Thursday, October 26, 2006

I'm Really Afraid

I've always been viewed as kind of a tough guy. I've got an athletic build, a few prominent muscles, and a blocky chin. After concluding a rather timid childhood, I did the contact sports and later became an army officer in a paratroop division. After I got my education, years of leadership roles in stressful jobs cultivated a rather stern countenance and a strong voice. After retiring early from the working world I soon became operations director for a large volunteer ambulance corps where I worked as a medic when I wasn't taking my annual solo hike on the Appalachian Trail. I'm happy that I've learned to smile, laugh, and hug during my later adulthood, but underneath it all the killer paratrooper still lurks - and quite a few deer would agree with that! So why would a guy like me be afraid?

I'm afraid because I have watched the Republican Party's campaign commercials on TV, and they lead me to fear that the America whose uniform I proudly wore is in jeopardy from within. The commercials shamelessly distort truth in order to elicit a fearful response from the watcher. These commercials go for the gut level fear - fear of the person not of your race, fear of losing your family's money when you die, fear of your Social Security being taken away, fear of a terrorist shooting up your town, fear of a homosexual stalking your kids (this only worked before Foley - now it's a congressman stalking your kids).

These new Republicans (no relation to the honorable Republicans of pre-Clinton times) know that real gut level fear paralyses many people's brains to the extent that they will choose "protection" over their real societal and economic interests. Consequently, they resort to fear-mongering whenever they feel they can't win by any other means. In their culture, winning is the only thing that matters...winning is the means to achieve their goals, whatever they really are. (I question what their goals are because I never hear them stated coherently.)

Why do these commercials indicate that America is in jeopardy? Because people who would use distortions and fear to win an election would use distortions and fear to lead the country. Could this be true? One need not look farther than the current administration to know it is true. Their enemies are "evil"; they must "fight them there or we'll have to fight them here"; they call the estate tax the death tax, changing the entire tone of the discussion around it. They try to legalize torture while they purport to worship the Christ who said "love your enemies". Could they go from torturing accused terrorists to torturing their political enemies - maybe that's not so far-fetched an idea. Have Americans seen through this win-by-fear strategy of Cheney, Rove, and the rest of these despicable guys? If they haven't, I'm afraid there are some scary times ahead.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

PC-Based Democracy

At a time when media ownership has become so consolidated that the average citizen is exposed to only a few points of view (and which drone on and on, repeating the same mantras ad nauseam), the PC has taken over the role of primary information provider for many of us.

Yes, I still listen to NPR and even Michael Savage, and I read several newspapers every day, including the Christian Science Monitor (excellent!). And I watch CNN and even, occasionally, Fox. But today, the established news outlets are only part of the story.

OK. I admit I must be one of the last people on the planet to realize that blogs are taking over, even though I've had my own for some time now. The "big" blogs stay close to the news, reporting and correcting and editorializing about everything under the sun. But the little blogs take the temperature of the country in a way never before possible.

I go to Blogger, hit "random blogs", and begin to march through America and the rest of the world (most of which is unintelligible due to language). There I find the most honest and comprehensive expressions of fellow citizens' hopes, fears and opinions - expressions that I would never hear if I met these people face to face. There is something about the keyboard that frees people to be must be that cyberspace is not yet considered to be real space. But I find it to be very real, and very revealing.

The blogs show how really different each individual is from every other. The designs differ, the topics differ, and the lifestyles differ (and how!), but the passion for expression seems universal. In just a few minutes I go from a mom's lament about her Caesarian-scarred belly, to a pastor's beautiful and helpful site, to a young man's aspirations to do something special with his life. If more people surfed the blogs they would encounter slices of life that open new vistas to their understanding, and more people are doing just that every day.

