Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hopefully it's just inexperience...

It was a big issue during the campaign…experience. Hillary used it against Obama, and so did McCain and Palin. He has no executive experience. The argument didn’t fly with the voters. Nonetheless, we now have a President who is in the first 10 days of office, and the first 10 days of being in charge of something. In this case, the chief executive of the world’s most powerful nation. I wondered how long it would take for that lack of experience to show, and now just 10 days into it and I have two examples.

First, the run-in with Rush Limbaugh. Someone in Obama’s administration needs to recommend that he NOT respond to any comment that a radio or TV personality or journalist makes about him. Barack Obama is the President. He will be criticized. There will be negative comments hurled his way. You don’t get down in the mud with them. Stay above it or else you risk diminishing yourself. He did it during the campaign by mentioning Sean Hannity, and now he is doing it by mentioning Limbaugh. I can’t remember a single time when Bush called out a journalist by name during his presidency, and there were plenty of opportunities. When you acknowledge the negative comments, you look weak. You look thin-skinned. You look overly sensitive, like someone who can’t take it. This is not reassuring when you’re the man who will have to deal with folks like Putin, Ahmedinejad, Kim Jong Il, Castro, Chavez and Bin Laden. If Limbaugh gets under your skin, how will you respond to these nuts?

And for the record, I saw Limbaugh’s comments and they weren’t that bad. He was taken out of context to be portrayed as someone who wishes the President an ill-fate. The portrayal was unfair. Obama should know this and let it go.

The second example is his recent interview with Al-Arabiya television. I commend Obama for taking this step. I think it’s good to engage the Muslim community, to reach out and maintain dialogue, to make it clear that the US doesn’t have a problem with the Muslim faith and that we’re not engaging in a holy war. In my mind, that can’t be stated enough. I’m sure Bush would have given such an interview if he was sure that the Arab press would have given him a fair shake. But that was a fat chance. So Obama had a good opportunity and giving the interview was a good thing, but what he said missed the mark. It was fumbled. It was a big-time missed opportunity.

Obama seemed to be apologetic for America’s actions. He said we were dictatorial and needed to listen more, among other things. He spoke ABOUT America, rather than FOR America and his comments weren’t exactly flattering but rather seemed to reinforce the inaccurate stereotype that the Muslim community holds towards America. I must ask: Why do we need to apologize to Muslims? Consider our recent history. We supported the Afghanis against the Soviets; we aided the Bosnians against the Christian Serbs; we supported the Chechens against Russian aggression; we rushed to aid the Kuwaitis against Iraqi aggression; we sent aid to the tsunami victims; we helped the Somalis; we drove Syria out of Lebanon; we helped broker peace deals between Israel and the Palestinians and, oh yeah, we brought liberty to 50 million Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. Did I miss something? Where exactly did we give the impression that we have a problem with, or don’t support the Muslim faith?

In the days after 9/11, Bush made it abundantly clear that we are not to condemn an entire religion based on the actions of a radical few. Yet the Muslim community developed the notion that Bush, and America, was against them somehow. Is this America’s fault? Or is it simple ignorance and a result of propaganda meant to stir anti-America sentiment?

Obama would have been wise to point out a few of the historical moments that I mentioned as a reminder to the Muslim audience that America has done some rather great things on behalf of Muslims. Instead, he chose to describe us as dictatorial, and suggest a “that-was-then-this-is-now” persona that HE will change. Worst of all, his words and general tone suggested that he views America and Arab nations on equal footing, that we are all on the same level and should interact with each other on such a level, that we should “listen” more and work to correct the mistakes of the past. Excuse me, Mr. President, but you’re talking about countries that mistreat women, are run by the theocrats, and have virtually no interest in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or freedom of the press, not to mention individual civil liberties. We are not equals and should never pretend to be until these things are corrected. Maybe, just maybe, these countries don’t like us BECAUSE of our liberties, the very liberties they deny their own people.

I was very disappointed in this interview. He was speaking directly to Muslims and he flubbed it. Tell them that America stands for liberty for all, for individual civil rights, for peace and prosperity. Tell them the things that the radicals won’t tell them about America. Tell them we want them to prosper and want them to be free to practice their religion peacefully, that we’re not waging war on Muslims, that we’re fighting the radicals on BEHALF of Muslims. But don’t tell them that we screwed up and HE will soon fix it. Good grief! It’s hard enough overcoming the radical propaganda without our own President giving it leverage!

Inexperience. Hopefully that’s the reason behind these missteps. Hopefully he’ll learn from it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vote "no"

Consider this post an open call for any and all members of Congress to vote NO on Obama’s proposed economic stimulus package. It doesn’t surprise me that Democrats are trying to spend billions of dollars, using the panic and fear over the economy as their motivation. It doesn’t surprise me that Obama is already breaking a campaign promise of not spending money if it’s not absolutely necessary. I knew that one was bull. What does surprise me is the willingness of Senate republicans to fall in line and help push this monstrosity through Congress.

Mitch McConnell is a coward. Can someone please find a conservative with a backbone to run against this guy the next time he is up for re-election!

