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Friday, December 31, 2010

RIGHT AND WRONG, ACCORDING TO OBAMA

President Obama, to use his own description of Hillary, is "likeable enough". He comes across (when he's not campaigning) as friendly, intelligent and possessed of a good sense of humor. But just when your feeling not so bad about him personally he wanders off the presidential reservation and gives up the chief executive persona in favor of being the nation's moral arbiter. It's perplexing, impolitic, and borderline obnoxious. No one likes a posture of moral superiority, especially in a president but Obama can't seem to help himself.

First it was the "beer summit" which was nothing more than an intrusion into a minor local law enforcement issue. Riding to the defense of his friend, Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates, and without knowing all the details of the incident, he pronounced the behavior of the Cambridge police officers who were answering a call to protect Gate's property "dumb". This in spite of the fact that Gates had gone off the edge, started hollering about race and refused to cooperate with the investigating officers. Elevating this local skirmish to a presidential peace summit was itself just plain "dumb".

Then came the issue of the "9-11 site" Islamic mosque. This again was, and is, a local issue. New Yorkers and residents of New Jersey who had lost friends and family members in the attack, were understandably offended by this particular choice of locations for this particular mosque. It was not a matter of the "right" of the developer to build a mosque, it was a matter of a lack of sensitivity and common sense. What it definitely was not, was an issue of federal public policy, yet Obama once again felt it necessary to instruct the citizens of New York, the families of the 9-11 victims and the nation in his version of religious tolerance and the "true" nature of Islam.

Now, in his latest effort to be the American Dalai Lama, Obama is publicly congratulating professional football player Michael Vick on his “self rehabilitation” after serving time for running a dog fighting operation. Vick was also guilty of torturing and killing dogs that didn't "perform" adequately in the fighting ring. Why is the President of the United States interjecting himself and the prestige of his office into an episode of such despicable nature ? Vick has made the mandatory and predictable apologies. He says he's sorry. Of course, but is he sorry for his horrendous and inhuman behavior or is he sorry he was caught and sentenced to prison?

 Obama is happy that the Philadelphia Eagles gave Vick a "second chance" and that Vick has chosen a path of moral redemption, a lesson of forgiveness that Obama apparently wants to teach to the American public. But how hard is it to rehabilitate oneself if you are being paid millions of dollars to play a professional sport. Is this really a genuine achievement on Vick's part or is he just extremely lucky that he has marketable skills and found a team that is willing to overlook serious character flaws to enhance their profit and loss statement? Only time will tell, but it's time for the moralizer in chief to give up the pulpit and get back to the serious problems that confront the nation.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

BEST AND WORST AND WHAT'S TO COME

As we enter the first week of 2012, pundits and editorialists seem stuck in the annual review of the past year i.e. the "ten most, worst, best" lists, which have occasional entertainment value but offer little substance. Hopefully, somewhere in the halls of Congress and in the conference rooms of the bureaucracy, elected and appointed officials are looking forward and setting agendas to deal with the most pressing problems the nation faces.
Acknowledging that the effort will be difficult in the face of divided government and the intransigence of competing interest groups, hopefully the mood of the general electorate with respect to government inaction as expressed in the November elections, will
stimulate some effort to solve problems which can no longer be ignored.
The public policy agenda should include:

1. Immigration Reform:
Violence on the border, legal battles between the states looking for solutions and the federal government unwilling to fully address the issues, are a national disgrace and inaction serves no one. The political battle lines appear set. Republicans want the borders secured first. Democrats want enhanced border security to be part of “comprehensive immigration reform” which will deal with the status of the 12-14 million illegals currently residing in the nation. Democrats fear that if border control is addressed first, conservatives will block any attempt to implement the “comprehensive” part.
It is not unreasonable to think that some kind of agreement between party leaders in the Congress and the White House with respect to a multiple step agenda could be agreed upon if the first step was vigorous border security to curtail the flow while the rest is being negotiated. The possible ingredients of reform legislation have long since been identified: guest worker permits, increased visa quotas for qualified applicants, and stiffer penalties and tougher enforcement on employers for hiring illegal immigrants. Instead of a “path to citizenship” for the millions already here, a policy which conservatives deride as “amnesty”, a path to legal residence based on a variety of conditions i.e. English language proficiency; high school graduation or equivalency, might be offered. Neither a haphazard collection of state laws nor the absurdity of the federal government suing individual states is productive. The ideologically based agendas of the open border advocates and the “round’um up and send’um home should be ignored and common sense applied.

2. The Federal Deficit:
The new Republican majority in the House has made much of this issue but the time for specifics has arrived. Simply put, the government spends more than it takes in. The recently passed federal income tax rate schedule fixes those rates until 2012. That limits the deficit options to other types of taxes and cuts in spending. Since the Congress is usually tax averse, spending cuts should not have to wait for a change in philosophy or political courage for something to be done. The size of government itself can be reduced by a hiring freeze. The scope and mission of the Defense Department which now spends over $700 billion annually must be updated. Large numbers of personnel and expensive bases in Western Europe should be justified by genuine threat assessments and cost benefit analyses. Political sacred cows like agriculture subsidies should be justified annually. Only ten percent of farmers received 74% of the $246.7 billion which has been handed out from 1995-2009. The tough work of entitlement reform based on economic realities which the President’s bipartisan commission has started must be continued. Sooner or later Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will have to be addressed and sooner is better.
 
3. Tax Reform:
The federal deficit is approximately $1.34 trillion. The federal debt is fast approaching 14 $ trillion. Clearly, spending cuts, while vital, will not be sufficient to deal with these huge numbers. New taxes will have to be considered but these are politically difficult to enact. In the mean time, reform of the ultra-complicated and inefficient tax code should be implemented. A flat tax or at least a reduction in the number of tax brackets along with elimination of most itemized deductions should be considered. The purpose of the federal tax code should primarily be to raise revenue for the federal government. What has evolved since its inception in 1913 is a system of politically inspired protections, efforts to manage the economy through tax preferences and loopholes and social goals. A simpler system of reduced rates and few deductions would be more efficient, easier to enforce and if properly designed, raise federal revenues.

4. Real Education Reform:
A recent survey of international student achievement presents a dismal picture of the U.S. public education system.
American students came in between 15th and 31st place in the three categories, math, science and reading comprehension
in spite of the much larger expenditures on U.S. education. It is not enough to simply throw more millions at the problem. Facilities, computers and laboratories are important but the culture of education in the U.S. is in decline. Parents and students complain about too much homework and less money for bands and sports. Tests used simply to evaluate student knowledge and progress are criticized for being “biased” or unable to measure “potential”. “Feel good” policies to ensure no one’s self esteem is damaged by failure result in “social promotions” which turn out students without the minimal knowledge and skills to compete in the modern technical work environment. Unions maintain a stranglehold on teacher competency and procedures to replace the least skilled. Federal government control of local school systems is not a good idea or even politically possible but financial incentives and tougher standards and a movement for education cultural reform for access to those funds are appropriate.
Of course there are many other areas of public policy that can’t wait for another two or four years. Infrastructure, the environment, enhanced anti-terrorists capabilities, are all important but the Congress cannot allow itself to get bogged down in partisan fights over every issue. Priorities must be established and progress made even where “perfection” isn’t possible.

It may be overly optimistic but hopefully next year’s “Best Ten” will significantly overshadow next year’s “Worst Ten on the public policy lists.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

LAME DUCKS AND LEGISLATIVE AGENDAS

The current and thankfully soon to end "lame duck" session of Congress should have been the "dead duck" session. The idea of numerous defeated members of Congress and a soon to be minority party in the House of Representatives, pushing through legislation which by definition often does not command the support of the voters, is an affront to the democratic process. Somehow, either by ending the current session of Congress after the elections in November or starting the new one that reflects the newly elected membership soon after the election, this spectacle should be avoided in the future.

What we have seen is a rush to pass legislation on the Democrat agenda which, in the new Congress, would not have the same prospects for success. This is, in some cases, the result of the Democrat leadership delaying bringing the legislation to the floor of both houses while they looked for votes, but faced now with diminished prospects after January 4, they seek to bring these important pieces of legislation up without allowing the necessary time for analysis, debate or amendments.

A prime example of this was the Omnibus Spending bill which represented the $1.1 trillion dollar portion of the annual budget that doesn't include the entitlements, ( Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid). The 1,900 page bill was brought to the floor by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and included 8 billion dollars in "pork" projects, some of which bordered on the absurd. The bill was written by Democrat staff members and few, if any, of the members of the House or Senate had a chance to read it.
Thankfully, this typically bloated Democrat big government spending bill was denied a vote by Republicans, (some of whom had a similar history of irresponsibility) who actually got the message of the November mid-term elections. A far different spending bill will be crafted in the new Congress after January.
Reid also tried to push through his "Dream Act" which promises citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants who graduate from high school, attend two years of college or join the military. There are good arguments to be made for encouraging young immigrants to pursue education or take advantage of the discipline and training that military service provides, especially since there is no prospect of these millions of individuals ever being deported. However, there are other important implications to this bill that Reid would have not allowed time to assess or debate.

Concern from those not in the "illegal immigrant friendly" camp was that this was just the first step in a broader "amnesty" effort which ignored the basic issue of border enforcement. Additionally, the implication of millions of new citizens whose parents, siblings and other relatives are illegals and thus might be eligible for legalized status under current or subsequently liberalized “family reunification” regulations could be a an enormous unintended (depending on political motive) consequence and should be considered. The consideration of this bill was defeated and faces an uncertain future if reintroduced in the new congress.
The revocation of the 17 year policy of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” which denied military service to openly homosexual applicants was passed by a narrow margin made possible by the votes of several liberal leaning Republicans. The bill would not have passed in the more conservative Congress elected in November. While the current policy would in all likelihood have been eventually overturned by the federal courts, the full implications of a change of this magnitude were never fully discussed, despite efforts led by Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Proponet’s arguments were mostly broadly based and ideological in nature. Now the reality of implementation must be considered after, and not before the change is imposed, typical of a rush to judgment legislative process.

