Archive for November 2009

Shooting the Messenger

Well today was interesting as the talking heads were demanding the heads of the couple who crashed the White House dinner the other night, Michaele and Tareq Salahi.  I think what got them going is the rumors that the couple are shopping for interviews and trying to make money out of their 15 minutes of fame.  But as usual our media and all the bluster is missing the mark.  After all, isn’t 15 minutes of fame the American way?  Need I remind of that airhead Sarah Palin and her book, Going Rogue.  Truth and honesty are not a premium there, just outlandishness.  One might look at our own media to see the roots of this problem, but that is probably asking too much.

But what is really bad is that they want the book thrown at this couple to make an example.  An example to whom?  Al Qaeda?  they could care less what the penalty is for breaking and entering since they don’t plan to leave on their own two feet or even with their own two feet still attached.  Would it be an example to all those frivolous Americans who want to shake the presidents hand and get to meet the rich and famous?  I think a sizeable fine might suffice.

Yes what they did was to embarrass America and I thank them for it.  It pointed out that our security has succumb to looking good equates to being good.  It showed that we are lazy and we are afraid to challenge power.  It shows what a power circus Washington is and how good security including challenging those who look powerful has fallen by the wayside as we cater to the special people.  Without their little lark, a real hole in the President’s security might still be there and our over confidence would just be carried on until something really bad happened.  So I thank the Salahis.  Maybe it is time for a little review of procedures that the press or no one else pointed out until the Salahis waltzed in and met the President.  It keeps us all honest.  I hope they get some interviews and laugh at the press who wants to string them up because they found a gapping hole in our security that the press, who has become some of the special people, couldn’t find.

Holding Teachers Accountable

Since it is Thanksgiving Day, I would like to give thanks over the years to all the teachers that made me think.  I didn’t particularly like them at the time, but now I realize what a great gift they gave me as they forced me to think about things that were hard or at that time not particularly interesting.  I am an engineer now so my thinking is fairly linear.  That is I go from A to B to C.  But when I encountered English literature, this skill was not very useful.  That is when I really learned how to think.

Literature and writing made me analyze things about human nature and I started to find out that some of the most important things there was to know was captured not in my science books, but in great literature.  There is no way, left to my own devices, that I would have entered this world that so expanded my horizons without teachers who forced me down that path, who taught me discipline, and to start asking why instead of how.  And today I owe each and every one of them a giant thank you.

So this morning I picked up the New York Times (actually I read it on my Kindle) and I read how Mayor Bloomberg of New York City is going to start hold teachers accountable for test scoring.  Tenure will be granted or withheld based up each teacher’s classes performance on standardized tests (Mayor Says Student’s Scores Will Factor into Teacher Tenure).  Now this sounds like a great idea and I am sure many of you are saying, “Finally, we can hold these teachers accountable.”  But not so fast.  Let’s use some of those critical thinking skills to evaluate this.  As I like to say, the devil is in the details.

Now if you are looking at some form of manufacturing process, then we can certainly judge our process by how the end product matches our specifications.  So why can’t we apply this to teachers.  Well maybe we can, but not in such a simplified manner.  Manufacturing processes depend upon standardized input.  Said another way, if each batch of steel is very different from each other, one standardized process is not going to produce the same output each time.  Measuring the final product on varying raw materials will not tell you much about the process itself.  So is with teaching, only ever so much more complex.

I speak about this from second hand experience.  My wife has been a high school teacher for over thirty years and she has described how the “clientele” has changed over time.  We started out with a fairly homogenized group of kids from middle income families, and have moved to having a large portion of the kids having English as their second language.  And more than you would like to think, they come from broken or extremely dysfunctional families and the social pressure from peers, TV, drugs, sex, you name it, is completely different than what we remember.  Where I was hesitant to challenge authority, it is the norm now.  Just getting kids to do homework is a challenge.  Parents themselves are more and more dysfunctional and teachers walk a fine line to avoid inflaming them and then facing the political fallout of the squeaky will gets the oil (read politicized school boards).

So here we have this chaotic mix of problems that a teacher has no control over, and then we want to hold them accountable for our children’s learning byutilizing st andardized test scores.  The reality is that their effectiveness can be measured by many factors, test scores just being one indicator.  My wife took on a class of sophomores in high school who had failed everything they took as freshman.  She got through to about a third of them.  I won’t burden you with some of their tragic lives.  So would that be a failing batting average?  I think it was heroic considering what she faced.  She is ready to retire now because the system has just worn her out.

