lose a war has chosen a neophyte to join his ticket. Wasn't Ann Coulter available? Was Angelina Jolie already under contract? Why not Phyllis Schafly? And there were would be the added benefit that it would make him look young!

For all his straight talk and claims that given his age and prior health issues he would choose someone who would be ready on day one, John McCain panicked. He went for the “Hail Sarah” in desperation. Is this an example of how he puts the country first?

Governor Palin has said she hasn’t focused much on Iraq. Here is her widely quoted statement from 2007:
Alaska Business Monthly: We've lost a lot of Alaska's military members to the war in Iraq. How do you feel about sending more troops into battle, as President Bush is suggesting?

Palin: I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq. I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan in place; I want assurances that we are doing all we can to keep our troops safe. Every life lost is such a tragedy. I am very, very proud of the troops we have in Alaska, those fighting overseas for our freedoms, and the families here who are making so many sacrifices.

Governor Palin has a son who will soon deploy to Iraq. Governor Palin is in charge of the Alaska National Guard. The Iraq War has been the major issue facing this country over the past five years. If she hasn’t put much thought into the Iraq war, what else hasn’t she thought much about? What business does she have being a heart beat away from the Presidency?

In August, 2008, when asked about being considered by McCain to be his Vice-President, she said,
But as for that VP talk all the time, I’ll tell you, I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day? I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we’re trying to accomplish up here for the rest of the U.S., before I can even start addressing that question. (Kudlow & Company)

It is bad enough that our current Vice-President doesn't believe he is part of the Executive Branch. John McCain chooses a person who wants to know how taking the job will help the people of Alaska.

Somebody wake me up! This nightmare has to end!

I’ve said several times that Republics and Democrats think differently, but there must be millions of Republics who are ashamed, dismayed and embarrassed but this obtuse selection. But then again, I’ve already heard from some die-hard Conservatives who can’t wait for the chance to vote for Grandpa and Ellie Mae.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Play Ball Or Stay Home

No one reads this blog. That's not a complaint. But since no one reads this blog I feel safe telling Republics something it doesn't look like they've figured out.

Republics believe that the next president may get 2 or 3 picks for the Supreme Court and are salivating that McCain will appoint another Alito or Roberts or Scalia. Guess what folks? Unless there is some big turn around, the Democrats will gain seats in the Senate in November. Democrats should insist that any Supreme Court nominees are centrists. Maybe they should demand that if they approve one centrist jurist, the second nominee must lean to the left.

The Supreme Court may be making decisions with only 6 or 7 justices, probably on conservative majority court. I would rather see 4 years of conservative rulings than watch Democrats help a Republic president add 2 or 3 young conservative justices who will distort the Constitution for 20 or 30 years.

Democrats should keep this plan secret until, if McCain is the next president, a seat on the Supreme Court becomes open. At that point they should make it clear that while the President nominates, the Senate must approve. Play ball or stay home.

I don't believe it would be in the best interests of the country to have a Supreme Court made up of all liberal justices, but a court of all conservatives is frightening.

Democrat or Jackass

Ralph Nader will forever be a pariah to many Democrats who believe he took votes from Al Gore and cost him the 2000 election.

Now we hear Hillary Clinton supporters whining that they are still so upset with the primary they might vote for McCain or at least not vote for Obama.

I find if hard to believe that many Hillary Clinton supporters would be comfortable with a McCain administration that would largely be a continuation of current Bush and Republic policies.

These people are clearly not Democrats, just jackasses who since they didn't win now threaten to take their votes and go home.

I expect that most of these people will come to their senses before November, but their support is needed now. Wake up people!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

OPAWTY? SOS-Save Our Seas

Three fish holding signs, Send Help!, Please, What he said.As I watch the TV news or read the paper or read science or news magazines, I constantly encounter stories that scream OVERPOPULATION. Often these are about damage to the environment, but there are many others about hunger, desperate poverty, deaths from preventable diseases, war, strife and other calamities.

The July issue of Discover Magazine contained two articles about the ocean that support my concerns.

In “Better Planet - Garbage Patch” (click here for the web version) author Thomas M. Kostigen describes a trip to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is an area in the Pacific Ocean where circular ocean currents trap some of the floating refuse of humans.

