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Archive for the ‘National Politics’ Category

International Space Station

International Space Station

Just when you think that our Congress cannot come up with any new ideas, these resourceful individuals deliver yet again.  This time, we have a proposal to establish a national park on the moon to protect the Apollo program landing sites.  To be sure, it is not clear if this is a truly visionary act or just another example of the disconnect between our Federal government and reality.  Consider H.R. 2617, otherwise known as the “Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act.  We have Members of Congress Donna Edwards (D) MD and Eddie Berenice Johnson (D) TX to thank for this interesting legislation.

Of course, if we are to establish such a park on the moon, we will need to have staff and structures present to hand out brochures and such.  And, before that, we will need to divide the moon up into defined pieces of property so that the limits of the park can be established.  There will need to be compliance officers, and RFP’s and countless other job creating positions to support such an endeavor.  There will be signage, and an advertising campaign.

Before my Republican readers start chortling about how out of touch the Democrat party is, you need to remember that their own Newt Gingrich (R) proposed making the 51st State out of the first moon colony.  You can run with this idea.  Once there are enough people present on the moon, they will need representation.  It will be too soon for the dead to vote, but it is just a matter of time.  Who knows what political issues will be raised on the moon?  Talk amongst yourselves.

Once cooler heads start consideration of such a project in the cool light of morning, there is the minor detail of the Outer Space Treaty, which pretty much puts the kibosh on developing moon real estate.  Not that a little matter of a treaty stopped the current version of our democracy.  There is even a field of space law, to address the developing issues of our time.

But you can kind of see their point.  Go ahead and put a national park on the moon and can a Stuckey’s across the road from the park be far behind?  And, if they go ahead and set up property development on the moon, it will be like the Oklahoma Land Rush in space suits.

Oklahoma Land Rush

Oklahoma Land Rush

Before you laugh this one off, consider that NASA has a hard time getting funding, the last space shuttle flight has been and gone and our Federal government can’t even declare National Peach Week without an argument.  And, once they agree on the proclamation of National Peach Week, they don’t have any money to fund it.  Laugh all you want, but it’s a sad state of affairs that we can’t control our spending so that when something truly important comes along, there’s no money to fund it.

If, on the other hand, you turn it over to private capital, they’ll find a way to do it as long as there’s the possibility of recovering their investment and making a profit.  Of course, these days, that’s such an old-fashioned idea; just go ahead and legislate the return on “investment” that shows up regardless of success or failure.  Crony capitalism at its best.

All kidding aside, it does point to an interesting state of mind that is developing amongst those who have actually been to outer space.  Consider that outer space does have a smell.  No, you can’t lift your space helmet visor and take a whiff, but when you get back into the ship and the atmosphere equalizes, there’s an odd smell of burnt metal and fried steak.

Likewise, it’s not all work on the International Space Station.  Obviously, you don’t get up there unless you can contribute, but that only consumes a certain amount of time.  There’s time to sleep also, but after all that, there’s more.  You can’t step outside for a smoke, but you can sit at the window and watch our world pass you by.  From their view from on high, they see the lights of our cities, the bursts of lighting from thunder storms, the vivid blue of our oceans and the clouds of weather and of pollution.  It’s a view that we don’t get down here, and photographs don’t really do it justice.

When the astronauts return to our mortal coil, they are forever changed by the experience.  Some have sought solace in religion, while others have sought the comfort of the precision of science.  Regardless of the outlets which they have chosen, they also have an understanding that our world is finite and our limits clearly defined.  There’s just a thin envelope of atmosphere between our gorgeous world and the vacuum of space.  And as we get drawn into the politics of distraction and envy, we forget the miracle of our world.

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Egyptian Women

The world is quietly holding  its breath as political & social change is happening in Egypt.  At this writing, things have been tense but there have been few casualties.  A lot of tear gas has been fired.  The Egyptian Air Force did a low fly-by, just to remind everybody.  Likewise, the Egyptian Army announced that it would not fire upon the demonstrators.  It was a polite way for them to inform the demonstrators that if there were to be a policy change, then the Egyptian Army could, indeed, fire upon those gathered.  For the moment, however, things are merely tense.

This blog is motivated by a series of photographs posted on Facebook by Leil-Zahra Mortada.  She is not in Egypt, but apparently is acting as a central clearinghouse for photographs coming out of Egypt through unofficial channels.  I’m going to snitch a few of these from her postings because they are extremely interesting:

A lot of images are coming out of the country, even with the Internet and cell phone shutdown.  Most of what we see is from the American perspective.  Which is to say, what we see is framed with our obsession with cheap petroleum and fear of anti-American hatred.  It is, of course, much more complicated than that.  It’s not always just about us.

