Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Digganalysis: Middle East Part Two

Part II: Democracy isn’t a dry powdered concentrate that you add water and voila!
American naiveté regarding spreading democracy is as cute and sweet as kids believing in Santa Claus.  OK, calm down, no offense intended, but let me proceed by starting with our own history.  Our own experiment with democracy had a very auspicious start; you all remember the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.  No?  It was as popular and memorable as the first series George Clooney starred in called ER.  Yes, look it up, it was on CBS in 1984/85 and it starred Eliot Gould.   But I digress.   The Articles of Confederation were drafted in 1776 and were ratified in 1781 and they were completely ineffectual because the concept of a centralized federal government was quite discerning so the states were given more power.  It failed miserably; leading to the smartly constructed James Madison crafted Constitution ratified in 1787.  Eleven years after the Declaration of Independence, the young nation had a Constitution, much of which was based on the Glorious Revolution in Britain in 1688 when William of Orange conquered Britain and created the English Bill of Rights.  And while Conservatives love to brandish their pocket editions of the Constitution (though they often wrongly cite passages from the Declaration of Independence when they are talking about the Constitution), the document almost did not get ratified.  It took a tremendous amount of, wait for it…., compromise…urrrggghhh the ‘C’ word for Tea Partiers.  Some key factoids:
1)      The Great Compromise saved the Constitutional Convention, and, probably, the Union. Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman called for proportional representation in the House, and one representative per state in the Senate (this was later changed to two.) The compromise passed 5-to-4, with one state, Massachusetts, “divided.”
2)      On March 24, 1788, a popular election was held in Rhode Island to determine the ratification status of the new Constitution. The vote was 237 in favor and 2,945 opposed!
3)      The word “democracy” does not appear once in the Constitution.
4)      Neither does the word God.
5)      Ratification was a close call in Rhode Island (34-32), Massachusetts (187-168), New York (30-27), Virginia (89-79), and New Hampshire (57-47).  Compromise regarding the Bill of Rights saved the day.
6)      Slavery was kicked down the road and remained an open sore until 1863; 76 years after ratification.
7)      It took 180 years from the arrival of the first colonists until the Constitution was ratified.
8)      The Constitution has been amended 27 times.
9)      We excluded indigenous and slaves from participating in the process.
10)   The founding fathers were more homogenous than a bowl of white rice.
What’s my point?  Before there was social media, global terrorists, globalization, and the 24 hour news cycle, it still took us hundreds of years before we actually came close to becoming the land of the free, and that was with little diversity and zero tribal division.  Yet we expect democracy to take root in under 10 years because elections can be held.  News flash, while elections usually settle issues in the developed world, they typically create issues in the developing and emerging world; paging Russia.
So, just like the near destruction of the Union in the 1860’s, these fledgling states with deposed dictatorships and monarchies, and having known nothing else, are likely to disintegrate into ancient nation states based on tribal and ethnic lines.  If you don’t believe me, look at Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, Sudan, Indonesia, and the Congo. 
Sorry Virginia there is no Santa Claus and if there was, I don’t think he could create a democracy in the Arab world.  Well maybe in 200 years.
Coming up in Part III: Religion ruins everything and I am not just talking about Jews versus Muslims.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Digganalysis: Middle East