So my argument, as with so many things I argue here, is that the problem is much more complex.  Sure you can consider test scores, but only in context with the whole environment.  If there are bad teachers, every one in the school knows who they are.  You don’t need test scores.  This push to utilize test scores to identify poor performing teachers is a way to quantify and make it appear objective. It makes firing them easier. The problem is that this over simplified approach will punish many good teachers.  It will just be another disincentive to teach.  And of course, it will be an incentive to focus on the scores, manipulate them, and to avoid the real learning that is hard to measure, learning how to think critically.

So as politicians appeal to the masses who like simplified solutions to problems that aren’t simple and won’t be solved by this “small town” thinking, I think about all the teachers who go to work every day and deal with reality and the ugly side of our society.  And I thank them from the bottom of my heart.  Their hard work made my life a wonderful thing to live.  Thank you just doesn’t cut it.

Meandering to Nowhere

I sit here wondering where our President is and what he stands for.  I know that there are important issues with our foreign allies, hence the trip to China, India, et. al.  But most Americans are really focused on the issues at home.  We are facing some of the most important choices in our history for our future and the President is missing in action.  Oh, I know, he is pushing the health care reform, but with what details?  The devil is in the details and as Howard Dean said the other day, the reform bill will not control costs, that has been stripped out of the bill except for the Public Option, and Congress is hell-bent on stripping that out.  So where is he?  Meanwhile President Obama seems to just want a bill.  That is not change.  This is business as usual.  We elected a fighter, and we got an accommodator.  Anybody think accommodating the status quo is going to bring real change?

There has been a recognition lately that the real savior for our economy may be clean energy.  Thomas Friedman (What They Really Believe), Bob Herbert (Signs of Hope), Nicholas Kristoff, and others have all written about this in convincing terms.  But as both Tom and Bob have laid out, where is the commitment?  I have argued many times in this blog that if the economy is going to come back in real terms, that means the middle class prospers, we have to find something we are going to sell to the rest of the world.  In the last bubble, that was our debt, packaged into nifty investment packages that broke the bank.  The answer is clean energy which whether you believe in global warming or not, is going to be in high demand as the world population soars and oil gets more and more expensive.  We are the nation that could lead the world, and we do nothing.  If you want the market place to work then you have to make clean energy competitive and as a nation we fail to face up to that reality and opportunity passes us by.  So where is the President on this?  Calculating what we could maybe get by the status quo defenders instead of pushing for a bold new way forward that just could pull us out of the doldrums of recession.

But what has really got my attention is the latest on Afghanistan.  Apparently President Obama has decided “to finish the job”, and the rumor is 30,000 more troops.  A couple of warning flags come up here.  First the politically pleasing tough talk and the fact that he is picking a military audience to deliver his way forward.  Where have we seen this act before?  Once again our fearless leader is caving in to what is the politically safe way forward instead of the road of hard choices.  There will be no winning in Afghanistan as long as we continue to mischaracterize this war as a war on terrorism.  It is a civil war and the primary “threat” is the Taliban and unless you have been asleep, these guys are Afghans.  It is a no-win situation, but as usual, we are taking the easy ride, unless you are in the military and have to carry this burden.

But more importantly, we are getting promised a free ride again.  As Ed Shultz pointed out on his show, if you think this is a good idea, are you willing to pay an additional $20 a week in taxes that this thing is going to cost?  I would say even more to the point, open up the draft to everyone from 18-50 years of age.  You think winning an unwinnable and strategically unimportant war is important, ante up.  Oh you will see such back pedaling.  All those chicken hawks who never fought anywhere, will suddenly see the light if they personally have to pay the price.  Once again he is accommodating too many views instead of looking into our future and leading us into a whole other direction.  Where is the leadership?  Where is the courage?

As Thomas Friedman wrote last Sunday, if we keep selecting sub-optimal solutions we are doomed as a country.  Right now governing from the middle or the middle right is doing just that.  Thinking outside the box is scary, but if we are to move forward, selecting old solutions to our reoccurring problems is not going to have a different effect this time.  What we need is a leader who can clearly describe a new way forward and have the courage to sell it, not try to accommodate those that offer us failed ideas.  They didn’t work then and they won’t work now.  Halfway attempts at reform are just running in place and we are going nowhere.