Certainly, one clue as to the state of local affairs a few days ago can be seen in this photo.  The faces of the police officers tell you something:

Men and women tend to approach things in different ways, but when the ladies are upset, then there’s trouble on the horizon.  The officer on the right is clearly familiar with the situation, closing his eyes and hoping that things pass.  That does not appear to be likely any time soon.  The situation is tense, for a variety of reasons.

One reason is that there are citizens of the United States that are stranded in Egypt during a time of unrest.  They’re true innocents; clearly nobody was aware to any degree that the events of today would be happening during their trip to see the pyramids.  At the same time, if you’re going to travel anywhere, you have to anticipate that things like this are possibly going to happen.

There’s nothing like waking up in your hotel in a foreign country, looking out the window and seeing tanks and troops stationed outside.  With the tank turrets aimed toward the hotel.  Stepping outside is out of the question.  Likewise, social engineering the soldiers is an unwise move.  While your sparkling Cary Grant attitude might seem to be appropriate, the soldier standing there with a semi-automatic rifle may view Cary Grant as just another capitalist stooge.  Hiding under the bed might be appropriate if the tank is aiming at your room, but mostly these situations call for keeping calm, clear headed, and out of sight.

As an aside, my late cousin Chuck O’Connor was business manager for the American University in Cairo in the 1960’s.  One event during this period of time was the Six Day War.  Like many other wars, there had been a ramping up of  hostilities, but many felt that it was just the diplomatic version of sports trash talk.  Well, except for those troops massing along the Jordanian border.  Nasser was president of Egypt, and had been playing footsie with the Soviets for several years, much to the chagrin of the United States.  The American presence in Egypt was a tenuous one, and when the war broke out, there was real concern on the part of the Americans as to what was going to happen.

One event tells you something about the times.  Chuck and an associate were walking down a Cairo street.  The populace was agitated with talk of war.  As they walked by a local newsstand, the Cairo newspapers had bold headlines in Arabic, reporting of the war.  But one paper was meant exclusively for American consumption.  In screaming bold English language headlines was:

Kill every American You See on the Streets!

Of course, this headline was part of the government’s propaganda machine, directed toward the potential enemy.  Fortunately for all, nobody paid much attention to the headlines and everything worked out.

The Six Day War wound up promptly, with Egypt and the rest of the Arab world defeated for the moment.  There would be other conflicts on other days, and the matter remains unresolved to this day.  At the same time, Nasser’s leadership in the Arab world would slowly diminish after this war, but his death ended matters abruptly.  Anwar Sadat,  who was Nasser’s Vice-President, would lead Egypt from 1970 until his death by assassination in 1981.  He was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak, the current center of attention in Egypt.

The assassination of Sadat was the result of a fatwā issued by a Muslim cleric, Omar Abdel-Rahman.  Presumably, Sadat’s moderate stance in the Arab world was central to his assassination, but, also presumably, the cherry atop the chocolate sundae was the Egyptian–Israeli Peace Treaty, which was the result of a major diplomatic effort that resulted in the Camp David Accords.  The resulting treaty was an acknowledgment by Egypt of Israel’s right to exist, which was contrary to popular Arab opinion.  It was a bold move by Sadat, one that also strengthened Egypt’s relationship with the United States.

It would be easy to say that this is all about oil, but that Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty’s acknowledgment would prove to be crucial for relative peace in the region.  This peace has always been tenuous, but it has been the valuable foundation for subsequent developments.  When Sadat was assassinated, Mubarak took over.  And the United States carefully cultivated the relationship with Mubarak.  At the same time, the United States turned its head away from some of the excesses of the Mubarak regime.  Which brings us back to today’s events.

The United States has a spotty track record when dealing with foreign leaders.  We’ve supported our share over the years that have been good, but there have been more than a few stinkers, too.  The current Egyptian crisis has a lot of people thinking about the Shah of Iran.  In 1977, the Shah was our man in the Middle East, a bulwark against the Soviets and the forces of chaos.  By 1978, it was time for him to go.  There were demonstrations against the Shah in the streets of Atlanta and other cities.  By 1979, he had abdicated and was gone from power.  And, the United States was left holding the bag while the government of Iran was holding American citizens against their will.  Iran has been a difficult issue for the U.S. ever since.

Achieving some sort of balance between principles and practicality has always been difficult for the United States.  In very recent memory, the Central American nation of Honduras tried to enforce their national Constitution but the current administration of United States kept intervening in support of want-to-be dictator, Manuel Zelaya.  Zelaya is now a resident in the Dominican Republic and Honduras continues with its legitimate leadership.  Nor was this the first time such a thing had happened.  In 1954, the United States successfully orchestrated the eviction of a communist leader in Guatemala, smoothly removing Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán.

From the Philippines, to Viet Nam, to the Middle East, to South America, the United States has tried to extend its influence.  In many cases, this has proved to be a successful formula.  You rarely hear about the successes, but the failures have often been spectacular.    We do this because we are an international power, and we do it because, in at least some instances, we believe in the values and principals of freedom.

