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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Michelle, stay out of my kitchen will you?

I've been watching, off and on, First Lady Michelle Obama's "war" on obesity. We've been told to cut salt out of our diets. That the government needs to mandate lower sodium in our food, no more sugary snacks at school, on and on.
All of this costs more, of course, and moreover most of it causes our food to, well, taste bad.
Much of it isn't really scientifically supported anyway. I've become convinced the food nazis who are out to tell us all what we can and can't eat really just don't want any one to enjoy themselves
Let's start with the salt issue. Yes too much salt is bad for you.
But what the food Nazis don't seem to get that you need salt to live.
Roman soldiers were paid in salt. To say someone is "worth his salt" is to say he's a good man who works hard. Loyalty even used to equate to salt. To say that "you ate someone's salt" meant you owed them loyalty because they had given you what you needed to live from their own hand.
The ones handing down these sodium standards also seem to forget that the amount of salt each person needs varies. There are people with medical conditions who require huge amounts of sodium to live.
Then there's the fat issue. Yeah I get that too much fat is bad for your heart. But once again, there are essential acids and nutrients we need in fat.
Oh, and then there's the mercury issue with fish, and you have the raw food diet people, and the... well I could go on and on but why bother.
Look, with all due respect to the First Lady, but can all you food Nazis please just butt out?
If I want my kids to drink water instead of a Coke, I'll make that call, OK?
You're the same people who've told me first to use margarine, then not to use it. That butter was bad and then butter was OK. That eggs were evil, but then eggs were good for you. Not to eat red meat (mmmm steak) and then that it was good for me.
I tell you what, how about I eat what I like?
It all comes down to people with too much time on their hands deciding they need to "save the children" or everybody else or just like telling other people what to do.
We used to have a word for someone who insisted on having their nose in everybody else's business — we called them "busybodies" and told them to bloody well butt out and go away.
Now? We make bureaucrats out of them and put them in charge of things like Health and Human Services. To my mind these are miserable human beings who just want to make everyone around them as miserable as they are.
It all comes down to freedom, really, the freedom to chose. Haven't we been told "choice" is important?
The freedom to decide what you want to put in your body seems to be about as personal and important as it gets.
Once the bureaucrats can tell you what you can and can't eat, is there anything left they can't control?
Look, we have allowed too many essential freedoms to be taken away in the name of "protecting people." The one thing I know for sure, however, is you can't really protect people from themselves. My doctor has told me a couple of times I'm supposed to lay off acidic foods like milk and tomatoes and spicy food as well. One problem, those are some of my favorite foods. Are they bad for me? Well not in the sense of, "going to give me heart disease or a stroke," but yeah, they generally give me a belly ache that sends me hunting for the Tums. So be it, my choice.
Others may ingest more salt than is good for them, or find it impossible to lay off the fatty foods or cookies.
We all have that right.
You want to make yourself miserable by refusing to eat anything that tastes good? Go for it, just stay out of my kitchen will you?
All IMHO, of course.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gotta love them trolls

I recently, well if you define recently as "for months now", have had the dubious pleasure of dealing with a particularly nasty phenomenon known as the "Internet Troll."
On a Web site I post on regularly there is a gentleman, using the term loosely, who is a bit of a monomaniac on the subject of man-caused global warming.
This guy loves to bleat on, post after post, about how the Earth is getting hotter and it's all our fault. Like most trolls (as an aside, they're called trolls for a couple of reasons, one they're "trolling" for a response by posting outlandish things, and two, they're usually just plain rude) he loves to denigrate other posters, hijack conversations and otherwise just make a nuisance out of himself.
After months of arguments, and this individual's refusal to actually answer questions or address criticisms, I decided to give him, and the others like him, an opportunity to state their case.
So I left a post saying, that since I'm willing to debate anything, let's accept for the sake of argument that the Earth is getting hotter and it is man's fault. So then what precisely do the global warming believers propose we do about it?
The crickets are still chirping.
The only 20 responses (usually a thread like this will generate many more) have been from people like me who think man-caused global warming is utter nonsense.
All of which didn't really surprise me.
You see, it's been my experience that the global warming types don't really have any useful suggestions. What they're really after is to curtail the freedoms of other people.
It's been noted that most greens are really watermelons — green on the outside and red in the middle.
It's an accurate assessment. If you take a close look at the supposed "fixes" for global warming, climate change, climate disruption, whatever the name du jour they almost always involve using the bludgeon of government power to force people into desired behaviors.
This is an ideology driven more by what they don't want than what they do. They don't want cars, or power plants or roads, or well, much of anything which makes modern life possible and bearable, except of course for themselves.
And here's the key. Every proposal I've seen put forth means giving more power to government and thereby giving bureaucrats more and more power over our lives.
I wrote else where recently, about our slide into tyranny, this is one of the ways it happens, a little at a time, so that you don't notice, until you wake up one day to find you're a serf, and you've allowed it to happen to yourself.
All IMHO, of course.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Instead of gun control can we have idiot control?

A couple of months back a story broke that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had been allowing so-called "straw buyers" to purchase weapons in Arizona which they then resold across the Mexican border into the hands of the drug cartels. The theory was they'd track the guns up the chain and catch the big fish.
This, of course, didn't happen. All they caught were minnows, two American law enforcement agents got killed and more than 150 Mexican citizens were murdered with weapons which have since been identified as belonging to the group of more than 2,500 firearms the feds allowed to walk.
This has since been used to try to justify a new "Assault Weapons Ban" — which may have been the point all along — although I'm reluctant to attribute to malice that which can as easily be explained by incompetence.
What's sad is any event like this is always used as an excuse for more gun control, when what's really needed is idiot control.
The so-called assault weapons ban enacted in 1994 was particularly dumb.
A little background is perhaps in order. In 1994, in the name of making us all safer, Congress enacted legislation to ban so-called assault weapons and large capacity magazines. The law they passed actually did neither.
An assault rifle is a military weapon. It is usually what is called an intermediate caliber, meaning the cartridge is in between a pistol and a full-powered rifle cartridge like .30-06. Assault rifles are also selective fire — they can be fired either semi-automatically or on full-auto.
These were actually already fairly difficult to obtain in the U.S., requiring a special license to own. What Congress did is make up a list of purely cosmetic features they thought looked scary and say if a rifle had two or more of them it was banned.
Manufacturers promptly removed such things as pistol grips, flash suppressors and bayonet lugs and went back to selling the same rifles the next day. The features the Congress critters didn't like had nothing to with function. Moreover semi-auto and bolt action hunting rifles were, and remain far more powerful than military-style rifles firing the same rounds the military uses.
For instance, the AR-15 which is the civilian version of the M-16, and fires what is basically a .223 varmint hunting cartridge, has a maximum effective range of about 500 yards. The maximum effective range for the .30-06 cartridge, which is common for deer hunting, is twice that.
The only thing the "assault weapons ban" did, was drive up the price of military-style rifles and make gun shop owners a pretty penny. Same thing with the magazine ban. That simply banned the manufacture or importation of ammunition magazine which held more than 10 rounds. That there were huge stocks of "pre-ban" magazines already in stock didn't seem to matter. The unintended consequence of the magazine ban was that manufactures created a new class of smaller pistols which fired higher-powered ammunition than the pistols which had the high-capacity magazines.
Moreover, the price on "pre-ban" magazines went up and gun shop owners made a pretty penny.
So basically, in the name of getting rid of a class of "ugly" weapons all the ban did was help small business, and inconvenience law abiding gun owners — and that's the rub. What the gun banners never seem to get is new laws do not inconvenience criminals, just law abiding citizens.
The logic would seem to be inescapable — criminals do not, by definition, care about the law. Therefore, logically, restrictive laws — of whatever kind — are no deterrent to crooks, only to those already inclined to obey the law.
Logically, then, wouldn't it make more sense to increase penalties for using a firearm in a crime, while reducing restrictions on those who are using them legally?
You would then have a double benefit. Those who commit a crime are removed from society, and the law abiding have more freedom. Isn't more freedom always a thing to be desired?
All IMHO, of course.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Too bad they'll never let us do it

