Tuesday, October 28, 2003
CIA Leak May Violate Patriot Act
Talk about unintended consequences.....

Which Came First, the Chicken Hawk or the Egghead?
This week Paul Wolfowitz, one of the Bush administration’s most vocal and fervent proponents of preemptive war, probably came as close to combat action as he ever will. In fact, he now has, figuratively, more stripes on his sleeves than almost all of the administration’s top decision makers. For most of them, their closest brush with injury has been that of slipping in the shower.

He was in residence at the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad when a half-dozen or so rockets struck the building, causing substantial damage and several casualties, including the death of an American Colonel—the highest ranking fatality so far. Dr. Wolfowitz was not injured and will be able to continue applying his intellectual skills to the weighty problems of U.S. foreign policy.

His resume, like those of his colleagues, is stunningly impressive. As Deputy Secretary of Defense, he is living proof that one need not have military experience at all in order to play a major role in the forceful occupation of a country and the overthrow of its government. But few of our top past national leaders have had extensive military experience; most have served in a limited capacity for a short period of time. Abraham Lincoln, for example, who prosecuted the most disruptive and perilous war in our history, only served for a few months in a state milita.

However, we pay a price when the conduct of our national policy is in the hands of those who are so distant from street-level reality. They often can’t see the trees for the forest, and more likely see only treetops, with little or no awareness of the roots. With regard to our involvement in Iraq, they proclaim that we are in for the long haul no matter what the price; but somehow, to me, they are uninspired and dispassionate when addressing individual losses. In fact, I believe that some of the self-annointed outside of the administration feel secure enough to be coldly unapologetic about the losses. They seem to dismiss them as unfortunately necessary with only the slightest brush of regret. William Kristol, of the Weekly Standard, immediately comes to my mind.

The experts who have spent years intellectualizing and mulling over the dream of transforming the Middle East into a political and commercial paradise have helped plunge us into a horrible conflict that has no end in sight, and one from which we cannot easily detach ourselves. For them, the dream is too close now to let it slip away--and they will not let it. This is at last the performance of the big show that, until now, has been stuck in endless rehearsal. There is no plan for failure, no plan to leave. That is why I sometimes feel sympathy for those who naively say we should hurry up, finish the job, and then get out. Somehow, we are told, we are making America safe by what we are doing, but it is hard to make the connection.

They are now being criticized for not having provided an appropriate exit strategy. But who needs an exit strategy anyway when an exit wasn’t part of the plan in the first place?

Monday, October 27, 2003
Is it Just Me, Or is it Stupid in Here?
This evening, Bill O’Reilly proudly reported on his Fox News program, The O’Reilly Factor, the results of an internet poll of his audience. The respondents were asked to state whether their movie viewing choices are affected by the political views of the actors in the movies.

Ninety percent of them (remember--O’Reilly Factor viewers) reported that the actors’ political stands did influence them in their choices. We are reminded that it is not a scientific survey.

You could have fooled me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Back From the Northern Territories
I have just returned from a short visit to New England, which I probably should remind some in these parts is not located in “Old Europe”. Following the usual chores and rituals attendant to getting back from a trip, I spent a little time catching up on email.

I tossed out those that continue to offer me male enhancement. I canned one from a lonely Russian woman who is looking for an American husband. She says that the men in Russia lie to their wives, drink too much, and beat them. So why is she looking in east Tennessee?

Then there is the one from a government official in Nigeria who who is offering me a two-million dollar fee to park twenty million dollars in my U.S. bank account in order to protect the money from confiscation by corrupt officials there. He only needs to know my account number to make the transfer. I understand that the average loss for those who fall for the scam is about $5,000.

I finally got to the good ones. There were several from friends here and abroad, as well as a few from people who have read my blog page offering both encouragement and criticism.

Among the blogger sites I checked in on, SKBubba in particular caught my attention on two items. One had to do with the lawsuit against, among others, the publishers of the brutally graphic video game series “Grand Theft Auto”. He has some good points on the matter. Such games do very little to cultivate a true sense of achievement for kids who play them, since they can’t ever win with closure. There is always yet another level of play that goes where? To another level. It’s the same as they said of pinball machines when I was a kid—the only thing you gain from winning is to keep on playing (OK, sometimes you did win a little money or a pack of cigarettes).

