Thursday, August 23, 2007

Please Consider a Donation

Some of you undoubtedly saw the story yesterday about a 5 year old Iraqi boy named Yousiff. He was doused with gasoline and set on fire by masked insurgents in January.

I will put a link to the article at the end of this sentence, but I feel compelled to warn readers that the before and after pictures of Yousiff are breathtaking and heartbreaking - so view them at your own risk.

I considered putting a link to the original article yesterday, but held back. There is so much bad news right now coming out of Iraq, and the coverage so constant, that we are all sufficiently aware of what is taking place.

Drawing attention to this single incident, as vile as it was, seemed to serve no great additional purpose. Furthermore, I sadly considered the fact that putting this story front and center may somehow mark it as a rare occurence which- between Iraq and Darfur (and likely, a number of other places our media isn't looking) - it tragically is not.

But the updated article today provides a little bit of heartwarming news and an outlet for action. That is why I am writing.

A non-profit burn center in California has offered to fly Yousiff and his family to America for treatment at no cost.

The article (again, warning on the pictures) provides a link to the Burn Center's website and donations can be made to a fund specifically for Yousiff (scroll down to the "Honor Memorial Gift Information" section).

I encourage all of you to consider giving a small donation. You can access the foundation's donation site directly here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Summers are Hot in Hell

I am embarrassed that I have not written about this sooner.

American soldiers and Marines are bleeding and dying every single day to establish and maintain a relatively secure environment in which the Iraqi Parliament can build a political agreement to end their country's internal conflict.

Meanwhile, this same Iraqi government is, literally, on vacation while their country is being torn apart and their citizens murdered by the thousands.

This is one of the most shameful and unacceptable acts by a group of individuals that I have ever seen.

If I had the ear of the President of the United States, I would seriously consider advising him to tell our military units responsible for protecting these Iraqi leaders to stand down until these people get back to work.

Many would argue that is a rash move. Perhaps it is.

At an absolute minimum, our "leaders" – the President, Senators, Congressmen – should be shaming these legislators every time they come within 10 yards of a reporter or TV camera.

I am not talking about vile, tactless insults or provocative and inflammatory rhetoric that can be easily dismissed. I am just advocating a simple, factual and daily statement:

Today, 14 of America’s finest young citizens died in Iraq.

Their mission was to enable a political solution to be reached that could save an entire nation.

The nation these noble young Americans died to save was not even their own.

The people they died to protect, the only ones that can win this war and justify the death of almost 4,000 Americans, are on vacation.

This vacation should end immediately.

If any one is saying this forcefully and repeatedly, I have missed it. And I literally spend 2 to 3 hours reading the news every single day.

I did notice that Vice President Dick Cheney was asked for his thoughts on the Iraqi Parliament's vacation on Larry King Live earlier this month. His entire response:
"It's better than taking two months off, which was their original plan."

I am not even going to comment on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of this response.

It speaks for itself.

Tony Snow, the President’s press secretary, has informed us (see the above link) that it is 130 degrees in Baghdad in the summer.

Of course it is.

Hell is a hot place.

And that is exactly where our troops are serving and the Iraqi people are fighting to survive. The only people that can justify the former and end the latter are these vacationing Iraqi politicians.

We – you and me – should demand that they do so by any means we have available - or at least get back to trying.

With that in mind, this is another good chance to write a quick email to your Representative or Senator (links on the left of the page).

Please write a one line email asking them to speak forcefully and daily for an end to this insult to our servicemen and women and to the Iraqi people.

It is the least we can do in a war in which so few have been asked to do so much.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Last Excuse...Gone

Many of you have probably already seen the 1994 video that was recently found of Vice President Cheney explaining why we chose not to go into Iraq after expelling the Iraqi army from Kuwait in the first Gulf War.

For those of you that have not, here is a link. Everyone should watch this. Just push the play button on the lower left half of the video box.

Cheney speaks for only 90 seconds, but in that time he reminds me why I was excited when he joined the ticket in 2000.

To summarize, Cheney, the Secretary of Defense during the first Gulf War, basically foresees everything that has gone wrong in Iraq since we removed Saddam Hussein.

Of course, this video naturally raises questions about why he came to endorse and champion the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But I actually think this question is not the right one to ask. We can still have endless debates on the threat Saddam posed - even knowing that he didnt have WMD. Perhaps there is a right answer, but neither side will cede it to the other.