“Around and around: bottles, plastic bags, fishnets, clothing, lighters, and myriad other man-made items, held until they disintegrate, make their way to distant seas, or merely bob among the waves before washing up on someone’s beach.”
Unfortunately, much of the material floating here does not disintegrate quickly. Many of these items took several years just to get to the garbage patch which is like a soup made of garbage floating on or near the surface. While the dimensions of this garbage patch are still being mapped, it is believed to be about one and a half times the size of the United States and may reach a depth of 100 feet or more. How much damage is being done by all this garbage is still being studied, but from what we already know, from the damage done to wildlife that often eat plastic thinking it is food to chemicals in the water from disintegrating plastic, the threat is believed to be very serious.

The second article is Ocean Reflux by Kathleen McAuliffe (click here for the web version). It has long been known that the oceans can sequester carbon dioxide as they naturally absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, the oceans were seen as such a good place to store carbon dioxide, there have been suggestions that we pump liquid CO2 into the deepest parts of the ocean rather than let it disburse in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

Now new research has found that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in ocean water increases its acidity which may have profound effects such as destroying coral and many of the marine creatures at the bottom of the food chain. Among other problems this might cause, the loss of reefs and small ocean creatures could eventually threaten the planet’s fisheries.

I can’t begin to relay all the scientific details from these two articles, but you can read them yourself if you want more details.

Some scientist or researcher or politician will eventually tell you what we might do to mitigate or reverse these threats, but what you won’t hear them offer is a plan to reduce the number of people on the planet as a way to reduce the damage we are inflicting. Why is that?

Over Populated – Are We There Yet?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Name one!

You mean you really thought Fox came up with all those wacky ideas on their own?Tonight on Hardball with Chris Matthews former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan admitted that the White House would feed talking points directly to Fox News - Fox commentators, not journalists. When Matthews displayed outrage, McClellan again stressed that the White House didn't feed this kind of propaganda to the journalists at Fox.


There are real journalists at Fox?

Name one.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Acknowledge Sucess and Failures

Opponents of the war in Iraq have a problem. Republicans are making the point that the surge has worked and opponents are intellectually dishonest if they don't accept that fact.

They have a point. For several reasons, one of which is the surge (which I did not support), the situation in Iraq is much better today than it was a year and a half ago. There is certainly more hope that we can leave an Iraq that will become a nation that will not be a source of violence and instability in the world.

The problem, of course, is such an admission would be seen as an endorsement of the war and the policies of the Bush Administration. Even though the surge didn't meet many of its own goals and it is generally agreed the war was a mistake and the Administration bungled badly many major issues during the first 3 or 4 years, any concession of success now would be used by proponents of the war as proof that the opponents were wrong. Wrong about opposing the surge. Wrong about opposing Administration policies and tactics. Wrong about questioning the rationals for going to war. Of course, all such assertions would wrong.

While the adage "Hindsight is 20/20" may seem to be irrefutable, it is merely a statement that it is easier to link a known result to prior actions than to predict which actions will achieve a particular result. Even when we have a result, it may not be possible to tell which actions were instrumental in achieving the result. And such analysis often cannot rule out that other actions might have produced even more favorable results.

That is a complicated way of saying, yes, our situation in Iraq is better today than it was a year and half ago and the surge was one of the actions that got us to this point. It was not the only action. It may or may not have been the most significant action. Finally, there may have been other actions that were not taken that would have put us in an even better position.

Even if you agree that we are in a better position today, it will be a long time before we have the perspective to say whether, given the costs in lives, injuries, dollars, etc., the surge was worth those costs.

Senator McCain says that if Senator Obama's plan from several month's ago had been followed we would now be facing defeat in Iraq. I'm sure he believes that, but he has absolutely no way to prove that or even make a convincing argument. A speedy withdrawal as Senator Obama proposed may have forced the Iraqi's to step up more quickly. It might have eventually resulted in situation similar to today, though possibly more costly for Iraq, but less costly for the United States. Remember, at the time there were reports that the threat of a speedy withdrawal seemed to force the Iraqi government to start planning for an Iraq after a U.S. withdrawal.

Books have and will be written about Iraq successes, failures and missed opportunities, but that doesn't help Democrats acknowledge some obvious success without conceding defeat.

I think Democrats should acknowledge the success of the surge when Republics acknowledge that we should never have invaded Iraq, but that is not going to happen. The next best plan is to closely link an acknowledgment of success to an abbreviated list of the failures and a transition to a defined exit strategy.

