Friday, June 29, 2007

No Posting Friday - Saturday - Sunday

Midterms Saturday and Sunday, plus a case assignment and some work on a term paper.

Next week, more noise!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What Now On Immigration and the Border?

Once again, the Senate has killed the unpopular bill which would, judging from the vitriol hurled around in the past month, have surrendered the United States to a hated foreign power, replaced all happiness and joy with dismal angst, banished the sun and the laughter of children from our lives, and subjected the nation to the maniacal designs of the denizens of hell. Of course, the actual bill did none of those things, but the hatred against it took on a dark identity of its own, and rational debate was one of its first victims. There was a palpable rage in many circles, many of whom took it upon themselves to declare that they spoke for America. This basilisk of political correctness prowls the halls in both parties, always hungry, never forgiving. Consequently, I am not optimistic that we will now move forward towards a functional decision.

The problem here, is that while the bill is once again entombed in that most formidable of mausoleums, the United States Senate, whose Majority Leader so reminds one of funerals and loss, the issues which initially gave energy to the conception of that well-meaning but poorly-built legislative spawn are still corroding the security and commonwealth of the nation. People of goodwill are now morally compelled to consider the next step, which will be difficult regardless of its author. One unfortunate hallmark of this bill’s presence, was the common use of character assassination. Many unfortunate statements made no attempt at all to address the issue, but instead attacked proponents and opponents personally, and even many influential individuals who have profited from their association with certain leaders, did not hesitate to lie about their statements, the context, or their motives. The public now regards the entire federal government, across the board, as dishonest and of no integrity, as well as both major parties. The cost of this season of spite is high, indeed. The worst may yet be still to come, as well. The nation is not well-served by narcissism on such a scale, but we were not consulted, either by the legislators, nor by those famous mandarins in the old and new media, and so we must hang on as best we can, and hope that God brings a miracle. He’s done that before, but at other times He has delivered us the leaders we asked for, a torment devoutly to be feared.

But to the issues. The whole mess is not one issue, as I have said over and over again, but a set of issues, and part of the problem is that the people working on the Hill have bollixed up even explaining what they are trying to do. And that thought gave me the starting point for trying to unravel this mess. You see, Americans have some ideas about what they want, and the Congress, strange as they have been acting, may be said in general to want the right things. The problem is that the bills they have put up for consideration are just not dealing with things effectively. I have remarked, when someone says to just do “X”, that he is presenting a goal, rather than a plan to accomplish that goal. And it occurs to me, that they are right, in that Congress is not being clear about its goals, and until they do that much, they are bound to get the plans wrong for making those goals happen.

The goals Congress is pursuing are not clear. They say they don’t want “Amnesty”, but some opponents say that’s where the bill leads, while other opponents demand a clear vote for amnesty. Congress says they want to secure the border, but won’t state specifics on how they plan to make that happen. Congress says they will punish employers who hire illegals, but not how they will avoid hurting legitimate businesses with undue bureaucracy, or how they will make the charges stick. But worse than that, Congress did an amazingly-poor job of bringing supporters on board. They did not invite comments or suggestions, they did not have regular debates in public on key provisions, they did not pay attention to the flood of emails and letters from their constituents, and they failed to make sure they included professionals in their discussions, like INS and Border Patrol agents, people who actually worked the front lines and who could have supplied critical credibility for their decisions. Even those Americans who saw good things in the bill, found it uncomfortable that the bill seemed to be forced on America. Good managers should not rush decisions, especially when those decisions are controversial, and yet there is no evidence that even a single Senator warned off his colleagues from the way they approached this bill. I’m not saying the bill is good – early on, I said I did not like it because it no effective enforcement provisions, but if you’re going to reprise the delivery of the 10 Commandments, you’d better be able to sell yourself as Charlton Heston.