For the average American, the real concern with events in Egypt is the price of oil.  They remember when Katrina shut down the refining industry along the Gulf Coast, and that only represented about 10% of American oil consumption.  This would be something bigger.  Traditionally, the real concern was for tankers traveling through the Strait of Hormuz.  A couple tankers set afire there by ship-to-ship missiles would effectively close down Arabian oil production, with the resulting chaos directly affecting the United States.  We ignored the other choke point, the Suez Canal, because Egypt was a strong and reliable ally.

That reliability came with a price, a hidden cost that has resulted in what we are now witnessing.

Modernization in the Arab world has always been a conflicted matter.  There are the conflicts between western clothing for women and the traditional hijab.  So, too, education is highly valued, but with it comes radicalism.  It is helpful to remember that most of the 9/11 terrorists were the children of Arab middle class professionals.  Likewise, education causes its own problems; consider John Carney on the Tunisian uproar, which he attributes to an over educated populace with nowhere to go.  How are you going to keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen Paree? The Tunisian uproar was largely facilitated by Twitter and such.  The Egyptian government has shut down the Internet and cell service, but revolutions were being conducted long before the Internet.  All this does is slow them down, and maybe the act of cutting off the Internet just makes people madder.

No, clearly, change is afoot, but I retain American optimism.  As of this writing, there has been no anti-American rhetoric, no flaming effigies of Uncle Sam or the American flag.  In so many ways, we hope that things will be different this time, for Egypt holds a central place not only in the Middle East but in our culture and society.  So much of what we are comes from Egypt.

The presence of women in the streets gives me hope that this will be a different revolution.

There are families at these events, showing their children history.

And, there is still humanity:

************

Now, 24 hours later, things have hotted up and whatever notion that I had of a peaceful revolution has evaporated.  I suppose that it was destined to be.  As one expert put it:

The Revolution is not a tea party –  Chairman Mao Tse Tung.

The pictures give some clues:

Since camels, horses and other farm livestock are not normally seen in Cairo any more, one can assume that the pro-Mubarak supporters are coming in from the suburbs and beyond.  Likewise, today’s Wall Street Journal is full of useful reporting and analysis.

One juicy tidbit was that last Friday, when the demonstrators began to gain the upper hand and both the Internet and cell phone service were discontinued, Mr. Mubarak directed the Minister of the Interior, Habib al-Adly to use live ammunition to put down the protests.  Mr. al-Adly passed on the order General Ahmed Ramzy, who refused to obey the order.  There was additional confusion when Mubarak directly ordered the army to deploy.  Adly, in a fit of pique, gave a sweeping order withdrawing all police from the streets.  Before the Egyptian army had deployed, there was chaos.

As an aside, the act of cutting off cell phone service was probably more of an issue than it would have been in the United States.  While the U. S. still has a substantial copper and fiber-optic telephone network, that is not the case in Cairo.  In much earlier times, Cairo’s phone service was so unreliable that most commercial businesses employed a young man to stand by their telephone, picking it up, listening and putting back on the hook.  If this minion was able to get a dial tone, he would loudly announce that fact and someone would go over to make their call.  When it was decided to modernize the Cairo telephone system, they by-passed the construction of a wired phone network, going directly to a cellphone type of system.  The typical household phone looked like a wall phone with a small antenna on the top.

So, as I write this, it is night time in Cairo, and the matter is from from over.  Obviously, there are a lot of loose ends that must be tied off before this is over.  If history is any indicator, the new President would most likely come from the Egyptian military, which was the case for Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak.  We’ll see.

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What We’ve Lost

The Good Old Days

There was a time when taking an airplane flight was a glamorous and special event.  No, I’m not kidding.  People actually dressed up.  Relatives and friends would go to the airport, right up to the gate and see you off.  Inside the aircraft, there was plenty of leg room.  Almost every flight included food service, on real china with real silverware.  I’m not kidding.

When airline travel was in its infancy, the railroad passenger train was the dominant form of intercity travel.

Milwaukee Road "Skytop"

Milwaukee Road Skytop Observation Car

The above example was the rear car of a deluxe train which traveled between Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis / St. Paul.  Imagine twenty other railroads, each with their own distinctive train colors, unique dining car china, signature food and high speed service on privately funded rights of way and you have a picture of what America lost when the passenger train went away.  It is hard to understate the contribution which governments (Federal, State and Local) made to killing the privately operated passenger train.

Popular tastes moved over to the modern passenger airplane.  There were, to be sure, hold-outs.  Most notable was the boulevardier Lucius M. Beebe.  Very much the railroad enthusiast, Beebe refused to fly.  In his salad days as a society reporter for the New York Herald-Tribune, he repeatedly tried to convince the editors to keep a Box Score of airline passenger fatalities on the front page.