So the Dems removed the millions earmarked for contraception. Great. They only did that because they got caught earmarking. But what about the money earmarked for community organizers? What about the $355 million earmarked for STD education? What about the half-billion earmarked to study the effects of climate change? Didn’t Obama promise no earmarks? The problem is that this is a “stimulus” package, which means that it is meant as an emergency measure to stimulate the economy. Obama says that two-thirds of it will be spent in 2 years. The other will be spent after. Simple fact: In order to qualify as stimulus it should ALL be spent within at least two years or else it’s not stimulus. So what Obama is pushing on the American taxpayer isn’t really stimulus, but more like an additional expenditure on top of our already overgrown federal budget – if the word “budget” can even be accurately used to describe what the people in Washington are doing.

The latest price tag, including interest, is $1.2 trillion. And not one single member of Congress can guarantee that this bill will create one single job. Yet, Mitch McConnell has yet to raise the slightest whimper of protest. This guy needs a bus ticket home…right now.

The central expense in the bill is a tax credit, or rather a government check, for the low income crowd. These are the people who don’t actually pay taxes but they will get a “refund”. $500 for individuals, $1000 for couples. He calls it a tax cut but that’s bull. You can’t cut someone’s taxes if they don’t pay taxes to begin with. Call it what it is…WELFARE!

Rebate checks were tried last summer and it did absolutely nothing to stimulate the economy. So Obama decides, “let’s do it again”. Then he wants to “create” jobs by building bridges and repairing roads and building windmills, or whatever. But still no one can guarantee any actual jobs will be created. So where is the money going?

Obama once said that we need another New Deal to get the economy back on track. The problem is that the New Deal didn’t work. FDR just spent a lot of money and the economy continued to sag. Why should we use that model for our current economic situation?

The only way to actually stimulate the economy is to cut taxes. How do we know this? Because it’s worked before. Reagan did it in the early 80s. Bush did it earlier this decade, and both times it worked. Cutting taxes leads to more private sector growth, which leads to more jobs, which leads to more private sector spending. If people have a job they have money to spend, they can maybe even buy a house. Private sector growth means HIGHER government tax receipts. Yes, cutting taxes actually leads to more government revenue. This is fact. And – for the record - $500 isn’t gonna do the trick. You don’t stimulate the economy without private sector growth and you don’t get private sector growth with high taxes and government spending. And you sure as hell won’t get it by giving the poorest Americans $500 because the poorest Americans can’t create any jobs with $500, hence the reason why Congress can’t guarantee job creation with this bill. It will be spent on basics and, like the rebates this summer, will be a mere blip on the screen of this recession.

Government spending doesn’t create economic prosperity. It has never happened before. Not once. NEVER! The government is ineffective at job creation. Big government means dependence on the government, and that only generates stasis. You don’t get economic growth with a static private sector. The private sector must be dynamic, it must spend and invest in order to grow the economy. This is as simple as it gets. Economics 101.

So unless a “stimulus” package involves drastic tax cuts it will not stimulate anything except more debt, bigger deficits, higher inflation. None of these things are good for the economy. Obama is about to make a big mistake. And we the taxpayer will eventually pay the price for it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Charles Krauthammer compares it to a doctor strangling a patient while simultaneously administering oxygen. That’s what happened yesterday when President Obama granted the EPA the authority to review California’s request to have stricter emissions and fuel-efficiency standards on the auto industry. To point out the obvious, none of our automakers are based in California.

Congress has already established federal standards for emissions and fuel-efficiency. This was done in 2007 under a Democrat congress. But California, and a few other states, wanted stricter standards so they applied for a waiver from the rules to impose their stricter standards. Bush refused, stating that federal standards should be federal and any changes should come from Congress to avoid undue burden on the auto industry. Obama has reversed that policy which now basically allows California – one state in 50 – to set the federal standard.

The auto industry says the latest move will be quite damaging to their industry because they will have to comply with two sets of rules. This means more cost, which means more expensive vehicles, which means more difficulty competing in a competitive market, which means sales will suffer. The US auto industry is already on the brink of collapse. They have been given billions in bailout money, most of it already gone, and they will no doubt be asking for more. The new rules just may end up being the death blow, should California get its way.

The double-speak is obvious, and perplexing. On one hand, Obama says the auto industry is vital to our economy and should get bailout money. Then he signs an order that effectively handcuffs them at a time when they can’t afford to be handcuffed. If bankruptcy for GM and Chrysler wasn’t inevitable before, it certainly is now.

I don’t think Obama is a dumb man, so I’m certain that he understands this. That tells me that he is so committed to the “undeniable” truth of human-induced climate change that he is willing to sacrifice major US industries to combat it. Which tells me that rejoining the Kyoto Treaty will be part of his agenda. Talk about economic disaster. In a time of recession, crippling US industry with Kyoto restrictions would be the financial equivalent of Hurricane Katrina. Hopefully that won’t happen for a while.

Bill Kristol suggested a simpler solution. Just increase the gas tax and offset it with cuts in payroll or income tax. That’s the more common sense method to decrease fuel use, thus cutting emissions and oil consumption. And even though Obama says his order is a step towards reducing foreign oil dependence, he has yet to make any effort or suggest support to increase domestic production, ie “drill, baby, drill”.

Instead he chooses to eviscerate an auto industry that is already hemorrhaging wildly. Well, I guess he said it best…”I won. I am the President”.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A disaster in the making...