I have mid-terms coming up, so I don’t have the time to put together a decent argument for what I would like to see done, but for now, I would like to see us all try the following:

1. Let go of the insults and the anger of the last month – it will do no good to dwell on it, if you’re honest you will probably have to admit you said a few things you should not, and in any case old feuds is something for hillbillies and Sicilian crime families, not rational adults;
2. Chill for a few days, enjoy the coming holiday;
3. Remember that a politician is just a politician; and
4. Come back later with the attitude that something constructive can be built. If someone wants to act like a rabid dog, you don’t have to join him.

Just a thought …

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Gun In Your Face

Guns are nasty things, for a number of reasons. I’m a big believer in the 2nd Amendment, because while I like the Republicans and can cope with Democrats in charge, it’s important that our elected officials never completely forget that we the people put them in office, and they have no power or authority whatsoever beyond what is granted by the, as it is written in a certain document, ’consent of the governed’. America is neither Imperial Rome, nor the court of some arrogant King. And sometimes it’s absolutely vital for the government to be reminded that the people are armed.

That said, some truly terrible things are done with guns. Any thug so minded can use a gun to commit robbery, rape, or murder, with no special skill or craft. Not that the cutpurses and marauders of the old days were gentlemen, but the chief reason we have to worry about crime today, is that guns make it easy to commit violent crimes. Then there is the safety question. The nice thing about a halberd or a pike, is that the little tykes are going to have a hard time picking up the thing , let alone having it go off in their face. A pistol, on the other hand, is capable of killing anyone. It’s easy to use and looks cool. I’m not a proponent of gun control per se, but I agree that there should be criminal consequences for someone leaving their gun out where a child can gain easy access. Then there is the person who wants a gun for security, but doesn’t know what to do with it. In my life, I have encountered people who never cleaned their gun, people who did not know where they kept their gun, and in a couple cases, people who actually had a loaded gun with a cocked hammer in a bag, unaware that a sudden jolt could cause it to fire. Drop your purse and kill someone, now that’s an obscene possibility for someone to allow.

But even with the crooks and idiots, I still stand by the right of the citizen to be armed. Why? Well, let’s start with another fact of modern life. If someone kicks in the door to your house and you happen to immediately call 911, how long will it be before the police arrive? And what do you think the criminals will do while the police are on their way? This assumes, of course, that the 911 system is not down, as happens from time to time, or you are not placed on hold, which happens on weekends and peak criminal activity times – apparently the authorities do not staff their phone lines according to citizen need. So, if someone breaks into your house while your wife and children are home and therefore are in immediate danger, what exactly do you do? In my case, the decision is simple – be prepared to act, and if necessary, carry out the plan. That includes taking care to insure safety and avoid mistakes, but yes it includes having deadly force available if I need it.

I have not found a statistic out there for one important condition – how many of you have been in a situation where your life was in danger? I ask, because there really is no condition quite the same as being unarmed and at the mercy of someone who is pointing a gun at you. When I was younger and a bit more careless, there were several such instances. I recall one time when I was at a convenience store when it got robbed by a gang, and I was angry at myself because I could not describe any of the robbers in detail; all I could remember was the .45 pointed at my eyes while they took my watch and wallet. Another time I was actually shot at, but that was a bit different – somehow the threat is psychologically worse than someone trying to actually do the act, though there is a terrible moment when your brain concludes – hey, that was a gunshot – hey, someone’s shooting at me – oh crap, there’s nowhere to run. In that situation, the shooter had the bad luck (and I the good) to take his shot in the hearing of a county constable officer in his car, who hit the lights and pursued the guy. I could go on about the other occasions, but all I really need to say, I think, is that I was a bit careless and criminals are rather confident when they know they are armed and believe you are not armed. One time I was prepared and confronted a gunmen with my own pistol, and for some reason he immediately lost interest in the transaction. I have never yet had to shoot another human being, but the point is that having a weapon greatly reduces the possibility that someone will get shot, since the people most likely to shoot someone are cowards when confronted with force. It’s better to avoid the danger as much as possible, by watching out for situations where you could be in trouble, but that is not always possible.

