Tuesday, April 29, 2008

McCain on Wright

Barak Obama did what he needed to do. He unequivocally denounced the Reverend Wright's statements. Will that be enough? Who knows. Hillary has had her own problems with the Bosnia sniper fire fiasco among others. McCain has not benefited much from these negatives. The polls show him roughly even with Obama and behind to Clinton. What's he doing wrong? Should he respond to the Wright controversy? If so, how?

First of all, on Wright, I think he's doing right by staying out of it and stating that he's going to take Obama at his word when he says he doesn't share those views. He should not, however, scold others for bringing up and evaluating the issue for themselves. It's not up to the candidate to tell the voters what is and isn't proper to take into account when deciding who to vote for as leader of the free world. McCain should continue to engage the African American community and communicate how free market principals can benefit them, and to listen to their legitimate, specific concerns to see how free market solutions might be applied.

He needs to make some news of his own, not by spotlighting the faults of his rivals, but by getting aggressive about the message of lower taxes, less regulation and market based solutions for health care and entitlements, as well as continuing to communicate his strategy for dealing with Iraq. To date, his problem isn't the message itself, it's his delivery. Often he sounds sheepish, almost apologetic for his stance on such issues. If he's not passionate about his own viewpoint, how can we be?

If he presents a clear alternative to higher taxes, surrender in Iraq and a more socialist United States, he could win by a landslide. So far, he's not been very convincing about his conviction on these points, except perhaps on Iraq. A coalition of conservatives, capitalists and libertarians could get behind a strong candidate, but they wont carry one or drag one to victory kicking and screaming. They're looking for a leader, not a spokesmodel.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: You can't win if you wont fight.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Obama Wright and the Great Conversation

In the "Be Careful What You Wish For" department, we are now fully engaged in the conversation that Barak suggested we need regarding differences in perception between different groups of Americans. Specifically, Barak suggested that we didn't really know the Reverend Wright and what he's all about because we've only heard sound bites taken out of context.

Well I listened to an hour-long speech by Wright in its entirety live over the weekend and another hour today. Here's what I've surmised: The Reverend believes that whites and blacks are biologically different in the way they think and learn, which implies that they should be taught differently (separate but equal schools? Didn't we try that?). He was given the opportunity to clarify or renounce the notion that America was responsible for bringing 9/11 upon itself. He instead restated it. He believes that Louis Farrakhan is a great man. He believes that attacks on him are attacks on the "black church", suggesting he is their spokesman. He was given the opportunity to renounce or clarify his accusation that the U.S. Government is using aids to wipe out the black race in America. He simply said he believes the government is capable of anything. Hardly a renouncement.

I'm beginning to get a very clear picture of where the Reverend Wright is coming from and it's ugly. Did Barak miss all of that over a 20 year period?

The thing that's disturbing is not that things have happened over the past 2+ centuries that are negative. It's which things one decides to hold on to and focus on that's revealing. One can go through the course of one's day selectively focusing on all of the negative things that occur and wind up having a lousy day. One can go through the same exact day choosing to focus on the good things that happen and have a great day. Which you decide to do is a reflection of your current mental state. Are you a positive or negative person? Do we want the leader of our country to be someone who chooses to live in the negative? Someone with an ax to grind with the American people? Is Barak that kind of person?

He would do well to answer that question in no uncertain terms.

The Wright Stuff? - Detroit NAACP speech

Jeremiah Wright's association with Barak Obama earned him an hour of uninterrupted live broadcast time on the cable networks this past weekend. He gave a speech to the Detroit chapter of the NAACP.

The theme was not bad "Different Does Not Mean Defecient". The delivery was very good. He was very animated. The material was reminiscent of Jimmy the Greeks theory on black vs white biology. The reverend displayed once again why one shouldn't comment in detail on things one knows nothing about.

First there was the "whites are right brained, blacks are left brained" bit. While it's true that some people are very analytical and others are very visual/creative, it isn't related to skin color. I am very logical/analytical. My wife is very creative and not analyitical. We're the same color. He also seemed to be suggesting that musical styles and tastes are genetic. Fortunately, I did not inherit the "Guy Lombardo" gene from my parents.

The reverend is not running for president. He can be as wrong as he wants to be. The only danger here is that someone might actually make educational policy decisions base on that load of horse#$#. The whole notion of a nationwide organzation whose membership is based on skin color doesn't sit well with me either, but that's another post.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Rock Solid Border Security

I was watching the news today when a story about the border fence aired. The border security agent explained that the purpose of the chain link fence was not to gaurantee that nobody could cross. Indeed people break through, over and under everyday. But, traversing the fence takes time. This gives the border patrol the time they need to deploy to the site. This inspired an idea.