A better question:

Why, when clearly foreseeing the challenges we were going to face, did the Administration not 1. prepare the public and 2. commit adequate resources to "win the peace" ?

People today, at home and certainly abroad, regularly accuse this Administration of intentional lies and imperialist motives in launching this war.

Although the Bush Administration has said and done some despicable things in my opinion, I've never come to believe that they were intentionally deceptive in starting this war, nor that their motives were sinister.

They were clearly negligent and sloppy when analyzing and collecting the intelligence to justify the war, but I think they believed, as did most of the world, that WMD were there. Perhaps I am wrong, but this is still what I choose to believe.

In any case, I am now absolutely baffled at the way the Administration conducted this war. Any argument I could have constructed to make our situation understandable, if not justified, is gone.

It is one thing to think that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld simply did not anticipate the challenges we would face after Saddam was gone. This is not excusable, but it at least makes their actions understandable.

But now we know that they knew how hard it was going to be....

I just do not know what else to say.

Despite all the confidence I have lost in this Administration, I am somehow still stunned that they conducted themselves in this manner. Incompetence no longer explains our situation, as I had come to believe.

We are entitled to a direct response to this question from President Bush.

If he still believes it was necessary to go, why didn't we at least give ourselves a real chance to succeed?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Newt on the State of Presidential Elections

Newt Gingrich recently made some interesting and insightful comments on the current state of our Presidential election process that I would like to recommend.

The article is buried on, so most of you almost certainly missed it. It is a quick read, 2 or 3 minutes at most.

I've plugged some of Newt's ideas on this blog before. Though I disagree with him on some policy issues and many political tactics, I consider him to be one of the most intelligent politicians we've had in recent years.

Hope you find it interesting.

Friday, August 10, 2007

In Search of Substance

After becoming frustrated with the media's superficial coverage of the Presidential campaigns, I recently decided to visit the websites of the top six presidential contenders (Clinton, Edwards, Giuliani, McCain, Obama, Romney).

Before looking at any of the sites, I decided to pick a single issue that is important to me and examine each candidate's stance.

I wanted to pick an issue that I felt each candidate was likely to discuss thoroughly on their site.

I chose energy policy because I reasoned that whether it was due to its link to our national security, climate change concerns and/or simply the 3 decade old mandatory call for "energy independence", each candidate was sure to have something to say.

I'm going to include a link to each site, but I'm also going to share my observations in alphabetical order by the candidates last name.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary starts with an intelligent and amazingly rare (among the other candidates) statement that concisely articulates the impact this issue has on national security, economics, health and the environment.

She then goes on, in language undoubtedly approved, if not written by, a political consultant to promote her past efforts to "champion" progressive policies in on this issue. Unfortunately, from the available material on the site, I'm not sure if she just made speeches on an empty Senate floor or actually drafted and fought for a tough but necessary policy.

Clinton does advocate repealing oil company tax breaks and endorses limiting carbon emissions and increasing fuel efficiency. I give her credit for looking in the right direction, but there is nothing courageous or bold about these proposals.

This issue demands bold leadership. There are many vested interests that will fight what the country needs. Hillary fails to convince me here that she is up to the job, only that she has found the "optimal" political answer.

My grade: C-

John Edwards

It takes Edwards a little bit to lay out an actual idea, but he does get there.

He pushes a cap-and trade program with specific short and long term goals, similar to what America's business leaders are advocating. He also proposes allocating new funds to support an alternative energy industry by repealing oil company subsidies. Sensible ideas. A good start, but I'm not blown away.

Finally, I am rarely impressed by catchy political rhetoric, but I did like a line from the introduction. " is time to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war."

Yes it is.

My grade: B-

Rudy Giuliani

Rudy gets points for the breadth of his ideas to diversify our energy portfolio. Unfortunately, there is virtually no depth to the ideas. He gives obligatory and largely trivial nods to renewable energy, conservation and biofuels and every type of fossil fuel as well.

With the exception of his call for increased nuclear power, this page could have been on the website of any political candidate.... in the last twenty years (let's pretend websites were around in the days of the Reagan Administration).

The site is essentially a laundry list with something for everyone. Although it has a much different feel, it seems, like Senator Clinton's, to be clearly designed to promote a political agenda.

It is not a vision statement - and certainly not even the beginning of a new strategy.