I mentioned earlier, that the government should be very aware that the population is armed. That sounds laughable on its face, since the military has weapons far more terrible than anything the simple citizen has available to him. The answer, again, is psychological. After all, the U.S. military is a volunteer force, made up of ordinary people trained to some excellent methods and, as it happens, who are generally of the highest character and moral standards to be found in the world. The notion that the U.S. military would agree to oppress the American people is an absurd and baseless insult, largely limited to the craven minds of Hollywood and media types, who coincidentally tend to reflect the lowest character and moral standards to be found in any profession as a group. There is no real need, therefore, for the average American to feel the need to use force against his government. That said, the psychological impact of the right of citizens to bear arms (not felons or aliens, by the way) has the effect of reminding elected officials that they do not have absolute control, and must be answerable for their conduct. It may sound cynical to say so, but sometimes I believe that elected officials dislike the Bill of Rights, because each of those rights speaks of a specific group which limits government. Just as the first Amendment reminds government that people will say inconvenient things, and their dissent is protected, so the second Amendment reminds government that the people have the final right to force, more inviolate than anything the government may choose to do.

Another thing about guns, is that they are a sort of symbol of the modern age. We common folks have a lot more power in our hands than ever before. We can contact our elected officials in person, by phone, letter, telegram, email, and through proxy representatives like talk show hosts. We can kill a bill, or keep it alive. We can turn a nobody into a contender, or make the front-runner a has-been. But too often we are a bit careless about how we use our influence, sometimes allowing a demagogue to claim our support when he does not deserve it, and sometimes we react in anger without considering the effect of our rage. Just as I said a person who has a gun must be careful to keep it responsibly, so too a person must be careful to say things with the consequences in mind. But I would not draw the analogy too far.

There are people who are very afraid of guns, and they speak of “gun control” as though we need to train our guns not to be dangerous, or that absurd notion that banning law-abiding people from having guns will somehow convince criminals and the insane not to have guns. The Virginia Tech massacre rather grimly proves that notion horribly wrong. The flip side of that notion is not the belief that having a lot of guns will fool people into thinking they are safer, but rather that some people think having a gun will automatically make them safer. With all due respect, please do not get a gun, unless and until you are prepared to know how to store it, clean it, and use it safely and securely.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I Support President George W. Bush

It's not the fashion these days, to stand by someone who does the heavy lifting, nor to remember virtues rejected for not suiting the whim of a mob, yet I will continue to stand by the President. And I do not stand alone.

Fools believe polls sponsored by his enemies, which focus only on the attention span of a nation beset with ADD, which is further encouraged to blame President Bush for all sorts of things he never did or cannot control. And again I am reminded why some of the nation's best minds and spirits refuse to run for national office - it is a rare courage in those who knowingly enter that lions' den.

But to our community - it occurs to me worth considering the sort of people who have not turned their back on Dubya. And I am well pleased to count them as my allies:

Vice President Cheney has never been the target of conservatives, yet they never seem to consider that he stands with the President still, just as he always has. For some people there would be the consideration of a political future, but since Dick Cheney has made it abundantly clear that he will leave office when the President does the same, it should be obvious that Mr. Cheney is a man of integrity, resolve, and he is unwaveringly loyal to President Bush. Only a Liberal or some similar fool would pretend he is some kind of bootlick or lapdog.

Prime Minister Tony Blair took a lot of heat for supporting President Bush. What's interesting, is that while he and Dubya have different political views, Tony Blair has never made a stetament which disparaged or attacked President Bush. Again, Blair took a lot of abuse for his principled position, but in the end he never wavered. While Liberals called him names, his courage and loyalty are clear and reflect Blair's own strength of character.