Something like, Given that we were misled into a war that was unnecessary and badly managed for four years, the surge has had more success than events up to that time would have predicted. The United States military has once again performed their duties magnificently and rescued this country and this Administration from a precarious situation. Now that the violence in Iraq is down from the high levels at the start of the surge, that the Iraqi's are moving closer to a position where they can govern and defend themselves and that Iraq has expressed a desire for us to withdraw our troops by 2010, it is now time for us to develop a plan and set a timetable to leave Iraq and finally concentrate on the real war on terrorism.

Fox-Fair, Balanced and Hypocritical?

Fox News - Fairly Unbalanced and proud of it!Watching Fox News [sic] Sunday today generated a couple of thoughts.

The panel talked about the significant news coverage that the major networks are giving Senator Obama's current foreign trip. While the "liberal media" whining was not as pronounced as I expected, their was consternation that even since the end of the Democratic presidential campaign the coverage of Senator Obama on the major networks has been significantly more extensive than the coverage of Senator McCain. This was from a panel that itself seemed to me was talking a lot more about Senator Obama than Senator McCain.

The untimely death of Tony Snow gave Vice-President Cheney a chance to laud his many accomplishments. Among those was this quote, "...he was a major player in the conservative movement." Tony Snow was the founding anchor of Fox News [sic] Sunday. I guess bias in the media, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Windfall Profits - Apples and Oil

Several times over the past few months I’ve heard that the oil companies should not be singled out for a windfall profits tax because their return on sales is only about 8.5%. They whine that several other industries have much larger returns.

I’m certainly not an economist, but this doesn’t sound right.

Suppose I sell apples at my roadside stand. I sell 100,000 apples a year at a dollar a piece (I’ll keep the numbers simple to make this easier – on me). My return is 10% so I normally make about $10,000 a year. Half my sales are from apples I grow and harvest the other half I buy at market value from other farmers.

Luckily I live in an area where people eat their apples religiously believing that it keeps down their health care costs. So when an apple blight in Brazil quadruples the price of an apple, my sales are unaffected. The cost of apples I buy to resell goes up, but the price I charge for each apple rises correspondingly, so now my annual sales are $400,000. I’m still making my 10% of sales so suddenly I’m raking in $40,000 a year. That is an extra $30,000 a year for doing absolutely nothing.

Suppose that for the 50,000 apples I used to pay 80 cents each to buy, I’m now paying $3.20. People are pretty much willing to pay whatever they have to so they can have their daily apple, so I just pass these costs along (maybe a little larger markup since I deserve to get more per apple since the apples are worth so much more). My overhead costs didn't go up, but I can make a much larger profit. I can put some of this money back into the business (a new truck, a new tractor, repave the parking lot, etc,) and still be making extra money.

But what about the 50,000 apples I grow? Although my costs to grow them did not change at all, each apple is worth 4 times as much. I’m raking in a ton of money with no additional effort since I can now sell them for the same price as I sell the apples I buy from other farmers.

I’m also not a tax expert, but I'll bet there are significant tax breaks to offset my additional profits and decrease the taxes I would otherwise pay. This may be where my example breaks down since I guess I would have to pay taxes on my increased profit for each apple. But if this were a non-renewable resource (my apples are a renewable resource since I can grow more apples next year), I bet there would be significant tax breaks that increase as the value of the resource being sold goes up, such as depreciation. So I can probably avoid a lot of taxes because I am selling a resource that by market valuation costs a lot more to replace.

Oh yeah, the value of my farm also just increased dramatically since my orchards can now generate higher revenue.

So when the oil companies cry that their profits are not excessive, tell them you’ll agree when your boss quadruples your salary and you don’t have to do anything extra to earn it.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

You Have To Speak More Clearly!

I realized years ago that the thought processes of Democrats and Republics are different. I was recently reminded of this when I pondered John W. McCain's insistence that the war in Iraq was justified, even if it wasn't always properly executed at the beginning, and his adamant assertion that he would never surrend - which is the way he characterizes Democratic plans for an orderly withdrawal from Iraq.

I then realized that members of both parties probably agree that Obama's statement "We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in..." actually reflects what he will do if elected.

What! Republics and Democrats agree that Obama will do what he says?

