30 July 2008

Protesting $10k per Pupil

AP writer Michael Tarm reports that Illinois State Senator James Meeks is advocating that students in the Chicago Public School district skip the first day of school, September 2nd. This, we are to believe, will highlight the inequities in spending between Chicago and suburban school districts. Like many other systems across the country, Illinois schools are primarily financed by local property taxes.

State Sen. Meeks’ plan is to load up parents and students “a caravan of buses” and cart them up to a suburb and attempt to enroll students in the suburban school district. The “target” district spends $17,000 per pupil. The $7000 discrepancy, according to Sen. Meeks, is “doing irreparable harm to hundreds of thousands of kids."

Somehow, I don’t think besieging suburban school districts with parents and children – children who ought to be in class – is an appropriate vehicle for change. Sen. Meeks, as an elected official, is part of the political body that can enact change. Instead of enticing students away from school for what amounts to a political stunt, perhaps Sen. Meeks should use his elected office to enact the change he desires. His protest suggests that he supports open school choice with education dollars tied to those choices. $10,000 per pupil is a lot of choice “purchasing power”. Perhaps he ought to legislate to that end.

If he is unable to enact his vision of reform – whatever it may be – because of opposition…well, that’s how representative democracy works.

Bailout!

In a time where it seems as if a new bailout is bandied about on the 24-hour news channels (all dozen of them) daily, one has to wonder just where these things are leading.

Today, President Bush is set to sign a massive homeowner bailout bill. According to Fox News, the bill “could insure $300 billion in [potential default] mortgages” thus saving the owners from foreclosure. The bill also gives the Treasury Department “unlimited power, until the end of 2009, to lend money to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or buy their stock should they need it.” The potential cost of this bill, I believe, cannot be accurately calculated. The federal government is now in the business of guaranteeing mortgages for people who arguably should not have bought homes they did or got caught in wildly overpriced homes by a down market. Irresponsibility rules.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, entities which are at best somewhat confusing to the average taxpayer, have what amounts to an unlimited line of credit. They’re too big to fail, say some. Sure, there will be more federal oversight of these semi-private, semi government entities (for a good working description of Fannie and Freddie, here’s an AT article for you). Never mind that many of the loans they were backing were suspect at best.

A Fox Business article sheds some light on where things went off the rails:

“Three years ago, just about anyone could have purchased a $360,000 home simply by signing some papers and agreeing to a monthly mortgage that, given the payment options available at the time, would have come to about $1,200.

(snip)

A study conducted in early 2005 by the National Association of Realtors showed that over two-thirds of all first time home buyers at the time had put down less than 10% to purchase their homes, and a whopping 42% of those first-time buyers had put down nothing.”

Having purchased a home or two myself, getting $360k for a signature appears outrageously simplistic to me. No documentation? No investigation of income or debt? No metric even guessing at the potential of the borrower to repay the loan? Those who made and took those loans deserve what they would have got sans bailout. Instead, taxpayers will foot the bill, potentially $300+ billion.

So I have to wonder, just what do I have to do to get a federal bailout? Behave irrationally and irresponsibly seems to be the answer.

29 July 2008

Simple Truth about Obama and School Choice

I’ll have more to say about Senators McCain and Obama with reference to education “reform” later, but here’s a quick, important note on the matter. In an op-ed piece, the Wall Street Journal says Sen. Obama’s “daughters attend the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where annual tuition ranges from $15,528 for kindergarten to $20,445 for high school.” (Emphasis added.) That must be some school.

Could it be that, if he wins the presidency, Mr. Obama would raise per student expenditures to $15-20k everywhere? (That would be three to four times what my local school district spends per pupil.) Or, as the WSJ piece points out, Mr. Obama knows that his local public schools are a total mess and would not subject his daughters to them?

I’d bet a meager public teacher’s paycheck it is the latter.

As an extension of that argument – that the public system is a mess – it seems unconscionable that Mr. Obama would support a policy which does not provide for more free choice when it comes to education. He’s free to choose. He has the money to pay for what I consider to be a wildly expensive K-12 system. I’m happy for that. So why not work to extend that choice to all parents, and let the parent’s choice be followed by tax dollars which are already going toward education?

Here’s the key, I think. Money would be “lost” somewhere (though I doubt this is a zero sum game). Any guesses on who’s afraid of losing money?

28 July 2008

Imposing Educational Outcomes

Originally posted at American Thinker.

Two articles in the last week indicate just how far some attitudes about education have shifted away from something students work for and toward it being a birthright, an entitlement. Somewhat paradoxically, education is often portrayed as something which can be imposed upon a student; the student is the passive object of the transitive verb "educate".

The first example comes from The Schott Foundation for Public Education's study of graduation rates among student racial sub-populations. According to Ednews, the study "documents that states and most districts with large Black enrollments educate their White, non-Hispanic children, but do not similarly educate the majority of their Black male students." The executive summary of the report cites various bits of statistical evidence and claims these represent "a school-age population that is substantively denied an opportunity to learn". Nowhere in the executive summary are student or parent attitudes concerning the value and importance of education mentioned. Neither are other social and cultural factors - massive single parenthood, gangster/thug culture, etc.

It is important to notice how the phrase "a [black] school-age population that is substantively denied an opportunity to learn" turns these potential learners into objects to be acted upon, to be manipulated. The schools must educate them. This wording would have the reader believe that they, the potential learners, are and ought to be passive. They are far from passive, and they ought not to be. The real question is which way the potential learner will move, toward or away from opportunity.

The second example regards a federal court ruling. According to the Austin-American Statesman, "U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice said the Texas Education Agency is violating the civil rights of Spanish-speaking students under the federal Equal Education Opportunity Act." Suit was brought by advocacy groups, led by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Judge Justice's reasoning is simple: the state of Texas is not teaching English Language Learners (ELL) effectively, and state mandated monitoring of these students is "arbitrary". He wrote:

"The clear failure of secondary LEP [limited English proficiency] students unquestionably demonstrates that, despite its efforts, TEA [Texas Education Agency] has not met its obligation to remedy the language deficiencies of Texas students. After a quarter century of sputtering implementation, defendants have failed to achieve results that demonstrate they are overcoming language barriers for secondary LEP students." (Emphasis added.)


Notice how, as in the first example, the student is casted as the object in Judge Justice's statement. The student must have his barriers overcome for him; the state must do the heavy lifting. This attitude takes no account of student desire - or even willingness - to learn English. This is despite the fact that many LEP Spanish-speaking students can function in daily life outside of school without any knowledge of the English language. Yet Judge Justice has ruled that the state and the various independent school districts must overcome these language barriers for them.