Despite casualties and the long heavy weight of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the troops are still strong supporters of the President. The media and the Democrats, and sadly even some Republicans have tried to use the troops as pawns for their own gambits, but as a whole the military strongly supports and stands by the President. I am constantly amazed by the strength of their conviction that the war is a worthy cause, and that President Bush is doing the right and necesaary job.

Sure, you can find all kinds of big-ego people who don't like Bush. Some think Bush-hate is their ticket to higher office, some think that the President of the United States must cater to their personal opinion like some kind of butler, and some think that they should hold Bush to expectations of perfection - rejecting everything done right in the past if he ever puts a foot wrong in his job. Some cannot stand for the man to have his own mind and make the tough decisions, and are willing to tear down all the man stands for because they cannot agree to disagree on one or two issues. The Left and Right have extremists united in malice and hysteria, and they forget why America needs President Bush. Such cowardice and hate is sadly all too common these day, but I will not pretend it is something to overlook or excuse.

Liars claim Bush "betrayed" them. People who never once ran for office, and who would not support reform when the GOP held the majority in Congress, have no standing to play at God now.

I stand with the President, come what may. To my mind, his enemies stand in self-deceit and dishonor, and what comes of that must surely be ill tidings.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Recency Effect, part 2

On to 1980, and the world changed. Ronald Reagan was why. But first he had to get to the White House. Jimmy Carter certainly did his part to help Reagan get elected, with double-digit inflation, high unemployment at the same time, and a foreign policy that amounted to ’whine and run away’. But even so, Reagan’s clear and idealistic vision which put America first, no excuses, found strong resonance with voters. The lesson is obvious; despair never matches up well against Confidence and a plan.

For 1984, the Democrats ran the most dismal and depressing candidate they could find for the nomination. The lesson was pretty much the same as in 1980, with the same results.

For 1988, the Democrats thought they had figured out the formula. Besides the GOP had never won more than two consecutive elections, or won two consecutive elections with different Presidential candidates, since before the Great Depression. So, the Democrats once again thought it was time to roll out the ’America wants more taxes’. Trying to make Mike Dukakis look human was more successful than with Mondale, but the effort to make him look like a military leader … remember that tank photo? Anyway, the lesson is play to your strengths, but don’t pretend strengths which are not there.

Next, 1992. What a mess. And yes, I’m repeating myself, because 1992 was a repeat of 1968 in some ways. Like the Democrats in 1968, the GOP in 1992 had become fractured, with purists and extremists and various other arrogant egotists trying to hijack the party. They didn’t like G.H.W. Bush, they didn’t like the choices available, so some Republicans stayed home, and some went off the reservation to support the magnificent idiot, Ross ’kinahfinish?’ Perot. The Democrats, as usual, presented a man without a plan to America, a gregarious southern governor who had no competencies to speak off, and little integrity to back up what ideas he did carry along the way. The Democrats rallied behind their man, such as he was, while the Republicans had a lively bickerfest that further soured America’s opinion of Conservatives in particular. Thus we got President Bubba. The lesson? Well it should be obvious.

In 1996, it sure looked like the Republicans were going to get the White House back. President Bubba had managed to alienate himself with just about everyone, but he rallied his troops and rebuilt his image, which was actually pretty easy for a man whose spine was made of jello. Meanwhile, the GOP had somehow gotten the idea that image did not matter, and as a result they nominated a man with an impeccable resume, but with no discernable charisma or specific plans which resonated with the voters. So, while Bubba couldn’t clear 50% on the popular vote, Dole lost to him anyway. The lesson, appearances do count, and it’s kind of important to make sure folks know why you’d be an improvement on the current President.