It used to be that people's horizons were broadened by traveling to new and different places, but only the fortunate or extra-adventurous could afford the time or make the effort. Now it's possible to be broadened in the privacy of your own PC-space, quickly and simply. Most everyone agrees that the world needs to change if we are to survive as a species, but disseminating the call to arms, getting some kind of general agreement, and pushing the power bases has been difficult if not impossible. Not anymore. As long as the Web stays in an uncontrolled state the potential exists for the people to finally get the upper hand. PC-based democracy! We'll see where it leads us, and how fast.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The End of the Line for Bush

Al Queda in Iraq is parading in the streets of Ramadi. Al Sadr's militia is blowing up police stations. The Iraqi government is impotent, and clerics have discussions about issuing "fatwa's" condemning the incessant violence. A state department functionary goes on Al Jazzera and talks about our government's "stupidity and arrogance." Iran is overjoyed that its neighbor is in chaos and ripe for the picking. All this signals the end of the line for President Bush...there is nothing that can save him now.

On November 7, 2006, the American people will remove the Republican party from at least the lower house of congress, and possibly the Senate. The primary reason for the devastating defeat will be the failure of Bush's grand plan for Iraq after years of his denying the obvious - that the plan was doomed from the day Iraqis rioted in Bahgdad while unprepared American soldiers watched in amazement. Bush had a plan for the war, but he had no plan for the peace. The post-war chaos gave America's enemies plenty of room and time to develop and implement their strategy for thwarting Bush's ambitions. It is now clear that they have succeeded, and a phased withdrawal from Iraq is now the only option other than staying to face an unsatisfactory war of attrition with an enemy that has all the advantages.

What does this mean for Bush? Basically, he's finished. His credibility is gone, thanks to his and his staff's unwarranted optimism on Iraq over several years...the great majority of Americans finally realized they were being hoodwinked. Now comes the humiliation of the withdrawal amidst the crowing of enemies Bush vowed to destroy. Even Americans who opposed Bush will be embarassed by the catcalls of the Muslim extremists, who now feel more empowered than ever. Will Bush be able to lead America on any front, domestic or foreign? Not likely...

What can Bush do in order to leave office in 2009 with any legacy at all? His only option is to put a hand out to the Democrats on one or more of the big domestic issues - Social Security, Medicare, immigration, or trade. If he can be seen as a pragmatic "pusher" toward solutions the Amercan people will accept, perhaps one or more breakthroughs can be accomplished. These successes ultimately will be balanced against the Iraq failure in calculations that judge his legacy.

Does Bush really have the ability to be a uniter instead of a divider? It's doubtful, but miracles can happen. November 7th is not far away, and by April of 2007 the pattern of politics for the next two years will be settled. Bush, as a power president, is history. We'll find out if he has any other persona.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

US Should File for Bankruptcy?

I've been a little more curious about the state of our nation during this political season, and the more I learn the more I become concerned. And my concern is largely about the financial health of our country.

Since September, 2001, our national debt has increased $2.6 trillion, which converts to more than $6,600 for every person in the United States. The total debt is $8.5 trillion, or over $26,000 for every person. Interest on this debt, at a low rate of only 4%, is $340 billion every year.

To put the debt in perspective, the 2006 budget for the United States is $2.3 trillion, which makes the debt about four times the annual spending. This is would be like a family that made $100,000 per year having a net long term debt of $400,000 - that is, liabilities exceed assets by $400,000. This family would never be able to get a loan. It's a miracle that President Bush and the congress can borrow more money while our country's debt continues to grow.

The major U.S. social programs, Social Security and Medicare, are also under water. President Bush's Secretary of the Treasury, John Snow, reports that Social Security will begin spending more than it earns in 2017, and will be completely unfunded by 2040. Medicare, however, is in much deeper trouble - virually hopeless, in fact. With the national debt being so large, the U.S. government cannot bail out either Social Security or Medicare. Tragedy lurks ahead!