Fortunately the other items on the late session and last minute “progressive” legislative agenda succumbed to the reality of the current political climate in the U.S. which is decidedly center-right. Thus the union friendly “card check” bill that would have done away with secret ballot membership procedures; the inflation happy Cap and Trade bill which would have made everything associated with energy consumption more expensive, and so called “comprehensive” immigration reform which emphasizes “paths to citizenship” without addressing strict border enforcement first, have all been left on the progressive wish list.
President Obama should get credit for compromising on the extension of the ten year old tax structure that the far Left would have sacrificed over their class warfare zeal to punish the wealthy, and thus caused significant tax increases for everyone in January. However, this should have been done much earlier in the existing congressional session and would have been, had it not been for Harry Reid’s miscalculation about it’s eventual success.

The New START strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia, should, and probably will, pass in the “lame duck” session but again, important treaties deserve full analysis and debate. Republican concerns should get a full hearing and the newly elected congress should be allowed to participate.
The term “lame duck” is not without serious meaning and the reality it implies demands serious change.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

OBAMA THE "MODERATE" AND OTHER PROGRESSIVE FANTASIES

It is both an understatement and an overstatement to say that the far Left, i.e. self described "progressives", who used to be called "liberals", are extremely unhappy with President Obama. Looking first at the understatement, some on the far Left are close to hysteria. No doubt, they had convinced themselves that the first black president, the former community organizer, the income redistributionist from the 2008 campaign, would finally be the long sought liberal activist president they had been dreaming of for decades. Obama, facing political realities that progressives as ideological purists with no responsibility for governing commonly ignore, could hardly be described as a moderate, a term liberals disdain almost as much as the hated label "conservative”. But he has simply not had the votes in the Congress to move the far Left agenda. Still, the progressives are offended and cite the following heresies: failure to quickly end U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as implied in the 2008 campaign; acceding to General Petraeus’ strategy of a thirty thousand man deployment surge in Afghanistan; his willingness to abandon the effort to include a “government option” in the comprehensive health care reform bill; his inclusion of moderates and “Wall St. insiders” in his economic inner circle; his inability to close the Guantanamo terrorist detention center; his failure to forcefully and quickly push to revoke the military's ban on openly homosexual service members; his failure to get a carbon tax (climate change) bill passed; his failure to introduce or pass so called “comprehensive immigration reform“; the failure to pass the pro-union organizing tool, "card check".

This pent up anger and frustration seems to have reached a tipping point with Obama's recently announced compromise on the extension of the Bush era tax cuts to include keeping the reduced tax rates for the highest brackets, the so called "tax cuts for the rich". In truth, Obama got as much or more than he gave in terms of reduced taxes for the middle class and a number of special programs for college applicants, children and the poor, and an extension of unemployment benefits. But the "rich" represent a symbolic bete noir for the far Left’s redistributionists and conceding any tax benefits to them is an unacceptable liberal apostasy. Liberals reserve particular animosity for lowering estate taxes, which conservatives have labeled "death taxes". This was part of the Obama-Republican "compromise" Republicans point out that the assets of the deceased have already been taxed, often more than once; first as income and then often as capital gains or as dividends. Liberals simply want to tax estates because they exist and represent their disdain for the accumulation of wealth.

In truth, the compromise is not about tax "cuts". It is about extension of existing tax rates that have been part of the code since 2001. Democrat complaints that they will substantially contribute to the federal deficit ring hollow. Democrats steadfastly refuse to cut any federal spending except for the Defense budget. Even Obama's announced "freeze" on pay "increases" for federal workers has stimulated cries of outrage from the Left. Liberal economic guru Paul Krugman has for months criticized the earlier multi-billion dollar stimulus bill as inadequate and has called for another such bill, claiming that dealing with the deficit should come after an economic recovery. In essence, keeping private money in private hands is the same thing as confiscating it through taxes and putting it back into the economy through government programs after government takes its cut for administrative overhead.

The outrage on the part of the Left is just part of the long history of ideologically based class warfare. It is true that "millionaires and billionaires" could easily afford to pay taxes at the old rates but the class based bar has been set to low. Married couples making $250,000 a year are well off but hardly millionaires and billionaires and claims by the Left that they do not spend their money makes no sense. Few wealthy people keep their money in their mattresses, they spend or invest it. Typical investments are in municipal bonds which finance state and local infrastructure, thus creating jobs, or corporate stocks which finance business expansion which also creates jobs. Liberal Senator Charles Schumer of New York recognized this when he suggested that the tax rate increase start at one million dollars instead of $250,000.

Nonetheless, so intense is the feeling of ideological betrayal by Obama to these doctrinaire progressives that there are now those suggesting that the Left wing of the Democrat Party should mount a drive to challenge Obama for the 2012 nomination of his party.
The proposed strategy has two possible goals: one is to actually take the nomination away from Obama and produce a far Left nominee who would then somehow actually win the national election and become the President. The second goal acknowledges the improbability of the leftist candidate either winning the nomination or in the unlikely result of denying Obama a second nomination, actually winning the general election. Thus the goal of this strategy is to push Obama to the Left in order for him to win the nomination .

These scenarios have been touted by reliably liberal political pundits in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere. They range in content from angry diatribes to completely nutty fantasies. A striking example of the latter is the recent commentary in the Washington Post by Michael Lerner. Lerner is neither a politician nor a political analyst (pundit). He is a rabbi, and like many of his brethren in the professional faith community of the religious Left, he exhibits a sophomoric and simplistic idealism. Also demonstrating a strangely inverse reading of the public mood, Lerner ignores the actual message sent by the November elections:
"With his base deeply disillusioned, many progressives are starting to believe that Obama has little chance of winning reelection unless he enthusiastically embraces a populist agenda and worldview - soon. Yet there is little chance that will happen without a massive public revolt by his constituency that goes beyond rallies, snide remarks from television personalities or indignant op-eds."

In other words, Lerner is saying Obama isn't Left enough to win in 2012. The trouble with this analysis is that there aren't that "many progressives", thus the "overstatement" in terms ofthe importance of the Progressive anger. A recent Gallup poll finds that only 20 percent of Americans self-identity as "liberals". It can safely be assumed that the angry "progressive", far Left portion of this group is an even smaller percentage. A late November Associated Press poll supports this.
With Obama's approval rating down to 48% overall, his approval rating among self-describedliberals was still a whopping 80%. Clearly the progressive fringe is out of touch with the Democrat base. Indeed, the alternate universe in which the Leftist fringe resides is both amusing and astounding. Consider the platform on which Lerner would have his Obama challenger run in order to "save" Obama from himself in the 2012 election.
Immediately withdraw all U.S. military from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and "replace the "war on terror" with a "global Marshall Plan that roots homeland security in a strategy of generosity and concern for the well-being of everyone on the planet."
Hey this might just work. Al Qaeda terrorists would be so busy printing up "Kum Bay Yah"song sheets and gathering wood and marshmallows for the campfires that they would abandon their quest to violently impose 7th century Islamic culture on the West. Of course a "global Marshall Plan" might be a bit expensive and consign the U.S. to permanent economic dependency on China but Obama would get enthusiastic crowds for visits in Africa and Latin America (except maybe Cuba, Venezuela, Somalia, and . . . .)
Once getting his utopian juices flowing, Lerner doesn't leave much out of his prescription for Obama's political renewal.
A "massive jobs program"; a "freeze on mortgage foreclosures"; "a national bank would offer interest free" small business loans; expansion of ObamaCare; a "strong tax on carbon emissions"; "prosecution of those (Bush Administration officials) accused of "torture or cover-ups" leading to the invasion of Iraq; "free equal (media) time for all candidates for national office"; "constitutional amendments requiring only public financing in elections" AND "a jury trial every five years in which corporations would have to prove that they have 'a satisfactory history of environmental responsibility' ".

OK, so Lerner is at best a "special needs" student in the area of political reality and common sense but he made it into the commentary section of the Washington Post, and others on the Left with a bit more credibility are also suggesting the basic idea of a Democrat primary challenge without the wacko window dressing.
So are there individuals with the backgrounds necessary to be serious, although symbolic candidates, that would be willing to take up the Don Quixote like challenge to a sitting President with only the support of the small progressive base? Lerner provides a short list of commonly suggested but almost universally politically flawed possibilities, but he also continues to show his inner Comedy Central child (except he's serious) with a list of residents of the angry fringe.
Former Democrat presidential candidate Howard Dean is often mentioned but he had his shot in 2004 and was soundly rejected by Democrat voters in the primaries. Senator Russ Feingold, a reliable liberal, will be in need of a job after January first but he finds himself in that predicament because he was defeated in November by the Republican candidate in what used to be liberal leaning Wisconsin. After that Lerner goes completely off the end of the pier with; Bernie Sanders, the Senate's only self described "socialist"; Al Franken, quasi-socialist, career Saturday Night Live comedian and commentator on the far Left and now defunct Air America radio program who was elected to the Senate in 2008 on Obama's coattails by a scant 312 votes; Rachel Maddow and Bill Moyers, whose "presidential qualifications" are respectively derived from MSNBC and PBS and actress Susan Sarandon?