I’m not inclined to accept too quickly the idea that kids play these games and somehow get stripped of their sense of right and wrong. If it were that easy to influence them, then perhaps we should try to develop games called “Cut the Grass”, and “Take Out the Garbage”. I personally believe that a lot of kids simply don’t have the sense of accountability they should have, since they have not experienced real consequences for their inappropriate or destructive behavior.

Bubba’s second issue of interest to me had to do with the dropout problem in Florida’s schools. It is, of course, a problem in every state. I have written on this subject before (9/27/03), so I won’t rehash it here. The point is that, every time, vouchers are dragged out as a viable solution to these problems when, in fact, they are practically useless as an improvement tool. No well-run business would ever resort to such tactics of abandonment in order to improve its operational quality.

This is a topic of special interest to me that I hope to take up more in future writings.

Thursday, October 16, 2003
Playing for Time With Thiry-Nine
Today President Bush gave another televised speech—this one in California in an appearance with Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger. The topic was the War on Terror (I suppose by now it is appropriate to capitalize it).

As I listened to his remarks, I realized that, until he mentioned this morning’s United Nations resolution concerning a timetable for Iraqui self-governance, I could not honestly have said if the speech was live or a replay of one previously delivered. For me, it is becoming hard to tell.

The familiar phrases describing our military victory, our post-conflict progress, our resolve to defeat terrorism, and our willingness to sacrifice is uncomfortably beginning to sound less like inspired, reassuring oration and more like boilerplate text. In addition, most of the appearances are before gatherings of military personnel, defense contractor workers, or the faithful of his party.

He continues to assure us that we are on the hunt, we’ve got them on the run, and we will not fail. He continues to proclaim the glory of lives lost, with no mention of the bravery it will take for the survivors who must make their way through life with missing limbs, blindness, paralysis, and disfigurement. He continues to associate Islamic terrorism with Saddam Hussein while still offering no tangible evidence.

Occasionally, but not very often, I have a twinge of sympathy for Mr. Bush. After all, he did ask for the job (incidentally, if Al Gore had walked across Tennessee with a plaid shirt on his back and a forty-five on his hip, we would be discussing his troubles now).

The President and I, and, for that matter, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore, are contemporaries who took different paths in life, although for some of us the path was wider, not as rocky, and had better accomodations along the way . We grew up in the South during a time of its own conflicts. Many churches supported missionaries to save the souls of blacks in Africa, yet their American counterparts were often discouraged from attending the same white churches. American patriotic values were defined in terms of the Cold War, and most of us believed in the simple idea that the world would be transformed by emulating our way of life.

No doubt we believed that all of our opponents in the world would succumb to superior military and political interventions. But now we find ourselves up against a perversion of a religious ideology that, for its militant followers, is not of this world and is difficult to deal with in customary ways. They are politically and geographically amorphous, and are not constrained by international boundaries. For them, there are no rules of war.

So, with each passing day, President Bush is probably becoming more aware of the consequences of confidence without capability, and of acting on bad advice. Until he figures out what to do that is best for all of us--and I truly hope he does-- I suppose he’ll have to pull that same old speech number 39 down from the shelf and move on to the next engagement.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Many thanks to South Knox Bubba for the kind words and inclusion in the RTB.
Monday, October 13, 2003
Say It Isn't So, Rush
On the street they say payback’s a bitch. In the light of his recent troubles with addiction to and alleged illegal trafficking in pain medication, Rush Limbaugh probably couldn’t agree more.

All of us, out of Christian charity (or Muslim, or whatever), should have compassion for one of us who has trouble with drugs, especially the thousands of our citizens who are sitting in jail right now for the same transgressions with which Mr. Limbaugh is accused. It remains to be seen how his situation will be handled, especially in consideration of recent efforts by our law enforcement leadership to put even more drug abusers in jail. With that plan, those who benefit the most are the contractors who get to build and run prisons, although we are expected to believe that society is the real winner.

His supporters are really in a bind trying to trowel over this mess. The regulars on the talking-head show circuit continue to trot out the “but Clinton (fill in the blank)” excuses, when in reality they have the cart before the horse. This is what it is like when you have to drink from the bitter well that you yourself have poisoned.

