Thursday, February 28, 2008

Short Subjects

Barack Obama (and others) keep referring to “the recession.” Attention Sen. Obama: There is no recession; there is a very specific definition for recession, which is two consecutive quarters of negative growth. That hasn’t happened yet and, in fact, we haven’t even had one quarter of negative growth. Please, be honest, Senator. An honest person would not try to win a nomination based on untruths.

The American media is once again/still misinforming the American people. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said he expects some small, regional banks invested in real estate to fail, which was enough for the media to trumpet that there is a banking crisis in the United States. Just like the previous item, there is neither a recession nor a banking crisis in the United States. Currently there are 76 banks on the Fed’s worry list and that is more than the previous number of banks warranting the Fed’s concern. But 76 banks does not represent a crisis; it is making a mountain out of a mole hill. A real banking crisis occurred in the 80s, when ,1100 banks were on the worry list. Or worse, back in the 30s when for three or four years running 1,000 to 2,400 banks actually failed each year. That was a true crisis. The 80s were a lesser crisis. Today is no crisis.

On the subject of the media, the preceding item illustrates just how untrustworthy the American media has become. It comes down to media incompetence, media misfeasance, and/or media malfeasance. Please allow me to explain.

I am now working as executive director for a charitable foundation and in response to a news release we sent out recently about the beginning of our scholarship application cycle one of the local TV stations asked for an interview. When the reporter arrived at our office, the questions she asked me were so completely unrelated to the subject that it was all I could do to turn the answers into something that communicated what we were trying to communicate to the public. Without directly accusing the reporter of incompetence, it is accurate to say that she had no clue what a charitable foundation does, or what the news release meant.

Other times, we see the media reporting stories for the purpose of attracting viewers/readers/listeners. The banking story is one example of media misfeasance.

And the worst of the three, malfeasance, is where the media abandons its own standards to put out a story that is just false, like the recent New York Times cheap-shot non-story about John McCain’s imagined improper relationship with a pretty female lobbyist. More people trust President Bush, who is not a popular president, than trust The New York Times. Is there a message there?

On the positive side, Barack Obama recently refused to answer the “boxers or briefs” question from a reporter. Good for him. But a question: Is asking a candidate what type of underwear they wear relevant? Appropriate? Stupid?

No. No. Yes.

On the other hand, Sen. Obama’s dishonesty on the Iraq issue does more than counteract that. Sen. Obama claimed we are spending $12 billion each month in Iraq and that Sen. McCain has said that he will keep our troops there doing the same thing we are doing now for 100 years. That is simply wrong. What Sen. McCain said was that we will have a presence in Iraq for “perhaps” 100 years, not that we will be doing the same thing we are doing now for 100 years. Another example of blatant dishonesty from Sen. Obama.

And to bring this series of short subjects to a close, Ralph Nader has entered the race for president yet again. In 2000 his three percent of the vote has been blamed by Democrats and liberals for Al Gore loosing the election. God bless Ralph Nader.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Insane Over Hussein

Lord knows that the three remaining major candidates offer enough legitimate areas for criticism to make everyone happy, so you just have to wonder why people focus on immaterial minutiae. Such as, for example, what may be the silliest of the abundance of silly things we are bludgeoned with almost daily, which is trying to make hay from Barack Obama’s middle name. In case you somehow haven’t heard it, it is “Hussein.” That’s right: Hussein; just like the now dead former butcher of Iraq, Saddam Hussein.

Using the middle name is a feeble attempt to call attention to the Senator’s Muslim connections, and to play on the emotions of Americans who remember the 19 Muslim murderers who wreaked such havoc on 9-11-01. But really, doesn’t the name “Barack Obama” lend adequate reference to Islam all by itself? And there is also the infantile effort to make Sen. Obama seem un-American, or less American than a president ought to be. But think about it: if your name is Barack Obama, and you are running for the presidential nomination of a major American political party, does adding the middle name “Hussein” really make any difference at all? Isn’t “Barack Obama” different enough from George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln or John McCain or Hillary Clinton, or Ron Paul or even Mike Huckabee?