What if, instead of chain link or any fence at all, we went low tech to achieve the same objective, much less expensively, with less maintenance requirement and probably much more effectively. The idea? Boulders.

A 40 yard wide swath of 3 foot boulders would be a major feat to traverse with any kind of speed. Getting across of field of boulders would take much longer than cutting through, climbing, or digging under a fence. Removing them would be a several day affair and not something fugatives would take the time to indulge in. The field could be located entirely on US soil, enabling US agents to clear debris when necessary. This would still be an improvement over the daily necessity of repairing damaged fence today. One thing Arizona, Texas and other border states have in abundant supply is rocks. Let's put some to good use.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fighting Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan

Even as NATO proposes troop drawdowns in three years as the Afghan army gains strength, they know they may be leaving behind a major problem in establishing order and stability in the region. Afghanistan produces 93% of the worlds opium. Efforts to erradicate the poppy production have utterly failed.

As illustrated in the book Freakonomics, it's always helpful to approach these types of problems by looking at incentives. Why do so many Afghans risk the wrath of authorities to continue to produce poppy seeds? That's an easy one: money. The solution: money. Not a hand-out, a switch-out. New technologies have made a vast variety of agricultural products suitable for producing fuel. Amyris Biotechnologies has developed genetic engineering techniques that allow microbes to convert plant products into a number of commodities, including fuel.

NATO should consider appropriating funds to research the optimum agricultural product to commodity formula for the terrain currently being used for poppy production. It doesn't have to pay as well as the opium trade. Just enough to make the risk/reward ratio for poppy growing much less attractive.

Such technologies are already transforming Brazil into an alternative fuels powerhouse. When you factor in the cost of fighting poppy production by force alone, helping the locals get rich from other crops could be a real money saver as well as a path to peace. Who knows, Amyris may even come up with a way to turn poppy plants into fuel, or medicine or something much more productive than opium.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Bait is Set, Will McCain Bite?

I just watched a segment on Hannity and Colmes with guest, Jack Kemp (economic advisor to John McCain). Colmes kept asking if he thought Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers were legitimate issues for the Democratic primary campaign. Kemp tried to blow by those issues and actually talk about economic policy.

Colmes was trying to appear as if he was in favor of focusing on policy issues rather than personality issues, yet when his guest veered off the personality issues, he dragged him back in.

Here's the game. The Democrats can't win the general election on a platform of higher taxes, protectionism and surrender in Iraq. It plays well with the left, but they'd rather talk about something else in the general election campaign. How do you do that? You try to get the other side to join in the mudslinging, then denounce them for doing so. The idea is to create an image of your opponent as a petty "politics as usual" candidate and yourself as being above that. Keep it to generalities. Don't give them a forum for specifics or for pointing out policy differences.

So far all the mudslinging is going from left to other left. Eventually, the Democrat candidate will rewrite history and claim that all the political shenanagans were slung from the right. They'll also try to get him involved in the "So and so said this today, how do you respond?" game.

This will be a good test of McCain's judgment. Will he take the bait? Smarter guys than him have.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

US Women's Life Expectancy Study

It was reported today that the life expectancy of Women in some parts of the United States, mainly rural areas, is actually falling. The primary suspect is chronic disease related to obesity such as diabetes and heart disease. I just heard John Scott of Fox News and his guest expert speculating that it must be due to the traditional diets of things like deep fried "down home" cooking.

Do you see the obvious flaw in that analysis? When you're looking for the cause of something new, you don't look at what behavior has stayed the same, you look for what is different. How have diets in these areas changed in the period from 1961 to 1999?

I submit a more likely culprit is the increased availability and consumption of refined starches and sugars. These people aren't getting fat from deep fried meat and crawfish (otherwise the situation would have stayed the same). It's all about the doughnuts, the french fries, the bread - the carbohydrates.

Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, these folks will no doubt be advised to decrease their fat intake and replace it with carbs. If they take this advice, the problem will perpetuate.

There is a serious problem in the lack of objective analysis of data in this country that is not limited to the field of nutrition.

Monday, April 21, 2008

ACLU to the Rescue - FLDS Texas Polygamist Cult

I understand the value of an organization that constantly monitors our justice system to ensure that individual rights are upheld. I wish we had one. The ACLU claims to be one, but they certainly seem to take a disproportionate interest in the protection of child molestors, whether it be individuals or organization such as NAMBLA and the FLDS which have institutionalized the practice.