I just wrapped up my 4th visit to Israel in the last 9 months and each time I come away a little smarter, a little wiser, and lot heavier, impressed, and worried.  I worry because with the region is under significant turmoil while Americans, for the most part, remain ignorant of the recent history (20th and 21st centuries) and the critical facts and details on the ground.  I am not calling Americans stupid; I am saying Americans sources of information are incomplete, uninformed, and shallow.  So I decided to dedicate this entry to a combination of modern history, global politics, religion, and of course, what would a Diggapedia entry be without a shedload of commentary.
Part I, the 20th century:
Following the defeat of the Central Power, Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Ottoman Empire, forces in World War I, the Middle East fell into the hands of the British and French to divide up into protectorates, administrations, and territories through a series of mandates by the League of Nations.  You remember the League of Nations, right?  The 1919-1947 precursor to the United Nations that was created as part of the Paris Peace Treaty to not only end World War I, but to end all future global conflicts.  Ooops. 
 The ink was barely dry on the Treaty before trouble started brewing.   For revolting against the Ottomans (Turks) the Middle Eastern Arabs believed they were to gain independence and autonomy following the dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire.  Unfortunately for the Arabs, they became territories of the British Empire with Arab leader Sharif Hussein, leader of the revolt, becoming the ruler of the Kingdom of Mecca where his son Faisal would rule Iraq, his son Abdullah would rule Transjordan, while another Arab Ibn Saud would rule the new territory of Saudi Arabia.  Meanwhile the Zionist movement, the desire to create a Jewish state in the biblical Promised Land (Palestine in the 1920’s) was growing, and France would administer the new territories of Lebanon and Syria, and Italy and France would govern Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.  Now throw in the Balfour Declaration and the secret Sykes-Picot agreement and you have a recipe for disaster:
1)      You have Arabs who are not nationalistic, but have been split up into territories
2)      You have pissed off Arabs because they were promised independence and didnlt get it, AND the Jews have been promised land for a nation.
3)      The Kurds have no nation, and now find themselves minorirites in a number of Arab led countries.
4)      And now the world’s biggest supply of crude oil has been discovered.
Fast forward to World War II, and suddenly the European colonial powers are retrenching to their homes after the destruction from the war. Iran (1941), Lebanon (1943), Syria (1944), Jordan (1946), Iraq (1947), and Egypt (1947), Israel (1948), Libya (1949) gain independence from Italy, France, and Britain.  So we have these fledgling Arabic nations with leaders, who distrust one another, a Jewish State that NOBODY wants to exist, and the start of the war within Islam as Sunnis, Shiites, Wahhabis, and Sufis struggle for leadership and oppression of the minority becomes the norm in the Arab world.  Throw in the Kurds, Druze, and other ethnic minorities and these weak Arabic nations can only held together by all powerful monarchies, dictators, or authoritarian heads of state. 
Next Part II: Democracy isn’t a dry powdered concentrate that you add water and voila!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Miss Me? Reporting live from the Middle East

The mounting criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the Libya crisis is neither surprising nor logical.  Let me count the ways:
a)      It is quite logical that France and the United Kingdom would take the lead with the Libyan offensive because they are trading partners.
b)      Building a coalition of Arab League nations was critical to preempt international condemnation.
c)      The US is demonstrating that leadership in foreign affairs requires diplomacy and force.  Diplomacy in the form of getting the UAE and Qatar to sign on militarily in the campaign AND convincing permanent Security Council members China and Russia to abstain and not veto the resolution.  From a military standpoint, who else will provide logistical, air defense neutralization, command and control, and 24 hour surveillance?  That doesn’t mean we need to flying daily sorties. 
d)      Libya is not the end game.  Our services, support, and leadership will be needed throughout the region as Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria are all simmering or on full boil.

Some other tidbits:
a)      $600,000 per Tomahawk missile times 120 missiles = $72million…that buys a few hours of NPR programming.
b)      Never mind Libya.  Keep an eye on Syria.  If the al-Hassad government starts to implode, it will use all necessary force to retain power AND likely bring Iran into the mix as well AND further destabilize Lebanon where the Syrian army still has a large contingent.  Yes, Syria could be the battle ground of West versus Iran. 
c)      An unstable Syria will make Israel very nervous, more so if Iran involves itself.
d)      The above notwithstanding, I am curious as to how administration, State, and Pentagon officials would answer this question regarding Libya:  “What does a good ending look like?”
e)      The failed state in Yemen will be a ongoing problem for our anti-terrorism efforts,  We will need to rely on ‘friends’ in the region to monitor and contain terrorist organizations in Yemen.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

iPads, Neocons, Syrians, and Germans...Happy Purim

If this post is crankier than usual, I am blaming the jetlag.
In 1939 Germany invaded Poland in its march to world domination via military conquest.  In 2011, Germany is the dominant economic power in Europe and the future of the EU and the single currency lies in German willingness to bail out Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and potentially Spain and Italy.  Germany through the IMF and EU bailout fund has become the significant stakeholder in these other sovereign nations.  I wonder if Parker Brothers will be creating a new version of Risk that uses economic and financial instruments and not armies to conquer the world.
Someone up there must really hate me.  I just learned Charles Krauthammer, Fox News Contributor and Conservative Centerfold, is a Red Sox fan.  A sick sick joke.
Speaking of False news, I guess I am late to the game and didn’t realize that Brett Baier is using “Fair, Balanced, and Unafraid” as his closing tag line.  Unafraid?  I guess my new tagline will be “Superior, Unbalanced, and Pissed Off”.
The downside of travelling internationally is watching Fake News Channel and having to listen to the likes of ¼ wits like Andrea Tantaros.   She is a walking talking sound bite machine for the right. 
Memo to US Airways, if you call your entrée Mushroom Risotto, then you may want to put more than one piece of mushroom in it.  Gordon Ramsay would be pissed with half-baked risotto.  Donkeys.
Critics on the right are ripping into Obama for his upcoming trip to Brazil. Chile, and El Salvador.  Hacks like the aforementioned Andrea Tantaros are referring to this trip as a vacation, while Krauthammer is calling it bad timing and an insult to Colombia for not acknowledging its efforts to battle narco-traffic and communism.  For starters, (a) it is not a vacation, (b) Brazil represents one of the largest emerging markets (The B in BRIC) for our goods and an alternative source of imports, (c) Colombia and the pending trade agreement are important, but until President Santos comes clean about the murders and kidnappings of key opposition and labor leaders, the US should not be entering this agreement, and (d) bad timing?  Look around there is always something happening somewhere.
Eisenhower must be rolling over in his grave.  In his 1961 farewell address he warned us of the Military Industrial Complex: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Judging by the cries from the right by the Neocompoops for action in the Middle East, I would say the MIC is alive and well.
Keep an eye on Syria.  The anti-government unrest is gaining traction and if that blows, it will make Libya, Egypt, and the rest look like a booger.  Why?  Bashar al-Hassad will fight to the end to maintain control of the country and with Iranian backing this could turn into ground zero of escalation between the West and Iran.  Stability is a long way off.
Self-centered people in the US will really start taking notice of the crisis in Japan when their iPad 2’s are delayed due to critical components not coming out of Japan.  The horror.