Progressive Democrats who aren't quite ready for ideological group therapy would prefer to stick with Howard Dean but ultimately reality will sink in and finding a candidate willing to sacrifice eighteen months of his life in an endless and hopeless schedule of travel and fundraising will fall victim to the additional historical reality of presidents weakened by divisive primary challenges which is defeat in the general election.

Too bad. Presidential candidate Rachel Maddow is probably on every Republicans Christmas wish list.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

PALIN 2012: CELEBRITY VS. CREDIBILITY

It's like a rash in a place that's not convenient to scratch in public. You can try to ignore it but it just won't go away and the prospects for a much worse case loom on the horizon. The McCain campaign in 2008, in an example of crass political cynicism and unrealistic expectations, gave the country a wet kiss we still can’t wipe away. Like a sexually transmitted disease, "It's the gift that keeps on giving." It's the prospect of the least qualified candidate for President of the United States in modern history winning the Republican nomination in 2012; it's Sarah Palin.


Palin is the political creature of the modern era of electronic access to information and entertainment. Unfortunately, for the serious policy debate which this country needs, her preferred "modus operandi" is entertainment. Writing books about herself, giving speeches full of smirky sarcasm, platitudes and simple minded attacks, the Twitter Queen entertains to carefully chosen crowds who enthusiastically buy into her simplistic version of conservative ideology. Here are several of her more "thoughtful policy prescriptions":

"How's that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?"

"We need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern,"

Congresses top three priorities should be: "stop spending" (on what?), " energy policy"(what kind?) and this;

"I think, kind of tougher to put our arms around, but allowing America's spirit to rise again by not being afraid to kind of go back to some of our roots as a God fearing nation where we're not afraid to say especially in times of potential trouble in the future here, where we're not afraid to say, you know, we don't have all the answers as fallible men and women so it would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country, so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again. To have people involved in government who aren't afraid to go that route, not so afraid of the political correctness that you know – they have to be afraid of what the media said about them if they were to proclaim their alliance to our creator."

This remarkable head shaker is just another example of Palin's lack of focus, lack of depth and inability to articulate a coherent thought.

Several more thoughtful conservative analysts know this and are warning that the current celebrity fan-like infatuation with Palin is a recipe for political failure for the Republican Party. Former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan, rightfully offended when Palin compared herself to the former president by describing him simply as an “actor”, offered this: "The point is not 'He was a great man and you are a nincompoop,' though that is true." Conservative columnist David Brookes described Palin not as serious presidential material but as a potential “talk show host”. Palin’s contract as a “Fox News contributor” and her temporary foray into a reality/travel log format come close to affirming this evaluation. Former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough has taken Palin to task for her dismissive comments about former Republican President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara as “blue bloods”. It is probably understandable that Palin would continuously disparage politicians, both Democrat and Republican who have real experience, quality education and real ideas, since in all of these categories she has none. Here is a potential presidential candidate who took five years and four colleges (Hawaii Pacific U. 1982; Northern Idaho College 1983; U. of Idaho 1984-85; Matanuska-Susitan College 1985, U. of Idaho 1986-87) to obtain a degree in. . communications? . Her political experience is six years as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 7,028; and after winning the election for governor of a state with the approximate population of Memphis, in a race with three major candidates with 48.3% of the vote, resigning after two and a half years. That's it. But whether offending Republican admirers of Presidents Bush and Reagan is a tactic, or simply another example of mouth outrunning brain, it will cost her electoral support.

Nonetheless, a December, 2010 poll gives an early indication of the larger problem. While 79% of Republicans said they "like" Palin, only 46% of Americans as a whole have a "favorable" view of her while 49% view her "unfavorably". The overall numbers have great significance since they are dragged down not only by overwhelming negative Democrat opinion but more importantly by the negative views of self described Independents who make up over 20% of the electorate and whose votes are essential in presidential elections. A late October, 2010 poll also showed a large majority in the general population (67%) who believe that Palin is not qualified to be President whether they have a favorable view of her or not.

So how to explain the enthusiasm for Palin among the most conservative Republicans especially the Tea Party group. Essentially, Palin provides a voice to social conservatives who feel alienated, and powerless in the face of a socially changing and economically deteriorating America. Palin offers profiles of the "guilty": intellectuals and "elitists", social engineers and disconnected Washington insiders. Female conservatives are especially attracted to a powerful voice and role model that liberal feminism hasn't provided. But Palin's standard polemical fare is too simplistic for a serious presidential candidate. She simply runs "against" while offering nothing specific. Her speeches fall somewhere between theatrics and demagoguery, a format that betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the complexity of the issues facing the nation.

Her devoted followers are undeterred. When asked what it is that sparks their enthusiasm, the more obvious responses are missing. Nowhere does one hear "I like her: position on dealing with Iran or North Korea"; "her plan to deal with the federal deficit or exploding healthcare costs"; "her position on free trade agreements or how to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq". Few even dare to mention her experience in government or her educational background. What you hear are these actual reasons why Palin supporters believe she is qualified to be President of the United States.

"I'm rooting for Palin because she's tough".

"She loves guns, babies, Jesus and America."

"She is an attractive woman with an upbeat personality; a wife & mother with a charming family."

She has "major experience" as a governor, and negotiating a pipe line."

"She is "an extremely likeable woman, great mother, devoted Christian, pretty smart and well spoken."

She "connects with people".

"She is a mom. She has five kids".

She is just like "one of us."

While these are the attributes one might like to see in your kid's  high school principal, they fall far short of the desired traits one would like to see in the most powerful political official in the world. Thus she is commonly introduced as "the 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee", as if this was an achievement instead of an appointment.

There is no certainty that Palin will choose to run. She has made enough money to have a happy life kayaking and watching dance contests, where her real expertise lies, but adoring crowds can have a narcotic effect . A few thousand screaming fans can seem like "everyone" and induce ego enlargement to dangerous proportions

American conservatives are in desperate need of a wake up call. Allowing Palin to become the face and voice of the Republican Party, to the delight of the far Left, is a serious mistake. Succumbing to an "American Idol" mentality for a walking, talking anti-Obama bumper sticker could sacrifice a historic opportunity for Republicans to gain control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency in 2012.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

STRATEGIC ARMS REDUCTION: TIME TO SET KNEE JERK IDEOLOGY ASIDE

The current debate over the ratification of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) unfortunately has fallen victim to the divisive politics that characterized the November mid-term elections. Advocacy groups and some members of the Senate on both the Left and the Right have staked out positions that in some cases defy common sense and in others, contradict the actual provisions of the Treaty. Some of the claims of those opposed to ratification are as follows:

1. "The Russians remain free to upgrade and replace" their strategic arms with more advanced and capable systems."

Under the terms of the Treaty (Art. V, Paragraph 1) both parties are free to "modernize " or replace" strategic systems. This in fact is one of the conditions cited by Republican Senator John Kyle (R-AZ) as necessary to overcome his opposition to the treaty. President Obama has committed to a several billion dollar expenditure for this purpose.

2. " Russia's inventory of tactical (battlefield) nuclear warheads are not restricted."

True but the U.S. and NATO inventory is not restricted either. The treaty is a "Strategic Arms" reduction treaty and stands on its own. Tactical nuclear weapons remain a subject for future treaties.

3. "The treaty hamstrings U.S. efforts to build a comprehensive missile defense."

Not true. Art. III, Paragraph 7 clearly states that "Interceptor missiles ( for defensive purposes) are not considered missiles subject to the treaty." Claims that treaty provisions restricting the use of strategic launch vehicles for defensive systems somehow restricts the development of defensive systems themselves is tortured logic. At the November, 2010 NATO meeting in Lisbon, the member states unanimously approved plans to implement a European missile defense system.

On the other side, the "disarmament community" on the Left exaggerates the consequences of a failure to ratify the treaty in terms of the international nuclear proliferation problem. James Carroll's column in the Boston Globe is typical.

     The failure to ratify the treaty would represent ". . . a final defeat of the hard-won international consensus that nuclear weapons are in a category apart, requiring a steady movement, however incremental, from limitation to reduction to an ultimate abolition. "


The fact that "nuclear weapons are in a category apart" has been accepted since their first
and only use against Japan in 1945. The Cold War deterrence concept of Mutually Assured
Destruction (MAD) made this starkly clear. Nuclear weapons have been the subject of
numerous treaties from Nixon era SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) I and II to START
which expired in December 2009 and which NEW START is intended to replace. While
a failure to ratify New START would be a set back, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT) remains in effect and is routinely extended.

Carroll's doomsday hand wringing continues:

"Once nuclear weapons are accepted as normal armaments, their accumulation will skyrocket everywhere. Once the international covenant toward abolition is abandoned, dozens of nations will join the nuclear club. Inter-state war will be inevitably genocidal, and outbreaks of non-state mass violence will invariably launch irrational escalations. Once more, the self-extinction of the human species will be at issue."


The New START agreement is not about "abolition", it is about inventory reduction. The
objections raised are not specifically concerned with reduction of delivery systems and
warheads but because of differences in current inventories the formula is somehow more
advantageous to Russia.

The idea that nuclear weapons will ever be "accepted as normal armaments" or that the
failure of this particular treaty would create such an outcome defies reason. The Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty is virtually universal. Four nuclear weapons states are not
signatories but the idea that "dozens" of the 189 member states would abandon
their commitment to not seek nuclear weapons because this treaty failed is unrealistic.

Other rogue states like Iran and North Korea might seek nuclear weapons capability
but few would have the technological or financial resources. Even Iran and North
Korea are seeking first to guarantee their security from real or imagined non-nuclear
security threats and to enhance their ability to influence regional politics. North Korea is
also attempting to use its nuclear status to offset its domestic economic crisis. These
states know that the first use of nuclear weapons in any circumstance would bring about
annihilation.