For me, this is only one example of why the whole neo-conservative crowd is still not yet ready to provide effective leadership for our American society, let alone the one-party rule that they so desperately covet. They consistently preach doctrine and make policy that ignores the consequences that may be found just around the next bend in the road, then follow up with rosy reports of progress that conflict with facts.

In looking after their own, they also have shown a tendency to abandon their wounded far earlier than most Democrats and so-called liberals have tended to do. Ask Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, and Trent Lott what it’s like to lie beside the road watching the party wagon disappear into the sunset. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, got far more loyalty from his supporters than he ever deserved.

Don’t worry, Rush. There are plenty of your comrades on the self-righteous right who are ready to step in and help out while you’re away. After listening to them, it seems that Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham top the list of those willing to pick up and carry the torch. I’d put my money on Ingraham—she is relatively new, and hungry, and has all but patented sarcasm, which always goes over big.

So, keep treading water, Rush, but don’t bleed into it.

Friday, October 10, 2003
Krauthammer Explains Saddam's Real WMD Plans
Weapons of Mass Destruction, take two..or three..or, what the heck--plug in a number.

In true Neo-Con style, Charles Krauthammer continues to nibble around the edges of this issue looking for a soft spot to sink his teeth into. I continue to wonder if he and his cohorts actually believe that Saddam Hussein really was a madman poised on the edge of taking over the world, or are just working backward trying to bolster an already-made decision to transform the Middle East into a true democratic (with a little "d") Garden of Eden.

Briefly, he suggests that Saddam focused on maintaining the infrastructure to produce WMD's, but shied away from actually storing the end products, which is why they have not or may not be found. The idea was to keep the infrastructure in place so that just-in-time production could be employed. Evidently no precursor materials have been discovered yet, either. Are we to assume that he would wait to be invaded before placing an order for materials with, say, some French or German chemical company? I have this picture in my mind now of a UPS or FedEx truck racing toward Baghdad, weaving in and out, around and through a long column of Coalition tanks, to get there before they do.

Realistically, there are many suspected sites to be checked out and who knows how many others not yet known about. No reasonable person would refute the importance of a substantive find; in fact, it would go a long way to make us all feel better about what has taken place.

For my part, I can't believe that Saddam would entertain such a hare-brained idea, although I've seen some almost as bad from some very highly compensated American business managers.

David Kay is now heading up the search effort. Remember him? He's the one who locked horns with Scott Ritter, the inspector who was roundly criticized for going to Iraq and cozying up to the regime. Ritter made the sweeping and hard-to-believe statement that there were no WMD's. There is probably no one in the world that is more motivated to uncover something than Kay.

Meanwhile, if Saddam had any such weapons, he may have dispersed them throughout the region as soon as the invasion began and he realized that he would not be needing them anymore. He had to understand that his regime had no chance of survival against the overwhelming force of the Coalition.

CLICK HERE to read Mr. Krauthammer's article.

Thursday, October 09, 2003
For Yasser Arafat, Is the End of the Road Near?
“Kill the chief! The others will lose the will to fight and will run away.”

When I was a kid, I heard that in a lot of the action films our parents took us to see at the local drive-in theater. The line coming from John Wayne’s or Clark Gable’s character didn’t give much credit to the hundreds of rank-and-file Indians or African natives who were bent on finishing off the unwelcome intruders. Usually someone would put a slug through the chief who, unlike modern military leaders, was riding right out in front. Sure enough, that would be the end of the battle and the rest of them would disperse.

History has proved to us that such a scenario might work for the movies, but doesn't necessarily characterize real life—General Custer would probably agree.

Today all of the news outlets are reporting a rumor that Yasser Arafat is terminally ill with stomach cancer. It is a credible possibility, considering reports from his staff that he has been suffering lately from a bout of stomach flu, or something similar.

If true, this will be good news to the many people who want to have him dead anyway they can get it. Some in the Israeli government have openly and unashamedly talked about assasinating him. The idea of preemptively knocking off undesirable heads of state or factional leaders has come to be much more acceptable than it once was, as long as a plausible reason can be made palatable to the public. These days that is not terribly difficult to accomplish. Statesmanship the Godfather way.

