Archive for January 2008

Republican Debate?

January 31, 2008

Last night on CNN, the 4 remaining Republican candidates sat around a table in the Regan Library and “answered” reporters questions.  Three of the four mostly replied to the questions choosing instead to insert some prepared remarks that said little or nothing.  Only Ron Paul gave clear and unambiguous answers to the questions.  Here are some observations.

1. Mitt Romney looked and acted the most presidential of the four.  He strongly denied accusations from John McCain but never resorted to “child to parent” behavior and maintained a cool but sincere demeanor. 

2. John McCain did not look very presidential and often when the question was being answered to another, and the camera caught McCain in its view, you could see him sneering at the answer.  You could almost read his mind saying, “you silly ass fool (insert Mike, Ron, or Mitt depending upon who was talking)”.  I think this is a strong clue on whether McCain has the character to listen to dissenting views and truly keep an open mind.  Warning… we have one of those now and he is a disaster!

3. Mike Huckabee was all over the map.  His appearance and demeanor were reasonable and fully in control.  Never the less you could see he was disgusted with the allocation of questions (time on air) that highly favored Romney and McCain.

4. Ron Paul was fully in control and patient.  He seemed to know and accept that he would get the least amount of air time.  I guess he thought that just being there was great since Dennis Kucinich will not make the cut tonight.

5. Mitt offered a measure of hope in his answer to questions on immigration and ending the Iraq War.  Of course he danced around both issues but reading between the lines he expressed logical and humanitarian views on immigration and potentially if he were to become President, he could sell the case that there is no way to return 12-14 million undocumented aliens so there better be some pathway to citizenship (or at least documentation).  With respect to the war, he did not bite on the “we will be there 100 years” and rather insisted on doing things orderly and without a time line.  Since Romney is a good business man, he at least knows that the value add of Iraq is a large negative number.

6. McCain used his basic stump speech lines as often as he could.  He has always been a leader so he can run the Government.  He has always been strong on defense so he knows what’s best in Iraq.  He was a foot soldier for Regan so he clearly knows the conservative’s values.  There was no explanation of a justification for the war but rather simply “I supported our President”, implying the President knew what he was doing (and we know that is not the case).  There were no ideas on what to do with those without healthcare coverage nor were their any ideas on how to get the economy’s fundamentals going again.  (that is the beauty of the conservative line, “get out of the way and let the people do it”.  While partially true (and certainly true up to the 1990’s), we will need much more coordination of science and math education, and investment in infrastructure to fuel a rebirth of American value creation in today’s world.)

7. Ron Paul is unsuited to become President but he was the most honest and clearest speaker.  To the question of whether our troops should stay in Iraq 100 Years, he said that was the wrong question.  Paul said, “they should never have gone in the first place, there were no WMD and no links to 9/11 or al Qaeda, and Congress never issued a Declaration of War”.  In Paul’s view, the war is illegal and unconstitutional.  If the candidates had debated that subject, all of American could have learned something.

8. Huckabee is also a complex candidate.  He speaks foolishly and unproductively about God, religion and morality (like apple pie and motherhood) and recommends doing away with the IRS.  Then he speaks practically and realistically about how to fix education, immigration, and government in general.  It sounds as if Mike is bi-polar with opposing extremes around God and common sense.

The Republicans have a real problem with respect to unifying their party.  It looks like the best bet now is McCain but he clearly is not liked by all Republicans.  (In this sense he is like Hillary).  Romney has not kissed enough back sides (or done it well enough) to gain the broader support of the big Republican hitters.  Watch to see who Karl Rove supports to learn where the consensus will settle.  The even larger problem is how they will debate the Democratic candidate with the economy broken, the poor and rich more separated than ever, and the Iraq War which makes no sense at all still going.

Mike Huckabee will need a plan B after super Tuesday.  He has never had much money and he will have less then.  As always, the VP spot is his best hope.   Ron Paul could continue as a Republican candidate and keep them honest, or he could consider running as a 3rd party candidate.  Time will tell but having his clear voice on the War will be a service to the nation.

