Archive for May 2010

Uneducated and Poor

May 30, 2010

The question is how would you describe Afghanistan today, and how would you describe it next year? Try uneducated and poor.

To be very clear, I am not saying dumb or lacking in intelligence. I am simply saying that most Afghans are uneducated and those who could make a difference are principally concerned with how they, themselves, become less poor. Afghanistan is playing out like a zero sum game.

It is in most every person of even modest wealth and education to keep things as they are. Enter the Islamic religion and the fundamental, the better. Keep the girls in second class status and subject to the whims of men. At least there would be some reward for men even if they had no money. The Koran and a woman, not so bad.

It is against this picture that one should think our military commitment to Afghanistan. There is no resolve at any level of the Afghan government to educate the masses, and consequently, there is no consensus on how to raise the general population’s standard of living.

This is true today and it will be true tomorrow. Yet the longer American military forces remain, the more Americans will loose their lives or become seriously wounded. The longer we stay, the more money we will waste.

It is time to tell the king he has no clothes on. It is time to end the erroneous notion that America can perform “nation building” in Afghanistan. It is time to say enough.

What a great thought for Memorial Day.

The Great Revelation

May 29, 2010

Yesterday the White House released news about nothing. The release satisfied the shark appetites of the news media who, to be honest, are tired of reporting on the BP disaster which they know nothing about. The shortcomings of people is a different story.  So as the sunset on Washington DC, American learned that former President Bill Clinton had offered Congressman Joe Sestak an appointment to a Presidential commission if Sestak would remain in Congress and not run for Arlen Specter’s Senate seat.

The hype around the non-story shows how desperate the media is for some real news. Yet the news they thought might be buried there was trivial in the grand scheme of things. Politics is about trade offs and compromises. That Democrats would have preferred Sestak remain a Congressman and not contest Specter is just as predictable.

The dark part of this story is that only if there had been something really tainted, like Clinton offering large bags of cash to Sestak would the Democratic request broken the smell meter.

The real revelation part of the story is that Joe Sestak will oppose former Congressman Pat Toomey, and Toomey’s first ads have been positive and accurate. Toomey is a conservative and Sestak is a progressive. What a change it will be to have the chance to vote for one of two people who say who they really are.

BP – Katrina

May 28, 2010

There are many who are drawing comparisons between George W Bush’s debacle in the response to Hurricane Katrina, and President Obama’s handling of the on-going BP oil disaster.  The BP incident appears to have been a serious of human errors which lead to an inadequate safety culture and outright misjudgements in the drilling and start-up process.  on the other hand, Katrina was a natural disasters that was magnified by under maintained levies.   The questions should be, “what could have been done to prevent these incidents, and once they occurred, what could have been done to resolve them?

History is reasonably clear about Katrina. The Bush Administration practiced their ideological belief that Government was an impediment to progress and had gutted the government agencies whose role was to respond to natural disasters. In addition the Bush team had diverted Corp of Engineers funds from levy maintenance. The results, once the Hurricane struck New Orleans, were easy to predict.

The Obama Administration made a similar but fundamentally different mistake. In their relatively short time in office (17 months), the White House felt comfortable in overall statistics and did not try to understand the process that produces the good statistics.

There are a lot of drilling rigs in the Gulf, and there are some that are producing at similar depths as the BP rig. The Obama team reasoned that good results must mean the Industry knew what they were doing.

Good results result from good processes followed each and every time.

The Government has concluded that it is in the US national interest to continue drilling in off shore waters. Given that, the Obama Administration must change the regulatory climate and insist that oil explorers follow strict guidelines when drilling. The government must also have the means to verify that the process guidelines are in fact being followed. There is no room for the Bush Administration’s “less government”, and the Obama view that “government is good” is equally useless unless government in fact performs.

With Obama’s view there is hope, with Bush there is not.

North America

May 27, 2010

In Europe there is a strong desire in all the member countries to remain independent, and in clear terms, retain their historic identity. Former colonial ties and guest worker programs have left most countries with at least one non-ethnic group as a minority, but these countries work hard to keep any other minorities out. What a contrast to the US.

Immigration reform is heating up again and the US is faced with a political quandary. Which is the chicken and which is the egg?

Should the US put all efforts necessary to “seal the boarder” or “register all undocumented immigrants now living in the US, and then expel anyone after that who is not documented”? There are many who say that anyone here illegally should be sent home.  These people simply do not know their mathematics. The US would need some 200,000 buses in order to transport the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants home to Mexico (if you could find the 12 million).

This situation calls for some practicality. Porous boarders, undocumented residents, and tax avoiders makes no sense. Undocumented residents who simply live off welfare and do not work makes no sense. Favored immigration rules to allow entry to anyone in the world makes no sense (although education, special skills, and economic means should qualify anyone (who does not want to engage in criminal activity) to a regulated program.