My frustration grows by the day. Since leaving the military healthcare system I am reminded daily how big a problem we have with our private-sector system. I recently ordered a routine ultrasound study to evaluate a pain complaint. This patient did not have insurance, so was essentially cash pay. When the study was scheduled, the facility informed us that for a cash pay patient the cost would be $900.

Nine hundred dollars for a test that, in truth, only costs about $400 tops. So what’s going wrong here? I can’t really blame the facility. This is a common trend nationwide, especially in poorer urban areas. Those medical facilities who care for a large amount of indigent patients are often dealing with Medicaid as a primary payer. These particular patients share little of the cost for care, with the rest being reimbursed to the facility by the government program. The problem is that the government does not pay much. So the reimbursement is low, often to the point where the hospital ends up losing money. How is this loss recovered? Through private pay and private insurance. Prices are increased for these patients in order to offset losses elsewhere. Consider the emergency room, where care is often given for free (by law) and you can better appreciate how this can be a big problem. When hospitals lose money in one area, they have to find a way to make up for it elsewhere. And the problem is only getting worse.

Just this week I read that medicare reimbursement to physicians is due to be cut 21% by the end of this year unless Congress intervenes to stop it. If the cut happens, then medicare will be in danger of becoming another Medicaid program, where finding a physician to accept this insurance will be difficult and the losses will have to be recuperated from other patients. The result will be a loss of access to care in the community and patients will be left with going to the local hospital ER for primary care. This will increase costs to hospitals and the price of healthcare will go up for all of us. And since private insurance tends to base their reimbursement on medicare’s trend, the problem will be aggravated further.

One casualty of all this is the private practice physician. These are small businesses and the price of doing business is becoming too much. A friend of mine recently closed his private practice because reimbursement was dropping while costs – like business taxes, payroll taxes, and basic overhead – were going up. Several people lost their jobs and that community lost a good doctor. He now works as an employee of a local hospital, a trend that many doctors are following to avoid the crunch of the small business world.

Why is this bad? Because the private docs are independent. They are their own boss and thus have the freedom to help people who can’t afford to pay. They have the freedom to work out payment plans, discount prices or simply provide free care to people who truly can’t afford to pay. This freedom doesn’t exist for doctors who work for corporate agencies. And the healthcare community is becoming more corporate every day.

Here is an example: concierge medicine. The premise is that a private doctor establishes a contract with a subset of low-income, uninsured patients. For as little as $80 a month, the doctor agrees to provide unlimited care to the patient and family. Drugs, labs and radiology studies aren’t included and it only covers outpatient care, but these poor families at least have access to care outside the emergency room. The physician is able to cover costs, maybe even make a little profit. ER visits drop, alleviating the burden on the hospitals and costs come down for the rest of us. But this practice has been put to a halt in the court system by the insurance lobby who has sued, saying that the doctors in question are essentially providing insurance without a license.

Another example is recent rules among the pharmaceutical industry that prevents them from giving doctors things like free pens, free lunches, etc. I guess lawmakers want to keep the freebees for themselves. So drug reps don’t pay as many visits. Okay, except that often these companies provide doctors with drug samples that can help people offset the cost of their medication.

Come on! A little common sense would be nice.

The point is that there is an answer to our problem within the private sector, and I think if doctor’s had a little more freedom to operate that answer could be realized. Instead, we’re being squeezed out of the equation by the government and private insurance, who are slowly becoming the primary decision makers when it comes to health care.

Some may say that a government-run single payer system is the answer. I assure you all it is not. I just described a number of problems with medicare and Medicaid. Why on earth would we not assume the same problems with a bigger system? Such a system would mean the poor won’t pay for care, with the brunt of the cost absorbed by the middle class and above. Health care could become too expensive for those who weren’t impoverished. I already see it with Medicaid. If you’re not poor enough for Medicaid, then too bad for you. A bigger system would only mean that more Americans would fall into this category. Not only that, but access to care would vanish. The system would be flooded by people getting “free care”. As physician reimbursement drops so will the appeal of the profession, as doctors would essentially become government employees. Medical school enrollment would drop. Perhaps the schools would respond by lowering standards, or bringing in more foreign medical graduates, where education standards may not be ideal. There will be fewer doctors – many educated by lower standards - forced to see more patients, and the quality of care would diminish. Want an appointment to see your doctor? There will be a waiting list. Naturally, the government would respond as all other universal-coverage governments have…by rationing care. And then the real problems would come.

There is no easy answer here. But if we’re going to truly “fix” the problem it will mean some truly tough changes. Government programs created this, so the way I see it the government programs must go. Somehow, someway, medicare and Medicaid have to be phased out, with the private sector taking over. Give doctors more freedom, even to the point of allowing them to practice as private insurers. Eliminate or severely reduce taxes for private physicians. The money freed up from eliminating medicare/Medicaid could even be used to subsidize private charities that help the poor get care. So what if we give tax dollars to a local church if that church works as a non-profit agency helping people get medical care.

Folks, medicare is piling up a $50 trillion unobligated debt. This is an unimaginable number, more than three times that of America’s annual GDP. It’s a debt the government simply can’t meet. But instead of privatizing things, we’re talking about increasing the program and extending it to every single American citizen! Unbelievable!