Yes, I know that websites are first and foremost political marketing tools. But that is not what I am looking for, and its not what everyone else should be satisfied with anymore either.

Grade: D+

John McCain

Senator McCain discusses energy in his "Environment" issues section (which is nice to see on a Republican's site).

Unfortunately, although he invokes the right high level concerns of security, inter-generational equity and economic competitiveness - he does not support a single idea except expanding nuclear power.

He does take the time to cite the "liberal live for today" attitude that he associates with our failure to act more aggressively on this issue. Is he serious? That remark is beneath him - especially if he is not going to couple it with his own plan.

Grade: D-

Barack Obama

I did not start this post with the intention of promoting the Obama campaign, but frankly, it is hard not to after reading this site.

Obama lists multiple specific ideas that address the concerns of all stakeholders in this issue: fuel consumers, car manufacturers (yes, car manufacturers) and energy companies. He even makes an innovative proposal to engage disadvantaged and educationally under served youth in a sector of renewable energy that is certain to be one of the greatest growth engines of the coming generation.

As a both an Ivy League trained policy wonk and a pragmatic idealist, I was thoroughly impressed with this site.

The candidate without the necessary experience? Well, Obama does look like the candidate with the least political experience. This site appears constructed with the intention of communicating a vision and a plan - not just selling a political candidate.

He also looks like the first serious contender for the White House that we have ever had that is serious about making progress on this vital issue.

Grade: A

Mitt Romney

I kicked Mitt pretty hard on this blog the other day and I don't regret it.

He's a brilliant man with two master's degrees from Harvard who created and grew a $4 billion company and later convinced Massachusetts to elect a Republican Governor. Wow. Seriously.

This ability is precisely the reason why it is absolutely unacceptable for him to lower the level of debate in this election. My evaluation of his energy site? I'll let you decide. Here is the entire thing (minus a video)and a 14 month old quote:

"We must become independent from foreign sources of oil. This will mean a combination of efforts related to conservation and efficiency measures, developing alternative sources of energy like biodiesel, ethanol, nuclear, and coal gasification, and finding more domestic sources of oil such as in ANWR or the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)."

I would give him an F, but that would imply a failed effort. I fail to see the effort.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Good Point and an Opportunity

President Bush argued today that Congress should not enact a 5 cent gasoline tax to pay for a wave of infrastructure repairs following the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

Instead he says, " [Congress should] revisit the process by which they spend gasoline money in the first place...”

The President is basically railing against the pork barrel spending that has dominated the Transportation Committees for years - throughout years of both Republican and Democratic control.

I agree with the President and I would advise the Democrats to take a different course for both policy and political reasons.

(I've already commented on the interesting but now unimportant question of why President Bush didn't ask the Congress to do this while his party controlled it).

Many people support a gasoline tax on national security and/or environmental grounds. Some probably see this "crisis" as an opportunity to take a difficult step that will benefit several areas of public policy.

The reason that I disagree with this line of thinking is that a five cent increase is too small to meaningfully impact gas consumption, but it is more than large enough to give Republicans a (legitimate) club to use against the Democrats in the next election.

But more importantly, there is a superior policy reason to pursue an alternative course. The Democrats have recently passed an ethics bill that would dramatically cut earmarks and/or pork barrel spending.

If they were to connect the financial response to this bridge collapse with a more efficient use of public resources (redirecting the pork to the public) instead of a reflexive tax increase, it would make it more likely that the President would have to support the bill.

He would have to put his money (and by his money, I mean our money) where his mouth is....

On the political side, this could deflect the tax-and-spend framework the Republicans will undoubtedly try to invoke in the coming election.

It seems like good politics and good policy don't seem to intersect very often in this divisive age of wedge issues. That makes it more important than ever to recognize and act upon these chances when they arise....

Monday, August 6, 2007

Commentary on Republican Tax Policy

I should never write when I am angry or annoyed, but I cannot help it right now.

Robert Novak published an article recently that discussed the political pressure being applied to Republicans supporting the expansion of State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The expansion of this program is being financed with an increase in taxes on cigarettes.

This tax increase has elicited harsh words from Grover Norquists' "Americans for Tax Reform."

This organization is disappointed with Republican supporters of this bill that have signed a no-tax-increase pledge (42 senators and 196 House members have signed the pledge). They argue that a vote for this bill equals a broken promise.

Perhaps it does, but that is not why I am writing.