Yes. Democrats hear Obama's statement and believe that since we were very careless getting into Iraq, Obama is promising to be very careful getting us out. Republics, who still believe the war in Iraq was justified and see no problem with the way it was sold to the public, believe we were not careless at all about getting into Iraq, which means Obama is promising to be not careful at all about getting out of Iraq - thus their claim that he plans to surrend in Iraq.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

OPAWTY? - Virtual Water

Saving the world one cup of coffee at a time.
The June issue of Discover Magazine had an article about virtual water (Better Planet: Virtual Water..., by Thomas M. Kostigen). Virtual water is the amount of water it took to provide a service or item for you - from start to finish. For example, it is estimated that it takes about 1,900 gallons of water to put that one pound steak on your grill and about 53 gallons to put a single egg in your refrigerator.

I'm not sure why these are virtual gallons of water. I am pretty sure I've never consumed a glass of virtual water, but then again who really knows what is in all those bottles we consume. Maybe it is virtual water and that is why we have to pay so much for it.

From the article I learned that like your carbon footprint, you have a virtual water footprint. The average person on earth has a virtual water footprint of about 328,000 gallons of water a year. That is the number of physical gallons of water a person uses directly in a year plus the number of virtual gallons used in a year to produce the food and goods a person consumes and uses. In the United States the virtual water footprint of the average person is about 656,000 gallons a year while in China the average is only about 185,000 gallons - which is good since there are so many more Chinese. If their footprint were as large as ours, they would be very thirsty.

Why are we talking about virtual water? Because we, who live on a water based, water rich world are running out of fresh water. The virtual water concept is supposed to allow us to make better choices. The author, Thomas Kostigen, makes the point that if each of us avoided wasting just one cup of coffee a day we could save enough virtual water to give two gallons of water a day for a year to each of the 1.1 billion people who currently don't have access to clean water. Remember, it is not just the physical water in the cup, it is also the virtual water used to grow the coffee bean, roast it, ship it, etc. Luckily I don't drink coffee so I don't have to carry the guilt of ignoring a billion thirsty people. It took me years to get over the trauma I caused the starving Chinese people when I didn't eat my vegetables as a child.

If the concept of virtual water catches on you can bet it will be added to the content list of packaged food. 180 calories, 0 grams of trans fat and 319 gallons of virtual water.

Let's get real. Are dwindling supplies of fresh water a problem? Yes! But not because we are wasting water on unconsumed coffee. And not because we eat too much meat and not enough grain. The problem is there are too many of us. As the Chinese become more prosperous their virtual water usage will go up. If their virtual water usage even rises to the current world average they are going to be in serious trouble. Likewise, we could cut our virtual water footprint in half, but if our population doubles in 100 years, as might happen, we have put off our problem, but not solved it.

When we are talking about a global water shortage on a water rich planet, people should take note. The problem is not too little water, it is too many people.

Over Populated - Are We There Yet?

You can check your virtual water footprint at WaterFootPrint.org.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ignorance and Stupidity Are Not Free

Anyone who was an adult during the 1970's knows that $4.00 a gallon gasoline or even $10.00 a gallon gasoline prices are not the worst that can happen. The worst is when you can't buy gasoline at any price.

Anyone who was an adult during the 1970's should not be surprised at the current price of gas. If back then you thought about the issues even a little, you should have known that this day was coming. You couldn't know when and you couldn't know exactly what would cause it, but you should have known it was coming and you should have known that if we didn't plan ahead, the situation could be even worse.

There was a short period in the 70's when people lined up for hours to get gas to fill up their cars. Fights broke out in gas lines as frustration soared and tempers flared. Imagine how your life would change today if you couldn't buy enough gasoline to get to work or drive to the grocery store or if you had to spend hours in line to buy it.

Given the events of the 70's, it is hard to understand why we aren't better prepared today. Not!

Al Gore was accused of proposing a 50 cent a gallon gas tax back in 2000. The rational was that higher gas prices would make alternative energy sources more viable and provide incentives to use this finite resource wisely. I don't know whether or not he really made the proposal, but I don't remember many people thinking it was a good idea. Long term thinking is not a strength that comes naturally to people. It is also not a strength of most businesses (SUVs and large pickup trucks are really cheap right now). It should be a strength of government, but not when people vote their short term self-interests and politicians don't have the character to educate people with the painful truth.

Actually, the current high price of gasoline is one of the best things that could happen to us. The painfully high prices may provide motivation to address the problem before there are severe shortages that would turn a problem into a disastrous. Let me put it another way - a return to $2 a gallon gasoline would be bad for the country.