A disaster in the making.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Early in the Obama presidency and I have to comment on a few things. As expected, he issued an executive order to close Gitmo prison within one year. No plan as of yet about the disposition of the prisoners there, but I was rather surprised that he put a halt to any trial currently underway. So the process is now frozen. I’m not sure what purpose is served by stopping the current legal process but I guess Obama has his reasons.

CNN showed a photo of Obama in the Oval Office, and triggered a discussion about his appearance. The photo seems rather simple with the new President sitting at his desk and talking on the phone. But they pointed out something interesting…he wasn’t wearing a suit jacket. Just a shirt and tie. What’s the big deal? Well, Reagan and GW both had rules that mandated the wear of a jacket while in the Oval Office. As for Bush Sr and Clinton, I don’t know. Obviously, the new President doesn’t see such a rule as important. As for me, hey I think it’s all well and good that Obama is charging in, rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. Good for him. So part of me says what’s the big deal? Let him be comfortable, right? Then again, it’s the Oval Office for crying out loud, not some rung-of-the-ladder cubicle at Tacky-Tech Industries. So part of me says you’re the President of the United States, put your damn jacket on and start looking presidential. What say you?

And then there was the most surprising thing of all. President Obama issued an executive order suspending the “Mexico City policy”, which was an order first implemented by Reagan that prevented the distribution of federal funds to international family planning agencies that provided abortions, abortion access or abortion counseling. So the Obama administration has now reversed that policy and soon federal taxpayer dollars will be made available to these organizations who – in one way or another – advocate or provide abortions for people in foreign countries.

I don’t get it. I’m trying to dig around and find a reason for US taxpayers to fund abortions overseas and I have yet to come up with something. Why, exactly, is this necessary? Are we now making it part of our foreign policy to advocate and directly support population control? And how, exactly, does this constitute appropriate and responsible use of taxpayer dollars? In times of economic uncertainty, when the treasury is straining to meet the financial meltdown, is it really wise to spend money this way? Is this really a top priority? I mean, this isn’t exactly a time of plenty. Shouldn’t issues like this take a backseat for now? We’re broke, but by God we’re gonna be sure abortions occur overseas.

If I’m being completely honest, I must say that the pro-abortion people are really starting to creep me out. The lengths they will go to ensure that babies are killed is making me more than a little uneasy. For example, they oppose the idea of charging someone with two counts of murder when they kill a pregnant woman, the so-called Lacy Peterson law. They don’t like it because killing a fetus should be legal. Yikes! It’s almost like abortion can’t be legal enough for them. Like they won’t stop at Roe v. Wade. Like they won’t stop until abortion clinics reach a Starbucksian commonality, with one on every street corner and the procedure as routine as a haircut. What started as “a woman has the right to choose” has evolved into an obsession with killing babies. It’s like the minute someone gets pregnant they can’t wait to be there offering her an abortion. Are you sure you want to have this baby? Are you sure? Because we can help you “take care of the problem”? Creepy. Kill more babies! Kill more babies! And now, killing babies in our own country is not enough. No, they want to spend money to ensure babies in foreign countries are being killed as well, even if we can’t afford to do so at this time. Afford it or not, priority is priority. It really is a creepy, creepy thing.

Pro-choice? I don’t think so. That implies that they respect a woman who chooses NOT to have an abortion, and Sarah Palin was a perfect case study of how that’s not playing out. Had she aborted her youngest child, the feministas would have been much more welcoming of her onto the national scene. Safe, legal and rare? Yeah, right. Hillary introduced this one as the new kinder, gentler pro-abortion slogan. “We just want this to be a safe, legal and rare thing”. The hope is that people like me – who believe abortion equates to murder – would be okay with it as long as it is rare. As if the rate of occurrence determines the morality. Less common, more acceptable. Rare equals right. To this I respond: If a fetus is not a human life, then why should killing it be a rare thing?

The pro-abortion folks now seem to have taken the that’s-a-good-point strategy. Why SHOULD it be rare? Let’s not make it rare. Let’s advance the killing of babies to a higher level. Let’s take our cause overseas. And, hey, since we’re culling the herd, why stop at the unborn fetus? Why not infanticide? Geriatricide? Pedocide?

Creepy. Creepy. Creeeeeepy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

inauguration day

A few thoughts about yesterday’s inauguration. Obama’s speech was typical. He used his incredible talent to deliver a poetic, fluffy address to the nation that lacked substance. But inauguration speeches aren’t meant to be substantive so I’m willing to give the President a pass on that one. Where that was substance, he seemed to hint that he will govern from the center, which is encouraging in light of the far-Left approach he took while campaigning. Indeed, this was a centrist speech, which is why many on the Left are critical of it, some even calling it Obama’s worst speech.

He called for an era of responsibility and an end of the childishness that has plagued our citizens. Soon after, the hundreds of thousands who watched the ceremony left the mall riddled with trash. I guess the message didn’t resonate very well.

I also wonder how Obama reconciles his era of responsibility with the price tag that was paid for his inauguration.

The DOW responded with the worst inauguration day drop in American history. Certainly not the vote of confidence Obama was looking for.

And then there was the benediction. Rev. Joseph Lowery prayed to God about our exploitation of the poor and our favoritism of the rich, about the winds of greed and corruption and then ended with this:

“Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.”