An old friend and colleague of mine Charlie Martin recently wrote one of his patented uber-science geek pieces about a new (well really a highly refined old) process called Gas To Liquid.
Seems Shell Oil has refined the coal-to-liquid process that dates back to World War II to be able to create diesel, kerosene (jet fuel) or gasoline from natural gas.
Without getting into the highly technical specifics, which I frankly don't completely understand anyway, this is huge for a number of reason.
First and foremost because as clean burning as natural gas is, it has a number of disadvantages which mostly have to do with shipping. To move natural gas you first have to turn it into a liquid. To do that you have to either put it under high pressure or make it very cold. Both are dangerous and difficult to transport, meaning that for the most part, it isn't shipped overseas. If a pipeline infrastructure isn't in place to move it, in most countries it's simply "flared off" — burned at the refineries as a waste gas.
This new process means it can easily be converted into a liquid which can be shipped where ever it's needed.
The best part is the price. Charlie tells me that so long as oil is over $20 a barrel this process is economically feasible. Since oil is currently hovering around $100 we're talking about a significant savings.
The problem of course, is actually political, not scientific.
The fuel produced by this process is actually cleaner burning than that which is produced from crude oil as natural gas (methane) has very little in the way of impurities. However, to the environmental movement, the goal is not low emissions, it's no emissions.
That this process could save millions, make countries which have hitherto depended on supplies of oil being shipped across oceans energy independent and help to reduce oil spills is irrelevant.
That there is far more natural gas in the world than oil is likewise irrelevant.
It's still burning something.
The environmental movement is so invested in this wind/solar fantasy that nothing else is considered an option.
The problem there is neither wind nor solar is technically or economically viable. The electricity to power the electric cars they so prize has to come from somewhere (and let us not even get into the pollution created in the production of lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries or the attendant recycling difficulties) but wind and solar simply will not work.
This new process could quickly free us from dependence on people who do not like us for our energy. Unfortunately it is more than a little unlikely Shell will ever be allowed to build one of those plants in the U.S. Those who worship at the altar of the Church of Global Warming and its prophet Al Gore cannot admit they are wrong or that anything but wind and solar are an answer. To do so would be to violate one of the basic commandments of their faith "Thou Shalt Not Allow Others to Burn Dead Dinosaurs (but it's OK if you do it since you're spreading the faith and that's what's important)."
I say it's unlikely, but that's not entirely true. I think people are getting tired of the environmental movement and their constant barrage of "no" to drilling, building, refining, mining and every other "ing" which would bring energy prices down. There's going to come a point, and I think fairly soon, when environmental activists are liable to get tarred, feathered and run out of town on a chuck of oil pipe and we'll finally get back down to the business of building this nation.
All IMHO, of course.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In Memoriam

As I write this it is Memorial Day 2011. It has so far been a year of triumphs and tragedies and both need to be remembered this day.
We've seen our service men finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice — but we've also seen the tragedies of the tornadoes which ripped across the south killing more than 300 and the EF-5 tornado which blasted a 14 mile swath of destruction across Joplin, killing more than 140 people and injuring at least 1,000.
On this day of remembrance let us remember the heroes of that day just over a week ago, as well as the victims. Let us take a little bit out of our day of grilling and swimming to remember the lost.
Let us remember those lives which were snuffed out too early in a few minutes of terror on that warm spring night in Joplin, Missouri.
Let us also remember the lives which have been spent over the years so that this great nation can remain free.
We always hear "freedom is not free," this is true, but we rarely think of the bill. As our military has become all volunteer and more and more professional it has also become more divorced from everyday life. We rarely think of the men and women who have given up years of their lives in order to protect us, those "rough men" who as George Orwell said "stand ready to do violence so we may sleep soundly."
We have spent blood and treasure many times over the years in order to defend not just this nation but freedom itself. It is a terrible price but one which must be paid.
In Joplin, the blood does not defend freedom but it is just as sacred as the blood of patriots who water the tree of liberty.
The dead in Joplin and the patriots who even as I write this labor to rebuild represent the best of America. The stories of Joplin are incredible. It is impossible, even with all the media who are in the area to tell all of them. I was there within a half hour or so of the tornado and already people had chainsaws and front-end loaders out trying to clear the streets. The entire Four States and indeed the entire nation responded. Some of those same patriots who were preparing to put their lives on the line in Afghanistan found themselves in Joplin risking their lives to find the missing.
Memorial Day should be a day, not to grill out or go to the lake — but a day to remember those who have gone before, not just in the service but all those we have lost.
Let us grieve for them, but only for a season, secure in the knowledge we will see them again.
I leave you with the words of Rudyard Kipling's "The Widower." He said so much so well and far better than I ever could.
For a season there must be pain
For a little, little space
I shall lose 'the sight of her face,
Take back the old life again
While She is at rest in her place.
For a season this pain must endure,
For a little, little while
I shall sigh more often than smile
Till Time shall work me a cure,
And the pitiful days beguile.
For that season we must be apart,
For a little length of years,
Till my life's last hour nears,
And, above the beat of my heart,
I hear Her voice in my ears.
But I shall not understand -
Being set on some later love,
Shall not know her for whom I strove,
Till she reach me forth her hand,
Saying, 'Who but I have the right?' .
And out of a troubled night
Shall draw me safe to the land.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tornado brings out the best in people

I have, over the years, covered a couple of tornadoes and their aftermath. What I saw last Sunday in Joplin was worse than anything I'd seen to that point.
I saw firefighters, shaking with frustration as they watched a house burn, rolling up the hoses they couldn't use because there was no water pressure.
I saw people wandering through the streets, with a dazed expression on their face, looking for missing loved ones. Others simply sitting in stunned disbelief at the devastation of what was once a thriving, growing community.
I also saw amazing things.
The employees of a Walgreens pharmacy at 20th and Main simply walked out of their shattered store with armloads of medical supplies and blankets and started treating the wounded who were wandering up. Soon enough the parking lot of that store was a makeshift triage center.
I saw people walk up and simply ask, "What can I do to help."
I only got a small snippet of what was going on in Joplin that frightening evening. I know there are at least 90 dead — a number likely to rise — and hundreds, if not thousands, wounded.
What I did see was something that always makes be proud to be from this part of the country.
No one was sitting around waiting for someone to come help them. No, they dug themselves out of the rubble, shrugged, got their sense of humor in place and then went looking for someone to help.
No one knows what the next weeks and months will bring. There are many businesses and their attendant jobs which are simply gone.
If past experience brings any insight, it is that Joplin's population will likely shrink some as people look elsewhere for housing and jobs. But I also know Joplin will bounce back, as other communities have done.
I know there has been some looting in the aftermath of the storm, there always is. Disasters like this always bring out the worst in some people. However, it also brings out the best in far more.
Already there have been many selfless acts in Joplin. People who are opening their homes to those who have lost everything. Businesses donating food or shelter to those who are on the streets.
The road back for Joplin will not be an easy one. I worked in Parsons in the aftermath of the EF-4 which hit there about 10 years ago. It took the best part of a decade for Parsons to return to what it once was. I imagine that will likely be the case here as well.
I know the people of Joplin are as tough and resilient as they come and the vibrant community that was Joplin will return as well.
In the meantime, Kansans, who are no strangers to this kind of devastation, will be here to help with our hands, our hearts and yes, our prayers.
All IMHO, of course.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ethics require a firm foundation