The argument the ACLU seems to be making is that the government has no concrete proof that all of the children are in danger or have been molested, therefore, those who are not proven to be damaged or in danger should be released...and the government should apologize to the FLDS.

This makes about as much sense as removing 4 children from a burning building, finding two of them in good shape, and so sending them back in.

Personally, I believe given their past pursuits that the ACLU simply does not see adults having sex with children as a crime or anything to get upset about. I think they view it as a lifestyle choice between consenting adults...and children. What they seem to fail to grasp is that this society has decided that human beings need time to develop some brainpower and experience before being turned loose on adults. The age may be subjective, but it's an educated guess. You don't have the right to abuse, molest or have sex with children in this country. Not even your own.

Maybe someday the ACLU will be overtaken by people interested in establishing and maintaining an objective justice system that upholds the rights bestowed us in the constitution. It's not there today. If protecting children against predatory adults is the act of oppression, color me oppressive.

Does Hillary Have an Ace in the Hole?

The math doesn't add up. Hillary Clinton wont overtake Obama in delegates, and unless Obama gets arrested for something awful, probably not in popular vote either. The "super delegates" are not going to just give the nomination to Hillary and face the wrath of the Obama supporters and everyone else interested in representative democracy. So why is she still in the race?

I don't discount the possibility that she's just in denial, but what if she knows something we don't? I wouldn't be surprised if some time after the Pennsylvania primary, which I expect Hillary to win by double digits, some juicy piece of devastating news were to come forth regarding Obama. That would allow Hillary to point to her victories in large important states as well as having momentum and if the story is bad enough, she might just be able to sway public sentiment along with the super delegates.

Far fetched? Remember, Obama didn't think the Reverend Wright association would be a problem until as late as January. He also continued to associate with Bill Ayers until recently and one of his surrogates described their relationship as "friendly" even this year. Then, just a couple of weeks ago he describes working class Pennsylvanians as blinded by bitterness to a fundraising audience in San Fransisco. Barak has been careless about who he associates with and what he's saying very late in the game. It's not out of the question that he's got some serious issues dating back a few years, and if anyone can unearth them, it's the political wrecking ball known as the Clinton machine.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Pennsylvania Democrat Debate - Obama vs Clinton

The debate hosted by ABC was something unique to behold. During the entire first hour, not a single question about the economy, health care, taxes, Iraq or any other policy matter. It was entirely devoted to "Bittergate", "Bosniagate", the Reverand Wright, Bill Ayers, who said what, when and how everybody felt about it. It didn't look like two candidates appealing to the voters, it looked like two employees standing before a board of directors trying to explain their dismal performance. They did so mainly by pointing out the flaws of the other.

Maybe it's because of all the attention on the gaffes, but when it got down to issues, they didn't fair much better. Have policy positions become an afterthought? Given that both candidates pledged in no uncertain terms to withdraw troops from Iraq on a definite timetable, which they proceeded to share with us as well as Al Quaida, one would think so. They both went so far as to say that they would go forward with withdrawal plans regardless of the advice of the military.

They had similar positions on the economy, both promising to raise taxes regardless of the economic situation at the time they take office. Obama even contradicted his own tax plan first saying he wouldn't raise taxes on anyone making under 200,000 then saying, yes he's considering raising the cap on social security taxes (currently at 97,000). There wasn't time to get into any detail on how we're all going to get health care. That would have detracted from the verbal and emotional analysis.

This has degraded into a contest of who's the least objectionable. I hope the general election campaign goes better.

Mitt Romey's Top Ten List - Why He Lost

At the recent Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner Mitt Romney took a shot a comedy with a top ten list of reasons why his campaign failed. A couple of them are more insult than comedy, but he takes some shots at himself as well. Overall, not bad for a politician and less partisan than some main stream comics.

No. 10: "There weren't as many Osmonds as I thought."
No. 9: "I Got tired of the corkscrew landings under sniper fire."
No. 8: "As a lifelong hunter, I didn't want to miss the start of varmint season."
No. 7: "I realized there wasn't room for two Christian leaders in the presidential race."
No. 6: "Word leaked out that nobody had bothered to search my passport files."
No. 5: "I'd rather get fat, grow a beard and try for the Nobel prize."
No. 4: "I Got tired of wearing a dark suit and tie. I wanted to kick back in a light colored suit and tie."
No. 3: "When my wife realized I couldn't win, my fundraising dried up."
No. 2: "I took a bad fall at a campaign rally and broke my hair."
No. 1: "There was a flaw in our campaign theory that as Utah goes, so goes the nation."