I can’t prove it, but I’m fairly comfortable saying that this may be the most offensive, most racist thing ever said at any inauguration. When yellow will be mellow? Do we have a problem with manic or aggressive behavior in our Asian-American population?

White will embrace what is right? Is he suggesting that white people have a tendency to “embrace” what is wrong? Or that embracing right is not an issue for other races?

It’s funny to me that just moments before Lowery said this, the US swore in its first black president. And this president has been speaking about unity, coming together, and putting aside our differences. Lowery follows this call to responsibility by chopping America up into different racial groups, rekindling their historical differences, and accusing one of not “embracing” what is right, and did all of this in the form of a prayer. It was – in a word – tasteless.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What was so "great" about him?

Today, Barack Obama will be sworn in as President, our nation’s first “black” president. It is truly a moment of pride for our country and something we should all celebrate, regardless of political viewpoints. Despite my concerns for his politics, I am glad to set it aside for a moment to enjoy the moment when America confirms what I knew all along, that we are the least racist nation on this planet. Let’s hope he governs well, starting with a stimulus package that does not include a tax increase or more government spending.

He will take the oath on the Lincoln bible, which brings up another issue that has been bothering me lately. Mainly, the glorification of Abraham Lincoln, especially as to how his presidency relates to black Americans. As a fan of history on an historic day, I feel the need to correct the record.

As many of you know, I am not a fan of Lincoln. I was taught as you all were about the greatness of the man, but when I actually began studying things on my own I realized something different. There are two great lies told about Lincoln from the final days of the war to today. History is written by the victors of war, so we tell our children how wonderful Lincoln was. Let me address these two issues now.

First is the myth that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Actually, slavery was abolished by a Constitutional amendment proposed by Congress and ratified by the states. So it’s more accurate to say that the American people freed the slaves. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which freed absolutely no one. This was nothing more than a propaganda tactic he used to inspire his own army and rekindle the motivation amongst northerners to continue the war. He issued a proclamation freeing slaves in states that he did not govern, omitting the slaves in the states that he did govern. What exactly is admirable about that? Obviously, he did this to prevent those “border states” from leaving the union, all in the name of increasing his chances for victory and his ultimate goal of union preservation. His proclamation only applied to states in “rebellion”, even though no rebellion actually existed. The states in question voted to simply leave the United States of America and govern themselves, there was no attempt to overthrow the government of America. You’ll all recall that our great nation was born exactly the same way. Yet we demonize King George and idolize Abe Lincoln. I’m not exactly sure how that works. There was nothing illegal or unconstitutional about the Confederacy, therefore their secession could not be legally disputed and Lincoln had no legal right to continue governing them, certainly no legal right to invade them. His proclamation may as well have applied to all foreign countries. It would have had the same level of authority. So it’s a bit of a stretch to say the Lincoln freed the slaves.

The second myth is that Lincoln was a champion of human rights. This is not entirely accurate. Indeed, Lincoln hated slavery, but he was willing to concede this practice in order to preserve the union, which was a higher priority for him. This was made clear to the southern states in the years leading up to the war. He never took legislative or executive action to actually end the practice of slavery until his country was engulfed in war that was growing ever unpopular with American citizens. Even then, his action fell short of freeing the only slaves that remained under American authority. And the actions of his commanders suggested that Lincoln wasn’t exactly someone who respected basic human rights. After all, he is the only president to order a full-scale military invasion of his own country and his invasion was catastrophic for southerners. Entire cities were burned to the ground, including private homes. Innocent civilians were victimized, and these were people that he claimed to govern. Millions of people were forced to be American citizens under the sword, at the loss of over a million soldiers in an illegal war. Only dictators and tyrants have been guilty of such atrocities in the past. This is not the action of someone who respected human rights. He was going to preserve the union, Constitution be damned.

Some may believe that Lincoln didn’t want the war. Maybe so, but I think it’s more accurate to say that he didn’t want the southern states to leave the union. He engaged in negotiations to prevent them from seceding, but his efforts ultimately failed. It was at this point that he chose military action – much like King George did with the 13 colonies - rather than recognizing the new governments and establishing diplomacy and commerce with them as anyone who respected freedom and democracy would have done.

Lincoln succeeded in preserving the union, and historians suggest that the end justified the means. That’s for us as individuals to decide, as I have already done. In my mind, and in the minds of many, he was a brutal tyrant who was guilty of nothing less than war crimes and flirted with outright despotism. Historians have shaped the opinions of many into believing that he was a great president, but I think the founding fathers would have viewed him differently. He did a great thing in preserving the union. But his methods were far from admirable. Surely there was a better way. So in our ignorance of history, we build memorials to him and wrongfully recognize him as the man who freed the slaves, and now the first black President takes his oath on the same bible. Hopefully, that’s all the two will have in common.

Monday, January 19, 2009

This week, President Obama is expected to issue an executive order effectively closing the Guantanamo prison camp. Defense Secretary Gates has voiced his support for closing the prison, as has John McCain among others. So the President will side with them and order the prison closed. However, Obama has yet to say what will be done with the prisoners there.