Also the idea that New START is vital to the progress towards a nuclear free world is
mostly wishful thinking. The simple fact is that there can be no progress towards such a
goal within the current and foreseeable future international political context.

Until the issue of the status of Kashmir between India and Pakistan is resolved , these
nuclear weapons states are not going to give up their weapons. Israel, which has fought
four wars for its very existence and faces the possibility of a nuclear armed Iran cannot
give up its nuclear arms. China, ever wary of Russia and eager to attain military parity
with the U.S. remains outside the nuclear weapons reduction regimes past and present
and has shown little interest in participating.

Nuclear weapons have been a fact of life for sixty-five years and the recognition that
their use is unacceptable has survived several major wars (Korea, Viet Nam, Arab-Israeli, Afghanistan -Soviet Union, Afghanistan-U.S.). The major nuclear issues now are nuclear proliferation to additional rogue states and the possibility of nuclear weapons or materials in some form falling into the hands of terrorists. These possibilities have nothing to do with the START agreement between Russia and the U.S.
whose weapons inventories are secure.

NEW START essentially reduces U.S. and Russian nuclear inventories to 700 delivery
vehicles, 800 launchers and 1550 warheads; more than enough to overwhelm any
nuclear attacker. The treaty also is an extension of the previous START ratified in 1991
and which expired in 2009. As such it continues the regime of mutual inspections and
verifications which are essential to mitigating any serious future tensions between the
two parties. The evaluation of the treaty should be made in the context of post Cold-
War reality. Russia is not the former Soviet Union. While it is far from a U.S. style
democracy and seeks to politically dominate the region of the former USSR, it lacks the
competitive and hostile ideology which characterized the socialist/capitalist eighty year
conflict. Russian President Medvedev attended the recent NATO meeting and was
willing to cooperate on a number of security issues. NATO’s General Secretary Anders
Fogh Rasmussen said; “We have agreed together on which security challenges NATO
nations and Russia actually face today. What’s most significant is what’s not on the list:
each other.”

Ratifying START is consistent with NPT obligations to reduce nuclear armaments and
thus enhances the credibility of that regime. NATO members are unanimous in their
support of the treaty. It is their hope that cooperation with Russia in this instance will
lead to progress on reduction of tactical nuclear weapons currently deployed in or near
NATO countries. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and all the U.S. uniformed military
leadership support the treaty as well as former Secretaries of State from Democrat and
Republican administrations. The treaty provides no major break throughs in terms of
international or U.S. nuclear security nor does it adversely affect that security. It is an
incremental step in a decades long effort to reduce and control nuclear weapons.
However not ratifying would create a host of other political problems that complicate the
U.S./Russia relationship and would detract from U.S. credibility and leadership in
international nuclear issues.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"DON'T ASK DON'T TELL": SYMBOLISM OR SUBSTANCE?

The serious issues facing the nation and requiring difficult responses by the U.S. Congress are well known. Unemployment figures approaching double digits, a lingering housing bubble and foreclosure disaster, federal budget deficits well over one trillion dollars and a rapidly increasing federal debt of 14 trillion dollars, unabated international terrorism, two on-going wars and enormous trade deficits. There are other problems, social, economic, structural but the news media seems to be focused once again on the ideological: the so called "Bush tax cuts and gays in the military. The tax cuts which are set to expire in January will be extended in the lower brackets (below $250,000 per year) and will probably be temporarily extended in the upper brackets. But Liberal Democrats and liberal editorial boards are demanding that the upcoming "lame duck" Congress that sits until the recently elected one convenes in January, spend valuable time and incur additional partisan rancor over an issue that is far more symbolic than substantive in terms of it's affect on the economic or security welfare of all American citizens. The issue, "gays in the military" and the current federal law called "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is already in the federal court system and if the Congress does not act to change the law, it will wind its way ultimately to the Supreme Court where it will be finally decided. Current “conventional wisdom” is that because of Republican opposition, DADT will not be taken up or if it is, will not pass in the Senate in the “lame duck session“. It has already passed in the House. It would have a much more difficult time in the new Congress in January because of the take over of the House by the Republican party and enhanced Republican membership in the Senate.

Ultimately the Supreme Court will make a decision based on Constitutional interpretation; essentially does every citizen of the United States have an equal right to apply for and serve in the U.S. military and does the exclusion of definable groups represent unconstitutional discrimination.

Some issues that are likely to be raised in defense of DADT are that the courts have long acknowledged that because of the military's unique mission and structure, some constitutionally protected rights in the civilian realm are not applicable in the military. Members of the military do not have the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech or assembly nor can they expect a right to privacy which Court majorities have found by interpretation. In addition, the military has always set it's own standards for admission. It routinely excludes individuals for being too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, too stupid, too young, too old, having a history of health issues, a history of psychological problems, or criminal records. In short, the military has had the right to assign and change according to need, its standards for admission.

A recent survey of active duty military personnel seems to indicate more of a level of indifference to the issue since less than a majority returned the survey and although results are unofficial, leaks indicate approximately 70% of responders said that revoking DATD would have "positive", "mixed" or "non-existent effects on the military. Since no definition of "mixed" or the percentage of responders that took this position is available, significant questions about the military's actual position remain. Apparently, the simple question, "Should homosexuals be allowed to serve openly in the military?" was never asked. Also, the survey did not categorize the respondents by gender or job description. Presumably female respondents would be more amenable to changing the law since they are a minority in the military and almost all serve in non-combat support jobs. It is also likely that sailors serving in the confines of submarines or Marines serving in small unit combat would be more opposed than Air Force technicians serving in Omaha. Also, the issue is not as simple as it is made out to be.

Advocates of change who argue that the inevitable tensions and hostility that will result will be temporary or can be handled with “zero tolerance” policies or vigorous “leadership” regarding sexual harassment need to take notice of a recent survey of Air Force Academy cadets. Women were first admitted to the service academies in 1976 and after numerous scandals and thirty-four years of “sensitivity training” the current survey shows that:

“Gender is the primary reason that cadets and permanent party personnel responded they have experienced or witnessed harassment or discrimination .... Women said they experienced (39 percent) and/or witnessed (75 percent) discrimination or harassment due to their gender. While men experienced (4 percent) and/or witnessed (10 percent) discrimination or harassment at a lower rate, it is still an issue, Colonel Therianos said.

Both men and women responded that women are generally less accepted in the Cadet Wing, but the acceptance rate has improved since 2007. Acceptance trends are generally positive in other areas as well, with the exception of sexual preference: 17 percent of cadets who responded said they have become less accepting of gays and lesbians since coming to the Air Force Academy.”


Claims by advocates of change that the military needs the services of this currently excluded group are also greatly exaggerated. All the services are currently meeting recruiting goals and the simple fact is that while 13,000 gays and lesbians have been dismissed from the service since the law was passed, that is over a time period of seventeen years, or on average, only 765 per year. In 2009, the number was down to 428. In addition, all three services and their reserve components met 100% of their recruiting goals for 2009 and 2010.

Simply revoking DADT to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military opens the door to a number of other issues. Currently five states and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriage. If DADT is revoked, the federal government i.e. the Defense Dept. will not be able to recognize any such marriages occurring between service members because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Clinton in 1996. Issues of dependent privileges i.e. housing, travel, medical, etc. will generate more lawsuits. A federal judge in July of 2010 has already ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional so the issue of gay military dependents will at least be delayed until that issue also is decided by the Supreme Court.

In the end, the federal judges and Supreme Ct. justices, none of whom have served in the military, who have or will make these important decisions will not concern themselves with the practical effects of the law but will in all probability take a more narrow academic approach and the U.S. will, for better or worse follow the lead of its Canadian and European allies. This is not an automatic recommendation for any military policy however. The Canadian armed forces are tiny and in spite of a token presence in the middle east conflicts and a history of UN peacekeeping missions, has a very limited role in international security. German soldiers in Afghanistan were limited by policy to mostly non-combat activities and were forbidden to fight at night. The Netherlands and Belgium, both NATO members, allow their militaries to be unionized, thus encouraging collective bargaining with regard to pay and working conditions. America's unique role as the major player in international security should afford the application of its own standards.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"JUNK TOUCHING" AND AIRLINE SAFETY

OK, so San Diego based would be traveler John Tynor doesn’t want his “junk” touched and thus has become the latest anti-government folk hero via the internet and media. Anyone who has been through an airport lately can attest to the fact that things have gotten progressively more inconvenient as failed terrorist attacks on aircraft have occurred. Since the post 9/11 attempts by the “shoe bomber” and then the “underwear bomber” failed, perhaps the flying public has gotten complacent or perhaps it’s the schooling principal employed by fish i.e. if you are in a big enough group your individual chances of becoming a victim of some predator are greatly reduced. Whatever the underlying motive, for some people inconvenience is not to be tolerated. For others it presents yet another opportunity to get ideological.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to suspend the latest technology in airport scanners. There claim: such scanning is “unlawful”, “invasive” and “ineffective” and the Transportation Security Administration has violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the Privacy Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

That should just about cover it. Of course lawyers are happy but they might have a difficult time overcoming the obvious flaws in this shotgun type of accusation.

The Privacy Act of 1974 specifically governs “the personally identifiable information about individuals that is maintained in systems of records by federal agencies.” But the pictures (records) produced by airport scanners are neither personally identifiable nor kept as records. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act seeks to protect the “free exercise” of religion from government regulation but it contains two exceptions: if the “burden” on religious exercise is necessary in the “furtherance of a compelling national interest and that the rule must be the “ least restrictive” way to further the government interest.”