I had the opportunity to reflect a bit on ethics recently. For a couple of reasons.
World renowned physicist Steven Hawking has stated there is no heaven, that our brains are basically like computers and "there's no life after death for a broken computer."
Then Vincent Bugliosi, the guy who wrote a book claiming President George W. Bush should be prosecuted for war crimes has a new book out in which he makes the case for agnosticism — in other words "I don't know if there's a God or not and anyone who believes there is, is an idiot but so is anyone who believes there is no God is also an idiot."
I'm a Christian, if perhaps not the best one in the world, so I have "there is a God," as my default position.
I could, of course, be wrong. I take the existence of God on faith and move on from there. Faith necessarily means believing in something I can't prove.
I've always gone with something I read once, I can't remember who said it: "If I act as if there is a God and I'm wrong, what have I lost? But if I act as if there is no God and I'm wrong what have I gained?"
I find it difficult to believe any ethical system can arise without an underlying foundation. For me, it is my Christian faith. From a sociological standpoint it almost doesn't matter. In pretty much every society on Earth the basis of ethics has always arisen from the religious beliefs of the society in question.
If there is no power outside yourself, nothing but the law to hold you to ethical behavior then logically there is no standard of behavior — anything goes.
In many ways that's where we are as a country. We have so removed from public life the articles of faith which once guided behavior in this country that we no longer have anything by which to judge our behavior.
Ethical behavior has moved from "doing what's right," to "everything is fine so long as you're happy."
We seem to have decided, as a civilization, a black and white definition of right and wrong no longer exists, all ethics are situational.
Now it is to some degree true that ethics are situational. It's wrong to murder someone, however, should someone be trying to murder you, then it's ethical to use deadly force in self-defense. In that situation killing someone is ethical.
However, no matter what the situation, cheating on a spouse is wrong. Stealing is wrong.
But when we tell our children, indeed our entire population everything is right, so long as it gets them what they want, should we be entirely surprised when college students can't seem to figure out what's wrong with plagiarism? Or software piracy?
People like to throw away the "slippery slope" argument but it is a valid one. Once you break a small rule it becomes easier and easier to break small rules until you suddenly find yourself breaking big ones.
As journalists it is a choice we face every day. There are so many ethical constraints on what we are and are not allowed to do — and so many of them are so subjective in nature — that many of my colleagues seem to observe their ethics more in the breach than the compliance.
At the national level I'm sure that's true. Not so much at the local level.
However, walking that ethical minefield has taught me a couple of simple things.
One, there has to be some standard from which you work. Ethical behavior, while often dictated by the situation one finds oneself in, must have a clearly defined base from which to work. Whether the 10 Commandments or the American Society of Newspaper Editors ethical statement you have to start somewhere.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the "slippery slope" argument is a valid one. The best way to stay off that slope is to never step onto it in the first place.
All IMHO, of course.

Friday, May 13, 2011

SF is about more than just spaceships

A while ago I wrote a column declaring my personal geekdom. This didn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who knows me.
Be it Star Trek, Star Wars, Farscape, Firefly or science fiction books and comics — I love them all.
I was reflecting this weekend on the late, great Robert Anson Heinlein this weekend. Heinlein started out as a flaming liberal, and later became a raving libertarian.
He's often been called conservative but this is far from accurate. Heinlein believed in, and wrote about, a world where personal responsibility and individual freedom were the most important principle of all. As one of the premier writers of the Golden Age of SF, he did so in a time when writing about race relations or equality between the sexes was a touchy subject.
Heinlein tackled them anyway — and could do so because SF allows a writer to tackle subjects which would otherwise be controversial.
I said earlier I was reflecting on Heinlein, I was doing so because I'd read books by several of my favorite authors recently which all had a bit of a Heinlein-esque flair to them.
Two of them had strong female protagonists, which is very common in Heinlein's work, and in all cases the heroes either lived in, or were trying to build, a world in which personal responsibility was the rule rather than the exception. As beautiful as the worlds they created were, I'm not sure they're possible in the real world — but that's not the point.
Science Fiction, at it's best, uses the meme of the future in order to shine a light on the present. SF has often been dismissed as a literary art form. However in many ways it is the truest to the ideals of literature of all genre's. SF has tackled controversial subjects years before conventional art forms were able to. In the 1960s Star Trek had a black woman, an Asian man, a Russian and an alien all in positions of power and authority — in the middle of the civil rights movement.
There's always been a strong individualist streak in SF which seems to be getting more pronounced as time goes by.
As more and more of our essential liberties are infringed SF authors are increasingly showing us how it would be to live without strangling regulation and bureaucrats poking their nose into every aspect of our lives.
There are leftist SF authors too, of course, and they sometimes show a different path, but even then, many of them tend to have that same individualist streak.
The joy for me of SF, is that while showing us the folly of modern life and the way to a better future, the genre — or at least the authors I read — manages to do it without being preachy.
My only problem is wanting to live in those wonderful societies where there are few regulations, little to no taxes and everyone takes care of themselves. I don't see one of those around here. More and more we are hemmed in by regulation and bureaucracy. As a nation we have more total energy reserves than anywhere else in the world. But we won't let ourselves access them.
We prevent the construction of cleaner sources of power while screaming about pollution from coal. We are the most powerful nation on Earth, with a people who work harder and longer hours than any other people, and yet we act like we are beaten, broken and exhausted.
None of this is the case, yet we are choosing to make it so.
SF points out to us that we don't have to make that decision. That we can choose another way. This is the true genius and joy of the genre.
What's really depressing to me is I get out of one of Sarah Hoyt's novels or Michael Z. Williamson's books and realize you not only do I not live there but probably can't. Besides, turning into a dragon would be fun.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How about emanicpation from taxes?

April 18 was Tax Day. Normally that would have been April 15, but our Glorious Leaders in Washington D.C. put it off until Monday so they could celebrate Emancipation Day.
Ahhh the irony. I have no problem with celebrating the day Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, but it is a bit ironic to do so on Tax Day.
Especially given the fact Tax Freedom Day was just three days earlier.
What is this thing you speak of "Tax Freedom Day?" It's the day when you've stopped working for the government and actually started working for yourself.
That's right folks, just over three months of your hard work went to just pay taxes — if that ain't slavery I don't know what is.
This comes just days after President Barack Obama gave a speech in which he admitted to wanting to raise taxes yet higher. Granted he said he wants to raise them on "the wealthy," but since just exactly what constitutes "wealthy" is a moving target, I'd like a bit more information, thank you very much.
This of course leaves aside the fact that poor people do not provide jobs for anyone. Well, that's not quite true, we do have a plethora of government agencies whose sole function is to "help" the poor. Also seems to be the only place where jobs are being created.
There's also the irony of who has to pay taxes. My son filed his first tax return this year. He was less than amused to find out he not only was not getting any money back from the feds, but he owed the state $20. The reason? Well he's single, a college student, and made just a few thousand bucks last year. I don't know anyone much poorer than a college student, so while the vast majority of the poor paid no taxes at all, he ends up ponying up.
Anybody starting to notice a pattern here?
The tax code makes no sense. Forty-nine percent of the population pays no taxes at all, or because of various tax credits actually gets more money back than they paid in. Of the 51 percent who actually pay taxes the top one percent actually pay nearly 40 percent of the total tax burden and the top 10 percent pay nearly 70 percent of the tax burden. So Obama would like to ask them to pay more. I'd like to know, when half the country is paying no taxes at all, what percentage of the total burden Mr. Obama thinks is fair.
What's even more interesting is something an acquaintance of mine Larry Corriea noted in a post on his blog:

"A long time ago, some university did a test. They made up a fictitious family of 5, gave them dual income, some investments, some rental property, and a few other little things, nothing too weird or complicated, and then had 150 different CPAs, tax accounting companies, and even tax software packages prepare this family’s returns. They got 150 different answers. All of they were equally arguable as being correct. All of them were equally auditable and capable of being wrong. What does that tell you about the complexity of the tax code?"
By way of disclosure, in addition to being an author, Larry is also a CPA.
We have got to do something about a tax system which is so screwed up no one can actually be right when they do their taxes. For one thing it gives the IRS more than enough authority to screw anyone they want to.
Meanwhile Standard and Poors has just downgraded the United State's long-term credit outlook from "stable" to "negative." This is the first step in downgrading our AAA credit rating. Gas is hitting $4 a gallon and Congress deadlocks over cutting spending by $38 billion when our budget is over $1.5 trillion.
This is like something out of a Mel Brooks movie, except the whole thing isn't funny. Folks we have an election coming in less than two years, provided the republic lasts that long. We best get serious about getting spending under control and getting a tax system that actually makes sense before the people who really are footing the bill decide to move to Upper Whosiwhatisstan and leave the rest of us here to starve.
All IMHO, of course.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Get off the golf course and lead Barack