As of now, there are 225 prisoners at Guantanamo. Some call them detainees. I call them prisoners of war. Perhaps if folks started agreeing with me then this problem wouldn’t be such a problem after all. There is nothing illegal about holding prisoners of war provided they are treated within Geneva convention standards. However, holding “detainees” is a far more complicated issue.

According to the latest Pentagon statistics, POWs released from Gitmo have an 11% recidivism rate. That means that more than one in ten who are let go will return to active combat against the United States and its allies. That’s illegal, and a violation of the Geneva convention.

The Pentagon also says that of the 225 prisoners, 110 of them represent a significant threat to America and should not be allowed to return to society, wherever that may be. In addition, 50 of them have been cleared of charges and are ready for release, except for the fact that their lives would be in considerable danger if we allowed them to return to their home country. So, after issuing his executive order, Obama will have to decide what to do with the 110 prisoners who represent a significant danger to the US and the 50 prisoners who can’t go home, along with the other 65 prisoners whose status is apparently in limbo. The point is, it’s not as simple as issuing an executive order. If it were, then Bush would have done so long ago. Does anyone think Bush liked having Gitmo? Come on.

So the way I see it, once the prison is closed then we have one of two options regarding the prisoners: we can release them in their home country or we can release them in the United States. Does anyone want to decide which option we go with? Perhaps we could release them to a neutral nation, except that no country will volunteer to allow these people into their country. So, these are the only options I see.

If it’s option one then I think Barack Obama should answer for any deaths that occur from acts of terrorism carried out by any of the released prisoners. He should have to issue a personal apology to the family of any American killed by a terrorist who was given freedom by his executive order, and he should have to claim full responsibility for the death. If it’s option two, then I recommend that they be allowed to live amongst those who cry for their plight…that would certainly change a lot of the attitudes about releasing these people. I don’t want these prisoners living in my neighborhood, and something tells me the powers that be feel the same. If anyone disagrees, then they should be the first to volunteer their neighborhood as a safe haven for the newly released suspected terrorists. The government will soon own a lot of foreclosed homes, maybe this would be a way to fill some of those homes, but only in bleeding-heart neighborhoods. For some reason, I don’t anticipate Sean Penn welcoming these folks as neighbors.

But perhaps there is a third option, which I already alluded to. Just issue an executive order that classifies these people as prisoners of war. To appease the human rights folks, we could allow a neutral envoy access to the prisoners along with appropriate oversight to ensure they are treated in accordance to the Geneva convention (oh wait, we’ve already done that!). We can even call them UN inspectors since the human rights folks seem to have a lot of confidence in the competence of the UN (after all, they did such a great job with Hussein). Seems pretty simple to me. If any of the 50 who can’t go home complain about conditions, then they should be given a one-way ticket back home. Once the war is concluded, and religious extremism is no longer a threat to peace, then the prisoners can be released. Any prisoner who returns to combat after release should be prosecuted for war crimes.

Again, it’s simple. Either we are at war or we’re not. If we’re at war, then the military should be combating terrorism and any captured enemies should be classified as prisoners of war and treated accordingly. If we’re not at war, then Obama should say so, then turn the matter of combating terrorism over to law enforcement officials, stand down the military and return them home and release the Gitmo prisoners to do as they wish with faith that they will obey the law.
It will be interesting to see if he has the guts to do either.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So long, Mr President

History will be the judge. These are the words I hope George Bush remembers as he exits the White House and returns to Texas after the most difficult eight years of his life. He will leave with a low approval rating, lingering questions about Iraq’s future and an economy hanging by a thread. He will leave office and take his place among former Presidents, exactly where will be debated for years. Certainly, many have already formed their definitive opinion on the Bush presidency, but whether or not those opinions mimic reality is yet to be seen. Generally it takes a few years for opinions to overcome partisanship. For me, I firmly believe that Bush endured the most difficult presidency in modern times, only surpassed by those years of turmoil that Lincoln went through. In light of that, and remembering the immense resistance he faced both at home and abroad, I feel he did an overall good job. And I feel that history will eventually agree.

The deck was stacked against him from the beginning. In 2000, the Republicans were facing a popular administration and a tough-to-beat Al Gore. Conservatives weren’t pleased with the prospects of John McCain. They needed a strong conservative candidate, someone with a name, someone likable that could run well against the robotic Gore. They turned to Bush. I still remember those early days of Bush’s fledgling campaign. The hesitation was evident. I’m still not convinced Bush wanted the job and I think the GOP bullied him into running. And I can’t blame him. The guy who followed Clinton had a monumental task ahead and Bush knew it.

Then there was the election, arguably the most controversial in American history, ultimately decided by the Supreme Court after a shameful back-and-forth between the two candidates. In the end, Bush was vindicated with independent count after count confirming he had more votes, but that didn’t matter. His victory was tainted and the resentment would hover with every decision he made and every task he faced. In addition to this, he was stepping into an office plagued with immoral behavior, the butt of jokes worldwide. Europe and much of the world was weaning itself from America’s protection. The Soviet bear was gone and our “allies” no longer needed to be nice. Despite what some think, opinions of the US worldwide had begun to wane long before Bush. Before he took office, he was already facing an immense uphill climb.