The most recent display of this idiocy was the talk radio guy in Cincinnati who, while warming up the crowd for Sen. John McCain, made a point of calling Sen. Obama, “Barack Hussein Obama” three times. Aside from the elementary-schoolyard flavor of this dumbness, there is an historical disconnect, which is that Sen. Obama was born and named in 1961, fully 18 years before Saddam Hussein rose to power, and a few more years still before anyone ever heard of him outside the Middle East. Despite his best effort, the talk show guy just can’t make that connection work.

Some think using the Senator’s middle name is unfair. They are wrong; it is just stupid.

Then, there’s the photo of Sen. Obama dressed in Somali regalia taken on a visit to that country. Someone, perhaps someone in the Clinton campaign, sent that photo to the media with the intent, one can safely presume, to imply that the Senator really IS a closet Muslim who will bring down the US from within, if he is elected President of the United States.

Hardly anyone who engages their brain each day will be influenced by any of this crap, so perhaps the worst thing it accomplishes is to make those who indulge in it look desperate.

And maybe they are.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Weirder and Weirder

As the political season progresses, more and more oddities appear.

We have for the first time in US history a woman who has a chance at being nominated for the Presidency and a black man who has a chance of being nominated for the Presidency. There are those in the US who will not support the idea of a woman or a black President, regardless of who the individuals are. There are those who will not support the particular woman candidate or the particular black candidate. Frankly, I don’t think that because a relative few American hold those feelings says very much about our society, although I’m fairly sure that a few people will disagree with me.

And, perhaps more relevantly, there are also those who will vote for a woman candidate precisely because she is a woman, and there are also those who will vote for a black candidate precisely because that candidate is black. I think that says a lot more about our society than the other side of this issue. Factions in the US have been so successful at inculcating individual Americans with their particular point of view on such things as race and feminism that more than a few people will be convinced that either a black President or a female President is needed right now.

And we also have a strange evolution of the Clinton political machine from a finely honed juggernaut into a series of gaffs hardly anyone could have predicted that may have sunk Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. The Clintons have controlled the Democrat Party for more than 10 years, and way back when this eternal campaign began Sen. Clinton was thought to be a shoe-in for the nomination. And yet today she is trailing an opponent who has far less experience than Sen. Clinton claims to have, and who was a virtual unknown when this campaign began.

How could such a thing have happened? Is it possible that those long years of dominance in the Democrat Party have lulled the Clintons into a false sense of security? Could they have underestimated the opposition or overestimated their power and appeal?

Those questions are better answered by people better informed than I. One thing I do feel confident in saying is that the rest of this campaign will be interesting viewing into the thinking of the American people, and an interesting exercise in the political process.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Hillary Clinton Must Not Become President

Author’s Note: I am going to discuss a few comments made by Sen. Hillary Clinton in an interview on NBC’s Today show with Meredith Vieira last week. So as to not be accused of taking her comments out of context, at the end of my column is a link to the text of the interview.

Why shouldn’t Hillary Clinton be President of the United States? Ask fourteen people that question and you will likely get a different answer from each one. For a lot of us, it is her perspective on the role of government in the lives of Americans.

Listening to Sen. Clinton describe the current state of affairs is not unlike some of those ridiculous TV commercials, like the one for especially sharp knives, where someone massacres a tomato with a dull knife to set you up for their much better product, or another one where someone attempts to cut a straight line with a scissors, obviously not trying to cut straight, hoping that you’ll purchase their straight-cutting device. Or the Billy Mays spot for a remote light switch that can be used to turn lights on and off from a distance in which a woman has to get out of bed and walk across the bedroom to turn off the light, as if people do not commonly have a lamp within arms reach of the bed. These commercials and Sen. Clinton both use the same tactic: exaggerating circumstances to make their “product” seem more desirable. Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t. In Sen. Clinton’s case, it most often isn’t. In her defense, however, hyperbole is a common weapon of politicians.