Neither the Schott Foundation's study nor Judge Justice's ruling will do much, if anything, to help the student populations they supposedly seek to help. They both demand equality of outcome without casting students in a positive, active, and ultimately controlling role. And I mean controlling in a very positive sense. Every student, regardless of socio-economic or cultural background (or, indeed, mental capacity) can achieve. Equal opportunity for educational success cannot be truly guaranteed, only approximated. And while it is true that educators must take advantage of every teachable moment, it is infinitely more important for the student to take advantage of them. After all, education is not for the teacher or the state; it is for the student. Those who would rhetorically make the student into an object to be acted upon actually damage the student's potential for success.

26 July 2008

Zero Through Five Education – HR 2343 and HR 3289

Last week, I noted that Sen. Obama has what I consider to be a pretty scary 0-5 education plan, a pre-pre-kindergarten plan, if you will. But what candidate Obama has in his presidential playbook, the US House of representatives is already taking action on, according to Ednews. HR 3243, the “Education Begins at Home Act”, and HR 3289, the “Providing Resources Early for Kids Act of 2008” are shocking in their attempt to intrude upon parents’ right to parent.

As Dr. Effrem, the author of the Ednews article, puts it:

“These bills put the government in control as both parent and educator for children from birth to age 5. Both focus on poor families who have the least wherewithal to resist this government intrusion, but they also extend to military families. The home visiting bill calls for developmental screening, which includes mental screening, and the Pre-K Act promotes mental screening of all the children and their families in these programs. And of course, parental consent, choice, and control are never mentioned for any aspect of these bills.”
The question continues to be just how quickly the electorate will tolerate federal government programs intruding on the lives of private citizens. Can children wait until they reach kindergarten before undergoing a battery of (highly subjective) tests which may label them for life? Should parents be encouraged to hand over their children to “pre-pre-K” education programs so that they can go back to work? Are these programs really "for the children" or are they for the economy? Or are they for the bureaucracy? In short, who should be parenting children in the US?

25 July 2008

Candidate Obama, World Citizen

I have a problem with the idea of world citizenship. I understand that the heady times of repairing the grievous damage done to the world by President Bush and saving the planet from climate change are upon us. (Wait…I thought “change” was what we were “hoping” for?) But under the veneer of imagined “unity” that world citizenship promises is a mess of contrived homogeneity. And yet that was the cart of apples on sale yesterday in Berlin.

Yesterday, the long-awaited Barack Obama oratory occurred. It was, we are told, a happening. He introduced himself, preposterously, “not as a candidate”. His speech was made “as a citizen”, as if it is remotely believable for a run-of-the-mill citizen to stage such an event. But no ordinary citizen is he. Candidate Obama declared that he is “a fellow citizen of the world.”

Since he made the claim while not speaking as a candidate, some things may be guessed at. It is plausible to believe that he would consider US and “world” citizenship to be roughly equal. It is plausible to think that Candidate Obama believes that we should all be “citizen[s] of the world.” It may even be that Candidate Obama sees himself as a leader of the “citizen[s] of the world.”

Indeed, being a “world citizen” is the buoy at the start and end of the speech. Candidate Obama claimed to the “people of the world - this is our moment. This is our time.” The list of what it is time for is a bit lengthy to cover here, but it is safe to assume that the things it is time for are all duties of “world citizenship”.

One might think it necessary to ignore all of the national identities plugged in Candidate Obama’s speech to fully advance the “world citizen” idea. A self-envisioned leader of world citizenry should not have noted national identities from across the globe. It is important that Candidate Obama catalogs so many nationalities in his Berlin speech; surely he must understand that the idea of “world citizen” it likely to be a distant second to one’s national identity if not simply rejected outright. Yet the “world citizen” is still there. Why?

Reading between the lines, it appears that “world citizen” is code for unity, another mantra of the Obama campaign. Candidate Obama longs for unity; he pines for unity. When presenting himself with a global audience, he seeks global unity. He even retroactively imposes unity where there was none, where there could be none.

When Candidate Obama said, “People of the world - look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one”, he implies that the Cold War ended because of unity!

But in the global city-state which Candidate Obama seemingly felt he was addressing, little things like that matter. What matters is his vision of unity. In the US, unity is sold as “change and hope” – two empty rhetorical terms which are also quite tolerable outside of politics. Eventually, folks will wonder what “change and hope” really mean; Candidate Obama hopes the first Tuesday in November will pass before then. Outside the US, it appears that unity has taken on the fa├žade of “global citizen”. And who would lead the global city-state, the masses of global citizens? Funny…I think Candidate Obama already has his answer to that question.

23 July 2008

Troops, Surges, and ROE

It sure seems like there is a lot of chatter about what the “surge” of troops did or did not accomplish in Iraq. That violence has, according to the Pentagon, “dropped by between 40 and 80 percent since February 2007” doesn’t seem to register in some quarters – namely the Obama campaign. Or rather, the cause of the drop in violence was a product of something else.

Indeed, the drop in violence has in large part a product of something else, something wholly tied to the “surge” but perhaps not recognized as much as it ought to be. When General Petraeus asked for more troops, it was not to necessarily “saturate” the country with American soldiers and Marines. Along with more troops came a change in strategy, a major shift in the Rules of Engagement (ROE). Whereas earlier ROE was cumbersome and restrictive, Gen. Petraeus changed things so that troops could “take and hold” areas of the country. Taking and holding ground provides security; security requires more troops. Thus, the change in ROE necessitated more troops. The importance of this will become evident shortly.

With security came the space and time for the Iraqi’s to find their own way to something that looks a whole lot more like national unity. That Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki sees a day in the future where American troops can exit the country is a positive sign – and is a direct result of the change in strategy put forward my Gen. Petraeus and advocated by Sen. McCain. Comments to the contrary, I believe, miss the mark considerably.

So when politicians like Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain begin to talk about more troops for Afghanistan, it is important to understand that more boots on the ground does not a victory beget. Strategy and ROE are keys to success; numbers of boots on the ground (or in the air, or on the water) are a function of mission and strategy – as well as availability. One should also remember that by in large, the Afghanistan operation is now a NATO mission, which means ROE is awash with all of the political idiosyncrasies of participating nations. What one nation’s soldiers can do, another’s cannot. American ROE, historically, is much more permissive than other countries’ ROE. Dictating a single set of ROE requires unity of command and political buy-in of those fighting in theater. Creating such a situation would prove quite problematic politically.

In order to accomplish a “surge” type mission in Afghanistan, would Sen. Obama or McCain advocate a unified mission and ROE for all NATO players in theater? Would either of them press for the US to take over combat operations within trouble areas? How much cooperation would we give, or could we expect, in such a scenario? These are tough questions to answer, but if the electorate is to place their trust in either of these men, they ought to be asking for answers to questions like these, especially as both candidates are pushing for more boots on the ground in Afghanistan. One may also ask why Sen. Obama, who still feels that the Iraq “surge” was and is a failure and who after a trip to the country has not changed his mind about its efficacy, would advocate what looks to be an identical strategy for Afghanistan.