Friday, March 18, 2011

We're not in Kansas any longer Toto

It's Purim in Israel.  For the kids it's like halloween, for the adults it's like Mardi Gras.  Looks like Glinda stole Miss Gulch's bicycle.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Left, Center, and Right: How can everybody be wrong?

Dear President Obama,
Please lead more and be less politically calculating.  You’re like the guy who goes to the horse track and bets $2 on the favorite in each and every race.  Be decisive on the budget, energy, and Middle East policy.  Bush was a disaster but even when he knew the odds were long in privatizing social security, he took a shot at it and got slammed.  Take the bat off your shoulders slugger and take a cut.  Also, I am still waiting for this whole increased transparency thing to happen.  Requests for information occurred 544,360 times last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act from the 35 largest government agencies, up nearly 41,000 more than the previous year, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of new federal data. But the government responded to nearly 12,400 fewer requests.  What is your administration hiding?
Meanwhile back in Arizona, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik need not apply for a share of funds in the Senate budget to fight border crime.  Dupnik, last year said he would not enforce certain provisions of SB1070 and instead of arresting undocumented immigrants, he would turn them over to Border Patrol.  Well, Senate President Pearce is firing back.  A provision buried in one of the 13 budget bills spells out that the first $1.6 million of available cash go to the sheriff of a county with a population of more than three million. That applies only to Maricopa County.  The next $500,000 is earmarked for a sheriff in a county of between 300,000 and 500,000, meaning Pinal. And if there's anything left, it can be allocated to other counties or cities. But not Pima: SB 1621 spells out any county with a population of between 500,00 and two million "shall not receive any monies from the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement mission fund.''  "That was by design,'' said Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa."The sheriff says he's not going to enforce the law,'' Pearce said Wednesday night. "Why would I fund him?''
What’s Trumpka? AFL-CIO president Richard Trumpka was on CNN and when asked why unions don’t drop their last-in first-out process for a pay for performance ranking meritocracy, he actually said that years of service and experience are the most important factors in determining performance.  He went on to identify the need to reduce school class size, increase parental involvement, provide teach training, and provide more funds as the biggest factors to improving education.  As long as labor is going to stay entrenched in their ‘entitlement’ mentality they will lose.  Americans are earners and believe you earn your salary, you don’t deserve it.  Trumpka…you’ve been euchred.
What’s wrong with Kansas? Republican Kansas state lawmaker Virgil Peck made the following statement this week: "It might be a good idea to control illegal immigration the way the feral hog population has been controlled -- with hunters shooting from helicopters."  This from a self proscribed pro-lifer.  Even if he was joking, is it possible to possess even less social awareness? 

No word if he can fly.  Apparently there is a squirrel in Bennington, VT that has been attacking the townspeople.  Authorities are casting a wide net in search of the rodent and his accomplice: a white glove-wearing moose.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yeah I have some thoughts on teaching

