Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Ethanol Fallacy

America needs smart alternative to oil, but the just-passed energy bill puts too much emphasis on the wrong alternative, Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief says
By James B. Meigs, Published in the February 2008 issue. Popular Mechanics

The idea is so appealing: We can reduce our dependence on oil—stop sending U.S. dollars to corrupt petro-dictators, stop spewing megatons of carbon into the atmosphere by replacing it with clean, home-grown, all-American corn. It sounds too good to be true. Sadly, it is. (To continue Reading: The Ethanol Fallacy… )

My Commentary
For those who are pleased that the recent energy bill mandates an increase in use of ethanol, I encourage you to read the above article. The recent energy bill passed by congress and which President Bush says he will sign is a bad bill for several reasons, the primary of which is the mandating of the use of Ethanol. I don’t expect President Bush do it, but this bill deserves to be vetoed and Congress needs to work on an energy bill that will actually accomplish something. This energy bill is similar to issuing bailing pails to passengers on the Titanic. The passengers can conclude that it is better than doing nothing and as they drown they can feel good about the management of the Titanic.

Instead of calling this an Energy Bill, it should be called the Farm Aid Bill part 2. Archer Daniels Midland will be the chief benefactor; not the environment. Instead of setting goals and relying on market forces, competition, and experimentation to find the best mix of alternative technologies and conservation strategies for achieving the objectives, the bill declares ethanol the winner. Government is not very good at picking technologies. The bill mandates the use of 15 billion gallons of ethanol by 2015, which is three times today’s production.

Corn based ethanol is not a solution. For one thing, it takes a lot of energy to produce a gallon of ethanol; the net energy production is almost nothing. The best estimate by those who do the math is that to produce 1.3 Btu of ethanol energy it takes 1 Btu. Others do the math differently and conclude there is a net loss of energy in producing ethanol.

Another thing wrong with relying on ethanol is that it is detrimental to the environment. It takes a lot of fertilizer, insecticide and land to produce corn. In 2007 more land was used in the production of corn than anytime since 1944, when the yield per acre was much less. To meet the goal of tripling of ethanol production, much more land will have to go into production. Almost all of the run-off from the land used in corn production ends up flowing into the Mississippi River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Already there is a 7900 square mile “dead zone” in the gulf caused by the depletion of oxygen, which is caused by the Nitrogen-based fertilizer run-off. In the dead zone, no fish, crabs, mussels or sea life live. With this bill we can watch the Gulf of Mexico become the Dead Sea. (Read more: Corn Boom Could Grow Dead Zone)

Much of the enthusiasm for ethanol in the US is a result of the success Brazil has had in weaning itself off oil and going almost wholly to ethanol. This however, has not been without environmental consequences. A lot of global-warming-emission- eating rain forests have had to be cut down to turn the land into sugar cane growing land. Nevertheless, on balance, Brazil's switch to ethanol may be net plus for the environment. One major difference between Brazilian ethanol and American ethanol however, is the Brazilian ethanol is made from sugar cane which is eight times as efficient as making ethanol from corn. (To read more: With Big Boost From Sugar Cane)

Despite the greater efficiency of Brazilian ethanol, against all logic the US maintains a 65-cent per gallon tariff on the importation of Brazilian ethanol. If we are serious about doing something about American global warming emissions, we should start by scrapping this ethanol energy bill, repeal the import tariff on foreign ethanol, then set limits on the amount of allowable global warming greenhouse emissions and enforce that limit by taxing carbon emissions or by the selling of pollutions rights. Then the government should get out of the way and let the market work.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Computerized Confusion

By Thomas Sowell
Tuesday, December 25, 2007

When I bought one of these small, cheap, old-fashioned cathode-ray TV sets on sale to watch while on my exercise machine, I had no idea how high-tech and computerized even these obsolete sets had become.

Nor was this a blessing. I could not even turn the set on and get a channel without reading a 60-page instruction book. If the truth be known, I could not do it even after trying to make some sense out of the instructions. (To continue: Computerized confusion)

My Comment: I could have written this! I share the frustration. I have a cheap, simple cell phone, yet it offers game options and text messaging and all kinds of things I don't have a clue how to use. When I first got it, I programmed some phone number for automatic dialing, but now I forgot how to do that and have not taken the time to relearn how to do it. My sister’s old phone number is in my cell phone; I don’t know how to delete it and add her new one.