Parenthood

I watched the news this weekend, and to me if you don’t turn it off you will go postal.  It was the same old arguments, saying the same old things, and nothing ever changes.  In a nutshell, Democrats caving in to Conservadems or chasing a few moderate Republicans to produce a compromise that isn’t change, and Republicans crying, “the sky is falling” and using fear to maintain the status quo.  Or, and least I forget it, the press being led around by their noses as they cover this never ending drivel that masquerades as debate, failing to challenge the fear mongering or how the compromises will make the bill less effective.  Meantime we have the Palin saga, where the country has mistaken celebrity worship for leadership.  It is as if we have become the National Inquirer Nation.  As Tom Friedman so well said this weekend, if we keep settling for sub-optimal solutions to our problems, sooner or later we will no longer be a great nation (Advice from Grandma).

So I turned to drama and newspapers.  It seemed that there was a theme out there about adopted children seeking their real parents.  The first was an episode of Lie to Me, where some 16-year old figures out he is not the natural son of his parents and then rejects them to go looking for his real parents.  The other was the story of how DNA testing is showing that more fathers than you would like to believe are raising children they had no idea weren’t theirs.  In one rather disturbing tale, this poor guy finds out his daughter isn’t his, divorces his wife, but still pays child support after his wife marries the father.  Go figure. (New York Times, Who Knew I Was the Father).

Now these stories about how it affects the relationship between the child and the adoptive or deceived parent drive me nuts.  I have an iron in this fire as I am an adoptive parent.  I adopted my girls when they were five.  One is no longer with us, killed by a drunk driver, but the other is still my little girl even though she is long grown up.  I just don’t get the blood thing.  He/She is my blood so I have to stand by them, but if they are not, well then the knot that binds is not so permanent.  Really?  That is what I don’t get.  Once you take them in and take the responsibility to parent them, part of that is the unconditional love of a parent.  You love them with all your heart and who donated the sperm or the egg becomes quite irrelevant.

I guess there are two sides to this story and it is natural for an adopted child to want to know about his “real” parents.  One of my daughters did decide to look up her real father after she was grown.  I think she was disappointed.  There was no there there.  To me parenting is about being there, about being a parent not a friend.  It’s nice when you can be both, but at certain stages of their young lives, that creates havoc.  It’s about that unconditional love thing I was talking about before.  And here is what is really key:  You need to be the Rock in their lives.  You may be old, and old fashioned, and out of touch, but you represent some stability in this chaotic world.  You are there.  I love all my children, and I just can’t understand how you can parse it by where they came from.

I guess it is nice to think that you are part of that Rock, genetically.  But there are some serial killers out there that didn’t get their evil from their gene pool.  They got it from how they were raised and loved.  I think that being a real parent is what you give your children in love, self-confidence, and dare I say it, morals.  How they approach life is a reflection on whether you should be anointed parent.  I am blessed.  My children are fairly happy and strong.  They like a good adventure.  They know whatever they happen to stumble over, we will be there for them while we can.  That is parenthood.  Forget the genes, unless you have a medical crisis.  Who the hell was there for you through all those tough times?

The Big Tent Fallacy and Other Democratic Foibles

The Democrats like to distinguish themselves from the Republicans because they can tolerate diversity.  The present course of the Republican Party to purge moderates is touted by Democrats as the Republican’s big weakness and they will only appeal to a small minority.  That is true, but it makes them effective legislators because they can stick to message, albeit an unpopular one.  But what the Democrats are missing is that when their tolerance of diversity in public policy gets to large, it is their big weakness.

Right now the largest segment of our voting population are the independents, I being one of them.  I think the reason for that is in some sense the problem with the big tent.  When the tent gets too big, as it has recently with Conservadems (the press likes to call them moderate Democrats and they are anything but that) and Lieberman, it is unclear what Democrats really stand for.  They then loose cohesion and appear, and are, ineffective as legislators.  So why vote for Democrats who are all over the place, and can’t seem to get anything done?  In a word, Democrats are losing their identity and becoming more associated with the status quo in Washington than a populist party that looks out for the little guy.  More about that in a few paragraphs.

If you look at what is happening in Congress right now, the Conservadems are driving the train and defining what Democrats stand for, hence my departure from the Party.  So bills get watered down to be almost ineffective to get passed, and people become more frustrated with Democrats as ineffective and not bringing the change they promised.  It would be better if they decided who they were, then if they lost votes on important legislation it would not be because members of their own party are really Republicans, and it would give voters clear choices.  If Democrats want to be an effective voice for change and their agenda, then these faux-Democrats need to be purged from the party or ignored as a fringe element instead of the final voice on legislation and defining who the party is.

