Archive for June 2008

Bolton on Bolton

June 30, 2008

In Monday’s Wall Street Journal, John Bolton writes again and this time, “The Tragic End of Bush’s North Korea Policy”, as if the world is about to end.  Bolton cries out as maybe Thomas Paine might have trying to awake the citizens to a colossal mistake and hoping to rally the troops to a response.  Bolton appears unaware that the Bush Administration has long ago lost its way, and with North Korea, quite by accident, may have found its way… Or at least a way that the US can afford.

Bolton speaks so strongly of a country (North Korea) that consistently does not keep its word in international agreements and suggest that the Bush White House must be in a daze if it thinks North Korea will keep it this time.  Never once does Bolton consider the obvious… so what if they do not keep to this agreement?  What could we do anyways?

Or consider that North Korea boarders China and is also very close to the Soviet Union.  Both of these nations have little to gain with any of their neighbors proliferating nuclear weapons.  One or the other is also key to the support of a country that can not support themselves (in other words, North Korea depends upon the good will of China and Russia).  With both Russia and China on the ascendancy and enjoying a return to the “good life”, they have little tolorance for a wild card country.  With any type of international diplomacy and cooperation, the US could gain these allies in offsetting the fear of North Korea with nuclear weapons.

John Bolton has written before about North Korea and has chastised the Bush Administration on its handling of these negotiations.  I simply wonder if there is any connection between Dick Cheney’s preferred style of negotiating and the fact that both Bolton and Cheney were key members of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and sing from the same choir book.  For reasons still unexplained (other than there were no other options since our military is already over committed to Iraq), the State Department won this policy battle.  It tells you a lot that Bolton writes so vitriolic about the President that made his UN appointment while Congress was adjourned.  The neocons take no prisoners.

Dangerous Times Ahead

June 30, 2008

There has never been a time where “regaining the center” is or will be more important than now.  After 8 years of malfeasance and abdication of executive control, the US is sinking into the fruits of its hubris.  The Republican train wreck has left the next Administration, whether John McCain or Barack Obama’s, with a huge hill to climb and a hill with still very slippery slopes.  This situation can not be turned around with more of the same (Bush III) or for that matter with a “Ted Kennedy-like” progressive agenda.  The world is sick and the US is a patient too.

Like a bowl of spaghetti, there are symptoms all around us but it is not clear which ones should be fixed first and which ones, if fixed, will also eliminate other symptoms.  For example

  • Our currency is worth 1/2 its value (versus Euro) and key imports (like oil) cost us more
  • There is a world demand for oil greater than supply, the US has no alternate energy policy, and therefore we are under the gun of those producing oil
  • The American consumer is up to their ears in debt (or for some even higher) and there is no further room to buy our way out of the economic slow down.
  • The US Government has set a horrible example for the rest of the world and especially its own citizens by doubling its debt (now more than $ 9 trillion) in 8 short years.
  • The US infrastructure is continuing to decay having been largely neglected for the past 8 years.
  • The Defense Department budget is bloated at over $ 600 billion but the Department and a great number of hawks (chicken and otherwise) are calling for even greater expendatures.
  • China and India are growing rapidly and inevitably their exports will cost more.  When that happens, the US will experience a new round of inflation that it can not control other than by lower our standard of living.
  • There are about 40 million Americans without health insurance and this number is growing.  It will take a lot of money to fix and that money is now going to wasteful non-productive uses.
  • Balancing the budget or even the attempt to improve our monetary and fiscal management will demand tax increases.  (Not a bad thing if you consider that the problem belongs to everyone.)

I could go on and on.  The point of the matter is that terrorism or North Korea, or Iran are not our main problems.  There are distractions and much better handled with world consensus.  If the US is to fix its own situation and return to honest prosperity, we need Americans to lead and not Republicans or Democrats.  This is a time for pragmatic and visionary leaders who see both the complexity and interconnectivity of the world as well as the need for pracitical policies and programs.  Banks, investment houses, and corporate America better join up and become part of the solution and not part of the problem.

This can only happen if we “regain the center”. 

PRNAC

June 29, 2008

John McCain or Barack Obama will inherit a task that Dick Cheney and friends had never thought possible.  In 1998, Dick and other notables, many of whom populated the Bush Administration, issued the now famous “Project for the New American Century” (PNAC).  In this document, they said that America, being the sole super power, had both an obligation and a responsibility to become the world’s policeman, and put the world into the order that America (and America alone) felt was proper.  This declaration included the full range of diplomatic and military options.  A scant 10 years later the world looks much different and the US looks thoroughly not up to the task.  What has gone wrong?