Another Public Service Announcement: Ahmadinejad

Fox News reports Iranian President Ahmadinejad as saying, “The Iranian nation will not retreat one iota in the face of oppressing powers. The Iranian nation has chosen its path.” That was the bluster. His other words tell more about why the Iranians have been so keen to get US negotiators at the table.

Mr. Ahmadinejad: “You (U.S.) took a positive step. It was a step toward recognizing the rights of the Iranian nation, toward justice, toward repairing your image in the world, toward cleaning 50 years of crimes you committed against the Iranian nation.”

There it is. That one statement clears up any ambiguity on why the Iranians would want US negotiators at the table. Secretary of State Rice even said that the Iranians were “not serious” about the talks. But that’s predictable. The Iranians got what they wanted as soon as the US negotiator walked into the room. They could plop any intentions they wanted at the feet of the US. The Iranians choose to propagandize the “negotiations” as a validation of its nuclear ambitions – always peaceful – by the US. Everything after that was, in their eyes I believe, meaningless.

This was all too predictable, as I’ve mentioned before. But I don’t blame the Bush administration or Secretary Rice in particular too much for trying. It was worth a shot, I suppose. But what needs to happen now is an implementation of harsh sanctions – particularly of gasoline imports – on Iran. If the UN will not impose them, then all willing countries should join in an effort outside of the UN structure.

What the US should not do, under any circumstances, return to the negotiating table without verifiable preconditions met. And there is no doubt Iranian leaders want the US back at the table. It serves their purposes well.

21 July 2008

Petroleum, Rebates, and Taxes – Surely There's a Connection

Oil Down – After President bush called on Congress to lift the ban on offshore drilling, oil prices dropped 11% in the last half of the week (Toronto Star). Of course, that doesn’t mean that Speaker Pelosi or Senator Reid will allow any vote on the matter before the summer recess comes around. Instead, Speaker Pelosi pushed forward a “use it or lose it” measure on land leases – again. It failed to reach a two-thirds majority – again. And she may push President Bush to open the Strategic Reserve – again (Digital Journal). It doesn’t seem curious to me at all that Congress’ approval rating is lower than the President’s. I suspect it will be…unless…

Rebate, Part Deux – In a move that would just really split my side, Congress is considering pushing for another economic stimulus package. This one would be smaller – just a meager $50 billion. Bloomberg reports that Speaker Pelosi claims that (and this is not reported as a direct quote), “The benefits from the first round of rebate checks have been eroded by rising energy costs.” Like her call to opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, this notion of a $50 billion rebate is just a band-aid, though one which just might fool some into thinking that the Congress is actually doing something. Of course, they just might do something which would require a rebate as an economic band-aid measure…if one uses a bit of twisted logic...

Raising Gas and Diesel TaxesFox News reports that the idea (and a bad one at that) of a “summer holiday” from federal gas taxes have taken an interesting turn. Why? Because rising construction costs and a drop in gas and diesel demand are teaming up to create a serious deficit. “The American Road & Transportation Builders Association is calling for a 10-cent-a-gallon raise and indexing the tax to inflation. (Snip) Just three years ago, that trust fund enjoyed a surplus of $10 billion. Even without a tax freeze, the fund is projected to finish 2009 with a deficit of $3 billion. That could grow as Americans drive less and buy less gas because of higher pump prices.” As the Fox News article points out, this is a double-edges sword. Raising taxes will hurt people and businesses just as oil prices begin to dip. On the other hand, not funding road building and infrastructure projects will cost jobs. What’s the Congress to do?

It seems to me that the highly educated members of Congress could connect these dots, read the tea leaves, and do some serious work for the people. Instead of feeding into the downward spiral of high prices for oil, reduced demand for gas and diesel because of high prices, and the resulting drop in tax revenue which will, long term, result in degraded national infrastructure, the Congress could take positive steps – however out of character that may be.

First, abandon the dance of “use it or lose it” legislation and pleas to open the Strategic Reserve. Instead, drop the ban on offshore drilling, and put other measures up to a vote in the congress regarding ANWR and other domestic sources. Second, drop the idea of a rebate as economic stimulus; the predicted drop in oil prices will probably exceed the $50 billion. And anyway, the rebate will more than likely attract a plethora of pork-barrel leeches that the electorate not only doesn’t need but can’t afford. Last, if the gas and diesel tax needs to be raised to build and maintain infrastructure, then it should be raised. But Congress should not allow itself to either load that bill up with pork or shift any of the funds to other, much more dubious projects.

I may be crazy, but I think that if Congress really wanted to, both bodies could move on some or all of these. It’s difficult to tell, though, if anything of the sort will happen, this being an election year. Anything except stimulus dollars and band-aid proposals, that is.

19 July 2008

Iran’s Predictable Response

It seems that the very day that new ground might be broken on Iranian nukes there is more non-movement than anything. Reuters reports that “EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana delivered a clear message to the Iranians [about stopping enrichment] but did not get a straight answer in return.” The Iranians are supposed to get back to him “within two weeks” – a timeline set by Mr. Solana.

Fox News reports that what could come next are further sanctions through the U.N. However, Iran is already under “three sets of U.N. sanctions for its refusal to suspend enrichment” and one wonders if another set of sanctions would have the desired effect. Especially as “Keyvan Imani, a member of the Iranian delegation” said, "Suspension — there is no chance for that.”

But this should have been predictable at this point. North Korea has done this dance, though it was more clandestine in its approach, I think. The North Korean experience must have been instructive for the Iranians. Iranian officials must believe in their gut that the West will not take serious action against them, or at least they are sure enough to defiantly string Western negotiators along. For together with the “no chance for that” comment was another from Iran’s chief negotiator for the matter: “Iran is calling on the Western powers to resume the dialogue.” Resume talks, never stop working towards a nice pile of enriched uranium, tick-tock, tick-tock, and expect the West to talk, talk, talk, talk. Bet that the U.N. will do nothing.

So there are two sides or two faces at work here: defiance and willingness to “negotiate” (read: talk). Perhaps there’s a cultural thing at work here that I don’t understand, a sort of Persian need to save face. But I doubt it. I think the West is just being fed a line, and a predictable one at that. One day, we’ll wake up to the big boom of an Iranian test.

18 July 2008

Mapping the Victim Curriculum

Originally posted at American Thinker.

Not surprisingly, around the end of the school year comes a chorus of cries all claiming unfairness. Poor grades, non-existent study habits, skipping class, sleeping in class, forgotten this and that, inability to follow even the simplest of directions -- "Not my fault!" All of these excuses are the result of being a victim, or to alter a term for use here, the intense study and practice of personal victimology.

"Victim" is not, however, a natural state of being. It must be impressed upon a person. Traditionally, this has been done through the infliction of some real violence, some tangible crime upon a person. For example, if a person is burned in a house fire, that person becomes a burn victim. He bears the scars; there is no questioning his status as they are real and tangible.