They can still be a medium sized tent, but some things are sacrosanct if they want to be Democrats.  The first and foremost is that you never side with Republicans to support a filibuster against your own party.  The next is that Democrats have always recognized a woman’s right to choose.  We will welcome you into the party if you are against that right, but you must understand that as a Democrat you can never vote to use government to impose your religious belief on others.  Democrats do not believe in inserting religion into politics and government.  The right to chose is just one example.  And here is really a basic tenant of the Democratic Party that this Administration and Democrats in Congress seemed to have forgotten.  Democrats represent the little people, not corporate America.

Now that’s a party I could believe in, and would put forward legislation that support these values instead of watering them down to be a conservative bill that most of us don’t even recognize any more so they can claim success.  But with their own members putting sticks in the wheel of progress, the Democrats have no one to blame for their failures but their own Party.  Sure the Republican all voted against their policies, but so did some of their own brethren and that what the voters will remember.  Dump them.

The other foible is epitomized by an interview I heard on Ed Shultz of MSNBC yesterday.  This is what will be the Democrats demise if they don’t change their tune quickly.  Ed was interviewing Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., about whether the economy would be better with someone other than Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary.  Ed basically chastised her when she offered that the GDP was increasing and things were looking up, basically defending the Administrations lack of progress on jobs.  Ed pointed out to her that she sounded like she was defending Wall Street and wondered if Democrats have lost touch with reality out there as the average guy is hurting and nothing is improving.  He pointed out the Republicans were sounding like the defender of the working guy as they lamented the Administration’s failure to create many jobs, and Democrats were sounding like the defenders banks and investment firms as they continue to defend policies that aren’t helping much.

Now the reality is that the Republicans did everything they could to make the stimulus ineffective and if the Democrats could find their backbone and really offered a jobs bill, they would be against that too.  But that is not the point.  The point is that the Democrats defending of the Administration’s refusal to do anything about the jobless numbers while being held responsible for bailing out Wall Street by supporting Geithner and his failed policies is making them be perceived as the defender of the status quo.  If they don’t turn that around quickly, there will be a massacre in 2010.  Some Democrats are stirring and starting to understand their vulnerability, but if they don’t start reasserting who they are and what they believe in, then they will become as irrelevant as the Republicans.  And things couldn’t be any worse than that.

The Myopic Government Hater

“If the government is involved, it is screwed up.”  This is the mantra of the government hater.  Now we hear this a lot lately in the health care debate by the Republicans and Conservadems who are against the public option.  But politicians are not real government haters.  They are just gargantuan hypocrites.  They are the government and they love government because it gives them power and employment.  They just mouth the words we hate government to exercise the real government haters so they get their vote and then can then be held in the embrace of that thing they say they hate so much. Try to focus on the fact that they want health care reform if they can insert government into the decision about whether you can have an abortion, but want government out of health care decisions.  Remember Congress is the government at the very seat of power.

So what about that group that they are catering to?  Do they have a point?  The answer to that question is in the micro-sense yes, but no in macro-sense.  My experience with government haters is that they can cite you anecdotal instances where the government has made mistakes or created interference in their lives, but they never think about the big picture.  Here is a prime example:  I have a friend who is a farmer and hates the government and in a micro sense he has a point.  The government, in its interest to insure water quality, healthy employees, and a safe environment, has hung many onerous reporting and tracking requirements on farmers.  In my own case, I have to pay into a water district formed specifically for tracking pesticides in water even though I don’t use pesticides and didn’t cause the problem.  I have to report monthly any use of pesticides or herbicides, get a license every year, and the rules are staggering.  It is a pain.

But what he and others fail to see is the macro achievements of government.  He would not have water to farm if it weren’t for the government.  In California between the State and Federal Government, the projects they have built to supply water massively subsidizes water users.  He ships his fruit around the country and he fails to see that the Department of Transportation and the FAA as the institutions that make that happen, that allow Fedex and UPS to operate efficiently.  He got his degree from the University of California and does not see that without the government subsidizing his education, he could never have afforded it.  He fails to appreciate that regulation of herbicides and pesticides are what keep him from using effective, but deadly chemicals. It is the government that tracks pests around the state and institutes large eradication programs that keep his fruit safe.  He hates land-use restrictions by government and yet bemoans the loss of farmland.  And of course he would be the last to turn down Medicare when he is eligible.