First lets be clear that the US is still the number one military power in the world.  If it comes to planes, ships, or tanks, America has it over everyone else.  But this economically draining lead (2009 Defense Department budget of over $ 600 billion, 10x the next largest, and in total more than all others combined), has been shown to be insufficient to install American will beyond our boarders.  The blunder of Iraq may in the end have taught the Country an important lesson.

PRNAC, however, considers the situation of America more broadly.  PRNAC stands for “Project for the Recovering of the New America Century”.  The Bush Administration, under the misguided Cheney leadership has closed it eyes to what it should be watching over and instead charged blindly down paths it should not be entering.  There are about 1 billion Muslims in the world that do not see the world the same way as 300 million Americans.  There are over 2 and 1/2 billion Chinese and Indians who want a better way of life and competing for the same resources that America has felt its own in the past.  And, world opinion has changed.  The Bush Administration can say as often as it likes that Sadaam Hussein was an evil person but the world sees that the US invaded Iraq and has occupied it for 5+ years and seems intent on staying much longer.  This is all happening with unspeakable attrocities taking place throughout Africa and despotic regimes in Libya and North Korea, and in none of these places has the US exercised much effort, much less practiced regime change.  The question remains “why Iraq”?

And that’s not all.  The President has chosen to operate the Iraq invasion and occupation on his personal charge account (correction, the US citizens’ charge account).  He has added to this debt the fruits of a huge tax reduction (with no offsetting revenue gain) and give aways to special interests so that the national debt has doubled and rests now at over $ 9 trillion.

McCain or Obama, therefore, will need to deal with monetary and fiscal policy while having very limited means to fight the inflationary effects of rising oil prices.  One of them will need to deal immaginatively with bio fuels if we are to avoid “corn for ethanol” from driving up grain and meat prices (more inflation).  One will need to address the excesses of Wall Street that in pursuit of super high pay checks has sold the world billions and billions of dollars of worthless securities.

During the 8 short years of the Bush Administration, our currency has tanked (to about 1/2 its value when measured against the euro), dependancy on imported oil has delayed any meaningful research on alternative sources, adopting the ethanol “quick fix” has spooked the grain markets, and the stock market has plummeted robbing pension plans and personal savings accounts of value.  Everything can be fixed with time and effort.  The question is will the next President think PRNAC or PNAC? 

2nd Amendment

June 27, 2008

The Supreme Court yesterday struck down the Washington, DC law that outlaws gun ownership within the district.  Today everyone is interpreting the 5-4 decision as “doom and gloom” or a “rebirth of freedom in America”.  The decision is, of course, neither of these extremes.  It should be no surprise, however that the gang of four (Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas) were in the majority.

The opinion while striking down the DC law was reasonably limited in scope and leaves for the future whether other laws controlling the use, storage, number, and type of guns a person can own or possess are “Constitutional”.  The only clear winners were lawyers and lobbyists who can extract money from those seeking to ban or spread the use of guns. 

The stick constructionists claim they see the Constitution the way the founding fathers did in the late 1700s.  The gang of four leave little room for interpreting the Constitution in light of 300 years of experience and scientific change.  I was surprised, therefore, that the court did not rule that muzzle loaded muskets or similar pistols were allowed under the Constitution rather than modern day rapid fire rifles and pistols.

The “Center” is a great spot for this whole discussion around guns.  Ourlawing all guns in DC was destined to have guns only in the hands of criminals, and probably placed unfair burdons on those seeking gund for self defense or sports use.  Regulating guns however is not a ridiculous thought.  In large cities or other areas where there is a concentration of people, it makes little sense for people to carry weapons openly or have them ready for use in public spaces.  The opportunity to purchase multiple guns is equally unwise since it leads too easily to weapons being stolen or illegally sold.  The size and the degree of rapid fire features is another common sense aspect that should be limited.  An AK-47 in the hands of New York City residents makes no sense and makes only marginal sense in rural areas.  The reason for this lies in the opportunity for misuse where the weapon is stolen or used purposely in violent crimes.

At present there is no “center ground” for the discussion of this issue.  The NRA and other right wing oriented groups see the world as a dangerous place and above all they will take care of themselves.  The progressives see the world as an island of peace if only bad people with guns were not there.  Guns are inherently dangerous and are easily misused.  That does not mean that they should be banned or the right to possess guns should be denied Americans.  Common sense, however does dictate that there should be practical limits placed upon gun ownership including the types, size, and number.