To illustrate that particular tactic, two comments:

First, she alluded to “whether we're going to have an economy that works for everybody again. We sure haven't for the last seven years.” Now, there are plenty of people willing to subscribe to that point of view, regardless of its accuracy. However, regardless of one’s perspective anyone trying to make the case that the economy for the last seven years has been bad has a tremendous challenge ahead of them. Is everyone prospering? Are there no people suffering? Of course some are suffering and some aren’t prospering, but it has always been thus. And here’s a note to Sen. Clinton: Nothing you say or do is going to change that.

At another point Sen. Clinton offered: “You know, whether we're going to stop the home foreclosure crisis before, you know, more families like the ones I've met throughout Ohio who are, you know, just devastated because they're losing their homes.” (You know?) But the home foreclosure “crisis” is a small part of the total housing market and it is almost entirely in the sub-prime sector, which comprises less than seven percent of the total mortgage market. Sub-prime loans are provided to people who because of their financial situation don’t qualify for conventional financing, so we should not be surprised that many of them can’t make their payments. While this problem affects a lot of people, and while that is very unfortunate, sub-prime mortgages are a risk for both lender and borrower, and when many borrowers fail to make their payments, it does not constitute a national crisis. The problem is a small one in terms of the entire housing market, and an even smaller problem in terms of the entire US economy. Even so, she says, “there's no reason why our country would leave so many people in such a state of pain, anxiety and insecurity, and I think it's wrong.”

And later she over-generalizes about the current administration: “And basically, you know, [Sen. McCain’s] policies are more of the same when it comes to President Bush's failed policies.” Is she talking about Sen. McCain’s foolish position on illegal immigration?

Now that we have looked at examples of Sen. Clinton’s view of the world and her fondness for hyperbole, we can look at how she proposes to fix those problems, and that is where the real trouble begins.

The following statement is as good an overview of her "government is the solution to all-your problems" philosophy as any: “Well, I want to talk about what I'm going to do for the country. … You know, I think most Americans want to know, what are we going to do for you? What are we going to do for your families? How are we going to get you jobs with rising income? What are we going to do to rebuild the American middle class which, after all, is the backbone of our country? And, you know, make college affordable and get health care for everyone. I think that's what people want to hear about and that's sure what I'm going to be talking about.”

What a striking difference there is between Hillary Clinton’s perspective on the American people’s expectations of their government and the attitude toward government in the mid-18th century when the colonists fought and died to cast off the oppressive British government. What a difference between her dream of a government that solves the day-to-day problems of Americans and how Americans during the westward expansion viewed things, when a life fraught with challenges, hard work and often unsatisfactory living conditions was the norm. And what a dramatic change her perspective is from President John F. Kennedy's famous quote "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Even more unsettling is that a growing number of Americans expect their government to take care of them. They want more government in their lives, whereas this country was founded by people who wanted government mostly out of their lives.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Are the Wheels Wobbling on the Obama Campaign?

There’s trouble in paradise. Michelle Obama, the wife of Democrat presidential hopeful Barack Obama, told a campaign crowd recently that only now is she proud of her country. Ms. Obama, age 44, has been around since the mid 60s, and since then some pretty spectacular things have happened involving America, the Berlin Wall coming down, the actions of the first responders following the 9-11 attacks, the United States’ best-in-the-world record of helping other nations after natural disasters, to name just three. And yet none of those things, or other things of similar magnitude, have made her proud. All of which begs the question: Has Michelle Obama actually been ashamed of her country up until now, as so many liberals so often state?

But maybe there is something else at work here. Are people overreacting to Ms. Obama, reading more (or less) into her comments than they should? Is she just a careless talker who says things she hasn’t thought through?

Although most of us can point to some things about America that we aren’t proud of, the fact is that most Americans are proud of many things about their country. And it is true that we are not electing a First Lady. However, a candidate’s wife who is either ashamed of her country, or who cannot or will not point to things that have occurred in her adult life that she considers good things, other than that her husband is running an effective campaign and has a shot at being elected president, reflects negatively on hubby.