His early days in office were some of the toughest. He inherited a recession left by Clinton. The dot com bubble had burst and the economy was dragging. Then there were the scandals at Enron and Worldcom. And, of course, the worst attack in American history on 9-11. Every indicator suggests the US economy should have folded, but it didn’t. No matter your opinion on the man, even the most critical of critics has to concede that Bush’s tax policy had something to do with the economy’s survival in those critical years.

But 9-11 was much more of an economic disaster, to risk stating the obvious. Attempting to describe the impact of this single day on US history is futile, but I will say that it completely changed US foreign policy and would define the entire Bush presidency. Without 9-11, there would have been no Afghanistan, and likely no Iraq (although this is arguable), and Bush would likely be leaving office with much higher approval ratings. Nonetheless, George Bush faced a task no leader before him had ever faced, a massive attack by an enemy without a country, without a face, without a definable target. Patriotism soared, as did call for action. But Bush was a realist. He urged Americans to be in it for the long haul and he warned that the war we were about to engage in was going to be very long and very difficult. He seemed to have some sense of foresight that the immense support for the war on terror would not last, and he was proven right.

Of course, this path led to Iraq, the other issue that will define Bush’s presidency, and the site of his greatest accomplishments and greatest failures. His motives will always be attacked, but I look at things from a common-sense viewpoint. Two years after 9-11 every intelligence agency was telling him that Saddam had WMDs. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle were calling for action. The UN was proving incompetent and perpetually bogged down in scandal and ineptitude. Europe was for the most part sitting this one out. In fairness, it was a lose-lose situation for Bush. No matter what he did, the prospect of coming out with favorable opinions was bleak. That’s why I don’t question his motives. He did what he felt was necessary in light of recent world events. He made a command decision and committed to it. The brutal thing about history is that people can’t see the outcome of decisions not made. If Bush hadn’t taken down Saddam we simply don’t know what would have happened despite the preponderance of speculation. What I respect is that Bush committed to victory and achieving a mission, and he did not back down even when his own presidency was placed at risk. He made a promise to the troops and to the people of Iraq. He could have pulled out when things got bad, and his approval would have undoubtedly soared, but he didn’t. As a result, the people of Iraq have a chance and our troops can come home under the banner of victory. Again, that should be admired. No doubt, President Obama will be thankful that he takes over the helm in a world without Saddam Hussein.

In the midst of all this, Bush faced crisis after crisis back home. There was the worst natural disaster in American history and the utter destruction of an entire major American city. Bush’s response was too slow, that can’t be denied. In his defense, the local leaders were responsible for taking action and asking for federal support, but none of that matters. He was the President and he should have acted faster. The shame of it is that his opponents exploited the issue to paint him as racist and indifferent. That’s simply unfair. But the perception lingered and is yet another thing that Bush will have to live with. I don’t for a moment think he has no regard for minorities, and any claim to the contrary is baseless.

In addition to corporate corruption, there was also the lagging economy of the last 1-2 years. The mortgage crisis and high oil prices have driven this lag, yet Bush has shouldered the blame. Irresponsible lending/borrowing practices and decades of Congressional inaction are more to blame than Bush for this, but again that matters little. The President will always be first in line when fingers start pointing in a sour economy. Then there is the controversy over Gitmo, the horrendous behavior at Abu Ghraib, the failures at Walter Reed. Overseas, there were the standoffs between nuclear powers in India and Pakistan, the emerging economic giant in China complete with their usual human rights abuses in Tibet, a resurging aggressiveness in Russia as Yeltsin left and Putin stepped in, and the insane dictators in Venezuela, Iran and North Korea who seemed determined to maintain turmoil in their respective regions.

Couple all of this with a combative left-leaning media and an unprecedented level of unabated hatred and venomous attacks from Hollywood and political opponents and the difficulty of Bush’s presidency becomes more evident. In the context of fighting a difficult war against an invisible opponent, Bush also had to deal with rogue politicians who weren’t afraid to criticize US policy from abroad, even if the audience included some of our enemies. I think Bush woke up every morning wondering what the newspaper headlines would bring. I know I would have.

Among his failures, the misjudgment with Iraq ranks highest, followed closely by the bailout fiasco of the past 6 months. Simply put, he thought the Iraqi people would embrace freedom and post-war security would be an afterthought. This was the opinion of Rumsfeld, a man whom Bush trusted a great deal and who would eventually be proven terribly wrong. To Bush’s credit, he admitted his mistake and worked to correct it, although he did take too long to do so. Had he listened to the State Dept and Sec Powell rather than Rumsfeld, the success would have come quicker. Along the way there was the “mission accomplished” banner. I know the story behind it, but that doesn’t matter. It will forever be viewed as a premature declaration of victory by an arrogant leader who refused to acknowledge reality. It will be remembered as a mistake.

He was clearly duped by Putin and to be honest I was never comfortable with Bush’s apparent fondness for the guy. He also failed to rescue Social Security and I think he gave up on it way too soon. He failed to solve the immigration problem. He failed to address our dependence on foreign oil and the energy crisis. He failed to promptly respond to Katrina. He exercised very poor judgment in some choices for judges. He practiced, to some degree, cronyism within his administration. He failed to properly execute his No Child Left Behind program, something that enjoyed great success in Texas but has proven difficult to implement nationwide. And he failed to reel in a spend-happy Congress that was absolutely out of control. He should have used the veto pen against his own party much more often than he did. But most disappointing for me as a conservative is his bailout for the banking and auto industry. I can accept mistakes made in war, that is the nature of war, the plan often goes awry once the first shot is fired. But to abandon cornerstone capitalist principles like Bush did is simply inexcusable. The precedent he set will be hard to break and I fear that his recent economic policies will plague us for decades. Because of this – and despite my fondness for the man – his image and legacy will always be tainted in my mind. The bailout was a disastrous mistake that we have yet to fully comprehend.