Retroactive Immunity

June 26, 2008

The House of Representatives has passed a new domestic spying bill and kindly included in it a retroactive pass for the major telecom companies that helped the Bush Administration unlawfully spy on Americans in their hunt for terrorists.  For the “ends justify the means” crowd, granting immunity from law suits is only fair because these patriotic companies were helping Government officials who were working in the best interest of all American citizens.  For the rest of us, it is a call to arms that this Government, of all Administrations, can not be trusted to have such powers and anyone helping the Bush Administration must be subject to both the full protection and authority of US law.  Consider the recently reported practice of the Bush White House to interfer with the traditional hiring practices of Justice Department lawyers.  The White House instructed the Justice Department to hire candidates only if they passed a right wing, religious oriented, conservative Republican litmus test.  Any Government who mixes politics and governance like that can not and should not be trusted with increased oversight of our privacy, and certainly should not be able to reward private companies that may have broken US law.

The Senate will now address this bill and the bets are that it passage is already wired.  The Democrats mostly feel that half a loaf is better than none and that the bill now requires the Government to get a court ok, even if after the fact, if the Government wants to spy on Americans for national security reasons.  Ron Paul and the more progressive Senators, and their supporters are objecting.  This should be an easy case for Democratic leadership to take a principled position and simply say no way.  There is value in reminding large American corporations that a cozy relationship with the political party in power does not supersede their obligation to follow the law.

Simply Amazing

June 26, 2008

Yesterday the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that prescribed the death penalty for rape of a minor.  Reaction has been mixed but surprisingly strong whether pro or con.  The basis for the law’s rejection was “cruel and unusual punishment” (the punishment did not fit the crime).  The reasons for objecting to the decision was largely (in my opinion) lack of common sense or political pandering.

This issue is an example of what politicians routinely do with voters.  They present a situation and allow the voter to infer that this situation is a true standard for evil and should be wiped out.  If you consider an innocent child who is beaten and sodomized or raped, and left scared for life, most people would agree that this is a heinous crime and the perpetrator should be punished and kept from society.  The question is why should the death penalty fit this situation when there was no loss of life?

Consider also that this law applies to other cases as well, and it is not necessary that the child be beaten or even mentally scarred for life.  It could apply to brother and sister playing doctor.  It could apply to incest that exists in many parts of the country to a far greater frequency than most would expect.  And it could apply to the recently litigated “child marriages” in the polygamist Mormon branch living in Texas.  While none of these practices are probably healthy or should not be encouraged by society, they certainly do not command the death penalty as a means to stop them.

The Supreme Court vote was again 5-4 with the conservative four (Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas) holding ground advocating a Country ruled by laws with no sense of humanity.  They could, of course, argue that there vote was really about States rights and that if the good people of Louisiana felt death was appropriate, then the Federal Government should stay out of it.  What would they say if one of our States enacted Sharia Law and brought America the full beauty of caning and stoning? 

On Bush’s Watch

June 25, 2008

The across the board news today is anything but optimistic.  In Afghanistan American soldiers are dying in ones and twos at a time.  In Iraq there is the constant feeling of uncertainty where a road side device or a suicide bomber can take American lives almost at will.  In both of these conflicts there is no discernable plan or strategy on how to end these military engagements.  But that’s not all.

  • Oil prices keep rising even in face of reduced US demand.
  • Gasoline prices are taking a larger bite out of American budgets.
  • Airline ticket prices are surging and threatening to make air travel unaffordable for a large section of American population.
  • The national program to encourage the use of ethanol has backfired and is contributing to the run up in food prices, while the Government still pays many farmers not to plant corn and other crops.
  • The housing bubble, which was so popular in the first decade of the 2000s, has burst and prices are falling as market forces try to correct the over valuation.  Individual homeowners are caught in the jaws of sinking prices when they need to sell, or if they find themselves unable to make their mortgage payments.
  • The stock market has been falling and with it the value of millions of Americans retirement savings.  While there is every reason to believe that in time the market will rise again, if you need the money now you are out of luck.
  • American manufacturing jobs are at an all time low with little or no Government incentives to replace the jobs that have gone to China or else where overseas with good paying new ones.
  • The financial state of health of the US Government is a mess with the national debt having doubled since 2001 to $ 9 trillion and the value of the dollar sinking to 1/2 it value versus the euro over this same time period.
  • More and more Americans are waking up to the threat and risk involved with global warming.  After nearly 8 years of denial and delays, the message is getting through to responsible leaders that this issue must take an important place in our national priorities.
  • Healthcare and social security remain in danger of failing some time in the not so distant future because the Government can not bring itself to see its social responsibility.