And speaking of hubby … A guy whose success to this point is due entirely to his skill with words and his inspirational speeches, carelessly/thoughtlessly/arrogantly uses a someone else’s effective words verbatim at a campaign appearance. What’s up with that? My first reaction was that it was a tempest in a teapot. And then I saw a video of Barack Obama side by side with a video of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, whose words Sen. Obama misappropriated. If you are a responsible, thoughtful human being you do one of two things when you want to use someone else’s ideas: you attribute them to their originator, or you take the person’s general ideas and rework them or rephrase them. Sen. Obama did neither

I said early on in the campaign when it became obvious that Sen. Obama had offered nothing more than a litany of hopeful statements about “hope” and “change” that if he won the nomination, during the general election campaign he would have to actually deal in details if he hoped to win, and the details of his ultra-liberal agenda, when he actually provided some, would sink him. It looks as if I was wrong: Sen. Obama is falling apart already.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Tragedy! Emotions!

A local high school junior was taken to the hospital after his parents discovered him passed out on his bedroom floor. He was found with a belt strung around his neck, apparently doing something called "the choking game" where individuals intentionally try to choke themselves in order to attain a brief euphoric state or high as they pass out. He didn’t survive.

"He participated in a lot of activities here at our school,” the school principal said. “He was a member of our golf team and our academic team. He was just a great kid and fun to be around. We've lost a student but it feels like we've lost a member of our family. It's tough right now because we don't have a lot of answers. A lot of students were really close to [him] and we're grieving.”

I know the boy’s step father; He and his wife must be devastated. Sorrow and sympathy are the first emotions that rise up. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child; I don’t ever want to know.

The next emotion to arise is anger. How can anyone be so stupid? What is wrong with kids these days? Or is it “kids these days?” Kids have always done stupid things. It’s just that when something like this happens, it seems so “new,” so “unusually stupid.” What a waste.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Short Subjects Now the Rule

The recent schedule of events and changes to my daily routine has rendered me far less able to write columns and comments, a change about which I am very displeased. Nevertheless, things are as they are and it doesn’t look like they are going to change anytime soon, so short subjects have become the new paradigm.

Publicizing Creeps and Jackasses

Maybe it’s because we have 24-hour-a-day news channels and we hear more about some events than we used to, or maybe there are just more occurrences of some types of events, but my perception is that there is a lot more wanton violence these days.

From the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (twice) and the Pentagon, to the Columbine mass murder, to the Virginia Tech slaughter, and now the multiple killings at the Northern Illinois University, it seems that these horrors are occurring more frequently.

At two issues rise to the fore:

First, whether it makes sense to have people who are trained in the use of firearms carry weapons in schools and on campuses to dissuade violent attacks against students, or to stop short an attack after it has begun?

I do not want our nation’s schools turned into armed camps, but I’m not opposed to trained persons carrying weapons in schools, and in fact believe having armed personnel will overall make schools safer.

Second, to what degree does the media hyper-coverage of these events glorify school violence?

I believe that we provide way too much information about these vicious or insane scumbags. We don’t need to know their name, and we don’t need to see their face. We don’t need to know why they did what they did. The more recognition that is given to the perpetrators of violent events, the more attractive they become to potential/future killers. News stories should go something like this: “A murderous lowlife entered a crowded lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and killed five people before killing himself.” That’s it; nothing more.

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Politics and Other Inanities

How Much Hope?

How much hope is enough? Is it possible to have too much hope? If you are Barack Obama, the Democrat Senator from Illinois seeking his party’s presidential nomination, there apparently can’t be too much hope. In fact, in a campaign which he is arguably winning, Mr. Obama has talked about little else, which means nothing is more important than hope, to him.

Can you win the presidency, or a nomination for president, by appealing only to people’s desire for the obscure notion of hope, or some popular but frequently foolish call for “change?” Thus far, that is all Mr. Obama has put forth, and he has done so by the truckload. Perhaps the more relevant question is: Can too much hope wreck a political campaign?