It will be hard to argue that preventing the terrorist bombing of a commercial airliner filled with civilians is not a “compelling national interest.” Since the “junk touching” episode has become the center of the airport screening controversy it seems clear that the much less invasive and less time consuming procedure of electronic scanning is indeed the “least restrictive”. TSA officials have thus said that making a religious argument against scanning or pat downs won’t be recognized. The government of Abu Dhabi disagrees. It has said it won’t employ these procedures because they are “unIslamic”. What better recommendation for their use could there be? The Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure is specifically connected to law enforcement arrest procedures. Scanning and patting down in airports are both voluntary conditions of air travel under the regulations of the FAA and TSA which travelers agree to when they purchase a ticket.

Unfortunately, the issue has become just more grist for the sensationalism seeking cable media and factually challenged internet users. The underlying issue with electronic scanning is safety. Opponents claim it is not safe but provide little if any scientific data to support that claim. The closest they come are opinions by a scattering of individual scientists whose opinions are littered with words such as “possible and potential”.

Dr. David Brenner, Chief of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University says “individual risk is very low” but if 800 million airline passengers are screened, it “might imply” a “potential” public health or societal risk. That’s not too threatening.

University of California biochemist David Agard says scanners have “the potential” to induce chromosome damage and that can lead to cancer. But he doesn’t talk about dosages.

The British Civil Aviation Authority says 5000 scans per person annually can be conducted safely. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that:

“General-use x-ray security screening systems deliver an extremely low dose of ionizing radiation to the person being screened. The radiation dose is so low that there is no need to limit the number of individuals screened or, in most cases, the number of screenings an individual can have in a year.” And that : “In 42 minutes of ordinary living, a person receives more radiation from naturally occurring sources than from screening with any general-use x-ray security system.”

“Millimeter wave security systems which comply with the limits set in the applicable national non-ionizing radiation safety standard cause no known adverse health effects.”

Of course some people will never accept scientific data provided by the government that disproves their preferred conspiracy theory notions. It is all reminiscent of the 1950’s claim by some that fluoridation of drinking water to prevent tooth decay was a communist plot to brainwash the citizenry with a mind bending drug.

Shepard Smith of Fox News offers this bit of illogic. The screening/pat down system has never turned up any explosives so it isn’t needed. The simple concept of deterrence seems to have escaped the usually astute Shepard. That is, the existence of the screening procedures is responsible for the lack of attempts by would be terrorists to board planes with explosives. (The “shoe bomber” boarded before shoes were routinely examined and the “underwear bomber’s flight originated in Europe and before the latest scanners were in place.)

Blogger Margery Eagan typifies the rhetorical overreach:

“So here are your airport choices: submit to sexual molestation or spread your legs, hands over head, and get radiated while some TSA guys down the hall check out your naked body.”

“Sexual molestation”? A pat down while your fully dressed, in private if you wish, by a person of you own sex wearing surgical gloves? Eagan may inadvertently be disclosing some of her private fantasies here.

“get radiated”? Sure at about the same level as your last visit to the dentist.

“TSA guys down the hall check out your naked body.”? The scans are quickly reviewed by an individual member of your own sex, then permanently deleted. Besides, if anyone thinks that the ghost like, hairless, faceless and nameless images produced by these scanning machines are sexually exciting they are in serious need of several sessions with Dr. Ruth. Eagan may think her electronic image is center fold quality but . . .

Like all government programs this one needs to be modified by the application of some common sense. The TSA really doesn’t need to confiscate your tooth paste and it makes no sense at all for pilots to be subjected to repetitive screening for explosives. Why would they go the trouble and risk of attempting to bring these items on board when they are just minutes away from being in control of the airplane. A suicidal pilot can simply dive the plane into the ground. Even if the other pilot is not ready for permanent membership in the Big Admirals Club in the sky, a fight in a locked cockpit would usually provide the same result. Some kind of tamper proof ID should be enough.

Much of the problem could be relieved by another common sense regime of profiling which would seek to identify potential terrorists rather than just the terrorist’s tools; or even reverse profiling that would exempt obviously low risk travelers such as the elderly, children (already children under 12 are exempt), and pregnant females. The opposition to "profiling" of any type is ironic since it is the position of the same liberal “privacy at any cost” groups like the ACLU that are opposed to scanning and pat downs. The idea that millions of travelers have to be inconvenienced and possibly put at risk in order not to slightly offend members of a group which includes the perpetrators of almost all international terrorism defies common sense. People of Middle Eastern descent should accept the reality of the situation since presumably they are hoping to arrive at their destination safely like everyone else

John Tynor, Shepard Smith and Margery Eagan may prefer to just give the TSA a wave and a smile as they board their next plane. The question remains if they would feel the same way about the guy in the turban standing behind them with a one way ticket.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

OBAMA'S WORLD TOUR

You can hardly blame President Obama for wanting to get out of town after last week's political tsunami. Encircled by criticism from his own Left, the Independent middle and the Republican Right, he has been greeted by more friendly crowds so far in India and Indonesia. Of course, he has a good excuse for his travels since he will be attending the Group of Twenty (G-20) economic forum in S. Korea and then the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting (APEC) in Japan. These meetings and his first stop in India were billed as efforts to enhance economic cooperation. The agenda in India was informal and more of a public relations effort since trade agreements are hammered out separately from presidential visits by the U.S. Trade Representative. Still, public relations doesn't hurt when you are talking about a capitalist economy with 1.3 billion consumers. Unfortunately, U.S. relations with India can not escape the dark shadow of the decades old Indian-Pakistan conflict over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The U.S. has tried to walk a dangerous line between a strong relationship with India which includes military sales and "peaceful" nuclear technology, and a political and military relationship with Pakistan that is vital to the prosecution of the war in neighboring Afghanistan and anti-terrorism efforts. The hostility between these two U.S. "allies" is further complicated by the fact that both are nuclear armed powers and Pakistan, as a Muslim country is trying to fend off it's own radical Muslim movement.


The Indian government seemed enthusiastic about a ramp up of the U.S./Indian relationship: “This is the time to be ambitious about this relationship”. It is telling however that this comment was not made by an Indian economic or trade official but by India's National Security Adviser. This further illustrates the conundrum of trying to be an economic partner and strategic ally with two nations who are long time enemies. Obama avoided discussion of the India/Pakistan conflict during his visit but the issue and the Afghan war loomed over the visit like the proverbial "elephant in the room" and local media suggested that a new and more robust bi-lateral relationship is still in the nascent stages, implying that a strategic tilt towards India is required. Thus, Obama's visit was more of an exercise in what seems to be his foreign policy specialty, a "feel good moment". Along this line, he made a totally symbolic assertion that the U.S. stood behind a move to grant India a permanent seat on the UN's Security Council. While it makes sense in terms of the relative importance of India in today's world, such a promise is nothing more than a pat on the head since such a change to the Security Council would require a Charter amendment subject to a two thirds vote in the General Assembly plus the unanimous consent of the current veto wielding Permanent Security Council members, a group that includes rival China and Russia who is ever wary about any dilution of it's international influence. This would also open the door to similar claims by other industrialized and regional powers (Japan, Brazil, South Africa). Making the Security Council bigger than it's current fifteen members would also make it even more unwieldy and add to the growing irrelevance of both it and the United Nations as a whole in terms of international security.

Obama's second stop was his visit to Indonesia, a nation that we are constantly reminded is the largest Muslim nation in the world. And indeed, aside from affording Obama an opportunity to retrace some of his boyhood years, the visit was described by White House officials as being part of his "continuing outreach to the Muslim world." This effort began with much fanfare with Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt. While it received a positive, though muted, response in some of the Muslim world, much of the enthusiasm generated has dissipated. In the volatile Middle East, favorable views of the U.S. hover around 17% (Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey), a decline in Egypt during the two years of the Obama Administration where the “outreach” began of 10% . The political wisdom of labeling visits to Muslim nations as an “outreach” is itself questionable given both its statistical failure and the current belief of 20% of U.S. citizens that Obama is himself a Muslim.

Nonetheless, in Indonesia where he is considered something akin to an expatriate, Obama is more popular than in the United States and is still able to generate warm and fuzzy feelings by doing native dances with costume clad five year olds. The next two stops at economic forums in Korea and Japan should be more serious challenges, as the world’s economic powers try and agree on strategies to deal with the continuing world recession. Obama is likely to seek support for pressuring China to allow its currency to rise, thus making American exports less expensive. So far the Chinese have been unresponsive and Obama will probably have to deal with similar arguments in the face of exporting countries concerns about the recently announced U.S. Federal Reserve anti-recession move to purchase $600 billion worth of U.S. Treasury bonds. This staged purchase is intended to drive down long term interest rates but some nations fear that it will also devalue the U.S. dollar making their export goods to U.S. markets more expensive.

In any case, the only sure outcome of Obama’s latest “world tour” is that he will have to eventually return home and face a far tougher negotiating partner where native dancing won’t help, the Republicans in Congress.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

IT'S OVER; NOW WHAT?

With the Republicans now in control of the House of Representatives and with a firm hold on the minimum of 41 votes needed to stop legislation in the Senate with a filibuster, there is plenty of speculation about what the next two years in Congress will look like.
The scenarios include a total gridlock with a small Democrat majority in the Senate blocking any and all Republican initiatives coming from their majority in the House and the threat of an Obama veto backing them up. The reverse also lends credibility to this forecast, with Republicans in the House blocking bills originated by Senate Democrats and the Obama Administration.

Another possibility cited, is that Obama will move towards the political center and attempt to work with Republicans in the House to make progress on the most important though less ideologically sensitive issues.

A more robust reaction on the part of the President and Congressional Democrats has also been proposed. This would have the President and the Democrat Senate leadership move forward with their legislative agenda and then aggressively “campaign” against Republican “obstructionism”.