I do wonder if $4 a gallon gasoline is painful enough. It may take even higher prices. It will also take some time for people to realize that $2 a gallon gas is a thing of the past and accept that difficult changes must be made. I know that many people are struggling with these high gas prices, but there is a valuable lesson to be learned. Ignorance and stupidity may be natural and easy, but they are not free. The high price of gas is an indication that we failed to acknowledge the obvious; oil is a precious and finite resource.

So here is the question of the day - what other important issues are we ignoring because the problem is not obvious or the peril is not immediate or the issues are complicated or the solutions are painful?

Ignorance and stupidity are not free.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Clinton For Vice-President

It is long past the time that Senator Clinton should have thrown in the towel. She has waged a magnificent campaign and we all know the best candidate doesn't always win. She needs to graciously concede after the final primary on June 3rd.

Senator Obama should offer Senator Clinton the vice-presidency, if they can come to a few agreements.

They each must be able to forget the rancor and anger of the primary campaign. Senator Clinton must agree to work whole heartedly for Obama's election, success as president and reelection and he must promise to support her presidential ambitions when his terms are complete.

Finally, Bill Clinton must never publicly offer political or policy advice during an Obama administration. He can work with his foundation and he might be called upon for special projects, but he is to stay out of the political limelight and preferably well away from the White House.

I'd have a prenuptial drawn up for everyone to sign. That includes President Clinton.

OPAWTY?-What is a Pest?

A can of pesticide sprays the Earth.  Has human overpopulation made us a pest?If overpopulation by any other species caused as much environmental damage as human overpopulation does, we would have long ago created an industrial strength pesticide to control their numbers.

Over Populated -
Are We There Yet?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

You Can Have My Flintlock...

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

To my reading, the Second Amendment clearly states that the right of people to bear arms is linked to service in a Militia. Since “well regulated Militia”, as they existed in 1789 when the Second Amendment was written, no longer exist, the un-infringed right to bear arms no longer exists. Militias are archaic and references to them in the Constitution should be removed. The US Constitution is a magnificent document, but references to slavery had to be removed. The Second Amendment applied to an historical situation that no longer exists and it should be repealed.

But what I believe is unimportant, the Supreme Court is in the process of determining how the Second Amendment applies to a Washington, DC, ban on handguns. The high level arguments generally revolve around whether the amendment grants a collective right related to service in a Militia or an individual right.

The questions posed by the Justices in open court seem to indicate they believe the Second Amendment grants an individual right. I hope their decision does not upset the status quo which has allowed reasonable legislative restrictions on firearms. I don’t believe there are currently many laws that seriously infringe gun ownership for hunting, sport or self-defense.

If the strict constructionist justices on the Court rule that the Second Amendment grants an individual right, they will unleash a domestic arms race. “Infringe” is a strong verb, the kind strict constructionist judges like and all judges will find hard to circumvent. If residents of DC are “infringed” by a restriction that they cannot own handguns, although they can own long guns, certainly laws that allow ownership of semi-automatic weapons, but do not allow ownership of fully automatic weapons, “infringe” gun owners rights. How many other current laws will be challenged as infringing? If I can own a fully automatic assault rifle, why not a heavy machine gun?

If the Court rules the Second Amendment grants an individual right, will they try to allow for restrictions to the right? How will they do that? There are restrictions on the right to free speech, but given the clause that links arms to Militias, any weapon appropriate for a Militia would seem to be appropriate for an individual. Given the link to Militias, is a law against ownership of an RPG an infringement?

I guess a strict constructionist judge could rule that an individual has an un-infringed right to any firearm available to a citizen of 1789.*

* Maybe Charlton Heston had it perfectly right when in 2000 as president of the NRA he held a flintlock rifle over his head and said you could only take it from his “cold dead hands”.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Monuments To Stupidity

Roadside tombstone with inscription - Wild Man Jones, 04/01/2007.  He will be missed. Sorry about the 3 kids in the mini-van he hit. He really wasn't a bad driver when he was sober. The shoulders of highways in my area are becoming littered with shrines to people killed in traffic accidents. Aren't many of these monuments to stupidity? Either the stupidity of the person killed or a victim of the stupidity of another driver?

I have sympathy for the person killed through no fault of their own, such as a passenger in a car hit by a drunk driver, but I'm not in favor of a roadside shrine for them. And what about the person whose bad behaviour caused the crash and died? Does their stupidity and/or bad driving deserve a monument?