North America, however, is special. Mexicans are our neighbors and there should be no limits on boarder crossings. No limits providing the Mexican is documented. Of course there can be exclusions based upon a criminal record but in principle, everyone is welcome.

The US should focus its resources upon the employer who hires undocumented workers and the flow of drugs north and weapons (and cash) south. There is no cost effective way to seal the border. We need to stop the political posturing and look at reality.

Leadership?

May 26, 2010

The question of the week is how does a President coordinate the legislative activities of a co-equal branch of government (Congress), and especially when each member of the House or Senate is deeply concerned with raising money for his or her next election?

In today’s papers there is another report of President Obama meeting with key Republicans seeking some bi-partisan efforts. His meeting, however, ended in polite but testy disagreements on the President’s efforts.

Republicans claim that the White House undercut compromises they were willing to accept and therefore drove the vote on Financial Reform to a partisan decision. It is very difficult to not believe there is some measure of truth in their claims.

As with health care reform, the White House never framed the Financial Reform legislation in end goals, principles to maintain, and specific strategies. Leadership was left to the overarching goal of “no more bail outs” and “never experiencing another near implosion”. This is something everyone would agree with but is not prescriptive on what should be done.

Large numbers of voters are discouraged with the type of behavior their Congressmen display. Larger numbers of voters do not like the work of Congress. It appears, however, Congress is stuck in a rut. As though out the ages, Congress tells their constituents what they want to hear, but Congress only delivers to those who pay the bills.

Like a Top

May 25, 2010

In an interview with Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, Thomas Fitzgerald, former Senator Rick Santorum called Congressman Joe Sestak a “loose cannon”. I wonder who helped Santorum, otherwise a bland and intellectually unimpressive conservative individual, think of such a play on words?

Sestak who spent his first career in the Navy, rising to the rank of 4 star Admiral. Get it, loose cannon and the Navy?

Santorum was thoroughly disgraced during his term as US Senator by supporting most every cooky right wing idea. To his credit, Santorum was not tainted with any marital indiscretions even though he toted a bible every where he went. In the tradition of Dan Quayle, Santorum following his defeat has wandered the conservative hinterlands.

Fitzgerald and the Inquirer are probably in this looking for a story that might last a few weeks during the down time this summer. I am amazed, however, that they have not realized the voters are more interested in changing how Congress actually works. They want politicians who they think will be accountable for their votes. The loose cannon spin simply does not ring true when compared to Sestak’s career. Readers just know this.

But paper is cheap, and spinning like a top will continue, hoping that something will stick.

Stuck in a Groove

May 24, 2010

The media is consistent if not always relevant. Today the record is stuck in the Gulf oil drilling disaster. What are the lessons that are emerging?

The more skillful politicians are telling us that we must wait until the true causes are established. The Louisiana fisherman and tourist industry owners are demanding assurances that they will be compensated for their losses. The oil industry (except for BP) is keeping a very low profile and avoiding any presence in the world of public opinion. The Obama Administration is waking up each day to a very bad dream, one that is getting worse each day.

  • There are strong indications that BP should lose its rights to operate as a drilling or manufacturing (more precisely refining) company in the US because they have shown an inability to run their operations safely. This is a bit akin to what should have happened to those banks “too big to fail”. BP should be denied the right to operate in the US and then systematically broken up (say, exploration, refining, and retail) and sold off.
  • There is also growing indications that the government agency set up to insure proper operation for off shore drilling relies too heavily on the honesty and competence of the driller. There is too much trust and too little verification. This agency has been broken up but what emerges as the new regulatory authority will be the key to whether we have learned from this disaster.
  • Underlying all this, as usual, is the American public who want the fruits of the drilling but does not want to understand the problems that come with it. The deep ocean drilling is a tribute to technology. The BP rig sat one mile above the ocean floor and still was able to drill several miles further to find the oil and extract it. There was technology also available to do this safely but for reason not fully explained today, that technology was not used properly, hence this disaster.

While it is important (or at least interesting) to know about the terrible impact on wild life and the shore land itself, the overwhelming feeling one gets is hopelessness and antipathy. The media might do more good directing their attention on the proper role of the public, the government, and industry in the greater energy question. Banning BP from continuing as a full service company in the US, might just wake up the industry. Tying this disaster directly to the apathy of the public might just help Americans connect the dots between regulations and protection of the greater public. Holding legislators to the results of what they regulate might lead to a much more serious approach. (It does not help matters if regulators put in place rules that essential prevent exploration, the goal should be to do the job properly each and every time).