Probably not. But we have to look forward to the general election campaign when Mr. Obama, if he wins the nomination, is forced to put some meat on those naked bones of hope and change. One issue specifically screaming for some details is universal health care, which both Mr. Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are touting as the latest national salvation. Someone—P.J. O’Rourke, I believe it was—said, “If you think healthcare is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.” That’s a subject for another day.

Congress and Steroids

What a circus; Congressman Dan Burton had it right when he used that term the other day. Congress is holding hearings on, of all things, whether or not steroids are used by professional athletes, specifically in big league baseball, and more specifically, whether or not ace pitcher Roger Clemens used illegal drugs to “bulk up” and improve his performance.

On one side of this argument is Clemens, denying that he ever used steroids or human growth hormone, and on the other is Brian McNamee, a trainer who claims to have injected the illegal drugs into Clemens body on more than one occasion.

What is the true issue in this flapdoodle is that Congress has no business investigating professional sports. It has no authority to demand that witnesses appear before it to testify under oath about steroid use in major league baseball.

If you think that the situation is so bad, and baseball’s commissioner wasn’t doing anything, that somebody had to do something, and that Congress finally stepped in and that is therefore okay, then think about this: What happens when Congress decides that some other private industry isn’t behaving in the way that Congress, in its infinite wisdom, believe it should? What happens when Congress then demands that Mom and Pop store owners appear to defend why they charge more for the same products than Wal-Mart?

Congress has very specific limits to its authority, and it has dramatically exceeded those limits in this investigation.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Virginia Primary

If you live in Virginia, you can choose which political party’s primary you vote in, regardless of what party you belong to, or even if you claim no party allegiance at all. The Old Dominion is not alone in this seeming insanity.

I believe that the concept of voting amounts to casting your ballot for the candidate that you think best represents your political/social/economic philosophy. Following this concept when you go to the polls if you are a Democrat you vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and if you are a Republican you vote for John McCain, Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul.

However, if you are a Democrat you have the option of voting in the Republican primary if you want to, and, or course, Republicans have the option of voting in the Democrat primary if they want to. Consequently, voters have several considerations to mull over before heading out to the polls. They first have to decide whether or not to vote for the candidate they think is the best one in the party they profess allegiance to, if they claim allegiance to a party. That is a straight-forward vote on one’s conscience.

On the other hand, if they decide to use their vote strategically, as opposed to voting for the “best” candidate, and if they decide to vote for one of their party’s candidates, they can vote for the candidate they think has the best chance of winning, whether or not that is the candidate they believe is the “best” one. Or, they can vote for one of the other party’s candidates, perhaps the one they believe would be the easiest to defeat.

At our weekly dinner at a local restaurant I encountered both kinds of voters. One friend voted for Fred Thompson [who even though he has withdrawn from the campaign was still on the ballot] because he thought Thompson was the best choice. His wife voted for Mike Huckabee because she liked him better than John McCain. Another friend voted for Hillary Clinton, not because he wants her to be the president, but because he thought she would be the best candidate for the Republican nominee to defeat in November. Another friend also voted for Mike Huckabee because she didn’t think John McCain is conservative enough.

You are obviously on the edge of your seat wondering how I voted. Well, since I am conservative, but not a Republican; since I am definitely not a Democrat; and since I am also a person of principle, I decided I couldn’t in good conscience vote in either primary. So, I didn’t vote today. I will, however, vote in November, and I will vote for the Republican nominee, even if that nominee is John McCain (as seems likely), for the simple reason that I just can’t bring myself to vote for either Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama; their political philosophies are far too liberal, and thus too dangerous for the country.