One must wonder what some world leaders and pundits are thinking when they opine that if only Arafat somehow disappears, then the Palestinians will beat a path to the conference table, ready to get serious about peace in the region. It could, in fact, signal a release of the genie from the bottle. The same could be true of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden when they are finally found and dispatched, if they haven’t been already. As long as they are unaccounted for, they might as well be alive and in charge.

Once these men are gone, there could be a rush to fill the voids by a younger leadership that is more committed, less patient, and far less discriminating. The old leaders did not get old by blowing themselves up, as these younger men and women have shown that they are more than willing to do. They may sweep past those who are generally believed to be next in line. No one can predict what will happen.

Hopefully all of those with a vested interest in the outcome of this high-stakes chess game have spent some nights pacing the floor instead of being warmly tucked in, sleeping the sleep of the righteous.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Another Expert Weighs in on Outsourcing
Lester Thurow, Professor of Economics in the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, appeared on CSPAN’s Washington Journal this morning to discuss globalization of trade and the world economy, as well as his new book, “Fortune Favors the Bold”.

He is a well-respected economist who is unmistakably a capitalist and, on first inspection, appears to be right-leaning, but broad in his perspective (like those old-style conservatives that I have referred to in a previous writing). He is critical of not only the Bush administration, but his predecessors as well. His main concern with the current administration is the inconsistency and “ad hoc” nature of its economic policies.

If I understand him correctly, he feels that our current leadership lacks a clear plan to manage the proliferation of outsourcing. In his words, American businesses are constantly scanning the globe in search of the lowest possible production costs, particularly labor, with savings not necessarily passed on to the consumer. They likewise scan for the most lucrative markets for their goods and services. I call it “being blinded by the light” when there is a headlong rush for profits without sound strategic thinking. I had some comments on this subject in our 9/30 posting.

Dr. Thurow warns that the problem is now moving upward to the highly-paid professional jobs in our economy—that jobs in the low six-figure range are now realistically threatened. Up to now it has involved the loss of lower wage jobs of workers who are short on political clout and voice. He cited a news organization, who he did not name, that has moved 4,000 jobs out of New York City and into Asia. He also said that numerous “back-office” functions such as billing, collections, and accounting have been moved overseas by hospitals and medical insurance providers. Remember when it was only manufacturing jobs?

Western nations may not be in the driver’s seat for long, due to the emergence of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is similar to the European Union.

At one point in the CSPAN program I did get irritated with Dr. Thurow. A caller from a southern state complained that he was in danger of losing his tomato farm because of foreign competition. The response was that perhaps he should think about doing something else that is more competitive. What? Like making computer chips? Or making pharmaceuticals? Fact is, there is almost nothing that is insulated from foreign competition except perhaps retail. But much of that is even foreign-owned.

I may have misunderstood him on that point, and probably did, since I am not an economist and speak only a few words of Economese. On balance, I found him to be interesting and intriguing, and I intend to learn more about his ideas. I would encourage others to do so as well.

CLICK HERE for information about Dr. Thurow.
CLICK HERE for the CSPAN website to view/listen to the program.

Monday, October 06, 2003
Saturday, October 04, 2003
Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, was a guest on this morning’s CSPAN program, Washington Journal. The discussion, of course, centered on his effort to keep the 5,280 pound monument containing the Ten Commandments (dubbed Roy’s Rock) on public display in the State Supreme Court rotunda. Pending resolution of the matter, the monument is secured in a closet elsewhere in the building and Judge Moore is on a vacation, courtesy of the state of Alabama.

He appears to be an intelligent, honorable, and well-intentioned man who is as knowledgeable in Christian doctrine as he is in the secular law. Early in the program, he declared that the issue is simple and straightforward—whether the state may acknowledge God. However, later in the CSPAN program, he cited the fact that the State Legislature, among other bodies, routinely invokes the blessings of God prior to their proceedings (so do other federal bodies as well). This seems to undermine his contention that display of the monument is necessary for the state to acknowledge God.