In fact during the health care debate many Americans were saying keep government out of Medicare which was the ultimate example of this myopia about the effectiveness of government.  They have their eyes on their path in front of them, but they are not looking around to see who created that path or where it leads.  Of course government does stupid things, just like any organization.  Would we say those Master’s of the Universe, those paragons of capitalism, who ran the banking industry did not make major blunders?  Nobody is immune.  The problem is not government and regulations, it is stupid regulations which we can fix.

Here is a prime example.  The State of California is concerned about business and tax revenue lost to internet purchases that may have a cost advantage because many of the businesses do not collect or pay California sales tax if they do not operate in California.  So California did a stupid thing.  They decided to put the onus on the consumer to report and pay that tax.   Really?  Each of us is going to set up and auditing system so every time we decide to use Amazon.com, we are going to track that cost and report and send that tax to the State?  That is what is required by current law, and it is patently stupid.  But is all government bad because some misguided representative thought this was a good idea?  Fix the bad stuff and focus on all they do bring us that we need and demand.

The future is not less government, and those that think so have forgotten how we got to be the greatest nation in the world.  But as the world is changing and the role government needs to play becomes more and more important, we really have to start thinking about smart regulation.  We need to look at the interests served in regulation and apply them in a way that has less impact especially on those who can least afford that impact.  Example:  If California wants its sales tax, then guess what?  This is a national problem.  It is called Intra-state commerce and it needs to be regulated at the national level.  Trying to solve this by putting one more unobtainable requirement on its citizens is just stupid, not to mention ineffective.  Government by fear is never going to work.

So come on people.  You have to look at the big picture.  We need to fix government when it does stupid things, but without government to attack our really big problems, we are doomed.  Maybe in your little myopic world you could see how less government would make your life simpler, but then your little myopic world would not have been possible without government.  But government haters will never admit this.  It is too easily find someone else to blame for all their problems.  After all the market place will solve all our problems.  Who needs government?  Hallelujah!

A Minor Little Mishap in the Vineyard and What it Says About our Health Insurance System

I am sitting here with my leg in a brace, up on a footstool, looking at my medical bills and I can’t help thinking how this minor little incident could ruin someone without medical insurance.  I also am looking at the billing, paid for by my health maintenance organization (Kaiser), and marvel at how inefficient this whole system is. My little scrap with emergency medical care woke me up to why we need a single payer system. But let’s start from the beginning.

As many of you know, I am a small vineyard owner and there are always things to do in the vineyard.  Well about 5 weeks ago on a Monday, I went to play golf.  My plan was that a major storm (first of the year) was coming in, and although the cover crop (grass and clover) was well established to prevent erosion in the steep areas of the vineyard, there were some bare spots and I wanted to rake in some grass seed and straw.  So when I got home about 4 pm from my golf round with the storm moving in, I jumped on my ATV loaded with 50 pounds of grass and clover seed and went to work.  I was spreading and raking in seed and straw, and working my way up a particular steep area, when I turned and started to walk back down to my ATV, I slipped on the steep slope, and then the fun began.

When I hit the ground in a particularly violent way, I heard a loud pop and then I was kind of focused on pain in my knee for the next minute or two until it subsided.  I did not know it at the time, but this little slip resulted in a ruptured patellar tendon.  For those of you who are not anatomy majors, the patella tendon connects your lower leg (tibia) to the patella which is in turn connected to the quadriceps muscle through the quadriceps tendon.  In other words once it is ruptured (ruptured means either torn in two or completely torn off the bone), you have no way to extend your lower leg.  But after the pain had subsided I decided to try it and found that to be a very stupid idea.  So here I am sitting up now in my vineyard, my leg useless, it is starting to get dark, the rain is moving in, and I am immobile.  Now I tell you all this because I want you to understand that there was no way for me to get myself out of my vineyard.  So let the costs begin.

After a failed attempt to somehow get on my ATV after scooting down to it, I realized I had my cell phone, and for once in the vineyard I had reception so I called my wife who called 911.  I cannot say enough kind words about the fire and rescue team that showed up to get me out of there and to the hospital.  When they got there, they put me on a board, cut off my pant leg, pointed out that my knee cap (patella) was now up in my thigh, started an IV, and then pushed some morphine because as they said, I am going to need it when the shock wears off.  Then six of them carried me down to the ambulance and delivered me to the nearest hospital about 6 miles away. $593.78 ka-ching! And since these guys were county workers, I am sure that cost was heavily subsidized already.