It's amazing that our elected officials seldom mention these problems, and in many cases they pooh-pooh them. There is no magical solution for them, however, and every year our country becomes more at risk for bankruptcy. If the U.S. defaults, the entire world economy will fail and we will have the greatest depression in history. It would probably be better, therefore, if we got on top of our annual budget deficits and our entitlements. Nobody loves a deadbeat, especially if it's our old friend Uncle Sam.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hiking for Massa

I've been busy lately pounding the pavement for Eric Massa, who is a Democrat running for congress in the 29th district of New York. Even on weekends, many homes are not populated - the residents are out and about - so I leave my little flyer and a letter for them to look at. This is grass roots democracy at its lowest level. One thing about campaigning in a wealthy suburb is that it's a long walk between houses!

Massa's opponent, Republican Randy Kuhl, has no grass roots organization walking the streets, but he has twice the money of my man. Kuhl is already flooding the mailboxes and airwaves with the Karl Rove formula - attack, attack, attack. Rove's winning tactic has been to accuse opponents of being "for" things that the average voter fears at the gut level, such as terrorists in every home, taxes that put his/her family in the poorhouse, and either an abortion clinic or a gay married couple on every street. The sad thing is, this kind of campaign often works. I'm out walking against it.

Tonight we had a little neighborhood campaign meeting. Everyone except the host was retired from somewhere. We had an ex-FBI man, a retired lady schoolteacher, an ex-Xerox systems person, and a bearded professor-like gentleman who was also a Republican like me. Only one of the attendees was a card-carrying left winger. So, times have changed. As we went around the room, it was clear that people of all stripes felt that the current Republican administration and congress were taking our country down the wrong road at warp speed. It was especially interesting to hear the FBI guy talk about how the Bush administration is gutting our freedom with invasive wiretapping and other assaults on personal privacy. Seeing the diversity of people who are supporting my candidate made me feel really good...if they represent the mainstream, perhaps we will win!

I felt even better after arriving home and checking the internet. The head of the British Army now says that they (and us) should leave Iraq and that our presence is exacerbating the bad situation there. How many experts need to tell this virtually self-evident truth before Bush & Co. are forced to change course? Hopefully, not too many more.

It's cold here - about 40 degrees. That means the hike down my assigned streets in Pittsford tomorrow will be not just long but also nippy. I'm hoping my passion for good government will keep me warm. But just in case, maybe I'll take along a thermos of hot chocolate!

Friday, October 06, 2006

We Don't Have to Fight Them There

I'm tired of hearing the President and his sycophants repeat the mantra "We have to fight them there or we'll have to fight them here!" "Them" refers to the terrorists who want to harm the United States, and "there" refers to Iraq. Like so many of the statements coming from the Republicans, it's just plain silly.

I'd just like to remind my loyal readers (probably none) that the terrorists have no air force, no navy, and no organized fighting force with the ability to "come here" to fight us "here". Nor will they ever have such a capability. The only places terrorists are successful are where they have the ability to get where they want to go, and once they arrive, get cover and support from locals. There is little chance that more than a very small group of terrorists could get into the United States and be hidden and supported here. So, the probability of having to fight them "here" is about zero. If any fighting "here" is probable, the fighting will be done with intelligence and police work, not with military forces.

Given that we won't have to fight them "here" under any circumstances, why should we have to fight them "there"? Iraq is the perfect place for terrorists to be able to go where they want to go, and get cover and support from the locals. The bad guys demonstrate every day that they can plant bombs, set up ambushes, and send fanatics to blow themselves up just about any place in Iraq. On the other hand, our troops have no cover. Advantage, terrorists! We need to get out or move our troops to a secure area of Iraq, and let the Iraqis sort things out for awhile.

If we take a much lower profile in Iraq, where will the bad guys go? They will go to places where they have cover and support, and especially to other Arab countries that they would like to destabilize and move toward an Islamic government. The problem will become "Muslim on Muslim", and all the world will understand the risk that these people present. The suppliers of oil to the world will be under attack, and the world - not the U.S. alone - will respond with alacrity and vigor to combat the terrorists. That will be a big improvement over the current situation where the U.S. is isolated and appears to be anti-Muslim.