Here's the video:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

McCain's Gas Tax Holiday Proposal - Bad Idea

John McCain has said in the past that economics is not his strong suit. His "gas tax holiday" proposal clearly illustrates that.

The proposal is to eliminate the 18 cent a gallon federal gas tax from Memorial Day through Labor day. If you drive an average of 200 miles per week and get 20mpg, that's $1.80/week. Given the state of our infrastructure, dipping into this revenue stream for a purely political gesture is a terrible idea.

Even if $1.80 per week per driver were enough to stimulate the economy or bring great relief to anyone, wouldn't it then be equally harmful and painful when it's reinstated in September?

Gas prices are high because the oil producers have come to realize they had a lot more price flexibility than they thought. The price has quintupled, yet demand remains strong. There's no supply problem, you just have no alternative at the moment. Temporarily eliminating the gas tax isn't going to change the market dynamics in any meaningful way.

The good news is the problem is self correcting. Every penny gas goes higher makes alternatives more and more viable. When fuel sources start competing with each other on the scale of crude, things will really get interesting.

Can I interest you in some tulip bulbs? Beany Babies maybe? Pokemon cards?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bob Barr enters the 2008 Presidential Election party

...and then came Barr.

As if the 2008 election weren't interesting enough, a new wrinkle has been added with the announcement from Bob Barr that he will seek the nomination of the Libertarian Party.

This is not some little known, political neophyte or radical. Bob Barr was not a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution, he was a general. He was one of the handful of politicians responsible for the passage of the Contract with America agenda: balanced budget, welfare reform, lower taxes, individual freedom as well as responsibility, etc. These agenda items were not popular before Barr and company came together to get the vast majority of them passed. A few determined individuals brought about major change in the direction of this country, and Barr was one of them.

Barr does have some views on issues that would seem to be counter to the Libertarian agenda, but he has explained on the talk show circuit that Libertarians don't necessarily agree on specific issues, they just share the view that settling those issues is not the legitimate role of the federal government. He says that maximizing individual liberty and minimizing government intervention in the lives of individuals is something we should always be working toward. He doesn't expect victory in November (although he'd welcome it). The immediate goal is to establish a Libertarian Party that can be a real contender against the two major parties. Finding the key issues that individuals of very different minds can agree upon as the legitimate role of the federal government will be essential to making that happen. The recognition of issues that don't qualify and the clear communication thereof is just as important. For example - Gay marriage. Can you be against gay marriage and still be a Libertarian? Under the Barr model, I think you can, as long as you agree that the federal government doesn't get to make the call.

Barr is a very capable politician and could well become a major player in this race. Personally, my beef with the Libertarians has always been that they didn't seem to understand the necessity for a strong national defense. I'm anxious to hear some details on how Barr would define Libertarian Party national defense policy.

Obama's Bitter Comments

The latest case of political "foot-in-mouth" disease came again from the Obama campaign. He expressed an analysis to some supporters in California that the reason working class white folk support things like gun rights, religion, control of immigration and limits on free trade is that they are frustrated about the economy. Oh yeah, and not enough income also turns you into a bigot.

This is actually a widely held view among liberals. They really don't understand the passion on the part of people who disagree with them on such issues. The theory is that if you just give people enough money, and/or security, they'll abandon their association with these other issues.

The reality is, for most folks, it's not about the money. The economy is of course an important issue in and of itself, but people aren't going to give up their individual rights or the nation's sovereignty in exchange for more government hand-outs, and you don't turn a bigot into a reasonable human being by handing him or her a few bucks or getting them a better job.

The irony is that the key to a vibrant economy is individual freedom. The energy and innovation that leads to an expanding economy comes from free individuals, freely associating in a free market. The idea that a care-taker government can stifle opposition with cash or goodies is not going to lead us to prosperity. More likely, it would lead us toward the "comfortable state of mediocrity" that is Europe.

Dissent and disagreement are not problems in America, they are our strength. We have devised a system and a culture that allows diametrically opposed viewpoints to exist in the same place at the same time. This is done by agreeing on "rules of engagement" that are limited to protecting each individuals legitimate rights. We don't have to agree on everything. We just have to agree on how we're going to disagree.