The Virtue of the Center

May 23, 2010

President Obama continues to be criticized for being too liberal, some even say a socialist. Left leaning progressives say just the opposite and decry Obama’s avoidance of core progressive causes. Why is it that most people see the same thing so differently?

One answer is that is why there are horse races. It is human nature that each person has a favorite and can only see its virtues. Those who disagree are the opposition and are to be beaten.

Another answer is that people always act in what they perceive as their best interest. The old adage says people begin progressive and as they age (and presumably get wealthier), they grow more conservative. Youth see potential and can easily see the value of the “commonwealth”, and quite frankly want to use as much of the government provided services as possible. As people gain personal wealth, keeping things constant, protecting what they have, and disowning many of the other tax driven services, becomes the norm.

The “center” interestingly represents the conservative side of progressiveness, and represents the progressive side of conservativeness. It is the bridge that can link both ideologies. Once linked the “center” can provide the most valuable of services.  A recognition that is sorely missing.

Today, no one seems to care about whether the policy they promote has actually work, or whether the down sides outweigh the pluses. No one seems to care whether the policies are affordable and are paid for. No one seems to consider what other modern countries have done, or are doing, to resolve issues their proposed policies are intended to address.

From the center, one can see all this and more. One can see the corrupting influence of special interests. One can separate the information offered by special interests from the money they  shower upon politicians.

In short, the center is the “sweet spot” for today because for sure, tomorrow the center will be someplace else.

Heavy Load

May 22, 2010

Democrats are now entering an increasingly more difficult phase of their Congressional and White House leadership. Voters are worried because they are not secure in their job status and the future does not seem bright (despite what politicians say). While most citizens do not understand the deficit or national debt, they are smart enough to know that when as far as one can see the budget is never balanced, there is something basically wrong.

The US budget is composed of two parts, entitlements (like Medicare and Social Security) and all the rest (from Defense to Education). This slightly different spin on “guns and butter” presents a choice Americans are not used to making. Frankly Americans have not made any decisions in recent modern times with respect to government action. Now we are at the doorstep of absolute necessity about making choices.

Both political parties have told us for years that we can have everything and not have to pay for it. The $1 trillion cost of the Afghan and Iraqi wars were put on the charge card so that the American voter never had to feel the pain. Politicians have know for years that Social Security and Medicare were financially on a path to insolvency, and have done nothing to fix (even though fixes are easy to describe). Now comes the Tea Party saying you can have “freedom like our founding fathers imagined and pay less in taxes”. This is a nuance on the proverbial free lunch.

Democrats will be quick to say that the November elections will be difficult. They will claim that Republicans left the Obama Administration with huge problems and that Republicans will lead us back to the same frontiers if they gain control of Congress.

Life will go on whether Republicans win a majority or not. It would seem to me far wiser for Democrats to lay out now, clearly and with emphasis, what it will take to regain financial solvency and what that will mean to each American. This message will not be popular (at first) but time will show it to be true. Whether, the wisdom of making choices is popular by this November’s election is unclear. What is clear is that the party that honestly lays out the choices and is ready to live them, will become the party most voters will learn to believe again.  And, I think voters will support that party in future elections.

New Strategies Needed?

May 21, 2010

The primary results this week put in play the question of whether the Republicans have the “right” strategy, and just as clearly, do the Democrats have any strategy at all? Are new strategies needed?

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner combined to form the strategy of “no”. Whatever President Obama recommended or whatever Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi tried to implement was greeted immediately with some form of “no”. That strategy was clear, easy to understand, and for some period, quite effective.  It produced no positive results, however.

Two things have occurred to interfere with this strategy. First, the Tea Party got its legs. For them, “no” was not enough. They wanted (or at least claimed) to return the country to some earlier state of our existence. Less government, lower taxes (none would be best), and most simply, America for Americans. Second, the American voter began to think and concluded just saying “no” was part of the problem and new faces were needed.

The Democrats, on the other hand, appear to have a strategy of just passing progressive legislation and letting time show the voters how good these bills were for them. The transparency of the legislative debate coupled with the minimum follow up explanation have, instead, confused voters on whether this is just tax and spend, or if there is some real substance in the Democratic passed legislation. Voters have also concluded that new faces are needed.

There is a national “narrative” needed that both Democrats and Republicans can put forth their solutions. The “narrative” goes something like this.

The US is facing three major and imminent problems and need a comprehensive set of countermeasures. These problems are (1) putting the entitlement programs, Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security on a financially stable basis, (2) adopting a comprehensive set of reforms to immigration laws targeting the combined situations of the flow of people from Mexico and Latin America, and the undocumented residents already in the US, and (3) a comprehensive approach to developing alternate energy sources that lead to energy independence and clean air.

Americans should listen and vote for those who propose comprehensive and competent solutions.  For those who don’t, voters should look for a new face.