So, cut the nonsense, Republicans! We don't have to fight them there and we are wasting our men and our money trying to do so. Whoever wins the battle for Iraq will have to produce and sell the oil that is that country's lifeblood, and we will get our share. We don't need to care whether it comes from a democratic country (Bush's fantasy) or not. And that's that.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Divided Government is a Plus!

For the past six years we U.S. citizens have experienced the paralysis that occurs when one party controls the White House and both houses of congress. It's not for nothing that this Republican congress is being labeled "the do-nothing congress." They have earned the label, and then some!

Why is it that having all the power leads to impotence? My educated guess is that dealing with the big issues that confront our nation requires a) some painful medicine, such as that needed to fix Social Security and Medicare, or b) some compromise that important factions in the ruling party can't live with, such as amnesty for long-term illegal aliens in the U.S. Both the painful medicine and the compromise have more potential to lose votes than gain them, so the ruling party is much more comfortable doing nothing. Well, not exactly nothing.

What does the ruling party do with its time, since dealing with the important issues would cost votes ? Well, handing out "pork" is seldom dangerous, even if the "pork" is purchased with borrowed money - so this congress has doled out record levels of it. Also, it can raise emotional issues that have little chance of being settled, like a "Marriage Amendment" or a "Flag-burning Amendment". And, doing nothing leaves plenty of time for vacations with people like Jack Abramoff.

When the ruling party has everything going for it, "rocking the boat" becomes a cardinal sin. It's "all for one, and one for all" time. Oversight, which involves putting probing questions to members of the ruling party, must be avoided at all costs. One need not look farther than oversight of the Iraq war to see that it does not happen. And, of course, discipline for ethics violations (think DeLay and Foley) involves breaking ranks, and that clearly violates the principles of team play. So the door opens for all sorts of chicanery that inevitably result.

Divided government naturally cures many of these ills. Painful medicine is best administered by doctors of both parties who share the responsibility for unpopular but necessary actions. "Pork" is not eliminated, but it is reduced and the more egregious and slimy pieces never make it past the watchdogs from the other party. Oversight is increased because one branch of the divided goverment has the power to raise issues in an unfettered manner, but that branch is controlled because the other branches can successfully ridicule patently political meddling. Ditto for ethics policing -the bad guys get punished because their sins can't get buried by their pals.

So, here's a shout of approval for divided government. Overly concentrated power is dangerous and naturally ineffective. In the upcoming election cycle the Presidency and the Senate appear "safe" for the Republicans. So, let's get the House transitioned to become a part of the right kind of solution for America!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mark Foley - Another Two-Faced Republican

The national Republican Party just can't seem to get out of it's own way. Scandal after scandal, and we thought it could't get any worse, but it has. Mark Foley, a six-term congressman, has been caught sending sexually explicit emails to young congressional pages. His resignation, while welcomed, will likely only signal the beginning of the blood-letting about "who knew what, when".

Given the warnings that occurred in 2005, the House leadership has nowhere to run. The lame excuses of those in the loop to confirm or disprove unethical conduct already clearly indicate that the issue was quickly and efficiently put to rest. "Stupid" is the only word that fits!

The old adage "the only way to keep a secret is not to tell anyone" is proved once again. When this cat got out of the bag there was only one option - deal with it. But those House leaders who we assume have some political sense decided not to deal with it, and they will pay double for their sin of omission.

So this latest scandal is just one more that exposes a two-faced Republican...the man who outwardly is the point person against child molestation turns out to be a would-be molester or worse. Perhaps there is more to come...and it couldn't come at a worse time for the Fox News "fair and balanced" crew. How do they deal with the fall of one of their top poster boys? As I watch them for a painful moment, I see that they opine "this is not a partisan issue". We'll see.