Can we consider, for a moment, the folly in such a pledge?

I am well aware of the economic arguments for keeping taxes as low as possible. They make a lot of sense and I think increases should be a last resort and rigorously justified before being enacted.

That being said, I want to consider the motivation and indeed, the very character and competence of any one that would sign such a pledge to never raise taxes.

Could these people actually be saying that they would not raise taxes to pay for a war (or two)?

Could these people actually be saying that they would not raise taxes to help rebuild a major American city that was destroyed by a hurricane?

Could these people actually be saying that they would not raise taxes to rebuild critical American infrastructure like, say, structurally deficient bridges?

Apparently they are saying exactly that.

Ok, well what exactly does this mean for our country's financial situation?

It means that instead, we are borrowing money from and paying interest to China and other countries to finance these endeavors.

This is an absolutely brilliant solution if your first and only objective is to ensure your own political survival. After all, children can't vote against these bills that they will one day be asked to pay. My generation can, but historically has not.

Very, very convenient for the Republican Party.

Far less convenient for the United States of America that our children and grandchildren will inherit.

But that is not a problem for these Senators and Representatives. By then, their careers will be over.

Novak's article is here.

Scratching One Off My Short List

I just read the highlights from the recent Republican Party Presidential debate.

Perhaps I'll have more to say later, but I found a remark of Mitt Romney's so shameful that I had to bring it up here. This is taken from an article in today's Washington Post:

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), in particular, was singled out for saying last week that he would act against terrorists in Pakistan without the support of its president. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney contrasted those comments with Obama's remark during a recent debate that he would be willing to meet with all foreign leaders.

"I mean, in one week he went from saying he's going to sit down, you
know, for tea, with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies," Romney
said. "He's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week."

There are two things I would like to say about this comment.

First, any Presidential candidate that would NOT go after Bin Laden in Pakistan, if we knew where he was - and Musharraf would not act - owes every single American an explanation as to why.

Perhaps in the greater geopolitical scope of things, this is the right answer, but to treat Obama's stance as an absurd statement offends me and it should offend every other American as well.

Bin Laden has killed over 3000 Americans in his life and explicitly stated his desire to murder thousands (millions?) more. Why should we allow any nation to protect him?

Republicans are contemptuously dismissive of Democratic insistence that we act more collaboratively with other nations and/or the U.N. on foreign affairs, but they insult Obama
for advocating unilateral action against the greatest mass murderer of Americans in history.

Any one considering voting for someone with this position should demand an explanation of their candidate.

Second, lets examine the rest of Romney's comment. Obama is going to "sit down for tea with our enemies and bomb our allies".

So...this is what passes for useful commentary by a Republican candidate for the most powerful political and military office in the world? What an insulting and mindless piece of rhetoric on the most important issue we are facing today.

Some wonder why so many Americans are apathetic about politics today? It's partially because we are routinely subjected to absurd comments like this. Either Romney was violently twisting Obama's words for political gain (i.e. to manipulate and mislead voters) or he now considers Osama bin Laden our ally - after all, it was bin Laden that Obama was promising to "bomb".

Until this morning, I considered Mitt Romney a respectable candidate for President. He was definitely on my short list of candidates that I would consider voting for.

Now my decision is easier.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Actual Progress...Almost....

A piece of good (and by good, I mean meaningful) legislative news!

Apparently, the House passed a significant piece of congressional ethics reform yesterday. (I'll pat you on the back for this one Madam Speaker, but you're still on the hook for those increased mileage standards).

Here are the highlights from a New York Times editorial.

For the first time, the lavish torrent of campaign money from eager
lobbyists to grateful politicians would have to be reported quarterly to the
public via the Internet, with tighter scrutiny and penalties for violators.

And the bill would require that all earmarks .... as well as who’s
sponsoring them be identified on the Internet before final passage. The bill
would also curb such abuses as corporate-paid gifts and travel. It would end
lobbyist-sponsored galas “honoring” ranking politicians at national conventions.
It would even ban the ludicrous pensions now being paid to Congressional alumni
doing prison time for felonies.

Sounds to me like genuine progress.

One wonders why it this did not happen sooner than two centuries into our little democratic experiment, but hey, I'll take it.


This bill has yet to pass the Senate.

If you have never emailed your Senators about something, this would be a good time to do it.... (See the links on the left of this blog).