Maybe we should have a way to indicate if the person memorialized was a victim or a perpetrator. Maybe a white flag for a victim and a red flag for a perpetrator. Or maybe shrines to victims can have candles or lights and perpetrators can't. If you caused your own death and maybe the death of someone else, you can't advertise at night.

Some of these monuments can be large and garish. If you have an accident because you were distracted by a garish monument for a previous accident victim, are you a victim or just stupid? I wonder if you can sue.

Should monument construction guidelines be driven by an apportioning of blame, like insurance claims? Maybe the victim should take a 25% share of the blame for their own death because they were talking on their cell phone and didn't notice the on-coming car swerving into their lane. The blame flags can have red and white panels sized proportionally to the persons share of blame for their death.

And why do we call these "accidents" when so many are the result of lack of skills or bad judgement? Too many people want to be the fastest driver on the road rather than the safest.

What is the protocol and etiquette of monument building? On a dangerous corner where many accident's have occurred, do earlier victims have squatters rights and later victims have their monuments erected nearby with arrows to show the actual location of denouement?

When an accident takes the life of both the perpetrator and victims, do victims receive a preference for the location of their shrine based on the percentage of blame they were assigned? Come to think of it, is it really appropriate for the family of a perpetrator to erect a memorial if other people were killed or injured?

Is it ever appropriate for a victim's family to trash a perpetrator's memorial? Possibly as way to find closure (a much overused concept these days).

A corner of an intersection I traverse on my daily commute has two crosses (presumably to accident victims/perpetrators, but I guess they could just be advertisements for the local churches). This corner was farm land that is being converted to a strip mall. I've been wondering what they are going to do with these monuments. Leave them alone? Tear them down? Rebuild them in an architectural style to match the mall? If monument builders are smart they'll get easements before they build anything elaborate.

At what point should memorials be taken down? I suppose these monuments are meant to honor the deceased. In that case, shouldn't you take care of them in perpetuity like tombstones? If you put them up to honor the deceased, what are you saying when you take them down? Are you saying you don't care any more? If you just let the monument decay from the elements, what does that say?

I first saw this monument trend 30 years ago when I lived in the southwest. Now it is a national movement. What is next, monuments in emergency rooms, hospital rooms and nursing homes? You can't have people tripping over monuments in the emergency rooms. How about using those walnut plaques with spaces to add names at later dates - like the ones used for employee of the month. These wouldn't take up much space and people could take comfort in knowing the place of their loved one's demise has been documented. Can you imagine buying a house and finding a brass marker in the living room noting the location of the passing of Uncle Stewart in 1985 after an overly rich Thanksgiving dinner?

As you can tell I think these roadside memorials are ridiculous. I understand the grief that motivates people to build them, but grief is an emotion that we all deal with at some point. Put up a garish headstone in the cemetery, keep pictures on the wall, but let's not clutter the shoulders of our highways. Show a little sympathy for the people who have to mow the roadside weeds.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Tag Team: Democrats vs John W. McCain, III

Clinton and Obama should pledge that for the rest of the nominating process they will treat Senator John W. McCain as the opponent, not their fellow Democrat. Democrats fear that the during the next few weeks, in their attempt to secure the nomination, Obama and Clinton will damage each other and make it easier for McCain to defeat them in the general election. Since, for the Democrats, it should really be a contest about who can beat McCain, start the general election campaign now. It would be two candidates (and campaign treasuries) against one. Obama and Clinton should make their case to Democratic primary voters by showing which one will be the best at beating John McCain. They should each realize that for the sake of the country, to paraphrase McCain, it would be better for either of them to lose the nomination than for a Republic to be elected president.

For a more detailed discussion, see my post below.

Clinton/Obama Tag Team Against McCain

I was hoping that Senator Obama would score a decisive victory over Senator Clinton in Texas and Ohio. We can't afford a continued Democratic nominating process that might weaken the eventual Democratic nominee. Too many times I’ve watched Democrats nominate qualified candidates only to have them trounced in the general election by a Republic.

The past eight years have made it clear.

  • The American voter doesn’t know a qualified candidate from an unqualified candidate.
  • The country can’t afford another president like Bush (John W. McCain is just Bush Heavy).
  • It is the responsibility of the Democrats to nominate a candidate that can win. Whether or not that candidate is the most qualified is not important.