Imagine all of this has taken place on George W Bush’s watch as President.  For sure there are other forces and factors involved, for example, green house gas emission from India and China can not be directly blamed on Bush.  Never the less, a wise leader assumes there will be factors outside their control and chooses their domestic and foreign policies prudently.  Looking back over the last 8 years, you will see the trail of a Presidency that saw everything as a “one off”.  There are clear signs of a total lack of an integrated and coordinated approach to the greatest responsibility any President has, “turning over the Country to the next President in better shape than he received it”.

John McCain and Barack Obama are standing at the doorstep of the Presidency and one of them will have the same opportunity to make decisions and provide leadership that could enable America to rise again and become a better place for our children.  There is no room for fear mongering, innovation stilling rhetoric about terrorism when other real world conditions pose much larger and more imminent problems.  For either McCain or Obama, it will be back to basics if they want to fix what is wrong.  They must drop the pandering to American’s self image of always winning and focus on honest hard work that will in fact produce results.  A better and stronger America will take hard work and much less spin.

What we will remember about “Bush’s Watch” is that he did not watch very much.

What’s Next?

June 24, 2008

More and more reports are coming out of Iraq that testify that the state of security has improved dramatically over one year ago.  Various reasons are given ranging from the “surge” to General Patraeas to Prime Minister al Maliki.  The “sons of Iraq” are a number of Sunni militia groups that are funded by the US and have augmented the Iraqi Army in Sunni held territory.  They have also of late been singled out as haven been particularly effective in combatting “al Qaeda in Iraq”  (not to be confused with the real al Qaeda that has always been in Pakistan and Afghanisatn).  The big question is “what’s next”?

I would think that America’s morale responsibility is now or soon to be fulfilled.  President George W Bush’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq carried with it a morale responsibility to rebuild the Government in the wake of the utter mess made by regime change.  While Bush or Cheney may not think of it that way and may still be wistfully dreaming of a budding Middle East democracy, America broke Iraq, so it needed to fix it before leaving.

One can argue that the Maliki government is not all that stable (or democratic) and when US funding dries up, the “sons of Iraq” will do what ever is necessary to earn a living.  Since the Sunni lands are relatively lacking in oil, the Sunnis have only two real options

  • Regain power through force and direct the government purse towards Sunnis
  • Mount military action against the Kurds and/or Shiites and regain some oil rich land.

The one thing that is clear is that the Sunnis will not go hungry or remain poor when there is so much wealth so nearby.  You would think this would be a great driving force for a united Iraq where the enormous wealth was equitably distributed.  Think again.  The Middle East has no such examples.  The average person has given the rights of enormous wealth to a few for peace and some food for themselves.

We need to think again and this time more clearly of why we would want to stay longer.  The Middle East is not of strategic importance to the US.  (You might say what about oil?  The answer is that oil will be available under any conditions since without it the Middle East rulers have no income.)  The bright light in America’s future is not a barrel of oil but rather a solar panel, a wind mill, or a geothermal pump. 

A Problem Without Worries

June 23, 2008

When Republicans instinctively bring up drilling for more oil as the answer for our energy shortage and especially higher gas prices, you know from experience with the Bush Administration that something is wrong.  It is possible that drilling might be part of a sound plan for the future but there is no way it can be the plan.  We simply must seriously begin (or step up) our actions to find other sources of energy such as geothermal, wind, and solar that are totally without the risks or unintended worries of nuclear and coal/shale/oil sands.  Why do Republicans act this way?

1. Development of alternative forms of energy, especially solar will require further scientific break throughs in solar panel energy production and associated battery storage capacity.  Geothermal and wind require investment to build their networks, and are not the solution for everywhere in America.  On the other hand, the gasoline distribution network is efficient and already established.  The automobile industry is already standardized on the gasoline engine (or diesel fuel) and to change over to some other form including hybrids will take time and create a lot of wasted investment.  The Republicans see what works today and that is their solution.

2.  The oil and auto industries have lobbied long and hard to convince lawmakers that life is best with gasoline engines.  The leap of faith needed to abandon the good old gas engine and jump to an electric one is viewed too risky.  These industry executives have stressed these points with generous donations to any Republican with two hands.