I was delivered to the local hospital emergency room (Marshal Hospital in Placerville) where my knee was evaluated, x-rays taken, saline solution started along with something to control the pain.  They put my leg in a brace to stabilize it.  I was there about 4 hours until my primary provider (Kaiser) could send an ambulance there to transfer me to their main hospital in Roseville, about 45 miles away.  Cost for the emergency room care:  $6,055.20, ka-ching! Note costs are still rolling in with the latest being the radiology clinic so I am not sure this is the final number.

I should mention that it is common to send one home in a brace and then have surgery a few days later when it can be scheduled.  The nurse at Marshal said that this might be the case and went to get some crutches.  But when Kaiser decided to accept me and perform the surgery that evening, she took the crutches back and said that is good thing because they would be billed at $600.  I was looking to see where the DVD player must be installed on the crutches for that price.  As an aside, both my crutches and cane were manufactured in China.  Oh yeah, when these costs were billed, they were listed under OB/GYN.  I called Kaiser to make sure this billing to them was correct and they seemed unconcerned.  I wanted to confirm that my insurance wasn’t paying for somebody else’s baby, but I never did get a warm and fuzzy that they cared.  The cost were definitely billed to me and I had an accident on that day so it must be right.  Okay the ambulance showed up and they loaded me for the trip to Kaiser in Roseville, about 45 miles away.  $1532 ka-ching! I am being billed $50 for this as a co-pay which I think is a steal.

So by the time I had arrived at Kaiser’s emergency room at 1130 pm that night, about 6 hours after the initial little slip in the vineyard, I had incurred costs of a little over $8,180.98.  The rest of the real costs I will never see.  This included my surgery early the next morning, the full time recovery nurse they assigned to me in recovery, the drugs prescribed for pain, the crutches they gave me, the new flexible brace when they removed the staples, the physical therapy, the cane they issued me (I actually had a $4 co-pay on this one), or the follow-up visits with the surgeon.  Oh, I also had to pay a co-pay of $50 for my ambulatory surgery, and every time I show up for an office visit a co-pay of $15, and some similar fee for drugs, but the real costs are hidden from me and covered by Kaiser.

The final piece was a letter notification to call Kaiser’s Health Recovery office to see if someone is liable and they can recover their costs.  I wonder what this costs in administration costs and lawyer’s fees.  I was thinking they could sue the golf course since if I had done this earlier in the day, maybe I would have worn my work boots, and not have slipped.  Golf is a terrible addiction and someone ought to be responsible.

So what are the lessons learned here to be pondered while one has his leg elevated?  First, if you don’t have insurance, get somebody to drive you to the hospital.  That is a sad lesson isn’t it? I can imagine how painful it would have been to get into the car assuming my wife could have carried me there.  Second how much of all these costs were attributable to covering people that they have to treat in emergency rooms that don’t have insurance?  Third, what is the cost of all that cost accounting and billing?  Fourth, if we are not worrying about who is responsible, but getting good care, could not those costs pay for more people to be covered?  Finally, what would have the impact of these costs been on a typical vineyard worker who doesn’t have insurance and also probably can’t work for 12 weeks?  And that is assuming he could find someone to do the surgery for free.

I am very lucky.  I had excellent care every step of the way, and the kind of work I do can be done from home.  It was just a little speed bump in our very comfortable life.  But this minor little scrape in the vineyard could have ruined a less fortunate family.  Is this any way to run a railroad?

Fear

Let’s see if I have all this right:  We can’t close Guantanamo because if we move these dangerous criminals to our shores, they will escape and wreck havoc.  We can’t try the Guantanamo held terrorists in federal courts because they might get off and be walking around eyeing your kids.  And don’t forget that they will make those courts terror targets.

Then we could start on health care reform.  Don’t allow people to have end of life care counseling because it is really death panels.  Grandma will be denied care.  Costs will balloon out of sight.  Medicare will be gutted.  The government will be between you and your doctor (as opposed to an insurance executive).  Socialized medicine, Canada, Europe, be afraid, be afraid, be afraid.

Next is cap and trade, a bill to control greenhouse gases and start us down the road to clean, green, energy.  It will be a tax on every person.  It will ruin business and make us uncompetitive.  It will make the recession worse.

Let me not leave out the recent Stimulus bill and banking reform.  The Stimulus bill is just a big government giveaway that will make things worse.  The deficit will balloon out of control and we are all doomed.  It will make us all dependent on government when the only real job creator is the market.  On banking reform bill, it is a new world and passing of this will restrict our banks ability to compete.  Government is taking over everything.  Even though the private sector has almost destroyed our economy, put the reins of recovery bank into the same hands that caused problem, because government is bad and taking over everything.