More important than who wins in either party in Virginia is that the system in Virginia and some other states is foolish. We need a system that—at least—determines which candidate the people think will be the best president in the political parties. What we do not need is a system that allows strategic votes to be cast not to nominate the best candidate, as the people see it, but that allows voters to sabotage the opposition by crossing party lines to elect the weakest opponent. Such a system is not unlike from throwing dirt in your opponent’s eyes so that you can beat him at a game he may be better at. It may be effective, but it isn’t honorable.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Emotion Trumps Reason
on Environmental Issues

The writer of a letter in the local paper last Friday railed against coal to liquid technology, calling it “nothing more than selling snake oil; it’s a giant corporate welfare giveaway to already rich coal barons. “

The writer tells us in terms bordering on hysteria that coal supplies will soon run out, but before they do they will “poison my children’s water and air,” then delivers some platitudes, such as that renewable energy sources can save us from the greedy coal companies and that “green jobs” will replace the jobs lost in the coal industry and related industries. Following that are some pie-in-the-sky assertions, like renewable energy sources powering such things as solar cars and lawnmowers can bring energy independence to the United States.

I could address the writer’s points, such as they were, one by one, like the statement that coal supplies will run out soon. The Department of Energy disagrees, saying just a year ago that “the United States has the world's largest known coal reserves, about 267.6 billion short tons. This is enough coal to last approximately 236 years at today's level of use.” Or, I could argue that while coal is indeed a dirty form of energy that it is far less dangerous to man and beast than the writer says it is, due to government imposed emission regulations. Or, I could point out the truth about alternative energy sources: Each and every one of them has its own set of negatives that keep any of them from being a viable replacement for petroleum, natural gas and coal; even the greenies don’t like some of the alternatives.

But what this is about is the abundance of undisciplined emotion in this letter, the lack of sensible argument for or against points in it, but mostly what is at the base of those factors: a gross misunderstanding of environmental conditions, so-called “manmade global warming,” and why such a gross misunderstanding of reality is so dangerous to us and every first- and second-world nation on the globe.

This writer needs to know, and not just from me telling her, that it not a foregone conclusion that man’s activities are accelerating warming of the environment. More than a few credible environmental scientists challenge the entire concept that man’s activities have any measurable effect on the environment. They tell us that warming and cooling are natural cycles that man is impotent to affect.

The writer needs to know that the much vaunted Kyoto Protocols wouldn’t make a whit of difference in slowing the warming of the climate, and furthermore that following the prescriptions of Kyoto would substantially damage the economy of every participating nation, and that in fact it is already doing so in Europe.

The fact that Al Gore and the other “green enthusiasts,” scientists and others have foisted distortions and outright untruths on a too-trusting public to try to scare people into supporting their inane prescriptions needs to get more play in the media. Otherwise, people will not have a good grasp of the arguments of both sides of this issue to allow them to make an informed, intelligent decision about what they believe. They will be left to be the victims of demagogues driven into submission to a fairy tale scenario that bares little if any resemblance to reality.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

What To Do? What To Do?

I wrote not long ago that conservatives were in a pickle this election year because they had no true candidate seeking the presidency, except for Congressman Ron Paul, who really stood less than a Chinaman’s chance of being nominated, let alone elected, and former Senator Fred Thompson, whose early candidacy held some promise. Every other candidate had some conservative positions, or at least something positive to his credit, but none of them represented true conservative values across the board.

As time in this longest-in-history campaign season passed, candidates dropped off the trail, some of them, like Thompson, the more conservative ones. Rudi Guiliani, once the leader of the pack, Tom Tancredo, and Duncan Hunter also gave up the chase. As Super-Duper Tuesday approached, four men remained: Paul, Governor Mitt Romney, Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator John McCain. On Super-Duper Wednesday, Romney suspended his campaign, virtually assuring that McCain will become the Republican standard bearer in the November election.

It is well known that McCain and conservatives are generally not on speaking terms, due to the Senator’s maverick nature, and his penchant for “reaching across the aisle” to participate in the creation of legislation that slaps conservatives in the face, and is occasionally unconstitutional. If it was possible for things to have gotten any worse than they were when I penned that first column, they certainly have. While it is true that McCain occasionally lands on the conservative side of an issue here and there, no sensible person would label him conservative.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that a President McCain and a President (Ms.) Clinton might govern very similarly, which is, if not a scary thought, at least an unsettling one. So, with a non-conservative Republican candidate, and either an ultra-liberal or a solidly-liberal candidate to choose from, conservative voters must decide what to do, come Election Day. The possibilities are not good ones.