In his list of triumphs, his tax policy was instrumental in maintaining economic prosperity in troubling times. He passed a medicare drug plan that, despite forecasts of doom, is proving to be helpful for many seniors (although my conservatism makes it tough to swallow). He passed No Child Left Behind, which unfortunately was only half the battle. He appointed more minorities to high government positions than any other President before him. And he brought morality and family values back to the Oval Office.

But his greatest achievements are in the foreign policy realm. He has shattered Al Qaeda and put them on the defensive, disrupting their operations to an incredible degree. He toppled a horrible dictator and gave the Iraqis a chance at liberty, and a chance at democracy in a part of the world where it didn’t exist. He did the same in Afghanistan. He brought about the disarmament of Libya and forged some strong relationships in the Middle East that have proven extremely beneficial in our fight against Islamic extremism. But, hands down, his greatest achievement is the miraculous fact that since 9-11 the US has not been attacked. His tactics will forever be questioned, but no one can deny this simple fact. After 9-11, there were very few people who would have ever believed that we would not be attacked in the next seven years. This is to Bush’s credit and should never be overlooked nor forgotten by his successor. It will undoubtedly stand out as a great part of his legacy.

Bush will be the second consecutive President to leave office during a recession despite enjoying economic prosperity for the majority of his term. Clinton’s presidency is remembered for those prosperous economic times. One wonders if Bush’s will be remembered similarly in these times of a Leftist media. My guess is that it will depend on how well Obama does. If he fails, the blame will undoubtedly be placed on Bush. If he succeeds it will be despite Bush’s final economic years. This is how the elitists will remember George W Bush. How will we as citizens remember him? We will look back on his presidency from the context of a future time, a time that may or may not be better than it is now. That is how we will frame our opinions of the man. Through new experiences and new challenges we will either look back and yearn for a return of the Bush days, as we now do with Reagan; or we will wonder how we ever endured his time in office, as we now do with Carter.

History will be the judge.

Until then, WEP offers thanks for President Bush’s service in very difficult times and wishes him all the best. God bless you, Sir.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Biden overestimated it...

During a recent appointment, a patient started discussing the presidential election and Obama’s victory. This man had spent many years studying the history of the middle east and he was well-informed of current events. He voiced a concern that Obama was too neutral regarding the middle east and that this was sending a troubling message to Israel. He predicted that within 60 days of the inauguration – either before or after – Israel would strike Gaza. This was before the current violence broke out. He then told me that soon after this strike, Israel would follow with preemptive strikes on Iran. So far he has been right, and that’s the point of this post.

What concerns my friend – and now, me – about Obama is that he hasn’t really made it clear that he supports Israel and that Israel has a right to defend itself. This sends a message that Israel may not have a very strong ally in Washington once Bush leaves office. Even more concerning is that Israel may not be the only country in the middle east that sees it that way. And so they feel the need to defend themselves before it is too late. And to this date, Obama has been virtually silent on the matter. I think this is a mistake.

I think it’s important to understand that Israel is not going to wait for Iran to develop full offensive nuclear capability. For them, it’s a matter of life and death. They believe that once Iran has this ability they will use it. Ahmedinajad has pretty much made that clear and it would be foolish for anyone to think that he is bluffing. The US, Europe and the UN have done little to dissuade Iran from continuing its pursuit of these weapons and now Obama is giving the impression that he doesn’t want to take sides. With a US president like that in office, Israel will feel like they’ve been backed into a corner and they will take action to defend themselves. Couple that with Obama’s pledge to pull us out of Iraq in 16 months and Israel will feel further isolated. I think Barack Obama will soon be dealing with all-out war between Iran and Israel if he doesn’t start taking action soon. Bush has made it clear that he supports Israel, but he will be in Texas in less than 3 weeks. It’s Obama who has to start talking, and fast.

First, he needs to be clear that Israel is our ally, that we support their right to defend themselves and that Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel constitute acts of terror. Second, he needs to make it clear to Iran that any aggressive action against Israel will not be tolerated. Iran needs to understand that Israel is off limits. He needs to use strong language to convey the message, anything less will be interpreted as hesitancy and weakness, and it could be disastrous. He needs to change the perception that he will be weak on foreign policy. Right or wrong, that’s the impression that other countries have and it will pose a big problem for the new president if he doesn’t start working on it right away.

Joe Biden said that Obama will be tested in foreign policy within 6 months. It looks like he overestimated his prediction. Right now, Israel is not confident that Obama will help protect them; and neither is Iran. That’s a recipe for disaster. If Obama doesn’t act fast then his first 100 days in office may be consumed with an Israeli-Persian war, perhaps even involving nuclear weapons, with US troops sitting right in the middle of it. Not good.