The reality will certainly be a mix of the possible scenarios. The Republicans will not “shut down” the government as they did once with highly adverse political consequences during the Clinton administration. The President still must send an annual budget to Congress and Congress must continue to pass a budget, although not the President’s. Budget priorities will certainly reflect the new Republican aversion to large or less important spending measures but it is much more difficult to undo existing spending programs than to initiate them given the political pressure that would be mounted by the affected groups. Still, there is some talk about reversing spending levels to those of 2008, although no specifics as yet have been identified.

Expecting Obama to make a significant move to the “center”, a term defined very differently by the two parties, is probable more “hope” than “change”. Obama, while not rigidly “progressive”, as his willingness to abandon the "public option" in the health care bill shows, is still a big government liberal with a collectivist mentality. He is also already in trouble with the "progressive" (far Left) base over that concession, his inability to close the Guantanamo prison, his continued pursuit of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his lack of alacrity in revoking the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy rejecting openly homosexual members, and his apparent lack of enthusiasm for major environmental legislation.

This year’s mid-term elections are going to create a general context for the presidential election of 2012. Obama will have to read the “tea leaves” and decide if his reelection prospects are best served by acknowledging a move to the Right amongst moderate and independent voters or regaining the loyalty and enthusiasm of his 2008 Democrat majority i.e. ideological liberals, unions, the young, women and minorities. Since solidifying one's base first, is the conventional wisdom of presidential politics and with only two years to go, it will be difficult for Obama to make too much of a move to the center, which would be defined as the "Right" by the party’s liberals. Post mid-term election musings in some liberal circles about the possibility of a Democrat primary challenge to Obama in 2012 have already reached the media. Such a tactic, if true, is probably calculated to pressure Obama to hold the line against conservative/Republican initiatives in the new Congress. An actual challenge would be a disaster for both Obama and any challenger as it would split the party between blacks and whites, and liberals and moderates and almost certainly have the same result as Ted Kennedy's primary challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980, a bad loss.

All this does not mean that there is no room for cooperation on some issues. Barring outright ideological warfare, common ground might be found on such issues as trade.
Currently there are three “free trade agreements” which have been negotiated and are waiting for congressional approval. The most significant in terms of economic impact is the Korea-United States agreement which was completed in 2007. Bilateral trade with Korea was $84.7 billion in 2008, and although sharply reduced in 2009 by the world wide recession, the prospect for a rebound and significant trade growth is good. There are still some issues that need to renegotiated but a successful treaty would have genuine benefits for U.S. agriculture, especially beef producers and also the newly restructured American automobile industry.

Free trade agreements with Panama and Columbia are also pending. Obama has voiced support for all these agreements and with the “free trade philosophy” in general, and in the past, Republicans have also supported such agreements so this is an area of possible cooperation. Obama will, however, have to overcome the usual opposition of organized labor to free trade agreements which they see as taking jobs away from American workers and facilitating the moving of jobs overseas by domestic manufacturers. In a jobs sensitive political environment, these agreements may have to wait for the political intensity of the election to subside.

Although strong disagreements exist over their nature, cooperation on tax policies might also be possible. The so called “Bush tax cuts” expire in January and both Obama and the Republicans want to extend them in some fashion. The basic difference is that Obama wants to let tax cuts for couples making over $250,000 a year expire while retaining them for everyone else. Republicans want to retain them for all tax brackets. Since there is agreement on the need to keep the reduced tax rates for most tax payers, it would seem that some form of compromise could be negotiated.

Inheritance taxes are also set to go up dramatically in January, and again, both the Obama Administration and Republicans have indicated a willingness to come up with a new formula for exemptions, although the Democrats merely want to create new levels of exemptions and Republicans want to do away with inheritance taxes altogether. Still, since there was a discussion about the issue before the mid-term election season got going, there is some hope that progress can be made on this issue. The issue on taxes of any sort is complicated by ideological rigidity on both sides and the conundrum of reduced government revenue (deficit enlargement) versus economic simulation (job growth) that reduced taxes would produce. The so called “marriage penalty” which imposes higher taxes on married couples than single people living together, in the same tax bracket and the Alternative Minimum Tax which currently does not take inflation into account, are also areas in which Republicans and Democrats mostly agree have to be adjusted.

Thus while, some legislative cooperation is possible, there are a number of important issues which are more ideologically sensitive, and thus more controversial, that have little prospect for success given the hostility and polarization that characterized the mid-term elections. Little progress can be expected on so called “comprehensive immigration reform”. The two parties are just too far apart, with Republicans emphasizing border control as a first priority and Democrats more focused on “a path to citizenship” for the 12-14 million illegals already in the U.S. and an expanded “guest worker” program. The strict anti-illegal immigrant legislation passed by the state of Arizona and the Obama Administration’s lawsuit against Arizona, further poisons the atmosphere for Congressional action as it winds its way through the federal courts.

The Democrat’s major environmental bill, “cap and trade” which seeks to limit harmful industrial emissions by government regulation and create a “market” for allowable emissions, passed the House but not the Senate. Even though the Democrats still control the Senate by a slight majority, the House version is essentially “dead on arrival” in that body and Obama as much as said so in his post election news conference.

The Democrats will try to pass as much endangered legislation as possible in the “lame duck” session before the newly elected Congress takes over in January. The pro-union “card check” legislation which requires companies to allow unionization based on a majority of workers signing an approval card instead of a secret ballot is one of these.

Another is the Fair Pay Act which is has been around a few years but hasn’t generated sufficient support. If introduced, this act will be attacked by Republicans and the business community as a further example of “big government” interfering in the free market, and properly so. It would require some kind of determination of the “economic value” of each job to a company and prohibit differences in pay scales for different jobs with the same economic value. The purpose is to overcome by government directive and law suits, disparity in pay scales for jobs which are predominately held by females. The law would discard the role of the free market (supply and demand) in determining wage rates and effectively put government into a management position for all large businesses. However, with the loss of 60 House seats which many blame on the perception of “big government” excesses, their might be reluctance on the part of Democrat survivors to take on this issue. The economic environment and the emphasis on job creation makes this a bad time for more government meddling in the private sector. Also, a Republican filibuster effort could be expected. There is however, always the possibility that one or two of the more liberal Republicans could defect on social legislation of this sort and allow a vote. The two female Republican senators from Maine and the newest Republican in the Senate, Scott Brown from liberal Massachusetts could conceivably support this ridiculous legislation but it in all probability will never make it out of committee if it is introduced at all. A vote on the military's exclusion of homosexuals however may well be introduced in the more liberal "lame duck session".

The new Senate will be a more conservative body, not only because of the increased number of Republicans but because several of those individuals like Rand Paul (R-KT) and Toomey (R-PA) are so called "Tea Party conservatives" i.e. deficit hawks. It remains to be seen if the liberal Democrats up for reelection in 2012 will take heed of the nation's swing to the right and vote accordingly or dig their heels in rely on the hope of previously reliable liberal constituencies to preserve their seats.

Another important result of this election has been the significant increase in governorships and state legislatures held by Republicans. This will have a significant impact on the upcoming decennial congressional redistricting process as well as the politics of the 2012 presidential race. Things are looking up for the Republicans in this respect and the field of prospective candidates is growing. But that is another story which the media and the pundits will shortly commence. For now most people are just glad it’s over.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND ISLAM: AGAIN

Yet another member of the “tiny minority of Muslims who are radical jihadists” has been arrested in Virginia for plotting to bomb Metro stations in the nation’s capital. Farooque Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan was arrested Wednesday. The Washington Post reports that: “According to the indictment, in April Ahmed began to meet in hotels in Northern Virginia with people he believed to be affiliated with a terrorist organization. He agreed to conduct video surveillance of the stations, suggested the best time to attack and the best place to place explosives to maximize casualties, the indictment alleges. “

This event comes just days after the controversial firing from National Public Radio of long time political analyst Juan Williams. Williams,made two “unforgivable” mistakes; he appeared regularly on the FOX network, often as a liberal counterpoint to conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly and he offered a personal moment in which he admitted to a feeling of unease when boarding an airplane and seeing individuals in “Muslim garb”. He went on to say he realized that it was not fair to collectivize all Muslims in this regard but it was too late. The gods of political correctness were offended; another minority had been “unfairly” stereotyped and their acolytes at NPR had to take action. Of course the CEO of NPR had excuses. Williams had been “warned” not to express personal opinions on other networks before so this was the final straw. The fact that NPR is demonstrably liberal in its content and staff, including Williams, and management was no doubt offended by him offering his services part time to FOX, is hard to dismiss as not playing a role in his termination. But the choice of his comments about Muslims on airplanes as an alleged offense is ludicrous. Williams’ comments, taken as a whole, were not offensive and indeed, not commentary at all. He was sharing a personal feeling which he himself labeled as a weakness. This same uneasiness is no doubt shared by millions of other Americans and foreign citizens given the bloody history of 9/11. Of course the left wing media and blogosphere were quick to pounce and showed that even a life long liberal and African American political analyst sensitive to the plight of minorities is an ideological apostate if they a abandon the purity of political correct thought. Williams was widely labeled as a bigot and irrational for his expressed “unease” in airports. But the billions the world has spent on security measures for air travel since the 9/11 hijackings show these insults for what they are, knee jerk demagoguery.

Now comes Farooque Ahmed to remind all those with minds unclouded by the absurdity of political correctness that concern about those who by their appearance identify with a host of violent jihadists operating world wide is an understandable, even if not a perfectly logical, reaction. Of course not “all” 1.3 billion Muslims, no matter how they dress, are terrorists. But concern, whether it rises to a level of fear or not, is a natural human emotion and is not the same thing as bigotry.