They can hold their nose and vote for McCain, hoping he will do better than anyone has reason to expect.

They can vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, reasoning that McCain wouldn’t be a much better president than either of them, and if things proceed badly, at least the Democrats will get the blame, and the Republicans will position themselves to regain the White House in 2012.

They can write in a candidate, sending a message about McCain, but helping to elect the Democrat candidate.

They can stay away from the polls, helping to elect the Democrat candidate.

The worst of those choices is to stay away from the polls, which is unacceptable. Every American has the duty to study the candidates and exercise his or her right to vote for the best one. They also have the right to not vote if they so choose, but that is a right that ought not to be taken advantage of. A lot of men and women have fought and died so that we can peacefully choose our leaders, and we need to exercise that right, even when the choices are less than desirable.

It’s sad that in early February, when only half the states have had something to say about who their party will nominate, that we are down to five candidates in the two parties. The Democrat race is close; the Republican race is not close.

Conservatives must press John McCain on border security, the environment, free speech, appointing strict constructionist judges, government spending, terrorism and other conservative issues, and get his guarantee to govern accordingly before committing to support his campaign.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Political Foolishness (Random thoughts on the political circus)

During their most recent debate, the candidates for the Democrat nomination for President of the United States talked about such things as how the economy isn’t working for so many Americans and what each of them plans to do about that. And they talked about how health care isn’t available to every American at an equal level and what they will do about that. Whatever level of detail they gave—or didn’t give—about any of these points, what they didn’t explain is where in the US Constitution anyone in the federal government is authorized to do anything about either of those things?

They also tell you that when the next President enters the White House after being sworn in he or she will inherent a stack of problems from the current occupant, and they tell you that the current President hasn’t lived up to his oath to uphold the US Constitution. All the while they are denouncing President Bush for failing to uphold the Constitution, they are pledging to behave in exactly the same way, and the audience, rather than noticing the hypocrisy, is applauding wildly at the prospect that one of these folks will have their chance.

And what’s the point of putting a bunch of fawning, adoring, star struck partisans in the debate audience to applaud the every word their chosen favorite speaks? That turns what might be a great opportunity to hear what the candidates really think into a rock concert-like caricature of a serious political discussion. Rhetorical points are made not to express some deep philosophical perspective or a substantive solution to a troublesome problem, but to illicit more applause than their opponent(s).

Why has the Democrat field been whittled down to just two candidates before the end of January after only a handful of states have had a chance to express their opinions, and when just this week 24 states held their primaries/caucuses/conventions, and many others still haven’t had their chance yet? The “nominating” conventions won’t be held for more than six months and the general election is still nearly a year away. And the Republicans have essentially only one viable candidate after the first week in February, not to suggest that some dramatic turnaround might not occur.

What happened to the good ol’ days when these decisions were made in the smoke-filled back rooms during the conventions? In those days deciding a party’s nominee was made by a relative few through wheeling and dealing; today, it is made by more people, but still leaving out a tremendous number of Americans who would like to have something to say about who their party nominates.

Of course I have merely scratched the surface of legitimate criticism of our political system, and hardly anyone who actually thinks about what is happening in politics today really believes that this process will produce the best president. Whether this screwy process is better or worse than the smoke-filled days of yore I can’t say. But I can say with a reasonably high degree of certainty that it is a poor way to choose our nation’s leader.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Key West – Friday

The last day at Key West was a little different. We had absolutely no plans, except to get out in the sun for a while, but this time we opted to go to the beach, which was just across the street from where we were staying, a five minute or so walk. You might wonder why we didn’t go to the beach until the last day, or even why we waited until day four to get out in the sun, and the reason is quite simple: we went to Key West to see Key West, not get a tan. We also thought the temperatures would be too cool to lie in the sun, and neither of us are sun bunnies, anyway.