3. Republicans (at least the backers of George W Bush) are not comfortable with science of any type unless it involves expensive anti-missile research with close to zero chance of success.  They are more at home with “intelligent design” and the science the White House spin department can generate.  Investing in science is investing in the future.  Inherently there is risk that success may not come, and in any case success will not come on a definite time line.  Republicans like a sure bet and drilling is that.

I am more inclined to think the drilling preference has to do with campaign financing and big paying jobs for future lobbyist.  The more recent generation of Republican politicians are used to a heavy diet of kick backs and campaign donations.  It is possible that each of these three explanations is partly involved.  But strangely, none of them need to be.

Alternate energy development is a “problem without worries”.  Consider the following

  • A concentrated, government sponsored research effort to develop efficient solar energy for homes and autos with take 10 years or more.  That will provide plenty of room for oil profits and time for industry to efficiently convert.
  • With a national commitment to solar power/battery driven automobiles, the auto industry will have a clear target to shoot for.
  • Geothermal and wind can be encourage today and with a national program behind them, can cut into oil demand within a year.
  • With lower demand for oil from the largest user (the US), prices will drop.  A side benefit of lower gas prices will be lower jet fuel costs and a huge boost to the travel and vacation industries.  Lower jet fuel costs will across the board be good for business travel in general.

So rather than be worried about alternate energy, the next President needs to seize this banner and champion it.  America needs to lead the way and rid itself of dependence on foreign energy sources.  This one move will enable room for healthy debates on all the other issues facing the country.

The World of 2009

June 22, 2008

The next President is going to inherit a real mess.  On every issue of importance to Americans, the next President will need to turn around or untangle a series of wrong headed or foolish policies put in place by the Bush Administration.  The importance of this observation is that the next President will need to straighten out the mess before he can deal with what ever else he has campaigned to accomplish.

1. The Iraq invasion and occupation must transition to a phase II where the cost in terms of deployed Americans and US taxpayer dollars is significantly reduced.  The financial cost must be sharply reduced if there is to be hope of getting our budget imbalance under control.  Reducing the number of deployed troops is important to our overall strategic defense posture and rights a grossly unfair policy of sending young Americans into a fighting zone for no real strategic interest to the US.

2. The dollar was been eroding in value (about 1/2 the value of the euro today versus when Bush took office).  This is a sign of a US economy and outlook for the future that is in serious trouble.  More directly, it is a signal for an insidious form of inflation.  Imports will cost everyone more and the cost of living will rise and especially hurt those on fixed incomes.  The dollars decline may result from a clever and confidential White House plan to screw our international trading partners by buying more than we export and then paying for it with cheaper dollars.  It may also be the result of a free spending and irresponsible Administration.  In either case, these practice must stop.

3. The rising price of oil is a nation strategic issue.  The proper response is not to invade Iraq or another oil rich country.  The proper response is to value oil and its derivative products (like gasoline) appropriately (meaning higher in price to discourage use) and to develop alternative source of energy to drive the Country’s economic engine and to ensure our living standard remains full and satisfying.  To have wasted 8 years without tackling this issue could be one of the worst acts of the Bush Administration.

4. We need to commit ourselves to balancing the budget.  This will require a reduction in the defense budget (now over $ 600 billion and more that all other countries budgets combined), and an increase in tax revenues.  This is everyone’s problem (because the country is going bankrupt) and the Bush tax reductions must be reversed or at least allowed to expire in 2010.  A great country can not exist if it can not run a balanced budget.

5. We need to take the hate and prejudice out of the same sex marriage issue and out of the undocumented alien controversies.  Gays and lesbians are simply people like everyone else and are who they are because that is who they are.  Marriage can be a fancy term like Champaign is for sparkling wines when used by “for profit churches”.  The real issues about same sex marriage are a tax and property rights ones and in no way lessens the “sanctity” of marriage (that ends about 50% of the time in divorce for hetrosexuals).  Undocumented workers, largely Mexicans, are an economic two edged sword.  This subject needs a lot more study and a more positive and assertive policy (like actually trying to assist Mexicans in getting documents).  What both of these situations have in common is a policy of hate and fear mongering that has fueled both of Bush’s elections.

Not included in this list are the problems with out infrastructure (roads, bridges, rivers, and airports), developing a more educated and skilled work force, bringing the power of math and science to our national innovation capabilities, returning life to our economic engine, addressing the needs of the 40 million people without healthcare, and securing the nations promise of social security to those who need it.

It is important that all Americans realize how bad things are (even though they are completely fixable) because it is going to take some pain to get America going again.  If your preferred candidate does not tell you that, be careful with your vote.