It Will Be a Long Race II

January 30, 2008

With the Florida primary completed, the Republican field is narrowed to probably 2 with a third positioned to be the “king” maker.  Sounds a lot like the Democratic situation.  The best part of the Republican primary is that there is no candidate that pleases all those who call themselves Republicans, but retaining the White House might cause Republicans of all kinds of colors to join behind one candidate.  But which one?  Here’s some advice for the candidates:

1. Mitt Romney, keep your focus on the middle and emphasize the economy.  You are at least qualified to speak about domestic issues and the more you talk of that, the less time there is to talk about homeland security and the war.  If you really had courage, you would move decisively towards the side of bringing home the troops.  You could say the job is done, we won, and all that.  But more than anything, you could use the war money to fund “no child left behind” or setting up a program to document all those living here who lack documents.  You could also tell the Pat Robinsons of this world that you are a Mormon and it will be a cold day in hell before you will kiss their back sides again.  You could apologize to the gay and lesbian community for having acted so “unchristian” in the early stages of your campaign.  In short you could really move to the center and hope to appeal to moderates from both sides who want experience and someone with business sense.

2. John McCain, why do some people hate you so much?  I am absolutely without explanation why someone would build a web site that shows 20 reasons you should not be elected.  The site, posted supposedly by David K Fuller is ridiculous but it it may only be the tip of an iceberg of opinion.

If that is the case, you will need to broaden your message and ease up on this war.  Americans can be scared (as so well done by Rove and Bush) but sooner or later, they will see through this.  You are a war hero yourself and that’s enough.  What the moderate voter wants to know is that you will run a fiscally sound government, you will act reasonably towards those who need help, and you will do your very best to bring together all Americans and not throw some on the junk heap.  You have a real appearance (not plastic like Mitt’s) and American is not looking for another born again or preacher, so don’t go kissing Pat Robinson’s back side.

3. Mike Huckabee there is no chance.  No chance to be the presidential nominee but there is a chance to become the VP nominee.  You too would benefit from less volume on God and more towards using your faith for your own strength and let the rest of the nation and world think about God their own way.  You have a lot of practical executive experience running a State.  This would be an asset for either Mitt or John.  You should end up with enough delegates that your support will be critical to one of them.  Save your money, enjoy the thrill, and meet them at the convention.

4. Rudy, Rudy, it is all over and you can get out without spending a lot more.  You will make more money in the months ahead than you would have syphoned off as President. 

Who ever the Republican nominee ends up being, they will need some answers to the following and hope that the answers separate them from the failed Bush Administration. 

  • The economy is a mess
  • Consumer confidence is low
  • Global warming is real
  • Bush said no to Kyoto Protocol
  • The ABM treaty lays by the wayside
  • Our anti-missile missiles do not work (and have no purpose)
  • The Russians won’t help if we keep shoving a sharp stick in their eye
  • Iraq War was a war of choice
  • There were no WMD
  • There was no link with Hussein and al Qaeda
  • Abu Ghraib happened and soiled our Country’s reputation
  • Guantanamo and extreme interrogation methods do not work, put the US in the poorest of light, and need to cease
  • Science is needed to bring about real progress, intelligent design should be trashed
  • There should never be another Terri Schaivo episode

There will be plenty of chances during the Presidential campaign for who ever the candidates are to make a clear distinction between themselves and these examples of failed policies and behaviors.  You too can be pro-choice and make it clear that you will not repete any of these Bush transgressions.

The Last Act

January 29, 2008

President George W Bush delivered his (thankfully) last “State of the Union” address last evening.  He allowed that the economy was going through some tough times but insisted that things had improved in Vietnam, I mean Iraq.  I guess there is not much else he could have said but of course it is only partially true, and the parts he omitted are the important ones.

1. With respect to Iraq, it is far more important to know how we got there and to recognize that we are there now because we have a responsibility to fix something we broke.  You can argue whether the surge is a good strategy or not, but the need to re-establish a stable Government after the US had destroyed the former Iraq legitimate and stable Government is clear (we may not have liked Hussein but the Iraq was stable).  But don’t overlook that this was a war of choice (Bush is for pro-choice!), and our experience to date has shown it to be a blunder.