In later years, after he had retired to the west coast, his partner, Charles Clegg, convinced him to take a ride in an airplane from Reno to San Francisco.  When the airline discovered that THE Lucius Beebe was taking his first flight on their airline, several company executives rushed out to the airport to see the great man.  A notorious imbiber, Beebe was escorted into the airport bar for a drink prior to his flight.  Regaling the executives with colorful stories, the one drink expanded into several.  Meanwhile, the scheduled flight, on a non-air conditioned prop plane, waited outside on the hot tarmac, well past departure time.

The merry group eventually left the bar and the tipsy Beebe and Clegg climbed the stairs to the plane.  Walking in, Beebe was greeted with the glares of hot and angry passengers.  After one long look, he loudly pronounced: “Get me off this hell-bound cartridge of death” turned around and stumbled back down the stairs.  More than a few of the passengers joined him.  Beebe never flew.

For the rest of America, airplane travel was no longer the harrowing flirtation with death.  It became romantic.  Jet travel enhanced this image even further; Peter, Paul and Mary sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane”.  The airlines competed for business in a variety of interesting ways.  Here, a Braniff Airlines advert:

Braniff Air Lines Advertising

Along the duration of the flight, the stewardesses would have several costume changes prior to arrival.  It should be noted that one joke of the day was that: “If you took all the airplanes in the world and threw them up into the air, the Braniff ones would be the last to come down.

Likewise, Braniff went from staid to bold, decorating their fleet of aircraft in a variety of colorful liveries.

The Old Braniff

Staid

Bold

Bold

In many ways, Braniff set the stage for today’s colorful aircraft, but at the time, there was a certain derision directed toward them.  “Okay, the cute pink Braniff 27 is cleared for takeoff.

Actually, the loss of the term “stewardess” is perhaps the most grievous.  The name was the feminine of the term “steward” (an employee on a ship, airplane, bus or train who manages the provisioning of food and attends passengers).  In the early days, when every airplane flight was an opportunity for the grim reaper, being a stewardess was a responsible position.  Most airlines required them to be registered nurses, and much of their early responsibility was reassuring passengers that air travel was safe.

It was inevitable that having a natty uniform combined with extensive travel in this new medium would make the stewardess job a highly coveted one.  By the 1960’s, the stewardess was a major promotional item for the airlines.  So, the airlines began to focus on weight limits for the stewardesses rather than for the aircraft.  So, too, looks were everything.  Fashion ruled:

It was, of course, bound to end.  Just like the 1960’s themselves, the stewardess as sex kitten and entertainer had to go.   Now, of course, we have the flight attendant, with the attendant part being key.  Makes the job sound like the prime responsibility is to keep an eye on the refrigeration mechanism for a truckload of meat.  Which it probably is these days.

The departure of the glamorous stewardess was part of a larger process.  Air travel became a commodity.  Whatever specialness that plane travel had was slowly winnowed down to today’s decidedly unromantic flight.  The process seems to have started with Peoplexpress Airlines, or as many referred to it, the Greyhound bus of the skies.

Deliberately marketed to the, ahem, value oriented consumer of airline travel, Peoplexpress had all the charm of a Soviet-era farm cooperative.  Its low-cost approach also attracted the low-cost customer, right down to their tank tops and flip flops.  Other airlines riffed on this image, especially Southern Airlines, which ran an advertisement that encouraged passengers to remember to bring a wood crate to sit on.  Regardless, the era of passengers as valued guests began to slowly evaporate.

There would be other trouble appearing on the horizon.  Aircraft hijacking would notably pick up in the 1960’s, with many of these events requiring airlines to make an unscheduled stop in Cuba.  This was during the early years of the Castro revolution, before Fidel had worked his magic on the Cuban people and their culture.  Now, of course, the problem would more likely involve people hijacking planes to get out of Cuba.

The Cuban airplane hijacking was not the first example of an airplane being commandeered, but it was the start of the searching of passengers prior to admission to the aircraft.  Of course, since that time, matters have only become worse, culminating with today’s debacle at the airport.  Like 1960’s stewardess fashions, security measures have become so extreme that an adjustment is overdue.

Consider the implications of a parent telling their child that it is not okay for a stranger to touch you, only to have that child groped at the airport.

I suppose that it is okay if the person doing the groping is in uniform, but there are other countries in this world that do not resort to such intrusive measures.  The preoccupation is with “safety”, but the only ones that are safe seem to be the terrorists.  As hard as it is to say this, it seems that the terrorists are quietly winning this war, while we have to resort to even more extreme measures.

Public resistance has developed against these extreme measures, for good cause.  I suppose that it is just a matter of time before we are told that the airport body scanners will now be used for national health care screening.  How long before the TSA agent  pokes his finger into my scrotum and says “Turn your head and cough”?