A colleague of mine Bryan Preston noted that the last time we got reliable numbers which was last July, President Barack Obama had spent roughly a month of his presidency playing golf as well as several weeks on vacation.
Since then, of course, he's played a lot more golf and taken a bunch more vacations. He's also, Bryan reports, complaining he's no longer anonymous, that he can't take a walk or go to the grocery store.
First, I'm not sure a man with ego enough to tell protesters in Libya "I am with you," rather than "we are with you," or "the American people are with you" is really upset by a lack of anonymity. Second, well, you knew that was part of the job when you took it bucko.
I've come to the conclusion Obama really just doesn't want the job.
Well that's not entirely accurate — he wanted the job he just doesn't want to DO the job. I'm not the first one to note Obama enjoys the trappings of the job, everyone standing when he walks in the room, the private 747 jet, the best food all of that. He doesn't, however, seem to enjoy the grinding work of the job.
No one I'm sure really does, but most presidents buckle down to do the work. George W. Bush gave up golf because he didn't feel it was appropriate to be seen playing golf while our troops were fighting for their lives. He also aged visibly within just a few months of taking office — something I have yet to see happen with Obama.
The job of president is, no joke, the most difficult job in the world. Every decision you make affects not just America but lives the world over. Nearly all of them are life and death decisions for someone.
When a president makes the decision to take military action he knows he's sending people out to die. When he makes decisions on the economy he knows there will be winners and losers which means someone is going to lose everything.
If we choose to trade with one Third World nation over another there's a good chance some child is going to do without food.
The president lives with the knowledge his decisions affect the entire world, for better or for worse. He also lives with the knowledge his mistakes have huge ramifications as well.
He has to accept that knowledge as well as understanding he's still just a man — and mistakes are inevitable.
The pressures of the job are beyond anything anyone who hasn't done the job can imagine.
I can understand Obama's wish to simply get away from the job. I have no issue with a president taking vacations or playing golf. First because he never really gets to get away from the job, he's always working. Second because the pressures would kill him if he didn't have some time away.
However, I've seen very little leadership from this president. Very little decisiveness.
The Arab League has gone to the United Nations to ask for a no-fly zone over Israel. I would hope we will veto it. Unfortunately I have no confidence we will. The Middle East is on fire. In neighboring Syria the same sorts of things are happening as happened in Libya — the president there is breaking up protests with gunfire. Instead of calling in air strikes, Hillary Clinton describes Syrian President Bashar Assad as a "reformer."
Obama struggles to make decisions, to take a position, in short — to lead.
I was taught in the Marine Corps that in a crisis it's better to make a decision and take action — even if it's the wrong action — than to do nothing.
It's a lesson Obama needs to learn.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

So simple even I get it

I received an interesting email the other day asking, me to do a column on a specific subject. Since I usually get people throwing metaphorical rocks at my head, not "please write on this," I thought I would oblige.
The email had attached an opinion piece from a Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) which was published in the Wall Street Journal. I won't go into much detail about the piece which talked about the life-saving surgery his daughter received many years ago and which was quickly available because of our excellent medical system, but I will share a few observations from the column about the system which is under assault by what has been termed ObamaCare.
Now under ObamaCare you will be required to purchase health insurance whether you want to or not. If you don't you will be either fined or taxed by the Internal Revenue Service, depending on which definition the administration is using this week.
There were a few interesting nuggets in Johnson's piece I thought I would share:

"Since 1970, American doctors have won more Nobel Prizes for Medicine than all other countries combined. According to McKinsey and Co., thousands of foreigners come to the United States every year for medical care they cannot get at home—due to rationing or because it is simply not provided. And cutting-edge drugs to treat serious illnesses are more widely available in the U.S. than abroad.

Take cancer as one example. Compared to the U.S., breast cancer mortality is 9% higher in Canada (according to the government statistics of each country), 52% higher in Germany and 88% higher in the United Kingdom (according to studies published in Lancet Oncology). Prostate cancer mortality is 604% higher in Britain.

Those in need of timely care from specialists are better off in the U.S. Drawing on several peer-reviewed studies, Dr. Scott Atlas of the Stanford University Medical Center notes that patients who need knee and hip replacement, cataract surgery, and radiation treatment wait months longer in the United Kingdom and Canada than in the United States."
Keep in mind as well, this is the "reform" to the health care system which a federal judge in Florida found to be unconstitutional and struck down. U.S. District Judge Robert Vinson struck the law down and enjoined the administration from implementing it.
They proceeded to do it anyway. Granted this thing is going to end up in front of the Supreme Court, but the administration is ignoring a federal judge's order.
Even more interesting is the fact that despite being behind this federal take over of health care, various states and unions are now applying for waivers so they can keep the plans they already have.
A little research on the Internet to confirm the information I was given leads me to this: Florida, Tennessee, Ohio, New Jersey and Maine have all been granted waivers and Kentucky, Nevada and New Hampshire waiting to be excused. Multiple unions, all of whom were behind the law in the first place have all applied for and received waivers as well. Those would include: The Service Employees Benefit Fund, United Food and Commercial Workers Allied Trade Health & Welfare Trust Fund, Transport Workers Union, United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (AFL-CIO) as well as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and many, many others.
Now let me ask this question: If the very people who told us we had to do this sweeping transformation of health care in this country, who pushed it down the throats of an American people who did not want it in the first place, are now getting waivers so they do not have to comply with the patently unconstitutional law, why should we?
Somewhere along the line someone should be able to figure out that adding huge layers of bureaucracy to anything is a bad idea.
Yes, there are issues with the health care system. Yes, costs are out of hand. However, there is a straight-line correlation between when costs started rising dramatically in the 1970s and when employers started offering comprehensive medical plans as employee benefits.
It's simple economics 101. So simple even an idiot journalist like me can understand it. When you subsidize something, in this case health care, you get more demand for it, but generally speaking you can't increase supply fast enough to keep up with demand.
That's what's happened in the nations with socialized medicine. Once health care became "free" (it's not, as the inestimable Robert A. Heinlein once pointed out "There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch,) the demand for health care far out-stripped the supply and rationing followed. Shortly thereafter quality dropped as well.
Do I have all the answers? No. I do know that returning the health care system to basic free-market principles would help. Introducing more competition into any system always has the beneficial effects of reducing costs, increasing choice and increasing quality.
Conversely, limiting competition always increases costs, limits choice and decreases quality as it removes any incentive to improve anything.
I hate to go all Glenn Beck, but it's impossible that the administration isn't aware of this reality. Which means they have other reasons for doing what they're doing. What those are I can only speculate about but nothing I come up with is good.
We have to continue to press our Representatives in Washington D.C. about this and make sure they repeal or at least defund this unconstitutional law. We simply can't depend on the Supreme Court to do the right thing.
All IMHO, of course.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I. AM. A. GEEK!!!

I'm a huge fan of the Web site ThinkGeek.com. Big surprise given what a huge geek I actually am.
The transition over the years from geeks being objects of derision when I was a kid, to it now being cool to actually be a geek (as opposed to a nerd, which I'm told still isn't cool) has been somewhat amusing for me to watch. Well, sort of amusing, to some degree annoying, it would have been nice for this transition to happen about 25 years ago when I was in school.
That being said, I get a huge kick out of some of the toys and gadgets (some of them actually useful!) on ThinkGeek.
I mean really, who doesn't need a set of lightsaber chopsicks or a USB-powered rocket launcher that lets you actually shoot at your coworkers?
Like most true geeks I love gadgets and toys, they don't actually have to do anything in particular, they just need to be sort of cool, or weird, weird is also good.
For instance, I was perusing the site the other night and came across a sundial ring you wear around your neck.
"A-ha!" I thought to myself, "A watch which never runs out of batteries!"
True enough, the handy dandy little gadget works with no external power. Geek heaven! It's old, but functional technology. Has all sorts of little numbers on it, made of metal. What more do you need?
Only one problem — I work in an office, no sun.
Curses! Foiled again!
Not to be defeated I went back to the site and went looking for more goodies without which my life would simply not be worth living, (not really but it sounds good right?)
All sorts of lovely toys and useful gadgets popped up. Obviously I need the roll up computer keyboard and the Nerf machinegun (did I mention geeks never really grow up?) the screaming monkey slingshot would be nice as well.
Now if I just actually had money.
To make matters worse, I'm a world champion bibliophile (means I like books a lot) and I wrote a piece for the Web some months back talking about politics in science fiction, which led one of my new favorite authors to ask me to review one of her books.
Free book! Woot! ("Woot" is a geek expression meaning, roughly, "Egad my dear fellow what a wonderful thing this is which has just happened to me!) What self-respecting geek could possibly turn that down? (Granted most of us don't exactly have a lot of self-respect to begin with, but I digress...) Well Sarah A. Hoyt, sent me one her books along with one by Dave Freer and I set to reading. Both Freer's Dragon's Ring and Sarah's Darkship Thieves were just unbelievable and I emailed Sarah back to tell her thanks and how great her book was. Somewhere in there I managed to strike up a friendship with Sarah and continue to correspond.
Turns out she's a pusher who keeps enabling my book addiction. I got five more in the mail from her just the other day and am now on the fourth one she sent me. (If I had any self-respect I'd come up for air and food at some point, but like any other addict I just keep getting my fix.) The problem here, is that gadgets and books are like crack to any geek. We just can't stay away from them. The more goofy the gadget or esoteric the science fiction or fantasy book the better.
One of the great joys of life as a geek is when someone who's more or less normal asks us why we need the laser-guided scissors or the USB stress ball. We then get to give them the patented Blank Look, snort and shake our heads in disbelief at the people who simply Don't Get It.
Given that's the look the rest of humanity gives us the rest of the time, it's simply justice.
All IMHO, of course.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stupid is as stupid does...