  • There were no WMD
  • There was no connection with 9/11 al Qaeda
  • Over 4000 Americans have lost their lives
  • We are closing in on $1 trillion dollars in cost
  • We took our eye off Afghanistan and it has deteriorated
  • We are now tied down in Iraq and can not respond to trouble in Afghanistan or Pakistan
  • We are no closer in finding a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis
  • We have little respect or trust left with our allies or other important nations

In short, rejoicing over progress in Iraq does injustice to the verdicts history will write.

2. With respect to the economy, Bush fiddled while Rome burned.  Bush presided over an Administration whose “tone at the top” was greed.  Prudent regulations or special taxes on excessive and obscenely high bonuses could have brought the private sector to their senses.  Greed always leads to a decay in order and how institutions were intended to work.  There is likely several problems with the economy that will need Presidential support

  • There was far too much stimulus for the housing industry and it is normal to catch our breaths.  You can build houses faster than you can find people who can afford them
  • There are a lot of shoes waiting to fall in terms of mortgage defaults.  Too many people were coaxed into taking mortgages that they could not afford that it will be inevitable that they will have to walk away leaving the banks with a lot of real estate
  • When a Merrill Lynch or a Citibank need to write off over $20 billion between them, we must conclude that big banking/investment business has had a crisis in governance (will or capacity). 
  • One day we will wake up and see that the jobs that have left for China or where ever are not coming back.  The jobs that are being created (and there are new jobs) are jobs that pay less, much less.  Our country has an apatite inherited from when we were more prosperous and now has an earning power that simply can not afford the past rich style of living.  This has happened on Bush’s watch.

Bush can not blame these problems on the Democrats.  He can not blame the gays or lesbians either.  The undocumented workers are not the cause also.  Teaching intelligent design won’t fix it either.  And abstinence will not cure these problems just as it did not help AIDS. 

If you are not worried by now, you should be.  President Bush has been a one song guy with a “poverty of imagination” (credit to Thomas Friedman).  The most important recession medicine is what it takes to gain confidence in the Country’s future and that is usually aligned with confidence in the President.  Forget about it happening with Bush, so now we must look to the 2008 candidates for hope.  What do you see?

Wanted: A Coherent Policy

January 28, 2008

Over the past week, the US’s top two spooks, Mike Mc Connell, Director of National Intelligence, and General Michael Hayden, Director of the CIA, visited Pakistan and met with President Pervez Musharaf.  The purpose of their meeting was to gain Pakistan’s permission to expand covert operation against al Qaeda and Taliban members currently living in the Pakistan regions boardering Afghanistan.  Musharaf’s answer was publicly “no”.  We do not know what was really said.

The point here does not depend upon Musharaf’s answer.  The mere fact that America’s two top “Intellignece” officials needed to ask sheds further light on the Bush/Cheney failed Presidencey.  When the Taliban were driven from power in late 2001, there was need for (1) ensuring the Taliban movement was ended, and (2) resolve for assisting in the establishment of a sound Afghan Government.  Instead the White House took out the Iraq drum, and while Pearl, Wolfowitz, and Feith fiddled, Cheney and Bush beat the Iraq War drum.  Iraq was totally unrelated to Afghanistan, yet our leaders pushed the Country into an unnecessary and expensive war.  The greater cost will likely turn out to be the lost opportunity cost associated with not having fixed Afghanistan before looking elsewhere for “bad people”.  Look at things today:

1. Pakistan is under great pressure from its own internal politics.  It is a poor country with a huge population and little hope for them to rise in living standards.  This is fresh meat for any religion but especially so for the more radical elements of Islam.

2. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and a past history of sharing their know how.  The Country is unmanageable by normal democratic means and has been for decades.  The last thing anyone needed was the Taliban setting up shop in the boarder regions.  Yet for 6 years the Bush Administration has, by neglect, allowed that to happen.

3. The Afghan Government is extremely fragile and largely controls only the capital Kabul.  The bureaucracy is based upon bribes (Government pay is so low that bribes continue to be the way of life).  The everyday person can hardly say they are better off in practice with “democracy” than with the Taliban.