But the student afflicted with learned victimization bears none of these scars. Indeed, the student may not even be failing -- only doing more poorly than he feels he ought. And yet he has allowed himself to be convinced that his lack of achievement and lack of recognition are both a source for and a result of themselves. His self-defined achievements would be recognized if only those who judge him will look closely and in the right places. His scars are internal and therefore indefinable by all but himself, though many choose to support his cause. The internal scars he bears are not to be healed or overcome, but placated and catered to. He would achieve if his definition of achievement were recognized. He would succeed if he were only allowed to, if only his own individual proclivities were celebrated.

Hence the "victim curriculum." The following three course titles could be the core of the curriculum. And though this is not necessarily a formal course of study, there can be no learned victimization without it.

VIC-101: First Person Wants - The student will concentrate efforts to rhetorically transforming personal wants into fundamental personal needs. The student will demonstrate proficiency at shifting expressed needs as the mood of the moment dictates.

VIC-102: Demands on the Second Person - The student will become adept at making "at the moment" demands on anyone he directly speaks to, but will concentrate on making demands of any "authority figure". The proficient student will be able to invert authority in a given situation as he sees fit through incessant demands.

VIC-103: Blaming the Third Person - The learner will learn and practice the art of scapegoating; the student will become adept at shifting blame depending on his audience.

These courses need not be taken in order, and no prerequisites are necessary. All that is needed is a desire to disavow (or give up, to use simpler words) personal responsibility. What's more, the curriculum is accessible to anyone of any age. It is, in that way, quite undiscriminating.

And yet, I feel that I have perhaps made an error. A successful practitioner of victimology requires one thing beyond a drive to become a perpetual casualty; he requires a social construct with which to operate effectively within. This is why at the moment so many victims appear within the public school system -- it is fertile ground.

That it is fertile ground is an unintended consequence. Over the course of time, primary accountability for student learning and development has shifted away from the student and onto the school. Accountability policies and practices have been implemented which make schools (and teachers) accountable for what is taught, what is presented in a learnable manner to students. This is a good thing in itself. But if a child does not choose to learn what he is supposed to learn, now it is assumed that the school is to blame. When public demand for equality of outcomes regardless of student effort is mixed with punitive measures for schools that "leave children behind", it is little wonder that the result is a victim-friendly environment for those who choose to indulge themselves. The focus really is not on what the student is learning, regardless of any fixation on test statistics. The focus is on what is being done "for the children". The resulting environment makes it all too easy for children to slip into seeing themselves as a victim.

Indeed, there is fertile ground in most places where able-bodied and sound-minded people are allowed -- even encouraged -- to shirk their own personal responsibility so that they may profit from the work, pity, or good graces of others.

Dealing with the unintended consequence -- the transfer of responsibility for learning -- seems to be the best way change the victim-friendly environment. The idea of equality of outcome must be abandoned. Teachers, schools, and districts must be responsible for giving students opportunities to learn. These opportunities should be many and varied and should attempt to entice all students to have a seat at the table. But all of that is just means. The end of education, variously stated as "a well-rounded person ready to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship," cannot be imposed upon the unwilling. As the adage goes, you can lead a horse to water - in fact you can drown the horse - but you cannot make the horse drink. The student must assume responsibility for his own success. Otherwise, he will leave himself behind - a victim indeed.

17 July 2008

Beginning Government Education at Birth?

Originally posted at American Thinker.

Recently, after reading an excellent article at American Thinker, I decided to take a glimpse at Senator Obama's education plan. This plan is presented in a more detailed format in a document titled "Barack Obama's Plan for Lifetime Success Through Education." What I read there was more than a little disturbing, particularly his early childhood education plan.

Sen. Obama's plan begins with a "Zero to Five Plan". That is not a plan for pre-kindergarten students; it is a plan for infants beginning just after birth. In fact, one of his "Success Through Education" header statements is "A Pre-School Agenda That Begins At Birth". Sen. Obama would plunk $10 billion a year in federal tax dollars down to provide "high-quality child care" for children, to expand access to Early Head Start (is this redundant?), Head Start, and pre-school, and create a council to the president (himself) which would coordinate these efforts nation-wide.

While Sen. Obama's plan does appear to delegate responsibility for these programs to the various states, one comment in the document gives pause to that thought. Sen. Obama's plan calls the current state of early child education a "patchwork" that is "inadequate". So while the Senator may claim that states will have options within the plan, one might easily assume that funds received from this proposed $10 billion would come with significant strings.

This seems to me to be the policy beginnings of nationalized child care, not simply education. It only rides in the Trojan Horse of "education reform". Sen. Obama's plan dovetails seamlessly with a recent report by the National Health Institutes that the percentage of unmarried births to women age 20-24 has risen to 58%. Why should a young, single mother worry about raising her child? For that matter, why would a young woman of any background think twice about having a child that she probably can't raise without great difficulty? The government will take care of the child - an Obama administration would allow for the child's care and education (read: child rearing) from year zero. And that is the beginning of real state indoctrination.

Orwellian Terms in Modern Times - Doublethink

In his book 1984, Orwell coined several terms. Two of these seem particularly important in today’s political and cultural climate: doublethink and newspeak.

Doublethink is a particularly powerful idea that allows one to use fact and memory as it suits the moment. Orwell describes doublethink in this way:

"Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. (Snip) To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies - all this is indispensably necessary" (214).

“…to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself…” (35).
There appears to be no reason for an individual to employ doublethink for any wholly private reason than self-deception. If one wants to lie to one’s self, then that is by and large a wholly private matter.

But taken in a public, political context, the reasons for employing doublethink are clear: gaining and maintaining power over any politically charged issue. Perhaps the most concise example of this (and also perhaps the most spectacularly comical) was when then-candidate John Kerry stated that he “actually did vote for the $87 billion before [he] voted against it.” This is only one example of Sen. Kerry’s flip-flopping during the 2004 presidential campaign. His desire to twist his words to fit what he thought were the desires of the nation do not necessarily make them doublethink. That he – by any interpretation – really believed at any given time that he was completely, factually correct does. His embrace of contradictory statements in the past to justify his position at the moment was the height of doublethink. It also played a large part in costing him the presidency. But not by much.

Senator Obama seems to be slipping down the same slope that Sen. Kerry did. His positions on Iraq, gun control, abortion, and public campaign finance have all changed – some several times over the course of days. He went from not being able to disown Jeremiah Wright to leaving Wright’s place of worship in a heartbeat, but without any new facts presenting themselves. His recent cha-cha on Iraq may reach Kerry-like heights before long.

But the important thing that the electorate must ask when considering any politician is if the politician really believes what he is saying when he says it. This question is as much about the present as it is about the past, because doublethink does not necessarily reject the past – it co-opts the past as needed and keeps it in the hip-pocket, out of sight, until it is needed again. That this is done to gain and preserve political power is all-important. It is why we must continually have our doublethink detectors out when considering the body politic.