In addition, he remarked that there is plenty of statuary to be found in and around state buildings that depict Greek and Roman gods. That is a non-issue, since they have everything to do with art and culture, and little to do with religion. I doubt that you or I know of anyone on his deathbed calling out to Zeus or Athena for help, although it is possible. In the end it is pretty clear who most of us look to for consolation.

After some thought, I fail to see a problem in restoring the monument to the rotunda. If it represents a statement of commitment to moral law, then most of us could use a dose of it. You must admit that the Commandments are pretty good guidelines, and fairly general ones at that—something for everybody. Except for “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, which obviously causes problems for the atheists and some polytheists, the other admonitions, such as not to steal, covet, or kill are ones we all can agree are good for society as well as the soul (for those who believe they have one). Even the atheists--and I have known quite a few--are very concerned about law and order. Besides, shouldn't a transgressor have had better exposure to these scriptures long before ending up in court, where, by then, it's a bit late for instruction? By the way, can we rely on the testimony of critically important witnesses to grave crimes who have sworn to tell the truth “so help me God”, if they happen to be atheists who do not believe in the existence of God?

One has to wonder, though, that if the Chief Justice were a Muslim, for example, or perhaps a Buddhist, could he or she order another, different monument to be placed? It is inconceivable that such a Justice would even try. This controversy is simple in that it involves a choice to place or not to place. Think of the uproar that would result from the idea of choice between symbols of two or more different faiths. In the end, every judge comes into the courtroom with a set of morals and values that could influence rulings, but they must be constrained within the neutrality of the law and focus only on the matter at hand.

It is often pointed out by Judge Moore’s supporters that our country was founded on Christian principles by God-fearing men of almost saintly judgment and vision. They will always be regarded (and certainly by me) as truly great pioneers, but they could not foresee what our society is like today any more than we can envision it two centuries from now. Fact is, they were real people with both virtues and flaws who had had enough of colonialism and of being bled dry economically by England. Individually or collectively, they violated most of the Ten Commandments in the violence and turmoil that set this country on its course.

Some were active in church, some were ministers, some were atheists or deists. Some of them stole money or committed murder in the name of the revolution. By the time our country was established, one could not vote unless he was a white male landowner, and some Protestant groups were taxed. In addition, many of our founders owned multitudes of human beings who were enslaved and condemned to a lifetime of uncompensated forced labor and deprivation. We have what we do today only by improving and expanding on what they started.

Considering slavery alone, I refuse to accept the argument that they did not see it as inhumane, unfair, or immoral, or that everyone just accepted it as the way things were, since it ultimately proved to be the greatest single cause for our country’s only civil war—truly the worst military conflict in our history. It is also ludicrous to say that they did not regard slaves as human. No one today would dispute whether slave descendents today are human, so if it is true now, it was true then, and the slave owners were sadly mistaken if they believed otherwise. Besides, the story of the Israelites’ cruel enslavement in Egypt is portrayed clearly and unmistakably in the Bible that was read often by them, as we do today. There are also other accounts in the Bible of societies being overrun and enslaved. God could not condone slavery of any kind. I, for one cannot find any evidence of God's approval for slavery. It is sin.

One other point that is frequently offered is that the powers that be have seen fit to place the phrase “In God We Trust” on our money. Although many commendable things may be accomplished with money, that may be the last place worthy of bearing those words. Very likely, at this moment, somewhere, money is changing hands to buy drugs, secure political influence, to fix a contract, or to arrange the murder of someone.

Every day that the saga of Roy’s Rock has dragged on, there have been crowds outside the building yelling and screaming at each other, fervently praying, lying prostrate on the ground, weeping, and waving signs in the air. They are pro and con, with no middle ground. To the atheists and civil libertarians, and other cons: don’t worry—the idea of a tainted courtroom should help secure a defendant’s appeal. To the supporters of Judge Moore, and other pros: don’t worry about the forces of sin destroying our government, our society, our courts. Don’t worry about the State of Alabama needing to intervene. Remember, you have already told me repeatedly and with conviction, “Nothing can go wrong—God is in control.”

Perhaps the controversy itself is the controversy.

To learn more about Judge Moore's efforts CLICK HERE. Remember to keep an open mind--this issue is not as simple as it may appear to be.

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