4. The other “elephant in the room” is the long history of growing poppies and the drug trade it feeds.  This is the source of foreign exchange and to end it, presents a large political problem.  To not end it, dooms any Afghan Government.

5. Just as the US funded and supplied the Mujahideen in their fight against the Russians (Charlie Wilson’s War), there are today plenty of willing Countries who are and will continue to fund the Taliban insurgents as long as the US does not convince them to cease.

In short, Afghanistan is a mess.   Pakistan, especially the boarder region, is a mess.  The US is trapped in Iraq (which once we let up on the gas will be a mess).  The Middle East is a mess with the motives and behaviors of Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia unpredictable.  In a parlimentary form of government, there would be a vote of no confidence in the Bush regime and a new Administration would be asked to get to work.

The need for a coherent policy is based upon the lack of any now, or for the last 7 years.  The Taliban arose when the Russians were defeated and the US had a hand in that.  The Taliban was defeated following 9/11.  In both cases, it appears no one has seen the need to focus on building a stable Afghanistan that could provide its people with a better life.  You are left to wonder why Bush and Cheney thought the US could do it in Iraq when it had failed in Afghanistan.  Even scarier is the thought that Bush and Cheney thought we had succeeded in Afghanistan.    

It Will Be a Long Race

January 27, 2008

Barack Obams’s clear and decisive victory in the South Carolina primary was very impressive.  He clearly awoke many African Americans and they went out to vote.  But that was not all.  He motivated a large group of younger, dissatisfied voters who were mostly non-black and they enthusiastically supported Barack.  Here are some observations:

1. Hillary watch out.  Your campaign’s continued use of “bad mouth” accusations does not reinforce your image as a leader who can unite.  Without capturing the imagination of young Americans, the rest of your message and your competence is lost in the dull roar.  You must remember that about half the voters are women while only 12% are African Americans.  If you believe that Obama has little experience, then let it show by his own actions.  Focus your attention on convincing Americans that you can lead for everyone and forget about Barack.  The final decision will most likely come at the convention and that’s where the fight needs to be.  Besides, he would make a great VP.

2. Barack, congratulations on an outstanding victory.  You are managing to stay above the gutter and this will stand you well.  The “change” message is going to wear out soon.  You need to be more clear on change from what.  Bill Clinton’s years were actually quite good ones for the Country and our economy.  Most Americans can look back and see that they were better off after his terms than before.  The “change” should be from the policies of George W Bush and his failed Presidency, and the likely 2008 Republican candidates.  You need to be clear that you won’t be a George Bush nor a Mitt Romney, John McCain, or Mike Huckabee (and why). 

3. John Edwards, the future is much clearer now.  You will not be President but you could be the king maker.  If there is a remote chance of getting nominated in a dead locked convention, you must use your time to stay on the high ground and broaden your message to be more inclusive and less cutting.

Economic Stimulus

January 24, 2008

The Fed surprised most everyone with a 3/4 point decrease in interest rate and the market responded. Most people thought this was great news and that there would not be a recession. Nobody, especially the candidates, want a recession and this aggressive Fed action seems to be what the doctor ordered. What if:

1. The subprime issue is not really that tightly connected to the potential recession? Suppose instead US homes are already stuffed with enough junk (junk being the products now being offered)? Suppose the average consumer’s propensity to purchase is dented because he has lost faith in his government, especially his President? Suppose that the average consumer is earning less money now than in 2000 (inflation adjusted) and just can’t buy anything unless he goes further into credit card debt?

2. The depth of the subprime issue is not yet known and that our premier financial institutions, in their individual pursuits of greed, have some really rotten skeletons in closets yet opened? Could this hurry up move by the Fed actually be a big financial institution bale out?

3. The productive juices of the US are still sinking and many are tied to a slowly decaying infrastructure? For the past 7 years the Bush Administration has looked the other way as long as there were enough votes (to stay in office) and their main contributors had enough money in the public troth to digest. What if those good times looked like they were going to go away?

Stay tuned to the news and do not be surprised that the economy does not boom and remain healthy for a historically reasonable period of time. There simply has been no adequate explaination of how big the hole is.