At his first hearing in federal court Ahmed appearing in a full beard, as is common in some Muslim cultures and even required in others, and his wife appearing in a full hijab, did nothing to deflect the association by non-Muslims of terrorism with the Muslim religion, the small percentage (but significant numbers) of actual participants notwithstanding. Indeed, how big must a “minority who are extremists” be before generalized assumptions about their identity and belief systems can be made. The violent actions of tens of thousands of “non-terrorist” Muslims throughout the world with regard to simple cartoons of Mohammed are clearly documented. Calls for jihad, fatwas, and death threats against journalists and authors are hardly isolated incidents.

The Washington Post reminds us of other recent terrorist incidents just in the U.S. The Christmas Day airline bomb attempt in 2009, and the more recent Times Square bomb attempt by Connecticut native Faisal Shahzad; both would have killed and injured hundreds. Hosam Smadi, a Jordanian tried to blow up an office tower in Dallas, and Michael Finton, aka Talib Islam, a Muslim convert tried to blow up a federal office building in Illinois. In fact, the Post reports that just since 2009, more than sixty American citizens have been charged or convicted of terrorist acts. These folks weren’t Presbyterians or Hassidic Jews. Juan Williams is to be applauded for both his honesty and his recognition that separating the Muslim terrorists from the wider Muslim population while necessary is very difficult.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ELECTION FATIGUE

With only (or still) two weeks to go before the mid-term congressional elections the process is beginning to feel like a forced march with a bad hangover. The public policy part of the debate, which never had much depth, seems to have faded into background noise as the candidates at all levels are engaged in desperate acts of profound stupidity and vicious personal attacks. In terms of “policy” it’s pretty simple: Republicans want to cut taxes, cut government spending, and reduce government’s size and intrusiveness. Democrats want to tax the “rich”. Both sides want to “create jobs”. Except for taxing the rich, few details have been provided for the rest of the promises. No where is there a serious discussion of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, although they continue to consume billions of dollars and create thousands of casualties. In fact, the wider scope of U.S. international security issues, especially Iran, Pakistan and North Korea, has received little to no attention in televised debates, a distinct failure on the part of media hosts. Enormous trade deficits and environmental issues are peripheral at best. Candidates are more busy trying to demonize their opponents with largely exaggerated and mostly irrelevant character assassination euphemistically known as “negative ads”.

We have the following spectacles. In California, an economic basket case, the issue “de jure” has been the use of the word “whore” in a private phone conversation by a staff member of gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown. Also, in California, Democrat Barbara Boxer’s campaign has charged Republican senate candidate and former CEO of international electronics giant HP (Hewlett Packard) with “creating jobs over seas”, a truly shocking procedure for an international company.

In the senate campaign in Kentucky, Democrat candidate Jack Conway, who is behind, thinks he will catch up by charging his opponent Rand Paul, with being anti-Christian and sexist because of some college pranks Paul participated in about twenty-six years ago. Paul was so offended that he refused to shake hands with Conway after the debate, and of course voters have to view the “analysis” of this shocking and important event by the talking heads of cable news.

Activists and candidates would have us believe that all Democrat candidates for any office are closet “socialists” and all Republican candidates are “right-wing extremists” beholden to the purveyors of “corporate greed”. Many Republicans seem to be running against Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama and in true time warp tactics, many Democrats are still running against George Bush.

In many cases, the candidates themselves are providing the grist for the political mill of absurdity. In the hotly contested Nevada senate race, Republican candidate Sharon Angle told a group of Hispanic students that some of them looked “like Asians”. Why she would say something as dumb as this, politically and otherwise, in a state like Nevada, which has a large Hispanic population will probably never be explained. On the other side, Democrat Harry Reid’s campaign thinks they have discovered Angle’s political “Achilles Heel”. In a recent ad they accuse her of “living off her husband’s government pension” and being “covered by Medicare”. That’s it; strange but true.

The infliction of chronic, perplexed head shaking on the voting public continues in Delaware where Republican and Tea Party anointed candidate Christine O’Donnell, after having earlier cleared up voters fears that she was a witch, and calling evolution a “myth”, expressed surprise in a debate that the First Amendment to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights required separation of church and state. O’Donnell perhaps is to be forgiven for missing too many eighth grade civics classes but while on the job training is a wonderful thing, this particular gaffe occurred in front of a group of law students and professors who were understandably dismayed. O’Donnell continues to make the news for her entertainment value but is suffering from a double digit deficit in the polls.

But the governor’s race in New York takes the prize for the Mardi Gras in November award. The Republican candidate, Carl Paladino who has been providing the entertainment so far by threatening to use a baseball bat on the state legislature and angering the large homosexual population of the state with irrelevant anti-gay remarks, actually looked pretty normal compared to the colorful fringe candidates that were inexplicably invited to participate in a recent televised debate. Particularly amusing, sort of, was the fast talking Jimmy McMillan a.k.a. “Papa Smurf”, representing The Rent is 2 Damn High Party. Yes, that’s the real name of the party, although Papa Smurf may well be its only member. McMillan, with his strangely exaggerated sideburns and beard resembles Billy Goat Gruff wearing black gloves, had only one theme, of course; “The rent is too damn high”, but no solutions. Then there was Kristin Davis, the former “madam” of a “ house of ill repute“, not the House of Representatives, another one, with perhaps less ill repute and more to offer. She is running as the Anti-Prohibition Party (legalized prostitution) candidate and says she has experience in delivering the goods. All in all there were seven candidates at the debate which was laughable unless you remembered that it was the only debate for the New York’s governor’s race and New York runs a close second to California in terms of dysfunctional government.

The Tea Party Movement was supposed to bring voters an alternative to “politics as usual” and it seems to have lived up to its billing, but desperate Democrat candidates have joined the side show and November 2nd will come none too soon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

IS PROHIBITION OVER? AGAIN?

Prohibition, the illegal manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was overturned by constitutional amendment in 1933 after a 13 year experiment. Now there is a similar widespread movement to legalize another popular drug, marijuana. Currently 14 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the sale of marijuana for “medical” purposes. The Obama Administration has announced that it will not enforce federal laws against the sale of the drug in states where it has been legalized. These policies open the door to some important questions:

1. Is this an unstoppable trend or just a few cases of permissive politics in socially liberal states?
2. Does this mean that the questions about the medical efficacy and side effects of the use of marijuana have been settled?
3. Have the social implications of legalized drug use been sufficiently studied and found to be benign?
4. Will the decriminalization of marijuana have a beneficial effect on primary and secondary crime connected with it’s consumption?
5. Will decriminalization of marijuana lead to increased use of other illegal drugs and/or a movement to decriminalize other drugs?
6. Will a growthProhibition, the illegal manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages was overturned by constitutional of more conservative government at both the state and national levels retard or reverse the trend?

While 14 of 50 states does not seem to be a large percentage (28%), the number of states legalizing pot has been steadily increasing since California was the first (no surprise there) in 1996. The record shows that new states were added to the list on average every one to two years. The mix seems to be one of recognized “liberal” states besides California i.e. Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island and Nevada along with more conservative/libertarian states i.e. Alaska, Montana, Maine. Other states defy simple ideological labels, Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, New Jersey. So ideology may not be the driving force in the legalization process although it is probably safe to say that some states are so conservative as to be unlikely candidates in the future i.e. Oklahoma, Arkansas.

With respect to the medical issues, both supporters and detractors have expert opinions on their side. Respected medical authorities and research institutes seem to be split on the effectiveness and desirability of cannabis for treatment of the most common medical uses which are the effects of chemo-therapy (nausea) and chronic pain in any of a number of instances but mostly associated with cancer, especially cancers associated with AIDS.

The social implications of increasingly widespread marijuana use don’t seem to have been widely studied. The standard response of advocates is that “it is no worse than alcohol use”. This argument seems to have a built in weakness. While most users of alcohol do so responsibly, alcohol remains a potentially, debilitating, addictive and dangerous drug. Families are destroyed, worker productivity diminished, violence is precipitated and automotive fatalities abound as a result of the use of alcohol. The advocates of legal pot use might have a better argument if marijuana was likely to replace alcohol use. Society might then be no worse off, but that is not the case. Legalizing pot adds another narcotic on top of alcohol use, often in combination with that use, and thus logically increases the problems from irresponsible use.

In addition, it remains to be seen if legalization of drug use changes the public perception of it, making it more acceptable and thus encouraging its use by minors. This issue becomes even more important when combined with the question of marijuana being a “gateway drug” leading to experimentation and eventual addiction to harder and more harmful drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines. This issue remains unsettled and is irrelevant with regard to actual use of marijuana for medical purposes.

If there is a specific and measurable benefit to legalization, it is going to be the decriminalization of the possession of the drug itself and the reduction, if not the elimination of the crime associated with its importation and sale. Current laws seem virtually unenforceable, because like alcohol prohibition of the 1920’s and 1930’s, demand creates endless supply. In addition, law enforcement efforts have filled U.S. prisons with drug offenders, many of whom plied their trade with marijuana. MJ is also a significant component of the cross border smuggling and drug cartel violence. Cocaine and heroine will still be significant problems in this respect but taking MJ out of the mix should reduce the illegal market and the violence.

Decriminalization of marijuana might indeed give some impetus to the current minority movement to decriminalize harder drugs but since the medical and social arguments supporting marijuana use will not be credible for these drugs, that movement will have to rely on the issue of crime prevention, a serious consideration but a much tougher sell politically.