With that in mind, I propose that Clinton and Obama make a pact and take a pledge.

Clinton and Obama should pledge that for the rest of the nominating process they will treat Senator McCain as the opponent, not their fellow Democrat. Democrats fear that the during the next few weeks, in their attempt to secure the nomination, Obama and Clinton will damage each other and make it easier for McCain to defeat them in the general election. Since, for the Democrats, it should really be a contest about who can beat McCain, start the general election campaign now. It would be two candidates (and campaign treasuries) against one. Obama and Clinton should make their case to Democratic primary voters by showing which one will be the best at beating John McCain. To paraphrase McCain, they should each realize that for the sake of the country, it would be better for either of them to lose the nomination than for a Republic to be elected president.

Michigan and Florida need to schedule primaries. Those voters plus Pennsylvania would be judging which candidate is better against McCain. Even if the voters don’t follow the script, we would have weeks of tag team effort and massive campaign funds to use against McCain. Obama and Clinton can highlight their differences, but do nothing to attack or weaken their Democratic opponent. If the Democrats stay united, they will have significantly weakened support for McCain and made the true general campaign, no matter which candidate is nominated, much easier.

Obama and Clinton should also pledge that the losing candidate will whole heartedly continue to vigorously campaign and raise money for the winning candidate. It would be their responsibility to deliver their supporters to the Democratic nominee. This should be a team effort all the way through Election Day in November.

Michigan and Florida must be primaries, not caucuses. While Obama may do better in a caucus, this is a test for electability in the general election. New elections in Michigan and Florida are just a matter of money.

In a country that abhors rewarding law breakers, it may seem unfair to give Michigan and Florida such power after they ignored party rules, but the blame should go to party and elected officials, not voters. Besides, Democrats should focus on winning not retribution. One way to appropriately punish Michigan and Florida would be to require that all delegates from those states be new people. Florida and Michigan would have to come up with new slates of delegates and any super delegates that owe their credentials to association with these states would have these credentials revoked.

Democrats need to stay focused. This is not about Clinton or Obama. It is about putting a Democrat in the White House in January, 2009!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Who Has The Best Record?

President Bush and the Republics, over many years, repeatedly claimed that their policies have kept us safe since 9/11. A gutsy claim since a single attack on the U.S. would have opened their domestic antiterrorism policies to even more questions.

Over and over they've told us we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here. Another gutsy move since an attack here would raise questions about how terrorists we are defeating in Iraq managed to get to the U.S..

While their Iraq logic is also less than flimsy, they are correct. Thankfully, we have not been attacked in the United States since 9/11. By my calculations, that is about seven years and five months.

Mitt Romney dropped out of the Republic presidential race because he loves his country so much, he would rather not be president than see this country fall into the inept hands of Democrats and then, eventually, inevitably, to defeat at the hands of terrorists. (Is this not an echo of McCain's I'd rather lose the presidency than lose a war?)

I understand that logic and truth are not bullet points in the Republic platform. Heck, they are never even on their New Year's resolution lists. The lists that are forgotten by January 2nd. I am continually astounded that there aren't some voices in the party who can stand up for reason and logic. There are flakes at both ends of the political spectrum, but Republics like to elect and follow them. If the Democrats are the big tent party, the Republics are the closed room, closed minds party. And yes, sometimes the Democrats' big tent seems like a circus tent, but I'll take a big top with three rings over an ideological dungeon of fear.

But, as usual, I digress. I believe the first attack in the U.S. by Islamic extremists was the first attack on the World Trade Center in February 26, 1993. We didn't have another attack in the U.S. during the remainder of Bill Clinton's term which ended in January, 2001. That was a period of about eight years. Do Republics ever give Bill Clinton credit for having kept us safe for eight years? We weren't attacked again until he left office and George Bush and the Republics were in charge.

This year Republics will once again run a campaign of fear and once again claim that only they can keep us safe. Democrats need to remind the country that after seven years, yes, thankfully, the country has not been attacked again, but Osama bin Laden has not been captured or killed, the justified war in Afghanistan has not resulted in a secure country, Pakistan is even more insecure, Iran has been enabled and emboldened and Iraq is an unnecessary mess that has cost thousands of U.S. lives and casualties, billions of dollars, degraded our military options and cost us diplomatically.

Terrorism is a serious threat that cannot be ignored, but statements that only Republics know how to keep us safe are inane.