January 23, 2008

It seems that neo-historians are already at work rewriting the past 7 years and putting more lipstick on the Bush appearance.  In “Tough Calls, Good Call” in Tuesday, January 22, 2008’s edition of the Wall Street Journal (Opinion page), J.D. Crouch II and Robert Joseph have taken a stab at justifying the Bush years.  They point to what others would label failures, misjudgements, or plain disasters.

They begin by pointing out that about 1 year ago, George Bush, against most all advice, raised the stakes in Iraq and introduced us to the “serge”.  They claim George did this because he did not want the US to “lose” in Iraq.  (It will be a long time before anyone knows the true outcome of this Bush escapade into Iraq and “win/lose” are emotive terms and used for political purposes.)  Crouch and Joseph propose that this time it is “mission accomplished”.  (We can debate that point at another time.)  They then offer that the surge decision, although tough, was somewhat easier because George had made so many tough ones before.  They suggest dumping the ABM treaty, restarting Star Wars, and then deploying new missiles in the face of Russian opposition was a tough call.

But this has not been enough, reason these Chicken Hawks.  They recommend deploying a third site for these anti-missile missiles in Europe.  Then arm them with “multiple kill vehicles” so that the Iranians and North Koreans can be defended against.  Crouch and Joseph then want the US to beef up the Navy assets and while we are at it, let’s improve our long range missiles.  (What war are thinking about fighting?)  And lastly, and not to overlook a new frontier, they want the US to arm space.  (I wonder whether they think al Qaeda will get there first?)

All this because George Bush (read Dick Cheney) had the insight to make the tough calls early on.  If you had been asleep for 20 years and just awoke, you would think the cold war had never ended.  What are they thinking?

1. Iraq is a mess and a terribly costly one.  Some estimate have it going from $1 trillion to $2 trillion while our homeland gradually decays.  The 4000 lives and even greater number of severly wounded service men and women simply are not worth the Iraq escapade.

2. Star Wars remains unproven technology with no value towards an enemy employing asymmetrical tactics like al Qaeda.  Star Wars should not be expected to work, either, against a conventional military threats presently due to technology limitations.  From a dollars and cents perspective, investing in soft deplomacy and rebuilding our economic strength would be much more cost effective and likely to make the US more effective internationally, and all Americans better off ay home.

3. China and India represent the largest threats to our economic strength and continuing to do everything possible to anger the Russians (a possible ally) is backward’s thinking.  Both China and India can be managed more effectively through economic competition accompanied by a sensible foreign policy.

4. Crouch and Joseph are the first of many who will hail Bush as a national hero and propose we build the future upon his magnificent accomplishments.  We must see these neo-historians for what they are, chicken hawks who have not progressed from the cold war.  We should remember Bush for who he was… no Kyoto Protocol, Terri Schaivo, invading Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, forget the Geneva Convention, a holiday for due process, and good-bye to habeas corpus.

5. We should also watch which 2008 Presidential candidates salute Crouch and Joseph’s words.  The words “four more years” will mean just this type of failed presidency.

State Sponsored Terrorism

January 22, 2008

There are news reports that the anti-abortionists are readying a new wave of assaults on American women.  This, at a time when there are so many other important issues facing Americans, is perplexing.  As you look behind these activities you find the loose confederation of evangelicals and fundamentalists organized by “for profit” churches.  Their goal is to reverse “Roe v Wade” at the minimum and at best, to make it illegal under any conditions for a woman to end her pregnancy.

Georgia is considering an initiative that will define life to begin with fertilization.  Logically then anything that would end the pregnancy would, in effect, be an act of murder.  I wonder if they have thought about:

1. How many “PP” (pregnancy police) they will need to spy in each bedroom to see if copulation has taken place and then run spot checks (like athelete  who take urine tests) to see if the woman is pregnant?

2. What means of electronic earsdroping will be used to determine if a woman leaves the state and returns, whether she had had an abortion?

3. Could the State pursue a woman into another State on the suspicion that the woman was pregnant and might consider having an abortion?