In a future post, I’ll look at newspeak and how it shows itself in our time.

Work Cited: Orwell, George, 1984, New York: Signet, 1949.

15 July 2008

Presidential Press Conference – 15 July

Some quick thoughts after watching President’ Bush’s press conference this morning.

First, he is right in that there is no quick fix, no short term fix for gas and diesel prices. The road to a “post hydrocarbon” solution will require work, innovation, exploration and – yes – sacrifice. These things seem anathema to the Democrat-controlled Congress.

President Bush mentioned exploring the outer continental shelf (OCS) again today. He did this yesterday. He should do so again tomorrow. And the next day. He should shame the Congress into taking action – or the Congress should take what they believe is a principled stand and clearly state why the OCS must remain off-limits (along with ANWAR and other possible sources).

President Bush mentioned supporting nuclear power. He should say this daily. A member of his staff should search out examples of companies who are trying to get permits and build nuclear power plants and their stories should be told. My guess is that if the wider public were more aware of the bureaucratic process entailed, there would be a push for legislative sanity in this sector.

President Bush showed much frustration with Congress’s inability, or unwillingness, to pass a single piece of required appropriations legislation. He said that they hadn’t passed a single bill in this area. He should pound on this point again tomorrow. And the day after.

President Bush has the chance to help turn the country away from the “do nothing” policies of Democrats simply by hammering day in and day out on these simple, straight-forward points: drill in the US now to expand domestic supply; step up pursuit of alternatives, particularly nuclear; relieve unneeded, non-safety related bureaucratic red tape with regard to energy development. The simple fact that Congress must act should also be a mantra. This is not a dictatorship – no matter what the true believers on the left may think. The electorate must push Congress; it seems that the president should, at long last, push the electorate.

14 July 2008

Orwell and Orthodoxy

Having just re-read George Orwell’s 1984, I am reminded that it is perhaps the strongest political novel ever written. And that it is a horrible downer. The vision of the world that Orwell shares with the reader is shaped by forces which have become part of our modern vocabulary: Thought Police, doublethink, thoughtcrime, and Big Brother.

But what Orwell has to say in 1984 about orthodoxy is the most important today. As the main character, Winston Smith, begins to flower into rebellion, he sprouts one of the most memorable lines of the novel: “Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness” (53). But that is just a slogan, really, without explanation.

After meeting his love interest, Julia, Winston dives deeper into what orthodoxy really means, how deep it really goes in a person – perhaps without the person even knowing. Julia is quite the rebel, at least in an outward manner. She does what she ought not do and she says things she ought not say (at least according to the Party). Yet on another level, she is not a rebel. She believes the Party’s lies left and right – who they are at war with, the rightness of political assassination, mutability of the past – and her excuse is that these things just aren’t that important. They are things that always were and always will be. Winston’s inner reply is instructive:
“Talking to her, he realized how easy it was to present an appearance of orthodoxy while having no grasp whatever of what orthodoxy meant. In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening” (156).
For Orwell, simple acts of rebellion do not make a person against the orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is a state of mind, not an action of the body. It is all too easy to slip into an easy orthodoxy – to be unquestioning of important aspects of the world or accepting of theses which crush opposing points of view by brute force. That today’s orthodoxy is not enforced by “a boot stamping on a human face – forever” as it is in Winston’s world (267). Today’s orthodoxy is pushed through rhetoric and emotionalism, through images and chants.

The lesson, I believe, is to question ourselves and our beliefs. We ought to notice what is happening. The trick, if there is one, is maintaining clarity in a world designed to bombard us constantly so that we might buy into some thought-pattern or another. Turning them off and tuning them out is important; tearing them down intellectually is, at the risk of being dramatic, a quest.

Work Cited: Orwell, George, 1984, New York: Signet, 1949.

11 July 2008

The UN Doesn’t Work – And Won’t

Today, Russia and China vetoed a measure in the Security Council to “impose an arms embargo and punitive measures aimed at Zimbabwe's president and top aides,” Fox News reports. Nine of the fifteen members of the Security Council supported the measure. Perhaps as a result, the US, Great Britain, and France – hopefully among others – will agree to impose their own set of sanctions outside of the UN structure.

What this veto means is that if a vicious dictator dismantles his opposition immediately prior to an “election”, it is outside the UN’s mandate to impose an arms embargo on that very dictator and his cronies. At least that is the reasoning as reported in the above-mentioned article.

Western democracies can and should decide who not to do business with and when they ought not do it. Western democracies should not be bound by the UN – and the veto powers wielded by Russia and China – and not take action which is clearly necessary. Allowing more guns and butter at the table of Mr. Mugabe seems like exactly the wrong thing to do. And yet, the power structure of the UN will allow it, unfettered.

This shows just how dysfunctional the UN is, and will be. It is dysfunctional by its very nature. There is no shared set of values among the member-states of the UN. It is not a place of action, it is, in my opinion, a discussion society. The humanitarian functions of the UN could just as well be accomplished by NGOs.

An international institution outside of the UN, made up of demonstrably democratic nations, should be formed as soon as is practicable. Issues such as imposing sanctions against certain countries (Zimbabwe and Iran, for example) may be one way to begin the formation of such a body. Cooperative (stick and carrot capable) negotiations by Western democracies with openly belligerent countries (Iran for example) may be another route. But clearly another avenue must be explored. The UN, in all its bureaucratic monstrosity, will provide no real solutions to real-world political problems.

No Fathers Needed?

A headline on the Fox News website reads: “Teen Pregnancy Rate Hits 15-Year High.” But the real story is buried down in the final section of the story, which is based on a report by the National Institutes of Health.

“The number of babies born to unwed mothers continues to increase. In 2006, 38 percent of all births were to unmarried women, up from 37 percent in 2005. The percentage of children under age 18 living with two married parents fell from 77 percent in 1980 to 68 percent in 2007. The percentage of unmarried births to women in their 20s tripled, from 19 to 58 percent for women ages 20 to 24 and from 9 to 31 percent for women ages 25 to 29. The percentage of births to unmarried women in their 30s more than doubled from 8 to 18 percent.” (Emphasis added.)

This says a thing or two about our culture. First, there is a rising acceptance of single-mothers who are single by choice. The idea that a single parent should be the default family situation for 20-24 year-old women is ludicrous. How, one may ask, is a woman that age supposed to hold down a full time job, care for a baby full time, and care for a household? My guess is that, more often than not, one of two things happens. Either the single mother is living with her mother – living in her house and sharing her bounty, or the single mother is in fact living with the child’s biological father – but marriage is not necessarily in the picture. Surely one of these two has to be the case, because virtually no one has a “Sex in the City” –esque job through which nannies can be paid for, apartments kept up, and long lunches with friends are the norm.

One thing to notice about the above two assumptions – either grandma or baby daddy is in the picture – is that the role of father is easily disposed of. And we wonder why it seems that so many of our young men are directionless and wandering. For 58% of women ages 20 – 24, a husband is not necessary and perhaps not even desired.