Couple of weeks ago, a state representative from Tyro, Kan., a small town I'd never heard of in between Coffeyville and Caney managed to bring national — aye, international, attention to the great State of Kansas.
Unfortunately it wasn't for our beautiful state attractions or our occasionally pivotal historical events.
No, no, it was for suggesting illegal immigrants should be shot down like animals from the air.
According to the Wichita Eagle, Virgil Peck, (R-Tyro) said:
"Looks like to me, if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem."
This left me facepalming. That this country, indeed this state, have problems with illegal immigration is self-evident — except perhaps to a few natural-born fools on both sides of the aisle.
However, this sort of stupidity is not helpful.
Granted, from what I've been able to gather about Mr. Peck, in a battle of wits between him and a rutabaga, bet on the rutabaga, but he's managed to put me in a position of having to agree with Democrats — he needs to resign forthwith.
Once again an idiot politician shooting off his mouth has managed to make the state look bad. He even went so far as to say "I'm just talking like a Southeast Kansas person."
Mr. Peck, I'm originally from southwest Kansas where we have a major problem with illegal immigration, and I've lived in southeast Kansas for over 10 years now, we're not racists in this state and we don't condone murder.
Do we need to do something about the border? Yes, absolutely.
Do we need to do something about illegal immigration? Yes, absolutely.
But can we please refrain from stupid rhetoric on both sides?
Mr. Peck's comments not withstanding, Republicans don't really want to kill anyone. Nor are those on the right racist, generally speaking. So we would appreciate it if Democrats would stop calling us such. At the same time can those on the right please stop with the our way or the highway approach to border control.
I don't think so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" is the way to go.
There are several problems with immigration and the border. They really need to be addressed one at a time — and putting aside ideology so they can be addressed with some common sense.
Let's start with getting control of the border. We can't really address the 5 to 20 million (no one really knows) illegals who are already here until we stop letting more over the border.
So let's get control of the border, not just for the immigration problem but for the drug wars going on along our border which are getting American citizens killed. Do that first.
Then, let's have the conversation about what to do about the people who are here.
First the DREAM Act. This, had it passed, would have allowed illegals who came here before the age of 16 and who had completed two years in the military or two years of college to apply for citizenship.
As a conservative, I have zero problem with the first part of that, and quite a bit of problem with the second. Anyone who joins our military, serves with honor and defends this nation should automatically be granted citizenship if they wish it upon honorable discharge. I don't know any conservative who would disagree with that. If I met one I would suggest a rutabaga was smarter than him as well.
The two years of college? Not so much. But I would think the left might be willing to give on that one. Come to that, I'd be willing to give on that one if we could just close the border first.
It comes down to it, I think most conservatives would be willing to negotiate on what we do about the illegals who are here. I certainly think we need to consider guest worker programs and perhaps examine our immigration quotas and regulations as well as the application process. I've known more than a few people over the years trying to come to this country the right way who have had to deal with a nightmare just getting the paperwork done.
"Give us your tired, your poor, your hungry..." Remember that? We've made it very difficult for those tired, poor and hungry to come here. We need to look at why, and if it needs reform.
We also need people like Peck on the right, and groups like the National Council of La Raza on the left to stop with the polarizing rhetoric so we can sit down and have an actual conversation on this.
All IMHO, of course.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Help

Michelle Malkin is looking for her missing cousin. I realize I don't have a ton of readers but anyone who sees this help if you can.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Even odious speech is protected

Last week the Supreme Court rendered what was a rare 8-1 ruling on a controversial case.
Most of us are aware of who and what the Westboro Baptist Church is. These are the people who protest at military funerals, claiming war deaths are God's punishment for the United States' tolerance of homosexuality.
Holding signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" or "You're going to Hell," or things far worse, these people disrupt what should be solemn occasions.
To say I find Fred Phelps and his clan odious would be an understatement. However I find myself in agreement with the court that — however offensive — this is protected speech under the First Amendment.
There are many forms of speech which the average person finds offensive, from pornography to racial slurs to half the shows on prime time Television.
In a free society we have little choice but to put up with these things — frustrating as that is sometimes. I once read a document called the Bill of No Rights, a list of 10 rights you do not have.
Article II reads: "You do not have the right to never be offended. This country is based on freedom, and that means freedom for everyone — not just you! You may leave the room, turn the channel, express a different opinion, etc., but the world is full of idiots, and probably always will be."
That the Phelps clan and their "church" are idiots is self evident. That they have the right to be idiots and spout their nonsense should also be.
I certainly understand Justice Samuel Alito, writing the lone dissent from the ruling's feelings on the matter. He noted the free speech provision of the First Amendment “is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case. Respondents’ outrageous conduct caused petitioner great injury, and the court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong he suffered."
Chief Justice John Roberts was correct, however, in the majority opinion when he wrote: "As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
All of that is true, as painful as it may be. There are, of course, other solutions to dealing with Phelps and his ilk. They are cowards who tend not to show up when they know the Freedom Riders, a group of bikers who go to military funerals and ring them to prevent mourners from being disturbed, are going to be there. And as Dennis Miller noted last week on his radio program, a supreme court decision doesn't protect you from a broken nose. I doubt there's a jury in the world who would convict a mourning father on that one.
In the end, I don't think there was a justice on the court who liked having to rule in Phelps favor, but the law is the law. Every time we dilute the First Amendment we make it easier to decide to restrict expression further and further. That way lies Canada and criminal penalties for "hate speech," which seems to mean any sort of speech the government doesn't like.
I would rather have to put up with 100 Fred Phelps' than find myself in prison because some twit on the government payroll decided he didn't like what I have to say.
The essence of freedom is the freedom to express yourself, no matter how offensive that may be to someone else. If we start taking that away, then the rest of the Bill of Rights folds like a house of cards.
All IHMO, of course.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mideast unrest a hopeful sign

Last week I wrote about the unrest in the Middle East and the confused response of the administration to the situation in Egypt.

I noted then, the Middle East was aflame. I didn‘t realize how much hotter things would get.

In Libya, long time dictator Muammar Gaddafi has reportedly fled his capital after ordering his military, and apparently foreign mercenaries, to fire on the protesters in the street. As many as 1,000 have reportedly been killed. In Yemen, in Bahrain, in Iran, all over the region spontaneous protests are breaking out and people are demanding the ouster of totalitarian regimes and calling for elections.

I had been worried these protests would be a repeat of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, but they do not seem to be. Buoyed by successes in Tunisia, where all this started, and in Egypt, people all over the region seem to be standing up and saying “enough!”

Whether or not this will turn out to be a good thing remains to be seen. It is notable, however, that for the most part the protesters are not calling for Islamic states but for elections — which is heartening. I do worry about what the radical Islamists will do in as the unrest spreads, as this sort of chaos is exactly the sort of thing they specialize in exploiting.

The people who should really be worrying are dictators not just in the Mideast but world wide. Sooner or later it‘s going to occur to people in say, North Korea, that if they simply have the will, they can take to the streets and force the regime change we‘ve been trying to cause with sanctions and what not for years. Kim Jong Il and his son should be shaking in their boots.

This is a prime example of what Americans have understood for centuries now — all government, of whatever kind, is only by the consent of the governed. It may take a war to throw off oppressive government, of course. In the end, if the people refuse to submit even in the face of casualties, there‘s little a government can do to remain in power.

What‘s heartening, is that while some governments seem to be resorting to violence, most of the protesters are not. They‘re simply taking to the streets and refusing to leave. Which is shutting down the cities where they are protesting.