These ridiculous situations may seem unreal but given the pending laws, they are the logical extension of thinking that chooses to subjugate a woman’s right to her reproductive health.  But what is behind this?

1. In running any religion or ideological group, it is always easier to gain consensus when you present the people with an enemy.  With religions, where you are dealing with faith and belief (not logic or facts), to imply that an abortion is analogous to killing, you get a quick response…”thou shalt not kill”.  Just like Jim Jones, it is them against us and we have to win or they will destroy us.

2. I would certainly not categorize most of the modern evangelical and fundamentalist leaders as Jim Jones types.  I would simply call them what they are… they are shrewd business men and women.  They are feeding their flocks something that makes the unthinking feel they are better than others.  For this people turn over buckets of dollars to these religious leaders.

3. American was founded upon the inalienable rights of individuals to personal liberties.  Through out our history we have seen an enlightenment that these rights apply to everyone regardless of race, creed, or gender.  (We are working on sexual preference now).  How then can we protect the woman’s right to choose?

4. I suggest we fight fire with fire.  Let’s begin a drive to tax all religious institutions that choose to try and influence the public agenda.  I have no beef with churches that teach people how to pray or see nature as beautiful, or even how they think they should live.  I react when these churches try and tell me how I should live.  So, let’s tax them like any other corporation.

Taking Control…

January 21, 2008

Our brave President is back from his 8 day trip to the Middle East.  Why eight days?  I guess 7 were not enough and 9 were too  many.  The President was indeed brave making speech and speech without apparent fear that anyone would consider his record versus what he was saying or doing.  Why did Dick Cheney send the President to the Middle East in January?

1.  It is warmer in the Middle East in January than it is in Washington, DC.  The White House was able to lower the thermostat in the Oval Office and save the tax payers big bucks, and at the same time show an example to Americans of energy efficiency.

2. The Bush biographer insisted that Bush try his hand at negotiation with the Palestinians and the Israelis (at least once in his 8 years).  Every other modern President has and without that chapter, George’s biography would stand out.

3. George (actually it was Cheney) has had a second thought on this thing called “Democracy”.  That is a good concept for a speech and the neoconservatives really like it, but for some reason there is none of it in the Middle East (save Israel maybe).  This trip gave George a chance to shine the light on America’s friends and tell them “to hell with democracy”.

4. George is not known for liking bad news and with the US economy is heading down the toilet, George thought it was best for him to get out of town and avoid the questions.  (As a seasoned businessman, George should have some great advice for all of us… maybe.

5. The price of oil has been skyrocketing and George saw it as the mission of the President to go to the horse’s mouth itself and tell King Abdullah, “lower your prices”.  George did in fact give a lesson on the ill effects of high oil prices and there was silence.  I wonder why the King did not bend down and kiss George’s back side?

Well, we will probably never know why the President went to the Middle East and if we did, we might find the real reason had less meaning that these silly reasons I have listed.  I wonder whether the next President will provide the same opportunities for schadenfreude that little Georgie has given us.

Recession Cures

January 20, 2008

It looks like the President and Congress are in agreement that something must be done to stimulate the economy.  The experts fear that if nothing is done, the overall Country will slip into recession.  And there is a reasonable chance that a US recession will have ripple effects around the world.  All parties seem to think that $ 100 to 150 billion package would do the trick.

So that’s the good news.  The bump in the road is how to distribute the money.  The President says there should be tax credits and they should go to those who pay taxes (many of his friends included).  News reports indicate that there is about 40% of tax payers actually pay no income tax (they do pay social security and medicare) because they do not earn enough, and these people deserve a break too, argue the Democrats. 

The Country’s high powered economists will argue this point over the next few weeks.  It does seem  somewhat unfair if only the rich get the breaks.  Maybe a combination of business incentives (tied to hiring people for example) and outright “cash back” sceames (such as tax credits of $ 500 which would either lower ones tax bill or turn into a refund) might be a fair way of passing out this stimulus.

It is down to Hillary, Barack, McCain, Romney, Huchabee, and maybe Rudy who must speak to this issue (even though it will be Congress and the President who actually do something).  We can judge how these candidates judge the American people and whether they feel fair is fair.