Say what you will, Americans tend to respond to problems by telling jokes.  At one point, TSA was supposed to mean “Thousands Standing Around“.  Now, TSA stands for “Touching Sensitive Areas“.  Wags have suggested that the full body grope should also include, for an additional $25.00, a “Happy Landing“, where the process started by excessive groping of the private parts is brought to its logical biological conclusion.  The problem to this new service appears to be over revenue sharing between the airlines, the Federal government, and the airports.  Also, no mention, as of yet, as to tipping for the TSA agents themselves.

This whole flap over the TSA groping and X-Raying is slowly moving toward a crescendo, and at this writing, its outcome is not clear.  One thing is clear, however, you couldn’t ask for a clearer image of what a strong and intrusive Federal government looks like:

Big Brother Is Watching You

Big Brother Is Watching You

Have a safe flight.

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The Big Day

Today is the big day.  Today is the day that the American people decide to take their government back.  Or not.  Today is the only opinion poll that really counts.  I now trot off to the polls, eager for change.

There are still questions:

  • Whose judgment do you trust more: that of the American people or America’s political leaders?
  • Has the federal government become its own special interest group?
  • Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?

The answers to these questions will not be immediately evident.  It will take years to unwind what has happened to our government, to correct the profound inequities that have been allowed to happen.  Yet, today is the beginning.  Once this process is started, we must continue to be vigilant, for we have seen what happens when we are not paying attention.

To borrow from the 1970’s, today is the first day of the rest of America’s life.  What will we do to make things better?  What will we do to leave things better for the generations that follow us?  Today is the start of something big.

To get an idea as to how far we have sunk:

I hear people saying they are afraid that… if the republicans do get things moving again in the economy then it could make Obama look good and lead to a second term.

Presumably, this sort of talk is coming from the television set, and, in a ray of hope for our Republic, the viewer saw through that nonsense:

Well, frankly this is not about making Obama look good or bad, this is about stopping the madness that many of us feel will lead us to bankruptcy as a nation. Even if it does lead to a second term for Obama, it is still far better than continuing on the current path we are on.

This is not about Republican or Democrat, it is about the fact that we cannot afford to continue running our governments in the way that has been done in the past.  There has been a fundamental disconnect between our elected leaders and the citizens who pay the bills.  At the taxpayer level, people are having to tighten their financial belts, why can’t our government?  But it is more than that.

For the last two years, the country has been in the firm grip of “progressives”, and it has not been pretty.  Certainly, the voters are reacting badly to be treated as if they are stupid.  Granted, there’s anecdotal evidence to support that, but it is more than that.  Consider these words from a blog:

….that liberals regard conservatives as not merely wrong and wrongheaded but illegitimate, dishonest, pathological, and unworthy of being taken seriously. In this view, conservatism is not a philosophy but a conspiracy. Paul Krugman is explicit that conservative policy ideas are, by definition, lies advanced for ulterior purposes. But the assumption is implicit in the haughty rhetoric and actions of a great many liberals, including President Obama.”

“…They believe that the natural course of history is the emergence of secular rationality as the true way to think about problems and of state power as the effective way to organize society along rational lines. If that is your worldview, then such things as revealed religion, cultural tradition, and the marketplace (whose outcomes are spontaneous, not rationalized) are vestiges of our primitive past, sure to be displaced by the spreading application of human reason.

The world that they envision has no place for me.

Hubris

Hubris: means extreme haughtiness or arrogance. Hubris often indicates being out of touch with reality and overestimating one’s own competence or capabilities, especially for people in positions of power.

Well, there you have it.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Reality Check

I like the free market and I like individual freedom, even though it means that I have to sit down and actually think about something every now and then.  For that, I get described by the Progressives (so-called) as being irrational, clinging to my guns and religion.  For liking my freedom and free-will, I am described as one of those torch-bearing villagers in an old Frankenstein movie.

The problem is that I am a taxpayer in the village, that I am being forced to support this grand progressive wet dream.  Given that, one would think that there would be respect.  You can only get so far by patronizing the villagers.  So, I march off to the polls this morning; I don’t need a torch because it is daylight, but the monster must be controlled.

The Neutron Bomb

One problem rears its head.  If things go as the telephone polls predict, there are going to be a lot of Congress-persons who will be unemployed in January.  Back in the 1950’s, some bright nuclear weapons designers came up with an idea for a new nuclear weapon. Rather than yield explosive energy, it would yield “energetic neutron radiation”.  In the administration-ese of the day, this was to be an “Enhanced Radiation Weapon“.  This gadget, when exploded, would spew out vast amounts of destructive nuclear radiation, ultimately killing all living things exposed to it.