Funny thing happened on the way to the All-White State.  Arizona State Senate President Russell Pearce on March 4th announced he would suspend further debate and committee review of immigration-related bills.  Up until March 4th, Pearce and his followers were pushing bills to enhance their crackdown on immigration from turning hospitals and schools into enforcement bodies to redefining citizenship and many motions in between.  Why the sudden change in legislative direction?  It seems that executives at 60 major Arizona corporations including Intel, USAirways, PetSmart, and the Arizona Republic sent a letter to Pearce telling him to back off the vitriol and hate because it was having an adverse economic impact to the private sector.  Really?  You mean you found it difficult to attract business, hire qualified people, and maximize profits?  I am sure Major League Baseball chimed in as well because the last thing they want is mass protests outside the All-Star Game this July.  Russell Pearce needs to follow famous Survivor villain Russell Hantz to redemption island and then bye-bye.
The saga of American security contractor-state department employee-CIA agent-attaché-shooter Raymond Davis seems to be coming to a close in Pakistan.  As reported previously in this blog, Davis shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore when, according to U.S. sources, he was about to be attacked.  A third Pakistani was killed when he was run over by a State Department SUV responding to the shootout.  Davis has been in custody since the shooting earlier this year and has been playing the role of bargaining chip between the two governments and the two intelligence agencies: CIA and ISI.  On Wednesday, Davis was freed and returned to US custody after settling a blood feud with the families of the victims.  This Blood money is reported to be in the millions of US dollars.  This incident will only further increase tensions between the two countries as the US tries to crack down on the Taliban on both sides of the Pakistani-Afghan border.
The movie Waiting for Superman and the recent budget battles in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio, and other states have put a spotlight on the education system in this country.  Unions versus non-unions, public versus public/private charters, tenure versus performance, public employees versus private employees, and so forth.  I have written about this in the past, and what we need is to build an atmosphere of trust between all of the stakeholders.  This will require concessions and consensus and here is one observer’s opinion:
1)      Eliminate tenure and the bogus last in/first out. 
2)      Establish proper performance guidelines.  Education is not like professional sports where in one season the change in wins and losses can determine progress or decline.  Instead, it takes multiple seasons to ascertain if the culture of learning has taken hold.  We need to lose the sense of instant gratification and immediate results.  It doesn’t happen overnight.
3)      Once you know what good looks like, study it, copy it, and standardize your entire system and process on it.
4)      Teachers and administrators who get IT should be rewarded.  Lose the ‘everybody gets 3% raise’ and reward those that excel and eliminate those that fail. Pay for performance, it’s American and it WORKS.
5)      Get parents involved.
6)      Emphasize writing and speaking for all.  They are the cornerstone of success.
7)      Establish magnet schools that bring out the best in students and naturally attracts their skills and talents.
8)      ScienceTechnolpgyEngineeringMathematics = STEM
9)      Create critical thinkers and nurture them as they are tomorrow’s leaders.
10)   Bad teachers need to be fired.  In our bizarro world, it is easier to disbar a lwayer or suspend a doctor’s license than it is to fire a teacher.  Get real.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nukes, Coke, and Neocons


Thanks to The Economist and the World Nuclear Association for publishing this table that represents the comparative amounts of nuclear-electricity producers and the % of domestic electricity coming from nuclear power.  Clearly the U.S. is the world's leader in nuclear powered electricity with 20% of the electricity coming from this source (Coal is king, followed by natural gas).  With our nuclear facilities aging, we need to continue to invest in modern technology, improve safety and efficiency, and limit our consumption of finite fossil fuels.

Have you noticed how orderly and composed the Japanese people have been during the last 4-5 days of tragedy?  No riots, no looting, no police beatings.  Instead people waiting patiently in line for hours for food and water, people volunteering to cut power consumption to avoid blackouts, people giving up what little they have to others in greater need, and people not looking to assign blame.  Now I realize that I have not seen 100% of every piece of footage and I am sure there have been some unpleasant occurrences, but I believe the Japanese people possess a level or discipline and order not readily seen in other cultures.
Cocaine was found at the Kennedy Space Center.  Hit it Doc:
a)      Perhaps now we know what happened to Major Tom?
b)      The Byrds sang about 8 miles high and falling fast
c)      Never knew cocaine was used for zero gravity simulation
d)      NASA gets the fun white powder while Congress gets Anthrax
e)      I didn’t know NASA was part of the Minerals Management Service
f)       Rocket Man burning out his fuse up here alone
g)      Houston…snifffffff….we have a problem
I see Lynn Cheney, Dan Senor, Bill Kristol, and other chicken hawks have sent a letter to President Obama urging us to establish a no-fly zone and begin bombing targets in Libya.   You may hate the UN and the Security Council, but going it alone has proven to be a disaster for this country.  Even with France and England on board, there is no support from Germany, China, or Russia.  But what is most disturbing is the messed up concept that a no-fly zone is an aseptic alternative to war.  It’s not.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why are Conservatives so tough to like? Let me count the reasons.