National politics is now consumed by the issues surrounding the economy but polls show a marked movement of voters to the Right. Conservative politicians in, or supported by the Tea Party, are not only fiscal conservatives but social conservatives. The implications of this for state laws and federal enforcement would seem to indicate a slow down on new states passing marijuana friendly laws. It is too early to look forward with much clarity to 2012 but a Republican president and thus a Republican Department of Justice, might have a very different opinion about enforcing existing federal laws.

In addition, the marijuana legalization movement has some obvious credibility problems. Legalization in the 14 states and District of Columbia is based quite specifically on the “medical use” of the drug. Few people believe that the bulk of the marijuana being consumed in these states is for genuine medical reasons. No doubt, there are actual medical patients using it in connection with AIDS and other debilitating diseases but some statistics show a different trend. In Colorado Springs, CO, the web site WeedMaps identifies 92 retailers of pot (but only 34 MacDonald’s restaurants). This is in a city of less than 400,000 people. Boulder, CO, a city of 100,000 and home of the University of Colorado, boasts 50 marijuana retailers. A recent survey of registered users of medical marijuana in Colorado not surprisingly, finds that the highest percentage of users live in the ski resort areas and college towns, not the usually abodes of the aged and infirm. Applications for state issued user permits is running at 400 per day yet the New York Times reports that less than 1% of those 65 and older nationally, smoked marijuana in 2009 and only 4% of people 50 to 65 used it last year. Also, according to the Times, Dr. Seddon R. Savage, President of the American Pain Society has said that “Under almost al circumstances, there are alternatives that are just as effective.”

Pot shops offer such “medicines” as Skinny Pineapple, and Early Pearl Maui as well as pot laced brownies, lollipops, and butter. Pot is expensive, some types running $375 to $420 per ounce, much more than most prescription pain killers One estimate of “medical users” for the Colorado in 2010 put the figure at 15 thousand. The population of Colorado, consistently cited as one of the healthiest and youngest states in the nation, is only 5.1 million with only 15% over 65 in 2005.. Marijuana stores advertise “early bird specials” and other enticements. Clearly, recreational use is driving the market. Once publicly acknowledged, that fact changes the nature of the debate. It’s that simple and that invites a higher level of political controversy. Still, Prohibition failed and in today’s political environment of reaction against intrusive government, pot shops may someday be as ubiquitous as the aforementioned MacDonald’s.

Friday, October 1, 2010

THE REPUBLICAN PLEDGE: POLITICS AND POLICY

The Congressional Republican “Pledge to America” has been announced. While it was instantly derided by Democrat officials and liberal pundits it is at least a window into what a Republican controlled House and/or Senate might look like in January, 2011. Admittedly, coming just weeks before the November elections it is at least a part election ploy or “tactic” if one seeks a kinder label. But it is also a good idea since the few Republican legislative initiatives offered in the current Congress have been lost in the obscurity of subcommittees, and majority Democrat offerings. Democrats have convinced some voters that the Republicans are the “party of no” who have no ideas. The ideas in the Pledge are few and mostly general in nature but worth examining.

Republicans in Congress and in the general public, along with numerous independents have expressed unhappiness with President Obama’s health care reform act and several states are suing in federal court to overturn it. The Pledge states it’s intention to repeal the act and replace it with a new, simpler version. While this is a good idea, it is, in the current time frame, just electioneering. Even if Republicans gained majorities in both the House and Senate which is unlikely, any such repeal legislation would be first filibustered to death by Democrats in the Senate and even if somehow ultimately passed, would face certain veto by Obama. Since overturning a veto takes a two thirds majority in both houses, this part of the Pledge will have to wait for a Republican president which can’t happen before 2013, following the 2012 election. Still, the prospect of a framework for a simpler health care reform is interesting. The Republicans would retain the most desirable parts i.e. not allowing insurance companies to deny coverage for previous conditions and disallowing lifetime limits on coverage. The creation of “high risk” pools for the chronically ill and previously uninsurable has already been accomplished in several states. The further emphasis on tax deductible health savings accounts and tort reform to reduce health care provider’s exposure to enormous medical liability claims also make sense.

However, the ideas for health care reform change do not specifically address two important areas: the reported 35 million citizens who are uninsured and the high costs of both health care and health insurance coverage. The fact that the Obama plan doesn’t address the costs issues specifically does not make the Republican ideas any better in this respect.

In terms of “government reform”, the ideas are interesting and mostly positive but also mostly window dressing. They would require the sponsors of bills to cite the Constitutional authority which allows their bill. Much of Constitutional authority is based on federal court interpretations of “implied” powers” making such a legislative requirement impractical and subject to further endless interpretation. This part of the Pledge is clearly aimed at much of the Republican base who feel that government has usurped too much power in opposition to the Constitution’s promise of limited government.

A more common sense proposal also in the Pledge is that of limiting the scope of bills to their primary purpose and not allowing numerous extraneous amendments intended to “buy” the votes of hesitant members.

The Pledge also addresses government spending, as it should. It suggests a freeze on government hiring in “non-security’ areas and cuts to the Congressional budget. It would also freeze discretionary i.e. non-entitlement, spending. Job creation data nation-wide shows that most of the jobs added in the last few months have indeed been government jobs, not private sector jobs which actually produce goods and services. Freezing discretionary spending is a start but most of the federal budget is consumed by entitlements i.e. Social Security, MediCare which are both expanding at dangerous rates and are political “hot button” issues. Exempting security related expenditures takes cuts to the Defense Dept. off the table in terms of political debate but with a defense budget in excess of 700 billion dollars, that part of overall federal spending will have to be addressed no matter which party controls Congress.

Republicans would also stop further spending already authorized under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) passed during the Bush Administration and the “stimulus” bill passed under the Obama Administration. This is an interesting proposal since much of these funds have yet to be spent and are “back loaded” in terms of job creation in the near term. It is worth revisiting these bills to judge whether the costs to the ballooning federal deficit and debts can be justified by the benefits of the expenditures specifically authorized, many of which have been identified as simple “pork” targeted towards parochial interests.

National security has historically been a Republican owned issue and the Pledge makes a couple of token promises in this area. First, tapping into public sentiment, they promise no civilian criminal trials for terrorists and second, no non-germane amendments to the Defense Appropriations bills. This a clear shot at Senate Majority Harry Reid who attached a citizenship for college attendance or military service amendment for illegal aliens who had been in the country before their 16th birthday and another repealing the military’s current ban on openly gay service members. A third promise is to fully fund a missile defense system. None of these issues is high on the list of financially strapped voters but they “keep the faith” and are intended to draw a distinction between the Republicans and Democrats who support the opposite positions. Republicans also want to keep the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay open which makes sense and anyway Obama hasn’t been able to find anywhere to transfer the prisoners.

On jobs, which is the major issue in this year’s campaign, Republicans promise to keep the so called “Bush tax cuts” arguing that more money in private hands stimulates the economy. They would also reduce federal regulations on businesses and allow “small businesses” to deduct the first 20% of business income from tax liabilities. These are common sense positions but may not be broad enough to stimulate much enthusiasm by themselves. Many Democrats say that “tax cuts for the rich” would add a huge amount to the deficit but then they are arguing for another massive stimulus of government spending to create jobs which would do the same thing. A deficit wary public may find the Republican’s less dramatic solutions more attractive.
In a swipe at the Obama Administration’s opposition to the Arizona immigration law and lawsuit against the state, the Pledge states that it would “reaffirm the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in immigration enforcement. Since federal immigration control is ineffective and under staffed this is another common sense position, but the federal courts have taken over the debate about local participation and that is where the issue will ultimately be decided. However, with large majorities of American voters supporting Arizona’s legislation, this is a political savvy addition to the Republican’s political statement.

The remainder of the Pledge is standard conservative feel good rhetoric: “honor the Constitution, especially “original intent” and the 10th Amendment which implies limited federal powers. The Republicans also seek to dramatize the difference with Democrats and again excite their base on the social issues: “honoring families” i.e. “traditional marriage, “life”, an anti-abortion position, although no specifics are stated, and finally support for private faith based organizations.

The major omission in the Republican plan is a strategy for dealing with the ballooning deficits, now running @$1.3 trillion and the accumulated federal debt which hovers around $13 trillion. The Pledge contains a commitment to reduce spending by $100 billion annually but doesn’t provide specifics. Democrats have offered no credible strategy either, preferring to quibble about “extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich”, whom Obama defines as anyone making in excess of $250,000. Removing these taxes will supposedly add $700 billion to federal coffers over ten years, certainly not enough to deal with the deficit or retire the debt. Eventually, both parties will be forced to face this politically dangerous issue, but not in the months leading up to an election. The unpleasant realities are that the entitlements, Social Security and Medicare, which Republicans and Democrats all swear to protect, have to be adjusted to account for the increasing number of elderly entering the programs. Eligibility will have to be delayed and benefits reduced somehow, sometime. However, such changes will just slow the growth of the deficit and debt. To reduce those obligations revenues will have to be increased. That means additional taxes, there is simply no way around it. With only half of federal tax filers actually paying taxes, more broad based taxes will need to be considered. A gasoline tax and/or a federal sales tax will have to be on the table at some point but it will take politicians of unusual courage to stray from the easier strategies of tax cuts to “grow economy” and thus produce more tax revenue (the Laffer Curve of the Reagan era) and more taxes on the “rich” who pay most of the taxes now.

So what the Pledge essentially does is restate some familiar, general conservative themes while throwing in a few specifics to counter the accusation that the party offers no meaningful ideas to deal with the economic crisis. It should serve that purpose by bringing some comfort to moderates and independents who are looking for an excuse to vote their anger at the Democrats who have been in charge of Congress for four years and at all levels for two years and can no longer run away from the persistent problems of the country by simply saying “Bush did it.”