I wish the protesters in these countries the best. They have for too long lived without the freedom to which all people are entitled. Those rights which all people are “endowed by their creator ... life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The causes and truths laid out so many years ago in that simple document, The declaration of Independence are no less true today, and no less applicable simply because the people are not Americans.

All IMHO, of course...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Decisiveness needed at the top

The Middle East is aflame. That's nothing unusual in and of itself, something — bad — is normally going on somewhere in that most unstable part of the world.
What's interesting is what's setting things on fire just now.
I can't decide if what's going on is a good or bad thing. Long time Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak was run out of office by a crowd of protesters in the streets. The same thing happened in Tunisia, Algeria is facing some of the same sort of trouble and now there are more protests in Iran and in Libya Muammar Gaddafi is finding himself in a bit of trouble.
Dictators all over the Middle East are finding out what a wise man once said, "ruling is not so much a matter of an iron fist as a firm seat!"
Should these velvet revolutions result in true secular democracy then I'm all for them. If they are a repeat of Iran in 1979, then they are worrisome at best.
In Egypt for instance, much of the impetus for the ouster of Mubarak was from the Muslim Brotherhood. This "movement" which continues to defend the use of violence against civilians and call for the destruction of Israel tries very hard to present itself as a moderate alternative to Al Qaeda. Never mind that nearly every Western intelligence agency believes they were responsible for the assassinations of both the Egyptian prime minister in 1948 and President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
Just as troubling is the confusion on the part of the Obama administration on what stance to take. That Mubarak was a tyrant is undeniable. He was also a staunch U.S. ally. The administration flip-flopped several times during the 18 days of the Egyptian crisis. First supporting Mubarak, then suggesting he should step down, supporting him again — back and forth.
Our foreign policy might be wrong from time to time, but it should never be confusing. Vacillating from one position to another sends a message of weakness to our enemies and that is never a good thing. Worse it sends conflicting messages to our allies who have to then wonder if we will be there for them when we are needed.
If our few allies in the Mideast come to believe we will abandon them the minute things get tough they will start to look for allies elsewhere — likely from people we'd rather they didn't.
A leader can be seen to be wrong, they can even be seen to be overbearing and retain leadership. They cannot ever be seen to be uncertain or weak.
Part of the problem, of course, is the 24 hour news cycle, and an administration which believes itself to be media-savvy.
Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is perhaps a good political strategist, but as a press secretary he left much to be desired. Gibbs, and by extension the president, had a tendency to feel the need to respond immediately to any perceived crisis, often before the facts on the ground were known. This has led to a series of foreign and domestic policy gaffes when the administration has had to backtrack quickly after it became apparent their statements were wrong.
It is far better to be seen as perhaps reacting slowly, but with careful thought and deliberation, than it is to spout off with only half the facts and be seen as waffling or disingenuous.
What will come of the current turmoil in the Middle East is currently anyone's guess. What cannot happen is misstatements by the U.S. to make said turmoil worse or to lead our allies to question our commitment to them.
All IMHO, of course.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Crash is wakeup call on computer security

I've had a bit of a wake up call where computer security is concerned the last few days. It all started when my personal laptop at home started giving me the "Blue Screen of Death."
For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is when your Windows machine suddenly stops working and a blue screen with white writing pops up to tell you in geekese you're screwed.
Now normally this is not too hard a fix. You reboot, run some disk utilities, maybe restore the computer to an earlier point and move on with your happy little computing life.
Yeah, not so much.
I had what's called a boot-kit, and not to get into too much detail, it's a Bad Thing™. I could only manage to get the computer to boot up for about 20 seconds before it would blue screen out again. I tried several things to get to my data and get it onto an external hard drive but nothing worked.
Finally, I did the thing every geek dreads — erased the hard drive and started from scratch. Only to find out the company I bought the computer from sent me the wrong system restore disk and I was even more hosed than I thought I was.
For a complete geek like me, being without a working computer was like having my arm removed, or maybe half my brain missing.
Took me a couple of days but I was finally able to get the machine back up and working and it's now happily purring along. I managed to save some of my files.
I was also more than a little red in the face, because, after years of telling people to back up their data regularly — I hadn't.
Much of it I was able to salvage, and a lot of what I was missing I was able to find in attachments to archived emails, but it was still a very frustrating and frightening time.
The other thing which brought computer security to my attention was that the NASDAQ stock exchange's computers have apparently been hacked repeatedly over the last year.
For those of you who don't know, NASDAQ is the exchange where a great many tech stocks are traded so it's somewhat amusing they couldn't keep their own computers secure.
It's also a bit frightening.
So much of our world these days relies on computers. The phone in your pocket, if you have a smart phone, really isn't a phone at all. It's a palm-top computer. Everything from our cars to our televisions these days are connected in some way to a computer. Chevrolet and Ford cars are even Internet and cell phone connected as well.
Nuclear power plants, coal plants, hospitals — everything — is computerized.
With the revelation of the Suxtnet worm which invaded Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities and which was so sophisticated it almost had to be built by some one like the National Security Agency or the Israeli equivalent, it's becoming more and more obvious that cyberwarfare is here.
We also know that China has hacked Google's severs a couple of times and in response, Google is banning Windows from it's campus, preferring more secure operating systems. It's increasingly clear that low level cyberwarfare is a constant thing and it's not just the government which is under attack.
What's the solution? I don't know. I'm far from a computer security expert. My good friend Charlie Martin, who is a computer security expert tells me he and an old research partner of his are thinking about writing a paper on why after 40 years of work, computer security remains as bad as it is.
Again, I have no answers, but I do know we very much need to find one. Information security is now as important to national security as protecting our interests abroad, or our air space, or the sea lanes. The consequences of a major cyber attack to our infrastructure are also no less life threatening than any other form of terrorist or military attack. Imagine hackers taking down the air traffic control system at, say, O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, at Thanksgiving. Or not even taking it down, just causing it to tell controllers the planes are not where they actually are.
The good news, is DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, has two major programs going aimed at increasing computer security. DARPA funds and conducts high-risk, high-reward research programs, so there's a good chance neither of the programs they're working on will succeed. Roughly two-thirds of DARPA's projects fail. Although almost always there is a great deal learned even from the failures.
Whatever happens, computer security is going to be a major issue for years to come.
Me, I'm just taking my own advice and backing up my data.
All IMHO, of course.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Obama abandons our allies ... again


I have watched with interest the events in Egypt the last week or so. Under most circumstances I would be cheering a populace taking to the streets to demand a dictator step down — and make no mistake, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is a dictator.
In this case, however, having his government fall would not be a good thing for U.S. interests.
Much like Shah Mohammad Pahlavi of Iran in 1980, Mubarak may be a dictator, but he's our dictator, and much like Jimmy Carter, President Barack Obama is hanging Mubarak out to dry — likely with similar results.
I had thought this was, once again, a failure of leadership on Obama's part. I'm now coming to a different conclusion. I suspect it now has more to do with an unrealistic and simplistic worldview combined with a lack of understanding of what the Germans called "Realpolitik."
Both of the choices available should Mubarak's government fall, and that's looking more and more likely, are unpalatable at best.
First is the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1928 in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest and largest Islamic political group in the world and has been banned in Egypt. It is widely believed it was the Muslim Brotherhood which assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat after he signed a peace treaty with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood has repeatedly defended killing civilians and terrorism. If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over, the most powerful Muslim nation in the Middle East becomes Islamist.
The next choice, and perhaps the most likely, is Mohammed ElBaradei. That name may be familiar to some, he was the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. ElBaradei is a mostly secular Muslim, and if that sounds like a good thing, think again. The IAEA is a creature of the United Nations, and ElBaradei has spent most of his adult life working for the UN in one capacity or another.
He has said in the past that nuclear weapons in Israeli hands are more of a threat to Mideast security than they would be in the hands of Iran.
He's also on record saying the U.S. shouldn't have them either. ElBaradei is a committed UN leftist and internationalist and manifestly Not Our Friend.
Mubarak may be a slimy creature, but he is at least our ally and a known quantity.
The Obama administration's simplistic world view sees any popular uprising against a dictator as a Good Thing. This is not always the case. For decades U.S. foreign policy has been to promote stability. Should Mubarak fall, the always unstable Middle East becomes that much more dangerous.
Moreover, Obama is once again telling our allies they simply cannot depend on us. This is not only dangerous to world stability, but dangerous to American Security as well.
If our allies believe they cannot depend on us to protect them, they will quickly seek allies who will — and those may be nations we would rather they did not.
And that brings us back to the Obama Administration's, in my opinion, dangerous naivete where foreign policy is concerned. They seem to truly believe it is their job to managed the decline of America. That the world would be a safer place if the U.S. was not the preeminent power in the world, but simply one more nation among many, no more powerful or important than any other.
The problem is, and this goes to the people who like to say the U.S. should not be the world's policeman as well, is that the U.S. is the only nation on Earth capable of maintaining the peace, more or less, and preventing civilization from melting down.
If that sounds overly dramatic, think again.
Currently the general consensus among the great powers such as England, France, Germany, etc., and the U.S. is that wars of conquest and aggression are not to be allowed. It would appear we use the U.N. to prevent these, while mostly staying out of purely internal affairs like Darfur. The reality is the U.N. couldn't prevent anyone from taking over a paper sack. It is the U.S. backing the policy of "no wars of conquest" which keeps it from happening. The first Gulf War was an example. No one has really tried it since, as they know they'd be facing us if they tried.
If the U.S. is just one more great power, rather than the lone super power, that threat disappears. You want chaos and old night? Let Iran not have to worry about a carrier battle group appearing off shore.
With no threat of American might hauling warring nations apart, the whole international system the progressives are so fond of falls apart — and the world goes up in flames with it. There are too many nations with grudges, or territorial ambitions, to keep that from happening.
What's happening in Egypt right now are the first cracks in the foundation. We need to stand up for our ally there as despicable as he may be, to reassure the rest of our allies we will be there when we're needed.
All IMHO, of course.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Taxes so simple a 12 year-old gets it