Although developed during the 1950’s, the Neutron Bomb made its public introduction during the Carter administration.  It was an instant hit; the enemy was killed but the buildings remained! English, adaptable as always, quickly latched onto the term and we got “Neutron Jack“, for Jack Welch; the people were gone but the desks remained.

Eventually, cooler heads gained control and reminded everybody how the neutron bomb really worked.  First, not only were the enemy soldiers zapped, but also any civilian anywhere in the vicinity.  Also, the neutron bomb’s action was not immediate; soldiers did not just keel over like in Goldfinger.  No, for several days afterward, they would be able to still fight and kill.

At some point the soldiers and civilians would become aware of the fact that they were destined to die horribly of radiation sickness in the immediate future.  Knowledge of this fact would lessen the ethical boundaries of their behavior, leading them to ignore the agreed-upon niceties of warfare.  Knowing that they were destined to die, who knows what mayhem would be unleashed by these soldiers before their ultimate death?  The idea of a neutron bomb went away with good reason.

Soon though, the halls of Congress will be awash with the walking dead.  Current Members who have been voted out today will be unemployed shortly and may have little reason to act in the best interests of The Republic.

Earlier, in October, Congress departed Washington with a large number of ordinary items left undone.  This was not only regular Congressional business, but also the tax-cuts passed during the Bush administration, which expire at the end of the year.  Failure to renew these cuts is going to add another huge burden to our struggling economy.  Congress must pull itself together to complete what is required.  We can only hope that these walking dead will take their departure philosophically.

The Media

The media has been absolutely breathless.  Liberal or conservative, there has been a lot of advertising sold because of our political situation.  Likewise, the pollsters have been in their Golden Age.  Not a day goes by without yet another poll, and the politicians selectively take what supports their position.  Today, it is no longer theoretical.  Today, we get what we want, for at least a year or so before the election cycle starts again.  Perhaps, in the quiet moments, there will actually be resolution to some problems.

The media selectively tells us what they want us to hear.  Yet, at the same time, other groups have been spending even more money.  AFSCME, a public employees’ union, has outspent the private sector.  Likewise, two other big spenders in a group of six are also public employees’ unions.  Their members take money from government, pay union dues which are then spent for political campaigns.  Can we survive this much longer?

Breaking the Cycle

We have been in an unending cycle.  Government “solves” a problem, which results in a new problem that government must “solve” again.  The reality is that the political structure is operating beyond its functional limits.  It is time for change.

Grace in Victory

We are obligated to respect our fellow citizens.  In the first American Revolution, not every resident of the Colonies was for separation from King George.  After the War, these opponents were not marched out and shot.  They were allowed to continue, to thrive.  In time, their views would somehow be incorporated into the genius of America.

Those who have argued for the progressive life are entitled to their opinion, even though they themselves have not been gracious about it.  Somehow, we must find a way to accommodate their ideas without giving up the core values of our country.  We must find a way.  Being conciliatory is not the same as giving in.  They are American citizens, too.

A More Perfect Union

Once this election is complete, the votes counted and the banners furled, the bandwidth will be filled with post-election analysis.  Which will drag out for months, but I pray that there will be no gloating about this election’s results.  For gloating about election successes takes away the appreciation for the significance of this particular election.

Today’s election is not the end of things, it is merely the beginning.  Our country is a place of ingenuity and independence.  We live free and as a result we think free.  From that freedom comes something uniquely American.  It took us to the moon, not by computers but by slide rule.  It gave us a powerful economy that, if left to its own devices, will thrive.  It’s as true today as it was two hundred years ago.

United we stand, divided we fall.

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I’m reading a book written by Marj Carpenter called “Get Your Foot Out of the Darn Petunias” [ISBN:978-1-4500-1954-5, Xlibris Press].  The “Xlibris Press” means that she published this book herself and when you want a copy, you order it from Xlibris.  They print it on demand and mail it from Canada directly to you; technology marches on.  Because she is an editorial type, the book is pretty well written, easily worth the purchase price.

I know Marj through a friend, Gary Rowe, with whom I share a railroad related blog, so when I heard of this book, I had to buy it.  Marj refuses to call it an autobiography, and her two previous books were about the Presbyterian mission, but Petunias is described as “Stories From My Life”.  And interesting stories they are.   I am quite familiar with some of them, having heard them at a dinner table, full of gin and red meat, and laughing uproariously.  Others are new to me, so the book is still interesting.  As you read the little two and three page vignettes, it becomes like looking at a stained glass window; the little pieces of colored glass slowly form into one large coherent image.

Marj grew up tough, and started work in a tough business,  journalism of the 1950’s and 1960’s, where a woman was rarely welcomed, much less appreciated.  She worked for small town newspapers, ekeing out a modest living for her family.  The term rough & tumble is appropriate, especially so when she broke a certain news story.  It is impossible to read Marj’s book without knowing who a key character is.