Allen West, freshman Republican congressman from Florida was on Fixed News this weekend going on about how we should be using the brand new state of the art courtroom in Guantanamo Bay to hold military tribunals, not only for those currently imprisoned on the island but also for the recently captured 13 Somali and 1 Yemeni pirates who took part in the murder of four Americans on February 22nd.    The 14 pirates were recently indicted in Norfolk, Virginia by a federal grand jury on piracy charges.  West, a decorated veteran, referred to the pirates as ‘Islamic Pirates’ and they shouldn’t have been sent to Norfolk, but to Guantanamo Bay because they are enemy combatants.  Clearly West believes this pirate attack, is different than the hundreds of other attacks in the Indian Ocean, because these are really part of the war on terror.  Colonel, you are better than that, or maybe I am wrong and you are just another Conservajerk.  Though, if I do accept West’s logic, does that mean that the war against in the Barbary Pirates of North Africa (…to the shores of Tripoli) in 1801 was actually the beginning of the War on Terror? How old is Dick Cheney anyway?
A lot has been said about the burden of unfunded state public pensions and the anchor they will have on state finances if governors aren’t allowed to take actions.  What no one is talking about is the increasingly precarious state private pensions now find themselves.  The little-known federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. insures roughly 27,500 corporate defined-benefit pensions, covering 44 million U.S. workers, and according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) both the Single-employer and multi-employer plans are in danger of failure.  President Obama wants to grant the PBGC the power to increase premiums on the riskiest companies in the respective plans (currently Congress has to do this on behalf of the PBGC).    Of course the Chamber of Commerce, the Republican Party’s Personal PR firm, is against the President’s plan because government shouldn’t be deciding the relative default risks of firms under PBGC oversight.  But isn’t that exactly what FDIC does for banks and thrifts under its jurisdiction.  Or perhaps the Chamber just figures Government and the U.S. taxpayer will bail out these firms too?
Did you know the US government spends $20Million on unemployment benefits for people making over $1million/yr?  But let's be sure to go after Big Bird and Planned Parenthood.
Joe Barton (R-TX), the BP apologist is still defending the $47Billion in subsidies the oil industry gets from the federal government.  I am almost speechless, all I can say is you suck Barton.
Batshit Bachmann has been on the talking circuit with her cue cards and clipboards going on about how the Affordable Care Act included $105Billion of ‘hidden’ appropriations and the law must be defunded.  The best response came from Alec Vachon, a former Republican congressional staffer and healthcare consultant: "It's a bill -- the text is public. Is Congresswoman Bachmann saying there are no House Republicans, members or staff, who can read a bill?"  Perfect.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bachmann and Cliff Claven: One in the same.

With Michelle Bachmann’s recent troubles with American History (a) the founding fathers worked diligently to abolish slavery and (b) the shot heard ‘round the world took place in New Hampshire, I took the liberty to identify TEA party heroine’s next historical mix ups:
1.      Remember the Alamo was about the government takeover of the car rental industry.
2.      The Continental Congress use to meet at Newark Airport.
3.      The Mason-Dixon Line is a railroad route.
4.      Federal farm subsidies go as far back as Plymouth (MA) Plantation.
5.      The Underground Railroad was the first NYC subway and it was built by great patriots who hated taxes.
6.      The Missouri Compromise was when major league baseball put teams in Kansas City and St. Louis.
7.      The Articles of Confederation were Robert E. Lee’s and Jefferson Davis’ civil war correspondence.
8.      The Harpers Ferry Raid by John Brown was in response to the PTA in nearby Harpers Valley telling parents what snacks their kids were allowed to bring to school.
9.      The Spanish-American War was fought when the US Government mandated that Spanish became mandatory in the public schools.
10.   The Transcontinental Railroad linked North America and South America through the Panama Canal and that’s what brings so many illegal aliens to America.