Last week I was sitting in the office working on a couple of things when one of my coworkers mentioned a conversation about taxes she'd had with her 12 year old son.
I'm not quoting verbatim here, so bear with me, I got the sense of it.
It went something like this:
"So they tax you on what you make?"
"Yes."
"Then they tax you on the food you buy?"
"Yes."
"Then you pay taxes on your car?"
"Yes."
"Then you have to pay taxes on your house?"
"Yes."
"That's stupid!"
My reaction was to jump up, throw my hands in the air and scream, "YES!! YES!!! A 12 YEAR OLD GETS IT! WHY CAN'T CONGRESS!?!"
And that's the thing, even a 12 year old can see we're overtaxed. Between state and federal income taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, automobile property taxes, home property taxes, social security taxes, taxes on your phone bill, more taxes on your Internet bill and probably a few more I'm forgetting, (some major cities have income taxes too) the average American taxpayer is taxed something like 50 percent of his income.
It's not just stupid, it's insane.
It should be pretty obvious in a market-based economy, which ours ostensibly is, that the more money you remove from circulation via taxes, the less there is for individuals to spend to drive the economy. Therefore taxation above a certain point has a chilling effect on the economy.
It's also pretty obvious that Congress just doesn't get it — and never has.
According to the Wikipedia entry on the income tax in the United States in 1944 and 1945 the top marginal rate was 94 percent on incomes above $200,000 a year. Granted that was a lot more money back then, but think about it — for every dollar someone in the top bracket made they got to keep six cents.
The only thing which made those tax rates even remotely sustainable was the war. There was 100 percent employment and most of the workforce was not at home needing to buy things, it was in the military.
These days the economy is in the tank, unemployment is, depending on who you ask, either hovering near 10 percent or well beyond it — taking half the money someone makes, given the falling value of the dollar is just nuts.
The purchasing power of each dollar we make is down, gas is over $3 a gallon and headed for $4 or $5 and half or more of our money goes to one governmental entity or another. Meanwhile they keep spending like drunken — I'd say sailors, but that would be an insult to drunken sailors.
All of it has to stop. We cannot continue to tax the way we do.
My suggestion has always been a flat tax. It doesn't get much fairer than that, or more progressive. If it's say 15 percent across the board, then those who make big bucks pay big bucks, those who make small bucks pay small bucks.
Unfortunately it's probably never going to happen. Neither will a national sales tax — at least not coupled with the elimination of the current tax system. I can see either or both being added. In neither case can the tax code simply be amended to put them in place. It will require the repeal of the the 16th Amendment to the the Constitution — which is unlikely to get through Congress although I suspect ratification by the states would be a foregone conclusion.
In the end, as I have noted before, the major problem is spending. But spending reform which is not coupled with tax reform is a half measure, and the time for half measures is long past.
All IMHO, of course.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Colorblindness not such a bad idea

As I write this it is about 20 minutes to 10, on a wet, grey Monday morning. It is also the day we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
I would be lying if I said King was one of my childhood heroes, first he died before I was born, and second, mine ran more to Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke than MLK.
That being said, on this 25th anniversary of the founding of the federal holiday and the 50th since the great man was slain I find myself more and more struck by his life and his words.
I say "great man" and I mean it. When I was young I really didn't understand what the big deal was. I mean, I'd learned about Rosa Parks, of course, and about King, but I didn't realize that one of the big battles of the civil rights movement was fought in Kansas. Brown v. Topeka Board of Education in 1954 was the big federal case which struck down separate schools for black and white students.
I don't know why we didn't learn more about King and the civil rights movement in school. Given how little time is available to teach history, and the way it's usually taught in grade school especially, there simply wasn't enough time or perhaps it was not felt to be important in a school in southwest Kansas — or perhaps in the 70s and early 80s it was simply too raw, too recent.
Whatever the reason it was some years before I began to really hear about the man and his message.
These days, I find his "I have a Dream," speech more and more profound.
When I was young, and with the innocence of childhood, I didn't understand the issue so many adults seemed to have with color. I had friends who were white, and friends who were not, this was normal and not anything I paid particular attention to. As I got older, of course, that changed as it did for much of my generation. Still race, for the most part, was not much of an issue for me or for most of my friends. Oh, I had my prejudices and preconceptions, we all do.
I still do I suppose, although I try to work past that when I run up against them.
Still, the idea of a colorblind society appeals to me as it did to King. A society where people are "judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Unlike many commentators who wish to say King would be appalled by what his dream has become, I don't think so.
Oh, there are areas where he would be disappointed, of course. I think the idea of racial preferences would probably anger Rev. King. I think he would be disappointed as well by some of the lingering racism in this country. Especially, for the highly educated Dr. King, the "soft racism of low expectations," former President George W. Bush discussed in a State of the Union address.
Too, I think he would be upset by the tendency of politicians on both sides of the debate to divide us by race, and to use race to score political points. That is the worst kind of demagoguery and it needs to stop, whatever the party and whoever is doing it.
At the same time I think he would be heartened by the level of upward mobility in the African-American Community. Many more African-Americans are entering the middle and upper classes than ever before. Yes, there are still problems there, but slowly, surely, they're getting better.
I think he would have been elated by the election of Barack Obama as president.
Whatever my political differences with Obama, I was still aware of the immense progress of this nation when a black man could be elected president, and the historic nature of that election. I am proud that my nation has made that step — as I think King would be too.
Yes, we still have a long way to go to reach that colorblind society King dreamt of, but we have made enormous strides as well.
This week, as we celebrate the birth of the man who brought it all to a head, and next month as we remember the history, good and bad, of a people who have done great things for this nation, let us all set aside color and labels.
Let us all be, not African-American, or Asian-American or any other hyphenated-American, but simply Americans. Let us all set aside our preconceptions about each other based on race or politics and simply talk to one another. Let us celebrate both what we have in common, and the differences which make us great as a people — for the American people are a great people and they are one people, of many colors — and that is beautiful.
All IMHO, of course.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Politics has no place in tragedy