You have to be old enough to remember who Lyndon Johnson was, and the Great Society, and Viet Nam, all of that stuff that is now ancient history.  Billie Sol Estes managed to create a grand scandal by playing the skinny with a Federal farming program.  It should be noted that Wikipedia categorizes Estes as a “Real-life notable con artists”.  The gist of the scam:

In the late 1950s, Estes was heavily involved in the Texas anhydrous ammonia business. He produced mortgages on nonexistent ammonia tanks by convincing local farmers to purchase them on credit, sight unseen, and lease them from the farmers for the same amount as the mortgage payment, paying them a convenience fee as well. He used the fraudulent mortgage holdings to obtain loans from banks outside Texas who were unable to easily check on the tanks.

At the same time, United States Department of Agriculture began controlling the price of cotton, specifying quotas to farmers. The program included an acreage allotment that normally was not transferable from the land it was associated with, but which could be transferred if the original land was taken by eminent domain.

Estes worked out a method to purchase large numbers of cotton allotments, by dealing with farmers who had been disposessed of land through eminent domain. He convinced the farmers to purchase land from him in Texas and transfer their allotments there, with a mortgage agreement delaying the first payment for a year. Then he would lease the land and allotments back from the farmer for $50 per acre. Once the first payment came due, the farmer would intentionally default and the land would revert to Estes; in effect, Estes had purchased the cotton allotments with the lease fees. However, because the original sale and mortgage were a pretext rather than a genuine sale, it was illegal to transfer the cotton allotments this way.

It was Marj Carpenter that broke this story.  As Marj’s paper began developing the story, a journalistic war broke out in Pecos, Texas.  Estes opened up his own newspaper, The Pecos Daily News to counteract the stories which Marj was writing for The Pecos Independent.  There was no gunfire, but everything else was wide-open, from trashed newspapers to stolen camera film.  National attention was drawn to the scandal.  He also made the cover of Time Magazine.

In the end, Estes went to prison for a couple years, only to be released after a 5/4 Supreme Court decision based on the fact that Estes could not get a fair trial because of all the publicity.  By this time, the issues raised by the scandal had been largely reconciled and the Johnson Administration was eager to turn the public’s attention to other things.

As an aside, although Estes was back on the streets, his ego remained the same.  He has his own website, which you can find by yourself.  And, he has published an autobiography entitled “Billie Sol Estes: a Texas Legend”, that was published by the appropriately named BS Productions.

Marj moved on, too, but her fighting spirit remains.  It just shifted over to doing work for the Presbyterian Church.

I talk about this because another governmental scandal has just raised its little head right here in Atlanta.  Nothing big or anything, but just one of those little things that makes you shake your head.  To wit:

The chief operating officer of a local company was arrested Friday after several of her former employees told a judge she forged their signatures and defrauded the federal government……  Employees testified that they began working for [deleted] after applying for a stimulus-funded back-to-work program. They said they were told by the state that they would be paid $14 per hour, but said they either weren’t paid, their checks bounced, or they were paid less than $14 dollars per hour.

As has been pointed out in this blog before, the government is getting so big that Congress itself does not know what it is voting for.  And, as it continues to grow even bigger, this problem can only get worse.

A lot of people complain that Congress is deadlocked, and I’m beginning to feel that it is deadlocked because it is operating beyond it’s capacity as an institution.  That is, the founders of the United States, back in the 1700’s, deliberately designed an institution that could only get to be so big.  Once past that point, Congress can’t do its job, no matter who is in power.

There’s no real challenge in finding Congressional inefficiency.  A quick look at Jamie Dupree’s archives is easily sufficient.  For example, I wonder what this earmark is for?:

Lake Eufaula Association, OK Construction of a Facility $400,000

And, the more that we spend, the less we seem to be able to control fraudulent spending.  Is the Lake Eufala Association legitimate?  Your guess is as good as mine.  This is just one earmark in thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of earmarked Congressional spending.  The general public is constantly being distracted with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Illegal Immigration, a Mosque at Ground Zero, but they all simply are distractions from the biggest issue.

The Spending.

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Dan Rostenkowski

Daniel Rostenkowski has passed on.  The remembrances of Representative Rostenkowski will include his being Chairman of the powerful Ways & Means Committee and, inevitably, his downfall in the House Post Office scandal.  What will probably not be remembered is his role in the passage of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988.  And this act’s subsequent repeal in 1989.

In this day of political power plays, it is helpful to go back to this series of events, just to point out that actions of Congress can be reversed.  Needless to say, those who remember history have had the same idea.  By the way, this particular article is chock full of interesting descriptions of the situation in 1988:

First, health care is personal. If you mess with people’s health coverage, they won’t just write a nasty letter to the editor. They will show up at demonstrations with home-made signs, scream at you, chase you down the street, and maybe vote you out of office. So you’d better have a good reason for doing what you’re doing, and a compelling explanation of how your plan would personally benefit your constituents.