We were at the beach by right around 11 and stayed about an hour. After getting cleaned up we headed out to nowhere in particular. Well, actually, we did have a destination, which was a tapas place called Santiago’s Bodega, which was highly recommended. It’s downtown two blocks off Duval where so many neat places are, but parking is such a problem in some areas, and we finally decided to go back to a place on the beach that had its own parking lot that we passed earlier, a decent little Italian deli called Saluté Ristorante. The atmosphere was terrific, with the dining area open to the beach, and the lunch menu provided some nice choices.

Diane had a Media Noce sandwich similar to a Cuban Mix, but without the salami, which she said was good. I had an Italian sausage on a bun with peppers, onions and marinara sauce that was great. The wine and the atmosphere made the meal a delight.

We drove back into town and found a free spot on US 1, which we had done before, but we were a few blocks further away than before. We visited a few shops, a great place called Glass Reunion that had a wide variety of nifty things, including kaleidoscopes, sculptures and more than I can remember. We stopped by a place called Mangoes and sipped some Cuban concoctions, and kept wandering around and decided to hit Sunset Pier again around five p.m., hoping to hear those two guitarists from Wednesday. As fate would have it, only one of them was there, and he told me that the other guy was really the Wednesday fill-in for the guy who was there that day, a soul singer who was pretty good. Honestly, the two guitarists were way better. We listened to the music for a while, and then headed down the waterfront to Mallory Square.

On Wednesday on a trip to the bathroom I had heard two guys playing Latin music outside a Cuban restaurant, one a conga player and the other who sang and played a little flute now and then. When we went by that restaurant on Friday, guess what? The missing guitarist was there with those two guys and they were playing some blazing Latin tunes. The conga player turned out to be pretty good, so I tried to get some pointers. He turned out to be a schmuck (the schmuck is shown at right in the photo). So, we dined on Cuban fare at El Meson de Pepe’s and enjoyed their music.

Diane had the barbecued ribs special and I had the mixed seafood, both of which were accompanied with yellow rice, black beans, and fried plantain. All in all, a very good meal with very good music to go along, and as good a way to end a great week that I can think of.

Key West – Thursday

We had decided early in the week that this would be the day we would schedule a special dinner cruise with Captain Alex of Islescapes Gourmet Yachting, and we had some leftovers from previous nights out to get us through lunch, so we just read, watched some TV and spent some time lounging by the pool.

We went to find Capt. Alex’s boat around 4 p.m. and that was too early, so we walked around a bit to fill the time. His boat is a small cabin cruiser, 33 feet, and he normally only serves four people, although he can serve six, if need be. You order in advance from a limited but ample menu, bring your own liquor, beer or wine, and Capt. Alex and his first mate, Stelmarra, do the rest.

Alex is an interesting person; his brochure lists him as “Capt. Alex, PhD,” so I had to ask him about that. It turns out that he retired from his job as a cancer researcher not too many years ago. He’s been running afternoon snorkeling and luncheon cruises and dinner cruises out of Key West for the last year and a half.

We got on board with the other couple, whom we didn’t know, and first mate Stelmarra cast off the lines and we were off for the short cruise to the place where we would anchor, have dinner, and watch the sun go down.

Capt. Alex furnished each couple a Shrimp Boat consisting of lightly blackened shrimp in a Thai chili sauce. My appetizer was a crabmeat Portobello mushroom layered with a savory crabmeat stuffing, four cheeses, fresh herbs and baked on the grill followed by Caesar salad, then the main course, which was a combination of mahi-mahi and grouper alfredina sauce, a white wine cream sauce with Parmesan cheese and sun dried tomatoes. Dessert was strawberries with Key Lime White Chocolate Whipped Cream.

Diane chose a potato goat cheese tart appetizer, a fresh mango slices marinated in a rosemary and honey vinaigrette served over baby greens with toasted almonds and sharp white cheddar, Jamaican jerk marinated pork tenderloin, and crème brulee. All in all, it was a very pleasant dinner, and being on the water during the sunset was great. We got back to the dock around 7 p.m., walked around downtown for a while, then headed home.