Sooner or later the average American has to wakeup and recognize that we are facing problems that yesterday’s solutions caused.  Unleashing the market place was like releasing a bull in a china shop.  Clearly the market place is our engine of prosperity, but the old less rules, less taxes caused a catastrophe.  So we are looking for ways to move forward and what you read above is what the opposition party is putting forward as ideas.  Be afraid and be paralyzed into inaction so that those that have keep.  No solutions, just change nothing.

We have a two party system for a very good reason.  Nobody has the one true solution.  It is the synergy of discussion and criticism that results in a way forward that is carefully weighed against the pro and cons of that approach.  Every issue is complex and there is always a darkside so every choice.  There will be winners and losers as we select our way forward.  But we no longer have a two party system and rational dialogue has died a painful death.  The Republican Party is a party of fear.  That is all they have to offer.  Oh, I know, they say lets approach this in a bipartisan manner.  But the reality is they want to once again impose the old failed solutions on our problems and expect a different outcome next time.

So what is going on here?  They are using fear to paralyze action.  They don’t want solutions, they want the Democrats to fail.  Then the unruly masses will put them back in power because the Democrats weren’t able to affect change, and we are on the same merry-go-round that we have been on.  Look at what has happened in Congress.  They have stymied every attempt at reform or change because if it works, they are gone.  And it appears to be working.  The electorate are unhappy with the Democrats and may “throw the bums out” if the economy doesn’t get better even though they will be electing those that brought us this mess, that is what they will do.

So here is a suggestion that maybe could get us off this political merry-go-round.  We should be asking about policies.  When someone launches with be afraid, go back to the root issue, and ask what is your plan forward and how would it address those problems. How is that different from what we did before and why would it work this time?  It is called critical thinking.  We should be electing people based upon their policies to solve our problems, not by party, or their inability to institute their policies because the other party has become the party of no.  We need to get rid of the party of no so we can find out if these solutions would really work.

That doesn’t translate to re-elect Democrats, but to re-elect those that will really bring us change, not false hope.  There are just as many Democrats as Republicans bought by corporate America.  But if we as voters don’t take a critical look at policies, not just the fickled state of the economy at any particular time and decide by its health, who should be in charge, we might finally get off this treadmill of changes parties, but never changing ideas.  I can hope.  Right now the Republicans are getting away with be afraid, and we have no one blame but ourselves for cowering in the corner and refusing to try change.

Who are the Real Americans?

If the last couple of days do not tell you how fragile democracy is then you are really asleep.  I happen to think that our Constitution is one of the most significant documents of political thought in all of history.  Its impact should far outstrip even the Bible.  It tells us who we are and includes everyone with equal rights.  It is the greatest document against tyranny and injustice produced and implemented on our small world.  And what really amazes me is those Constitution thumping conservatives and hawks have so little understanding of what it really means.

What I am referring to is the shock and dismay shown by these “true Americans” that we are going to allow the 9/11 terrorists at Guantanamo to be tried in our court system instead of some kangaroo court in Guantanamo:

It is “inconceivable” that the U.S. would bring the alleged terrorist masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks to New York for trial, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Friday.

“Yesterday’s decision sends a mixed message about America’s resolve in the fight against terrorism,” said Senator John McCain, “We must bring terrorists to justice in a manner consistent with the horrific acts of war they have committed,” he said in a statement.

John Boehner said, “This decision is further evidence that the White House is reverting to a dangerous pre-9/11 mentality – treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue and hoping for the best.”

Of course it is a law enforcement issue John.  Our military campaign has been a futile exercise in attacking countries when Al Qaeda and terrorism has no country.  All we have done with your stupid simple minded military approach to terrorism is to create more terrorists.  If only the way you saw the world were that simple.

Here is what you need to focus on.  The Founders were fighting mostly political tyranny, but they also recognize religious tyranny (it was the Enlightenment after all).  What they wanted was a government that treated everyone equal.  Justice demanded that all parties be on a level footing.  They established due process and the rule of law so that governments could not decide that some people were special and did not have to worry about following the law, while others were less special in that they did not receive the rights and privileges of the anointed.  They had seen the British class system and the privileged nobility.  They had seen how religious affiliation could affect how you were treated and they attempt to form a government where, “All Men are created equal with certain unalienable rights….”.