We are, of course, still waiting for an explanation of just what Obamacare’s legal language includes, and its affects upon us.  In a typical action during an election, Senator Harry Reid has decided that he doesn’t like Obamacare, either.  You can’t make this stuff up.

For another description of the situation 1988, please see here.

The point being is that what Congress passed last year can be repealed next year the people show their opposition to legislation.  Compare this video from 1988 with last summer’s “Town Hall Meetings”:

Seems kind of tame, doesn’t it?

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I don’t quite know what to make of Facebook.  On one hand, it is morbidly fascinating to see the lives of others, well at least what they have on display.  Some are more interesting than others; the most interesting are the pages of those who haven’t paid attention to the security and privacy settings, but that’s for another day.  And, in the spirit of disclosure, when I post this item, it will be promoted on Facebook.  For better or worse, I use it, too.

I don’t use Twitter, which I consider to be the CB radio of the 2000’s.  Anything that I posted in that format would easily be considered to be a twit.  Then, too, I’m an advocate of the Southern Oral Tradition, which means that saying anything in 140 characters or less is pretty much an impossibility.

In any case, some of the most interesting posts on Facebook are the political ones. And it can’t get much more political than the primary for the Republican candidate for Governor; the run-off is on this coming Tuesday.  And, of the political postings, Mr. Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal Constitution seems to have found his way with Twitter and Facebook.

To set the stage, the Democratic candidate for Governor has already been determined.  It is Roy Barnes, who was governor of Georgia from 1999 to 2003.  He was defeated by the current Governor, Sonny Perdue, as part of a state-wide Republican sweep.  His loss at that time was a harmonic convergence of several dissident groups, including school teachers.  Each of these groups, by themselves, would not have been enough to merit an election defeat, but together they voted him out.  Fast forward to 2010, and Barnes is running again.  This time around, he has made it a campaign tenet to seek the support of the teachers that he alienated in the 2002 election.  We’ll get back to that point in a minute.

The Republican primary featured several candidates; enough candidates so that there was no clear winner in the primary.  Thus we have the run-off, which takes place on August 10th.  The primary campaign was not a pretty one, one that played off the fact that there is Georgia and there is Atlanta.  Which is to say, there are two major groups in the state of Georgia; those within the I-285 Perimeter and those outside.  The further you get outside the Perimeter, the more that politics changes.

One major lowlight of the campaign so far has been gay-bashing, but it’s been more than that.  Making the run-off more interesting is the fact that one candidate, Karen Handel, is obviously a woman.  So, the Republican side of the primary process has already been fractious, and tempers are running at a fever pitch.  Consider a recent Facebook exchange in response to a Galloway posting.

To wit, an Inside-the-Perimeter Republican took offense at a Handel campaign tactic:

Certainly many people in this country (including me) are tired and turned off by “attack ads” and “negative campaigning;” but I have a strong objection to this on different grounds. I believe that if the strongest case you can make for supporting you is that your opponent is “one of the most corrupt members of Congress,” that is a sad commentary on you and your qualifications to be governor of our state. Is this really the most compelling case why we should support Karen Handel?

Fine enough, but what really interested me was the comments posted in response to Galloway’s story.  Names have been deleted to protect the guilty.

A:  I have no doubt the Handelistas will now swarm onto your site and rip [name redacted] apart.

B.  Do you think they are paid to do it like you are her [sic] ?

A:  [name redacted] …for ONLY the reason I am friends with your sister-in-law, [name redacted], I don’t rip you and [name redacted] apart publicly for your continued lies about me. And, Dude…I could say a LOT about you.

Like I said, it’s been a frisky campaign.  One matter rears its ugly little head.  Both of these individuals appear to be Republican Party activists, each campaigning for their respective candidate.  Things have become so ugly that fights are breaking out in the parking lot, but one would think that they would hold something in reserve for the general election in November.

And, on Wednesday August 11th, one of these partisans will have supported the winner and the other will have supported the loser.  Based on this Facebook exchange, one would wonder if they are even on speaking terms, even though they both share the Republican Party.  Or ever will be on speaking terms again.

This does not bode well.  The fact that Barnes could possibly win has already been discussed by Kyle Wingfield, the AJC’s conservative columnist.  Add to that Barnes’ efforts to establish a cozy relationship with the teachers.  Add to that the fact that the current administration is getting ready to carpet bomb more Federal money, including a goodly amount for teachers and you have an ominous development.

In that dark environment, you have two Republicans publicly talking like professional wrestlers.  And you wonder if maybe Wingfield is right; Barnes will win if for no other reason than the fact that the Republicans can’t get their act together and fight the real campaign.

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