In 2000, the Democrats felt good. Clinton was high in the polls again, despite his impeachment and voluntary disbarment (not legally speaking, but if a judge asks for your license and you hand it over after pleading ‘no contest’, well …), the economy was good and everything seemed to be running well (the Clinton Administration, contrary to later claims, dealt with Al Qaeda by simply not mentioning it to the American public, nor it seems the next Administration). So Al Gore felt good about his prospects of being the first Democrat to succeed a Democrat in the White House since Lyndon Johnson. Events, however, proved otherwise, and the election, while controversial, proved that either Gore was not nearly as desired by the American public as he thought, or George W. Bush was far more impressive than the Democrats ever thought he could possibly accomplish. For neither the first nor last time, George W. Bush was underestimated, and while Dubya entered the White House, all Al Gore could to go on an eating binge and begin rehearsal of a series of odd and elitist theories. The lesson is, the only real self-fulfilling prophecies are the bad kind.

On to 2004, and the President Bush vs. Senator Kerry matchup. President Bush was already paying for sticking to his position, and his lack of eloquence and media skills cost him several opportunities to put away the election early on. But once again, the Democrats presented a candidate so obviously incapable of the post he sought, that 62 million Americans pulled the lever for Dubya, the most in any U.S. presidential election. The lessons are that a stumbling competency still reflects integrity, standing by the President bears dividends, and a party which thinks that a man who married into hundreds of millions of dollars somehow is best-equipped to speak for the common man, is hopelessly out of touch.

I leave you now to consider the lessons of the past 15 elections, and apply them if you will to our present field of contenders. If nothing else, the obvious misfits should be clear.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Recency Effect and 2008

I was reading Jay Cost earlier this week, and he was of the opinion that, historically, the Republicans are in for a rough haul in 2008. Certainly he has reasons to think so, but I disagree a bit with him about the historical influences at stake. This is partly due to the Recency Effect, which may be phrased as ’Folks See Today and Yesterday, and Forget Everything Else”. A bit of an over-simplification, but to my mind true as Gospel when we’re talking about elections.

I don’t want to re-open the feud between various factions of Republicans about President Bush. The facts are plain enough for anyone who can stop shouting long enough to think the matter through, but that is turning out to be a problem for a lot of folks. Bad news for the Donkey Kongs, is that all this feuding does not mean that Conservatives will suddenly decide to vote Donkey out of spite, or that they will sit out the next election. Like it or not, people with strong opinions tend to vote by those opinions, and if Bush is not their cup of joe, well, he’s not running this time around, now is he? The Donks will run against Bush anyway, but then that’s another psychological issue I will let alone for here. So I want to examine, from a somewhat casual and personal point of view, the Presidential elections from 1948 to 2004, and why they went the way they did. I picked 1948 for my starting point because of the number of elections available to consider, and because it’s a good starting point for the modern political era. FDR was an anomaly, call him whatever else you will, and before him the media, methods of debate and public opinion consideration were so radically different that the elections hardly bear comparison. Mr. Cost thinks differently, and on some levels I agree with his argument, but for this consideration the closer term is the only relevant one. I doubt, for example, that most folks could name the losing candidate from the major parties from any election prior to their birth.

I begin then, with 1948. President at that time was Harry Truman, not very popular with Democrats and certainly not with Republicans, whom he regularly treated like trash. That’s one reason why Democrats won’t mention him these days – they don’t want comparisons between a Democrat and a Republican who put doing the right thing ahead of being popular. Anyway, Truman was far behind in the polls to a fellow named Dewey, a prominent New Yorker with a reputation for integrity and straight-speaking – sound like anyone running for President these days? It was supposed to be a done deal, no chance for Truman, but the history books show that Truman pulled out that election. The lesson, largely ignored today, was that you can never count out a man of conviction, especially when he’s already the President.

Move on to 1952. Democrats by then were really angry with Harry Truman. Mad enough to let him know that he couldn’t get the nod for another term. Well, near as I can see that was an extremely stupid thing for the Democrats to do, seeing as how there were still millions of American Democrats who thought of Harry as Mr. President, and with a measure of respect, as well. So playing ’We’re Not Harry’ cost the Democrats some support, and when the GOP was smart enough to get General Ike to run on their ticket, that was it. Maybe Eisenhower would have won anyway against Truman, but there’s no question the Democrats made their hand weaker by whacking their own guy.