But a child is. It strikes me as recklessly selfish. Indeed, a psychologist interviewed for the Fox News article, Dr. Keith Albow, says:

“Ultimately, the gravest long-term consequence is that we have babies being nurtured by mothers who really can’t provide them with what they need. And that’s really a self-centered act. You’ve basically declared that it’s all about you.”

The child-mother wants something all to herself, and marriage does not provide that. Marriage takes work far before the act of actually getting married. Having a child, on the other hand, delays the realization of work until it’s too late. Indeed, the frustrating work may well not begin until the child is two or three years old – when the child can rebel at being told “no”. The child-mother has no one to really share the burden with.

Marriage is what is supposed to provide that support, that base from which to do the hard family duties. A family should not be one parent and one child (or more) by choice. Adults need the support of a loving, dedicated peer. Grandma can’t be expected to fill that role. Biological fathers lack a formal declaration to stay when things get rough. They are easier to put out of the picture than fathers who are married to their wives.

That our country has such a problem with fathers, the idea of fatherhood, and the notion of what makes a family does not bode well for our culture. We all have freedom of choice, freedom to create a life through which we can approach happiness. However, acts of extreme selfishness are not roads we should take. They will not provide for our happiness, nor the happiness of our children. They will also irreparably harm our culture and our nation.

09 July 2008

Speaker Pelosi’s Super-Short-Term Solution

Fox News reports that House Speaker Pelosi has asked President Bush to “draw down a small portion" of the strategic oil reserve in order to drive down gas prices. Essentially, this is a one-time shot of oil supply into the market, and Speaker Pelosi appears to think that this will alleviate $4 a gallon prices.

As the leader of the Democrat majority in the House, Speaker Pelosi may want to reconsider drilling offshore, as well as opening up other sources heretofore held back from the ever-greedy oil companies. Releasing a portion of the strategic reserve will only have the shortest of short-term effects on gas prices. Medium- and long-term plans and goals are necessary.

I don’t think it is coincidental that a Rasmussen poll, released on Tuesday, shows that only 9% of those polled think Congress is doing a good or excellent job. The poll shows that 52% felt Congress was doing a poor job.

As a side note – not having to do with Speaker Pelosi but having to do with Congressional members and “big oil” – The Hill did a piece at the beginning on July cataloging which members hold oil stock. The article is quite instructive.

08 July 2008

A Four Day School Week?

Originally posted on American Thinker.

In order to save money, a rural school district in Minnesota has opted for a four day school week, running Tuesday to Friday. Now comes the hard part.

KSTP TV reports that one hour will be added on to the school day and that the change will save the district $65,000. There are a few other benefits as well as some serious challenges, in my opinion as a teacher.

First, knocking off Mondays not only creates a four day school week, but also makes every weekend a long weekend. The question is what will students and teachers do with the extra time? Needless to say, the students will be more than willing to claim every Monday is a holiday -- thus no work will be necessary.

The district and teachers need to take the lead. Parents should be notified at the beginning of the year that certain kinds of homework will be increased, especially reading, writing, and basic math practice outside the classroom. It must be stressed that, regardless of location, learning goes on. The district should enact and enforce a "no late work" policy to guard against student complacency, and teachers must enforce it. Also, parents must not bow to pressure from a child who has failed due to recurring school "holidays".

Second, teachers and parents should encourage and provide opportunities for students to do something on Mondays. Teachers may opt to hold tutorials, workshops, group discussions, or intramural sports. The district should work to facilitate such activities. Parents should offer to car-pool students to such activities and to help teachers facilitate them. These kinds of things would do more than just keep students busy, they would help build community, especially if the idea spreads beyond places like rural Minnesota. None of these activities would necessarily require school transportation; there are modes of travel other than the school bus that students can use.

The four day school week is not necessarily a bad idea. Like so many other things, the methods used to pull it off will matter most. If the majority of students, parents, teachers, and administrators see this instead as a "three day weekend", it will fail miserably, and the $65,000 saved on fuel costs - and then some - will have to be funneled into remediation and alternate education efforts.

07 July 2008

Response to Comment

The following is a respone to a comment made on Former Democrat Presidential Candidates Say the Darnedest Things.

Beachmom,

First let me admit that Mr. McCain was not my first, or second, choice on the Republican side. I agree that he has changed his stance on many issues – most notably on immigration and Bush’s tax cuts. I also agree with you that there is a long history between Mr. McCain and Mr. Kerry. It seems reasonable that the two had a falling out at some point (after 2004?). That Mr. McCain visibly showed anger does not bother me. I’d rather that than an empty suit.

My attitude toward Mr. Kerry is, I suspect, forever tainted by his presidential run in 2004. I spent a fair amount of time trying to decide if he would be a good alternative to Mr. Bush (43); like many folks who voted for him, I was more than a little upset at his “compassionate conservatism”, which felt more like big-government bureaucratic money pits than anything else. What I found then, in 2004, in Mr. Kerry was quite disappointing; not worth the change. His equivocation on positions was both comical and embarrassing; who would take a man seriously who “voted for it” before he “voted against it”? His voting record in the Senate – both for and against things – was also something that I could not support.

But what disturbed me most was his incessant leaning on his military career while demanding that it never be questioned. What I learned about his time in the military, coupled with his actions immediately afterwards, has forever tainted Mr. Kerry in my opinion. Those who called the questioning “swift boating” (with all of the negative connotations intact) missed the boat, so to speak. There were, and are, serious questions about Mr. Kerry’s military career still waiting for answers. To my knowledge, Mr. Kerry has never allowed his military career to be fully vetted by the public. He has also never answered fully for his role in the Winter Soldier ruse. Obviously, this list is not inclusive, but it is instructive.

So when I read about Mr. Kerry popping off on his Senatorial colleague, I have to take issue with what he says. I do not think that I was simply dismissing it in my last post. Indeed, on one point, Mr. Kerry is spot on (the Iraq Sunni/Shia point). But the rest of the comments he made (which I posted) are nothing more than political theater. They are not meant to enlighten us in any particular way or deepen the political debate.

One thing that I must watch for in my writing is that from time to time I allow deep personal feelings about someone to press a little too hard on me. While this is not always a bad thing, it should be recognized and dealt with appropriately. Perhaps I allowed my judgment of Mr. Kerry’s words on Sunday to be overly shaded by my judgment of his character. Perhaps I was a bit too harsh. But I don’t think characterizing Mr. Kerry’s words on Sunday as hyperbolic or preposterous is over the top…or dismissive, for that matter. Be that as it may, I shall renew my efforts of self-criticism prior to posting.

Thank you very much for your comment, and thank you for reading.