Sunday Talk Show Recap - March 13th

Nuclear Energy in the spotlight on the talk shows in light of the growing disaster.  What we witnessed was a breakdown of all redundant systems required to maintain temperature controls for the critical fuel rods.  With five reactors in jeopardy we are witnessing a systemic failure of risk, health, and safety controls.  That being said, it is too soon to condemn nuclear energy, as it was too soon to condemn off-shore drilling following the Deepwater Horizon failure in the Gulf of Mexico.  But we must understand the causes of these failure modes, and improve our controls to prevent further failures, improve detectability, and minimize severity. 
New short term continuing budget resolution to keep the government going for another three weeks.  Guys, just get the real deal done, but don’t do it piecemeal.  What will it take for our two and four year cycle politicians to take a long view and create 10 and 20 year comprehensive strategic plans that consider energy, entitlements, defense, education, tax code, regulation, science, and healthcare? 
Mitch Daniels, Indiana Republican Governor and potential 2012 Presidential candidate, was on Meet the Press saying that Congress needs to focus on fiscal issues and less on the nickel and dime issues.  Did you hear that Mr. Boehner?  Daniels went on to say “Don’t offer what you can’t pay for.”  Perfect.  Unfortunately Mr. Daniels was Bush’s Budget Director when that administration started two wars and approved the prescription drug benefit law.  Hmmm.  I like Daniels, and his support of Richard Lugar, and here is what I blogged about him back in December:
Indiana Republican Governor Mitch Daniels is getting some notice as a potential presidential candidate in 2012.  Although the odds are against him, he could carve out a patch of support from the moderates in the GOP.  As Governor he has shown innovation in the form of a statewide wellness program while balancing the state finances through a mixture of tax credits and tax increases, often pissing off both the Democrats and Conservatives in the state legislature.  He will probably get skewered by the social conservatives and the Grover Norquist clique for even talking about tax increases.  He is worth keeping an eye on.
Donna Brazile and George Will agreed (I know!!!) that the President is right to let others take the lead on this no-fly zone in Libya.  More shockingly, George Will echoed what Diggapedia has been saying since day one:  Who are these rebels?  This marks two weeks in a row that Digg and Will have agreed.  Sure sign of the Apocalypse?
Best inside story from ABC’s Jonathan Karl: Michelle Bachmann plans on running for President.  Oh happy days.  Where can I contribute to her campaign to make sure she gets the nomination?  Someone will have to get her a map and history book and hope she studies better than Palin in 2008.
I love listening to Republicans like Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) agree that revenue increases are necessary, but won’t call it tax increases, they call it tax reform.  Make no mistake about it, tax reform will result in winners and losers and many will be seeing fewer tax deductions to go along with their reduced tax rates.  Kudos to Mark Warner (D-VA) for having the stones to say that entitlement reform is necessary. 

Someone needs to tell Bill Kristol that oil is not a substitute for nuclear energy and vice versa.  Only Marty McFly and Doc Emmet Brown use nuclear energy in their automobile.  Why does Fox continue to push its bogus talking points that our gas prices are going up because we don’t drill enough here?  This is why they cannot be taken seriously.
I love the war chicken hawks at Fox: Kristol and Perino who have no clue about international relations and what happens when the US intervenes in ANOTHER Muslim conflict.  Kristol the same guy who said we would be welcomed as heroes in Iraq.  Perino the same ditz whose boss Bubba Bush led us to this situation in the Arab world. 

NPR is David and Oil is Goliath, plus Peter King is a tool

I could take the Republican plans to cut federal spending if they weren’t fixated on Planned Parenthood, NPR, and PBS.  Do you know what it costs every American to fund PBS and NPR?  Would you believe $1.35 each yr for PBS and NPR is $.35?  As a comparison, here are some corporate welfare allocations being paid for by US citizens:
Oil Industry = $137/yr
Coal Industry = $27/yr
Ethanol Industry = $20/yr
Farmers = $17/yr

I agree that the U.S. Government should give up its funding for NPR and PBS, along with the gas oil, ethanol, and farm subsidies.  If I am a Congressional democrat or libertarian, I’d make sure they all go.  Though in full disclosure, I would maintain subsidies for alternative renewable and nuclear energy, as these industries are critical to our comprehensive energy policy and will be suffocated by the oil and gas industry without government intervention.

Looks like the EU, NATO, Arab League, African Union, and US listened to Diggapedia and have realized they need to get on the same page to intercede in the Libyan crisis.  With the Europeans and Africans taking the lead with implementing the action and with the US pressuring China and Russia, the best solution is within grasp.  Nicely done Mr. Obama and your intelligence, state and defense departments.
Dateline Wisconsin: Governor Walker and his fellow Republicans in the legislature deserve a political attaboy for how they played the recent battle with the Democrats.  Conversely, the absentee Democrats who went to Illinois ended up as political losers.  Of course these comments are based on the short term gains made by the GOP at the expense of the Democrats.  With recall campaigns underway on both sides, a major Democratic mobilization, and a drop in Walker’s popularity, this story is far from over.  On Saturday protesters were back in force at the capitol and Madison Police estimated the crowd at 85,000 to 100,000 people — along with 50 tractors and one donkey — by late afternoon.  A donkey?  I guess that makes sense when the governor’s an ass.
Five Fairbanks-area residents involved in a loose-knit militia group have been arrested in connection with a plot to kidnap or kill Alaska state troopers and a local judge.  I look forward to Representative King’s hearings into the growing radicalization of white militias.  Of course that won’t happen.  With regards to last week’s hearings, if Mr. King took this approach: Hearings into how the U.S Government can work with the Muslim community in identifying radical elements and preventing future terrorist attacks (48 out of 120 Islamic threats were brought to the authorities by members of the Muslim community).  Now that sounds collaborative and not targeted.
Dana Loesch, Tea Party mouthpiece was on Bill Maher Friday night spewing the usual talking points and drivel.  When the question of federal funding of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) came up, Loesch fired back with the usual TP (yeah word association I think of bowel movements and rectums) attack “Where in the Constitution does it say government can and should be funding the arts?”  It’s called Article One, Section 8: provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; and To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.  But applying Loesch’s logic, I could also say where in the Constitution does it give Congress the right to determine what marriage is?  The right to decide that a woman can’t have an abortion?  The right to decide when life begins?  The right to decide when schools should be closed?  The right to declare Daylight Saving Time?
We have a democratically-elected representative republic that we elect in two and four year cycles and a judicial branch to determine constitutionality.    Ms. Loesch if you feel so strongly about federal funding of the NEA, then file a complaint and take it to the Supreme Court.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