That brings us to 1956. Eisenhower versus Stevenson again, with pretty much the same results. When you consider that this time Ike was the sitting President and not the challenger, this tells you that he should have had a harder time in 1952, if he’d run against Truman. Not trying to pick on President Eisenhower, but his 1956 election was pretty vanilla fare, with no major bad news balanced against a lot of general good feeling. A don’t-rock-the-boat kind of thing, which must have annoyed Stevenson immensely. The lesson there, I hate to say, is that a President who chooses not to stand up in the hard fights can look real good in the short run.

Next, 1960. Nixon losing to Kennedy was a stunner at the time for the politicos, but it shouldn’t have been. Kennedy ran as the effective challenger, since Nixon was the Vice-President under Eisenhower. But in actual fact, there was not much of an impressive executive resume for Nixon. Yes, he’d been a member of Congress, but that has limits to its value. So in actual fact it was a race between a guy with name recognition because he was connected to the President, and a guy with name recognition because he was articulate, handsome, and rich. The lesson, is that such contests are usually close.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson smashed Barry Goldwater. Some of that was residual from Kennedy’s assassination; in 1964 not so many people knew JFK hated LBJ. A bit of that was old-fashioned dirty tricks, frankly much nastier than the stuff we see today. And some of that was that folks wanted to see Johnson given a chance to have his own term. It’s worth noting that 1964 was the last time a Democrat won the White House in a landslide.

On to 1968. What a mess. The Democrats were in a sorry state, having abandoned LBJ – maybe for good reason, maybe not, but he got a delegation of ‘crats in his office telling him he should find a good moving company. Made him bitter enough that he refused to support anyone in the race for most of the campaign, which certainly hurt the eventual nominee, VP Hubert Humphrey. It also hurt the Democrats that Robert Kennedy was assassinated – it may be a stretch to claim that RFK was a lock for the nomination, but he was certainly a force in the election, and a portion of the Democrats simply lost any reason to vote when Bobby Kennedy was dead. Add to that the fierce anger in the South against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which manifested itself in support of George Wallace, and you can see why Richard Nixon was able to win the election with only 43% of the popular vote. The lesson is, never assume the other guy is so bad that you cannot lose, and once again that deserting your President will cost you for it.

Next, 1972. If it makes sense to say that Richard Nixon only won – barely – in 1968 because the Democrats blew their unity, identity, and party discipline, what does it say that Nixon blew away Senator George McGovern in 1972? It should be noted that the Watergate scandal indicates that Nixon’s campaign was actively working at underhanded ways to win, but it’s unsure whether it would have made all that much difference. Nixon won 49 states, including McGovern’s home state of South Dakota. This was partly due to McGovern’s poor handling of his campaign (he fired his VP pick in the summer, for example), McGovern’s poor selection of issues (McGovern based a lot of his campaign on a ‘cut and run’ strategy in Vietnam, missing the fact that the Paris Peace Accords had given Nixon a much stronger hand in that arena, and that most Americans felt that cutting out on an ally was wrong, even in an unpopular war). The lesson is, organization and consistency is a critical factor.

On to 1976. This one is pretty simple. The Watergate burglars were unable to keep their secret, and whatever his initial involvement in the crime, Nixon’s deliberate obstruction of the FBI was criminal. Like another President later on, Nixon’s lying is what did him in, and his own party confronted him with the threat of impeachment. Nixon resigned in 1974, leaving unlucky Gerald Ford to try to lead the GOP. The 1974 mid-term elections were a disaster, and Ford lacked both the resume to claim authority to lead and the charisma to charm the nation. A folksy Democrat from Georgia simply smiled a lot, promised not to lie, and won almost by default. 1976 was also the last time a Democrat running for President claimed a majority of the popular vote. The lesson is, the voters will punish the party for a bad individual, if he’s a Republican.

Next up – The New Republicans, and the New Democrats