06 July 2008

Former Democrat Presidential Candidates Say the Darnedest Things

Following closely on the heels of Wesley Clark, Senator John Kerry stepped up to the plate on Face the Nation today and delivered some sharp criticism of Senator McCain. One must wonder why – but more on that later. To be particular, Mr. Kerry is quoted as saying (in italics) with my comments following (in normal type):

“John McCain … has proven that he has been wrong about every judgment he’s made about the war.”

That’s a pretty sweeping statement. I assume that Mr. Kerry has full knowledge of Mr. McCain’s “every judgment”.

“Wrong about the Iraqis paying for the reconstruction, wrong about whether or not the oil would pay for it…”

Interesting that one of the more liberal members of congress would be against paying for reconstruction of a country which, with the possible but not probable exceptions of Afghanistan and Serbia, has absorbed more tonnage from the US military than any other country in the last 18 years. What other countries have paid for their own reconstruction after a war? Aren’t there very valid arguments that one of the roots of WWII was the horrendous reparations payments required of Germany? Perhaps the US and coalition forces should have left Iraq immediately after overthrowing Saddam…and demanded reparations for being tied down in containment operations over Iraq since 1991. (Note: sarcasm.)

“…wrong about Sunni and Shia violence through the years, wrong about the willingness of the Iraqis to stand up for themselves.”

What would happen when the Baathist cork came off the bottled up hostilities between Sunni and Shia populations within Iraq is, without a doubt, a huge oversight on the part of all involved in the planning and execution of the war and its immediate aftermath. One might add the Kurdish population into that equation as well. Though this is not an excuse, it is a mistake which stretches back at least until immediately after the first Gulf War. And although this may seem a rather callous statement for me to make, this sort of mistake is one that must be learned from and not forgotten. Iraq is not the last time this problem will be encountered.

Mr. Kerry’s capper, though, is an oddly worded, slightly twisted statement:

“This is want-to-be president John McCain. The result is that John McCain has flip-flopped on more issues than I was even ever accused possibly of thinking about.”

What? For the man who flip-flopped his way out of the presidency, it seems excessive for him to claim that Mr. McCain has done so more than he. The wording speaks volumes about Mr. Kerry’s seriousness. The hyperbole is laughable. It demands the listener – or reader – to believe that either Mr. McCain goes back on his decisions beginning with breakfast and the practice goes on all day. Or – equally unbelievable – that Mr. Kerry wasn’t accused of flopping on much of anything.

What does Mr. Kerry have to gain from this? Rumors abound that Mr. Kerry wants to be Secretary of State in an Obama administration. Certainly Mr. Kerry performs an attack function, at the moment, which candidate Obama will not do himself. In order to appear above the fray, Mr. Obama has outsourced his attacks on Mr. McCain’s fitness to be president. Mr. Clark did not do a very good job. I don’t think Mr. Kerry did, either. Both are preposterous.

But as with Mr. Clark, who incidentally made his remarks on Face the Nation as well, Mr. Kerry performs what amounts to political theater during an intermission of serious campaigning. The trouble is that the electorate may not see a return to serious campaigning during this election cycle. If the recent comments of Mr. Clark and Mr. Kerry are any indication, serious debate may well fall to sound-bite shots from proxies. Mr. Obama may well rest on his “big speeches” (another one coming in Germany soon, perhaps), will avoid going head-to-head with Mr. McCain face to face if at all possible, and will try to “hope” and “change” his way into the Oval Office.

To use Mr. Kerry's words, perhaps this is "want-to-be-president" Senator Obama: the "above the issues" man who turns a blind eye when it serves his purpose.

04 July 2008

On Freedom and Liberty

Today, the nation celebrates 232 years since it declared itself independent. What would become the United States envisioned itself as a place in which the statement “all men are created equal” would ring true. All citizens would be afforded “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (previous posts on those here, here, and here). Freedom would reign.

Over the course of time, there has been a somewhat problematic, sometimes halting, yet undeniably steady movement toward realization of that goal. These do not need to be reviewed. Acceptance that, along with being created equal, all men are imperfect. Therefore, while we must never forget the wrongs of the past, we also must not become prisoner to them. As we remember all of our past, we must also remain free to do right today.

The idea of freedom seems to be problematic these days. Connotatively, it may not mean to us what it meant to the Founding Fathers. Freedom is closely tied to another term at the core of America: liberty. Both can be exercised quite freely (for lack of a better term), as long as such exercise does not infringe upon the freedom, the liberty, of another. This seems to be quite simple.

Yet the infringement of freedom, of liberty, is quite commonplace today. The most obvious, and obnoxious, example tends to occur between individuals. We hear infringements in the cries of, “I’m offended!” by the self-declared “victim” of someone else’s speech. Where there is no intent to limit the liberty of another, the self-declared victim performs what in wrestling is known as a reversal. He quickly maneuvers from being the “victim” to a position where he is in control of his opponent. To see how this works out, all one has to do is look north of the border at Canada’s Human Rights Commissions. Instead of defending free speech – regardless of offense – some would impose silence. When the right to not be offended trumps free speech, the thought police easily march in.

On the other hand, it would not be right to suppose that anyone can say anything they wish at any time. For surely there would be instances of real infringement on the rights of others. Therefore, like many abstract concepts, balance must be achieved between what is personally desirable and consideration for the other person. This is freedom rightly exercised. This concept is sorely lacking in both the self-declared “victim” and the person who screams fire in a crowded theater.

Another problematic notion regarding freedom these days has to do with government. It seems that many folks these days think that the government is there as a sort of omniscient public and private servant. Government can and should solve all problems. This idea is reinforced through seemingly ceaseless messages from major media and politicians. “What will Washington do about (insert concern here such as the economy, health care, or education)?” The expectation is that the government must do something, even if the concern should not involve the government.

What most people do not understand is that a great extent of the power of government is coercive; government imposes itself upon the public. It taxes and regulated; it restricts and coerces. The way that the United States was designed, the government is not the granter of rights, the electorate allows its rights to be infringed upon in order to benefit the whole.

By asking the government to solve every major or minor problem, especially those which might be best classified as individual (as opposed to societal) is to beg the government to take freedom and liberty away from the individual.

One lesson I hope to remember on this 4th of July is that freedom requires we exercise it properly – sometimes quite selflessly. We must also hold our individual liberty close. If we give it away in seeking easy comfort and shelter from all worry or want, we will lose it. In order to gain independence, our forefathers had to fight a superior force and endure conditions most of us can hardly imagine. Vigilance is required so that we, or our descendants, do not eventually have to repeat their acts.

03 July 2008

States Techniques Under NCLB

In what can be seen as a positive move away from centralized control of public schools, six states have received approval to use their own techniques when dealing with schools who fail to meet requirements under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Yahoo News reports that Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland and Ohio will be able to exercise discretion for schools who miss the mark.

Some of the proposals make sense. For instance, Florida plans to pair “low-performing students” with “teachers who have experience teaching similar students successfully.” Some others are a bit frightening from a teacher’s point of view (and probably a student’s as well). Indiana plans to have “testing throughout the year to catch academic weak spots.”