So when you start to decide who our Constitution applies and who it doesn’t, then you are denying it’s most basic tenant.  Where do you draw the line.  It starts off simply, with foreign terrorists, but then you start the slippery slide of what to do with American terrorists, which by the way, we have already done.  What is basic to our political beliefs and the democracy we have as a result of the Constitution is that power cannot arbitrarily make these decisions.  The founders were well aware that if you start carving out exceptions, you no longer have those rights.  They are no longer “self-evident”.  Who decides who gets exceptions?

The misunderstand of our fundamental beliefs is epitomized by Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, and ranking member on the intelligence committee when he said, “These people don’t deserve the protections of our Constitution.  Right Pete.  Let’s string them up.  Oh, I forgot, that is what a trial in Guantanamo would do.

So here is what these foolish Americans are saying.  Our system only applies to those we think deserve it.  Since we have already decided these guys are guilty, lets have a kangaroo court in Guantanamo and then string them up.  More importantly, what they are afraid of is the world learning how we violated our own beliefs in treating these people and how far morally we have fallen.  But the problem is, to regain who we are, we have to quit acting like them.  The Constitution is the very document that defines us as different from any other country or people that have come before.  If we reject it now, regardless of the outcome, we are no longer a guiding light in the world or for mankind.  If we follow what these foolish little men want to do, we have lost our Constitution forever.

Showing a Little Backbone

Word out of the White House is that President Obama rejected the four plans the military were offering for our way forward in Afghanistan.  And we got that on top of the news that the Ambassador to that backward nation, Karl W. Eikenberry, said don’t send more troops basically because the government is dysfunctional (New York Times).  Now Ambassadors could be considered effete Yale or Harvard snobs, but this one was the general in charge in Afghanistan prior to becoming Ambassador.  It might also be said that the four plans were simply four different troop level increases.  That is real change isn’t it?

Maybe President Obama is showing some backbone on this subject.  If the way forward is a commitment of more troops and no light at the end of the tunnel, why do it?  The Republicans, of course, say do whatever your generals want.  Remember President Lincoln and General McClellan?  Had Lincoln listened to that moron, the Civil War would still be going on and we would still have the Union Army in the Virginia peninsula awaiting more troops.  I never can figure out why people think generals have some special way of understanding a situation that should be given more consideration than others.  These guys have careers that are about winning (mission accomplishment).  There is no other strategy.  It is mission accomplishment or retire as a light Colonel.  Cost benefit ratios are for the weak minded.  McChrystal was given a mission and it is not in his DNA to give up on a mission no matter what the cost.  There won’t be any failures in their record.  Are the fighting the Vietnam war again to in their mind right the record (John McCain)?  Do I hear the strains of “Charge of the Light Brigade”?

Here is the real issue that I think our President is wrestling with:  With a government that is corrupt and dysfunctional, and a war that will take at least 10 years or more to even begin to make progress, is this really in our national interest?  Republicans think in simple rather childish ways, so they will attack the President on “not supporting the troops”.  But like Vietnam, we may look back after the death of almost 60,000 and wonder why.  Oh I know, the fate of Pakistan and Al Qaeda will get conflated with the fate of Afghanistan, but remember the domino effect in Vietnam, or the conflation of 9/11 of Iraq.  It is the same hysterical, irrational thinking.

So what President Obama wants to see is a plan that gets us out of there, and what he is getting is more open-ended commitments.  That is the reality of the situation.  If you demand a win and you define winning as a stable democracy, well we are in for a 20-50 year war.  But if reality is allowed to creep in, then our real strategic interests in Afghanistan are minor.  A plan to let Afghanistan continue their civil war, let the chips fall where they may, and just control any incursion of Al Qaeda or any real threats to our national interests, is probably what we should be doing.  I don’t know if the military mind can wrap their mind around that.  It would mean abandoning grand plans for victory and a fifth star.  But a victory at what cost?  Not their problem.

But it is our President’s problem and with the real challenges that face us, the money could so much be better spent returning us to a prosperous nation.  And that’s not the real issue.  Go gaze on the Wall in Washington where almost 60,000, some of them my friends, are listed.  What is left of their lives is some letters engraved into hard cold granite.  And for what?  This is not an argument about winning.  This is an argument about waste, hubris, ego, and understanding real strategic interests.  A never-ending war in Afghanistan is futile and is all about the former and nothing about the later.  President Obama is starting to show a glimmer of political backbone.  We can hope.