Obama's revelation of how he views the "common man" is not going to hurt him with the left. I think most of them concur. Why else would you disagree with nationalized health care? It must be the economy. In the general election it will become more evident that neither the desire for individual rights nor the causes of racism are rooted in the job market; that not all of those who demand individual liberty are also religious, protectionist or bigoted and that the pool of gun toting, religious, anti-immigration, protectionist bigots looking for a savior is really not very big.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Barak Obama and William Ayers, Fasten Your Seat Belts

If you got the best and brightest movie writers together I don't think they could write a more tantalizing and entertaining story about politics than what we're about to witness.

Here's the background story: The Democrats picked up a bunch of seats in the mid-term Congressional elections. The Republican president has a low approval rating. The economy is stumbling. The Iraq war has a high disapproval rating. Statistically speaking, this should be a slam-dunk year for Democrats.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to the polls....

A popular upstart upsets the perceived heir to the throne. Barak Obama is on a clear path to the nomination. Clinton can't overtake him in delegates and probably wont in popular vote either. Even though Obama may not have the requisite number of delegates to officially secure the nomination before the convention, the party can't give it to Hillary. He's in.

You might not feel that the recent revelations about Barak's former pastor and now his relationship with home-grown terrorist Bill Ayers, is important, but here's the deal. You have a politician who, at the height of his career, was still associating with high profile radical leftists. If he has been that careless or oblivious even this late in the game, you know there's a whole bunch of other skeletons in that closet.

None of this will amount to enough to hurt Obama in Pennsylvania. The nomination is still his. This puts the party in the awkward position of having to put up a nominee who's embroiled in scandal during the convention. The situation already has pundits like Bill Bennet pulling their hair out while they watch in disbelief as their party blows what should have been a banner year.

The morale of the story: Maybe one should pay more attention to how well a leader can carry your message or advance your agenda than how many votes he or she had in the polls this week.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why Secular Government is Essential to Freedom

A lot of people would like to see more of their religious values reflected in our government. They view resistance to the display of religious material on public property as an attack on their views and even their way of life.

The fact is that to ensure your continued religious freedom, the government must be oblivious to your religion. If we are truly going to be a society of free individuals we must develop codes of conduct, rules of engagement, that everyone can agree on and that don't inhibit the free association of individuals. This means sticking to a few fundamental principals such as honesty, non-initiation of force, privacy rights and other matters that directly affect our ability to interact peacefully.

You are free to practice your religion to the extent that it doesn't violate anyone else's freedom. The recent case in Texas of a sect of polygamists is a good example of the limitations on religious freedom in a secular society. We have come to consensus, and institutionalized it in law, that individuals under a certain age need to be protected. Their physical and mental development are incomplete and their body of experience is limited. We select these ages based on experience and on science. A religion that believes that it is acceptable to marry and father children by 14 and 15 year olds can believe that all day long, but they can't practice it here.

Politicians can be religious. Government employees can be religious. Law and the execution and adjudication thereof, must be secular. If you believe a tenet of your religion should be embodied in law, make the logical case for it. It takes a lot more effort, but you might even learn something.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Al-Sadr's Million Man March

This really is a defining moment in the young life of the Iraqi government. In going after armed criminals within Al-Sadr's militia, the Iraqi government aims to establish that the government is the one and only legitimate miliary force in the country. The US alliance backs up that notion. Established democracies achieve peace when holders of opposing viewpoints and agendas agree to compete for votes in free and fair elections rather than competing through violent conflict. The Iraqi government is in the process of determining whether it can demonstrate the ability to enforce this principal. Sadr's armed combatants aren't being persecuted for their beliefs, they're being persecuted for being armed combatants, as well they should be.

Meanwhile, on the political front, Al Sadr has ordered his people to stand down. He believes the conflict was politically motivated, although he concedes that rogue elements within his organization need to be weeded out. His party currenly has 30 seats in the parliament and they are hoping to add to that in the fall. He has called for a "million man" demonstration on April 9th to mark the 5th anniversary of US military presence and to protest against our continued occupation.

This could be a great opportunity for the Maliki government as well as the U.S. to get a fundamental point across to all parties. The U.S. and the Maliki governments should try to coordinate with Al-Sadr's people so that each could have a spokesperson address the issue before the crowds. Both the U.S. and the Maliki government share the desire for a substantial draw down of U.S. troop levels in Iraq. Both could explain their view of how best to get to that goal. Primarily, it involves the acceptance of the principal stated earlier, that all parties agree to settle disputes at regular intervals, through free and fair elections. We don't have to agree, we just have to agree on how we're going to go about disagreeing. Having opposing spokespeople participate in the demonstration, even if only given very limited time, would be a demonstration of how to conduct a civil debate on an extremely divisive issue, in public, in daylight, among large groups of people, and nobody has to die.