This leniency is part of a “pilot program” to try to refine NCLB. Eleven states applied to be part of the program, but were rejected. Those states that were chosen will be studied for informational purposes so that NCLB can be refined.

One would think, given the time it takes time to see results (at least one school year), that this pilot program might have been started earlier. I would suspect that we’ll not see any changes to NCLB – at least none resulting from this pilot program – for three or four years. In that time, legislators at the federal level will probably take another hack at laws centralizing control of public schools. Then the process will have to begin again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

02 July 2008

The Whiny Reid

In a much-watched excerpt from what appears to be the Fox Business channel, Senate majority leader Henry Reid (D – Nevada) gives a clear picture of why Congress has done what seemed impossible just a little over a year ago: have a lower approval rating than President Bush. It’s easy to understand why. Reading the following statement does not give the full effect; it is best to watch it. Senator Reid whines:
“Coal makes us sick. Oil makes us sick. This global warming is ruining our country; it is ruining our world. We've got to stop using fossil fuels. For years we've been taking carbon out of the earth and putting it in the atmosphere. And it's making us all sick and it is changing our world."
Now, just what Mr. Reid would do to “stop [us from] using fossil fuels” is a little hard to nail down. A look at the front page of the Senator’s website shows that he is against nuclear power. The “Stop Yucca” petition link is a clear give-away. One page deeper – through the “National Clean Energy Summit” link – shows that Mr. Reid is in full favor of wind, solar, and geothermal energy. And that’s just fine. But those are a long way off. What would Mr. Reid have us do in the meantime? Just get “sick” on oil?

I’m honestly sick of something: the belief among many politicians and more than a bit of the electorate that centralized government programs emanating out of Washington D.C. can cure any real or perceived ill in the country (or the world, for that matter). Perhaps it’s a realization of Congress’s sense of self-importance which is really fueling the disapproval rating, coupled with a well-formed belief that, in the end, Congress will do precious little that does not serve its own interest – life long job security.

Let's Talk Qualifications

Originally posted on the American Thinker website.

Senator Obama said the following in his prepared speech on patriotism Monday: "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine." Later in the prepared speech, Mr. Obama goes on to say "that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides."

That's all fine and good. Gratuitously devaluing service and questioning patriotism are low-brow strategies at best. They rely on the bulk of the electorate thinking at the lowest common denominator. Not to say it doesn't happen.

Just the day before Mr. Obama's prepared speech, Obama surrogate, Wesley Clark, said the following on Face the Nation with regard to Sen. McCain's military experience: "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." To be honest, I don't either. I don't think Senator McCain or any of his surrogates ever said that it was. Mr. McCain is not running for office based on his experience in Vietnam, unlike Senator "Reporting for Duty" Kerry. Much of the media coverage about this matter has centered around who offended or devalued whom and has done nothing more than make what is already political theater more melodramatic.

Therefore, I don't think Mr. Clark's comment about Mr. Cain was "devaluing" or "questioning". It was simply a statement. Left-wing nuts will eat it up (and totally miss the irony) - all military types are war-mongers anyway. But in reality, it was an observation made without much, if any, social grace. That it comes from a former 4-star whose own presidential campaign (in 2004) was quite brief is instructive.

But since we're on the qualifications subject, how about a little thought experiment? If we put aside, for the sake of argument, Mr. McCain's military experience -- all of it -- and base the experience solely on performance in political office. Would anyone argue that Mr. McCain's experience simply blows Mr. Obama's away in myriad ways? Does Mr. Obama have the same record of working with opposition party members for compromise? Does he go against the party grain to do what he thinks is the right thing legislatively? Does he have a history - even a recent history - of changing position on a hot topic based on reasonable reconsideration?

All of these questions may be twisted in the political winds that surround and shelter Mr. Obama as "devaluing" his service. Imaginary excuses (according to Mr. Obama himself) - "He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?" - are pushed on Mr. Obama's opposition without the opposition uttering a word. His credentials are beyond question, at least in his own mind, simply because he is who he is. But he should not, indeed must not, be allowed to side-step really tough questions, like those about experience, by way of some verbal / emotional maneuver.

01 July 2008

The Company One Keeps, Part IV

After having his religious, business and foreign policy advisors examined – at least with some serious scrutiny in certain corners – it is not surprising that eventually some would come to question the military types who have become friends of the Obama campaign. Granted, these associations probably, almost certainly, do not have the long, deeply-rooted influence of, say, a Senator Obama / Mr. Wright relationship. Yet it is instructive, I believe, to take a look at the kinds of retired generals that Sen. Obama has invited to sit at his table: Wesley Clark and Merrill McPeak.

Mr. McPeak is probably less well known than Mr. Clark, whose 2004 presidential run was interesting in that it pitted two veterans against each other on the Democrat side. Mr. McPeak, was the Air Force Chief of Staff from October 1990 until October 1994. He is best remembered for doing two things: entrenching and expanding the influence of the fighter mafia at the cost of other Air Force specialties and changing the Air Force uniform into an airline pilot / Navy officer hybrid. One of those two went away when he retired. Mr. McPeak also, to the best of my knowledge, still advocates “decapitating” enemy leadership as a quick war-winning strategy. It is a strategy that sounds wonderful in theory. However it has been demonstrably difficult in practice; either such high-value targets are highly elusive (e.g. Saddam Hussein) or war-ending targets are specifically pushed off the table by leaders (e.g. Mr. Clark and NATO, Operation Allied Force). But the mindset of quick, (relatively) sterile victory fits in with the idea that the enemy can be coerced from afar by precision guided munitions, which is a pre-9/11 mindset that creates “victims” galore – real or otherwise – among those targeted.

The best quote I’ve read about Mr. Clark comes from National Review, where Jim Geraghty wrote in 2004: “Interviews with a wide variety of current and retired military officials reveal that Clark was disliked by only three groups: Those whom ranked above him in the chain of command whom he ignored, his peers at the same rank whom he lied to, and those serving beneath him whom he micromanaged.” The only flag officer I heard speak candidly about Mr. Clark and the operations over Serbia in 1999 had nothing good to say about him or his leadership techniques. Anyone who would like to know more about Mr. Clark is asked to read the above referenced article. It is a keen reminder of why Mr. Clark didn’t last long as a presidential candidate then and ought not advise politicians today.

I bring up these two gentlemen because as Sen. Obama trumpets his shining example of patriotism and bemoans anyone who questions it (which most do not), it is important to look at who he chooses now to surround himself with. These two former generals – both having earned four stars – may realistically be seen as centerpieces of those who would advise Mr. Obama if he were to be elected. They each represent another reason to not vote for Mr. Obama.

Post Script: For another point of view on this matter, see Ed Lasky's piece on American Thinker, where he looks more into the reasoning and money considerations of these two former generals.