If airlines were like Wegmans, people would like them a heckuva lot more

Shout out to America’s greatest supermarket, the Rochester, NY based Wegmans; Fortune magazine’s number three best company in America to work for and home of 1,505 employee ‘likes’ on facebook.  It’s amazing how many people I run into who have been in a Wegmans and still rave about it.
After watching Yael Hersonski’s documentary ‘A Film Unfinished’ about the Nazi cinematographers who were dispatched to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 to create a propaganda film depicting Jewish haves and have-nots in the ghetto, I feel the double sucker punch of what they perpetrated AND how they tried to show the world that they trying to help European Jews or at least build a false image in response to the rumors of death camps and persecutions.  Coupling this movie with the recently rediscovered 1970’s film the Voyage of the Damned, I am left with the audacity of the Nazis to film their despicable acts and then try to spin an alternative yarn.  Never again.
Thanks to Becky Quick from Fortune magazine for this one.  Which item has the most federal tax and fees: (a) A can of Budweiser, (b) a carton of Marlboro Reds, (c) a Smith and Wesson centennial revolver, or (d) or a roundtrip ticket between Chicago and St. Louis?  Shockingly it is (d), when a $151 airline ticket actually costs $185 to cover all of the taxes and fees; a 20% markup.  But don’t cry for the beleaguered airlines, they are already lining up the next set of customer fees: increased bag checking, priority boarding, weather-related trip insurance, and premier seating with additional reclining.  By the way, the airlines nabbed $22Billion in revenue in 2010 from fees over and above the base ticket price.  Oh so that’s what they mean when they say trickle down.
Seriously, this country has worse short term memory than Leonard from Memento.  I could feel the hairs on the back of my next stand up when I read about the latest Wall Street investment vehicle:  The Synthetic Junk Bond Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO).  That’s right the same jokers who brought the world the synthetic CDO based on Mortgage Backed Securities have moved on to bundling junk bonds into tranches for investment.  I am sure the ratings agencies are already warming up their AAA ratings stamps.  Fool me once….
Courtesy of the Department of Energy, to help avoid the confusing comments about our sources of energy to power the country’s electrical grid, I present the following numbers for 2010 (in ,000 Megawatt hours):
Total: 4,120,028
-      Coal: 1,850,750
-      Natural Gas: 981,815
-      Nuclear: 806,968
-      Hydroelectric Conventional: 257,052
-      Other Renewables: 168,144
-      Other: 55,300
Irrespective of what is going on in Japan, I believe we need to increase the portion of our electrical grid from nuclear and continue to develop renewable sources from solar and wind.  Did you notice that oil doesn’t show up?  That’s right we have little petroleum-based fuel supporting the electrical grid.  Now, to power our transportation grid, that’s another story.

Things I learned recently:
-        Waves on the open seas can travel 500 mph, the same as a jetliner.
-        The one nation in the world with a female majority in the national parliament?  Rwanda.  Amazing isn’t it? 
-        Daylight Saving Time was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784

Friday, March 11, 2011

Palin coming to Arizona: Dig these thoughts

Have I been in a nightmare or did I hear that Sarah Palin, if she decides to run for the Presidency, will establish her campaign headquarters in Scottsdale.  My top five thoughts on this story:
5)            Wolves in Alaska celebrate; Coyotes in Arizona shit their pelts.
4)            The Brewer/Palin Clusterf__k in the Desert
3)            The blue hair snow birds who love her will stick around all year…bad for road safety good for early bird dining
2)            Palin and Medical Marijuana = Baked Alaska
1)            Palin claimed that the Affordable Care Act included death panels, ironically she is moving to a Republican-controlled state that is implementing death panels.
              

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Who wants to buy an F-15?

Shameless is the best show on TV.  Now that may be first season interest and euphoria, but the writing, directing, and acting is tremendous.  And Emmy Rossum has entered Mila Kunis level of Diggapedia fandemonium.