I was getting ready to take my son back to college in Wichita the morning of Jan. 8 when I saw the news Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D.-Ariz), had been shot, along with several others.
As I read the news on the Fox Web site it was unclear at first if it was a Democrat or a Republican who had been shot.
By that night the political attacks had started, with Paul Krugman at the New York Times already writing an odious column blaming the attack on conservatives.
Let me be very clear. No one should be making any sort of political hay out of this tragedy — a nine year old girl and a federal judge are dead. So are a number of others, including a man who shielded his wife with his own body — and Giffords, who was shot in the head, is fighting for her life.
As the facts start to trickle in, it becomes increasingly clear this was not a politically motivated attack. Jared Loughner, 22, who is accused in the attack which wounded 14 and killed six others appears to have been a deeply disturbed individual. Loughner had been turned down by the military and apparently suspended by Pima County Community College until he had gotten counseling. He then apparently withdrew.
It is sad in this world today that individuals — of any political persuasion — will use a tragedy to advance a political agenda.
For myself, I'm not interested in the politics. I commend President Barack Obama for lowering flags to half mast today. I commend him further for ordering a moment of silence for the dead today. I will credit him as well for ordering the head of the FBI to Arizona to take charge of the investigation.
If he gains some political capital from this so be it. As Americans we should all put aside politics in the face of tragedy. We should honor the fallen no matter their politics. We should comfort the survivors and their families without regard to party.
None of that matters.
What matters is a brave woman is fighting for her life, and her husband is by her side, undoubtedly scared that he may lose the love of his life.
What matters is a mother is mourning her daughter, a wife, her husband.
What matters is the three heroic bystanders. One woman who grabbed Loughner's spare magazine as he tried to reload, allowing two men to tackle him and hold him for police.
Let us all put aside politics in this case. Let this tragedy be used to bring us all together as a nation.
We can all mourn the fallen in this case. If Rep. Giffords recovers from this and resumes her seat I will cheer with her colleagues.
Whatever his mental problems, the only person to blame here is Loughner. My hope is that at the very least he will spend the rest of his life locked up, although if ever there was a case that called for the death penalty this would be it.
Regardless, my prayers, and I would hope everyone else's are with the families of the wounded and fallen, and yes with Loughner's family as well. This is as much a tragedy for them as it is for those he killed, and with this nation that we not allow this to tear us further apart — as I am all too afraid it will.
All IMHO, of course.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

It's the spending, stupid

I've not been a fan of the New York Times for some years, the "Grey Lady" has been infested with ideologues, pinheads, incompetents and plagiarists for so many years it's actually become a source of amusement to me to see what they'll come up with next.
This latest idiocy, is just a case in point. In a recent editorial entitled "The Economy in 2011," the geniuses at the "Paper of Record's" editorial board came out and said, and I quote: "The federal deficit must be addressed. But cutting too deep, too fast will stall the recovery. There will have to be painful cuts ahead, and everything will have to be on the table, including entitlements and defense. Despite what the Republicans claim, there is no way to tackle the deficit and keep growing without raising taxes."
Let us tackle the second part of that statement first.
In point of fact there is an easy way to tackle the deficit and keep growing, and I'm not convinced the economy is actually growing, without raising taxes — cut spending.
The problem with the deficit is not the tax rate. As my old friend and colleague Charlie Martin once pointed out in one of his columns, any tax scheme will eliminate the deficit, balance out and eventually produce a surplus if only one condition is met — spending must not increase faster than Gross Domestic Product. In other words, you simply cannot spend more than you make. Something that is painfully obvious to most average Americans, but not apparently to liberals whose grasp of money is a bit fuzzy. Now, if we wish to eliminate the budget deficit we will need to balance tax rates and spending. A delicate game, but something the Congressional Budget Office is more than capable of doing.
The tax rates are not the problem, spending is. The current deficit is about $1.5 trillion, which means we're spending about $1.5 trillion more than we make. Now to the NYT the solution to this is simple, we simply have to raise taxes. And to some degree they have a point. Nearly 50 percent of the American public either pays no taxes at all or actually gets back more than they paid in due to things like the Earned Income Credit and the Extra Child Tax Credit. It reasonable to suggest the bottom half of the tax bracket should be paying more of their fair share.
This, of course, is not what the NYT and the liberals in Congress suggest, they seem to think the top two percent of wage earners, who are already paying 40 percent of the tax burden should pay more. I'm not sure exactly how this is fair, but it's really beside the point, if we raise taxes too much on the people with money, and it's not the ultra rich they're actually talking about soaking, it's upper middle class folks who own small businesses which are the job creation engine of the economy who will be most hurt by tax increases.
The NYT is right, (and yes my fingers nearly burst into flames writing that), entitlements must be on the table for cuts. However, I do not concede that defense should be on the table. As Adam Smith said "Opulence must take second place to defense."
The NYT hates the military, as do most liberals it seems. They also seem to be constitutionally incapable of realizing we are at war and live in dangerous times. Moreover according to usgovernmentspending.com in 2010 the defense budget was about $900 billion. Education spending was $1 trillion, health care was $1.1 trillion and government pensions totaled $1 trillion. I'm sure there is waste, fraud and abuse in the Department of Defense, as I'm quite certain there is in the other departments as well, and that needs to be addressed. But we simply cannot afford President Barack Obama's health care plan, or many of the other entitlements so many Americans have become used to.
Spending has got to be cut, and even European nations are figuring that out and instituting "austerity programs" — witness the rioting in Greece.
Meanwhile we're actually increasing spending.
The only way to help this economy rebound is to create a business friendly environment by reducing corporate tax rates, reducing burdensome regulations and cut spending. Do those three things and America will be back, stronger than ever.
All IMHO, of course.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A few New Years Resolutions for Congress

I'm generally opposed to New Year's resolutions. They seem a little pointless to me, given that no one ever actually keeps them.
Everyone starts off the year with good intentions of course. They plan to eat better, be nicer to the dog, loose weight, stop killing the neighbors and burying their bodies at the local dump — whatever.
But real life intervenes and next thing you know you've got a butcher knife in your hand and you're pondering fava beans and a nice Chianti, or maybe that's just me.
However, this year we have a new Congress taking power in Washington D.C. and I'd like to propose 10 resolutions to the Republicans and Democrats taking their seats on Jan. 5.
1.) All new members should attend addiction deterrence classes and all returning members should attend addiction counseling and join a 12 step program in order to help them break the spending addiction in Washington. We're out of money and when normal people are out of money they have to stop spending — politicians should do likewise.
2.) They should resolve to pass no legislation they haven't read. If you don't know what's in it you certainly shouldn't be voting for it. They should also resolve to keep bills under 100 pages. No one has the time to read thousands of pages of verbose leagalese, let alone digest and understand what the bills actually say.
3.) On that note, they need to do what President Barack Obama promised, and make sure that all bills are posted on the Web for two weeks before they are voted on. That way the American people have time to read them as well — and to decide if we want it passed or not.
4.) While they're at it the new Congress Critters should resolve to apply the 10th Amendment to all bills prior to passage. That's the one that limits the power of the Federal Government and basically says "if it's not in the constitution you can't do it."
5.) They should also resolve to stop abusing the interstate commerce clause of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution to regulate everything from what food our children are allowed to eat in school to health care. The purpose of the interstate commerce clause was to prevent economic warfare between say, Kansas and Colorado, not to allow the federal government to intrude into every aspect of our personal lives.
6.) In point of fact, they should resolve to publish in every bill where in the constitution they derive the authority to pass the law. If they can't find it, it should never even come to a vote.
7.) Even better, they need to resolve to not pass a law unless they first repeal a law. The current federal law alone runs to thousands of volumes. I think we have enough laws. Let's get rid of a few before we add some.
8.) They should also resolve to trim back the federal bureaucracy a bit. The FCC, for instance, recently decided to regulate the Internet — despite having no explicit authority to do so. They just decided they wanted to, and then did. The regulations promulgated by these agencies have the force of law, even though they've never actually been voted on. Let's rein in the bureaucrats just a bit. I suspect we've got a few more agencies than we actually need anyway.
9.) I'd also like to see them resolve to quite monkeying around with the military. I'm ambivalent about the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, however when your generals are telling you something is a Bad Idea, it's generally a Good Idea to listen to them. Yes, civilian control of the military is an important principal, and yes, Congress does have the authority to do what they did. But the military in the middle of a war is not the place for social engineering or political correctness. These are warriors, and their job is to kill people and break things. They do that very well indeed, can we not do things that may detract from that ability?
10.) Finally, they should resolve to come down from their ivory tower, clean out their ears and start listening to the American people. Our legislators, whatever they may tell themselves, are not some sort of elite. They were sent there by us, to represent us, and they power they have is derived from and borrowed from us. As many of them found out in November, in this country you rile the American people at your own considerable peril. They need to remember that before they get reminded again.
All IMHO, of course.