In one week, Sarah Palin has taken on Kathy Griffin and Bill O'Reilly.  Who's next Hulk Hogan and C. Everett Koop?  Big Bird and Robert Gates?

Would you be shocked to know that the Department of Defense has told Congress that it plans to sell $103Billion of weapons overseas while the average from 1995 - 2005 was $13Billion/year?  Did Obama win the Nobel Peace Prize?  More on that later.

Southland's fabulous season finale was Tuesday and that show is one of my favorites on TV.  NBC let it go to TNT during the botched Jay Leno show era.  TNT: please bring it back.  Regina King is awesome.

I am going to say it again: there is nothing wrong with being pro teacher but anti- tenure, pro choice but anti-abortion, pro soldiers but anti-imperialism.  It's called the middle.

Had a lengthy debate with a self proclaimed libertarian; turns out if you muzzle the extremes most Americans are very close to what is right, fair , and smart.

What is wrong with extracting union concessions and still maintain the union's right to negotiate?  I am not pro-union, but the presence of unions is necessary. 

If you like Mumford and Sons, check out Middle Brother.

Kings of Leon was yesterday.  Avett Brothers are today.

Now that we're keeping Gitmo open I have a few people I would like to send

Another new Republican governor is missing the point.  Newly elected Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is struggling to balance his state’s budget but like many of his fellow Republican’t state executives, he appears to be singling out education.  Corbett’s budget includes massive cuts to education, not just to teacher salaries and benefits, but to infrastructure which will impact the quality of learning.  "Education cannot be the only industry exempt from recession," Corbett said. "We need to change the whole system. We need a new set of priorities: child, parent and teacher -- and in that order."  For starters Corbett, education isn’t an industry, if you think it is, you are sadly mistaken.  Education is a long term investment, and while throwing more money at a problem doesn’t necessarily solve it, you can’t cut your way to success.
Pundits and politicians are asking for the President to enact a no-fly zone over Libya and some are even suggesting we begin arming the rebels against Gaddafi.  Meanwhile, the President has continued his calls for the Libyan dictator’s resignation while working the coalition angle behind the scenes.  Obama is correct in waiting for a coalition of NATO and Arab League leaders to jointly take the lead in establishing a military buffer.  As for arming the rebels, I refer to Butch Cassidy, as portrayed by Paul Newman, “Who are those guys?”  Do we know anything about these rebels?  What do they stand for?  Are they secular?  America’s foreign policy all too often relies on ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ theory and we saw how well that worked out for us when we armed Osama bin-laden and the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets.   We also need to be careful about urging citizens to stand up to their authoritarian leaders only to leave them high and dry when we fail to act just like we did in Iraq after desert storm.  For once, let’s not rush into that region guns-a-blazing and mouths-a-running.
I know many on the left are disappointed that President Obama has suspended his plans to close our detention center at Guantanamo.  In fact the President, via executive order, has reinstated military tribunals to try the ‘enemy combatants’ still in custody.  With a Congress unwilling to allow the transfer of prisoners to the mainland, the President had no choice, not that he had an appetite for a long drawn out battle with the neocons and the conservative wing of his own party.  Liberals are disappointed, but there simply is no appetite by Congress or the American people to change the Bush strategy. 
While James O’Keefe, of Acorn and Mary Landrieu infamy, and the GOP are trying to embarrass NPR and cut its federal funding, one fact seems to be lost in the mix: NPR only gets 1-2% of its funding from the federal government.  Cutting it won’t help the budget gap and how does that help with job creation? 
Beijing Barbie gets foreclosed while Kowloon Ken is last scene on the ferry headed to Macau.  That’s right Mattel has pulled the plug on its Big Barbie venture in China citing poor sales.  Mattel joins Best Buy and Home Depot as recent American giants that failed in China.  No word where Barbie’s Pink Bus is headed next.
Looks like negotiations are underway in Wisconsin between Republican governor Scott Walker and the absentee Democratic legislators hanging out in Illinois.  The governor’s 1st offer from Sunday was rejected by the Democrats in hiding, but it does represent a step in the right direction.
As reported in this space earlier this week, Representative Peter King will be holding hearings about the radicalization of American-born Muslims.  King has come under fire for his previous ties to the I.R.A.  Mr. King said: “I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel. The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States.”  He said he does not regret his past pro-I.R.A. statements. The Irish group, he said, was “a legitimate force” battling British repression.  Clearly one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.  Further, King says he backed the I.R.A’s efforts to end British rule in Northern Ireland, while fellow Conservatwat Mike Huckabee implied that when the native people of Kenya fought to end British colonial rule during the Mau Mau revolt, these freedom fighters were the bad guys.  Same empire same half-century.  How can they both be right, but can they both be wrong?  More on that later in the week when the hearings start.