A few months ago, my simple alarm clock died on me. I went to a store to buy another. All a wanted was a small clock that would wake me up in the morning. The one I got had to be set to synchronize with a satellite that ensured it kept perfect time within a minute fraction of a second. Also, the set option and on/off was complicated. I never could get it to work. I had to purchase another one and was fortunate to find one that was simple to operate but I had to make an extra trip and spend time shopping. There was opportunity cost.

Recently, I needed to change the out-going message on my answering machine. I had to spend an hour finding the product online and reading lengthy instructions. The clock on my coffee pot and my VCR are on permanent blink status. Supposedly, I can program my TV remote control to operate my TV, VCR, and DVD player. Don’t ask me how, however; I use three remotes.

I work in a small office, with limited tech support. We have a phone system with features that no one knows how to use. I don't know how to "park" my call on a busy line, but I know the phone system will do it. We got a new fax machine, and I had to spend 30 minutes figuring out how to make it print confirmations that a fax had been sent. We did get the machine to do that, but don't know how. Now it prints out a confirmation for every fax. Some times, we don't need printed confirmation, but neither I nor anyone else knows how to change that setting and do not have the time to learn.

I don't want to sound like an old man pining for the “good ole days”. I am reasonably intelligent. I am college educated. I am not fearful of technology. But why must everything be so complicated? Am I the only one who wants a simple bedside clock that you can set and that has an "on" and "off" button? Do manufactures think that complexity and more features always add value? I wonder if the market is working? I think I would pay more for simplicity.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Does a Candidate’s Religion Matter?

Are you ready for a Mormon President? Do you care if your President is a Catholic? Is a Bible-believing, fundamentalist the best person to be trusted with our future?

I think no one should automatically be denied consideration for the presidency because of his religious affiliation anymore than one should be denied consideration because of his race or sex. However, I do not think it is bigotry to want an understanding of how one’s religious views will influence the way he will govern.

I am not going to be too concerned about those candidates who practice religion-lite, such as most mainstream Protestants. I suspect most Methodist, Episcopalians, and Presbyterian are casual Christians and can adequately departmentalize their life to the point that their religious beliefs and practical issues of governance are not a problem. I also suspect that many Catholics, many Baptist, and many members of evangelical mega churches are “casual Catholics” or “casual Baptist” or whatever and they are considerably less doctrinaire than the leaders of their congregation. I suspect that most educated people think the Bible is allegorical and myths and not to be taken literally.

The Constitution prohibits a religious test to hold public office, but that does not mean the electorate cannot evaluate a candidate’s religious beliefs before electing him to the highest office in the land . I think we should have the right to know what the people who seek public office believe about faith and governance.

In the 1960 campaign for president, there was widespread fear that an American Catholic president would take direction from the Vatican. I do not find that fear to be pure bigotry. World history gives us adequate reason to be suspect of the roll of the Catholic Church and affairs of state.

Kennedy addressed the issue head-on. “Because I am a Catholic,” said Kennedy, “ and no Catholic has ever been elected President, it is apparently necessary for me to state once again-not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in. I believe in an America where separation of Church and State is absolute-where no Catholic prelate would tell the President, should he be a Catholic, how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote”.

Apparently that was sufficient to overcome the concern of enough of the electorate to make a difference. I think it was not inappropriate that he be was made to address the issue.

On December 7 Romney made his JFK speech and he said: “When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.”

Should that settle it? Maybe. It seems that Romney is not just a casual Mormon but has served as a Mormon missionary and a lay minister. Apparently he takes his faith very seriously. Face it; Mormonism is a weird cult. Maybe all religions start out as weird cults and it is longevity that gives them respectability. Somehow however, the story of Moses receiving stone tablets with the Ten Commandments seems like a respectable myth, while the story of Joseph Smith and the golden tablets seems quite bizarre.

In 1827 Joseph Smith claimed that an angel appeared to him and revealed golden tablets upon which was written the Book of Mormon. Smith couldn't read the tablets however, until the angel also gave him some glasses that allowed him to interpret the text on the plate. The fascinating story includes “seer stones” and buried treasure and a mystical frog. The Book of Mormon is the story of the Lamanites who were supposedly an ancient Israelite people that were the ancestors of the American Indians.

Many of the practices and believes of the Mormons are as weird as the story of their founding; former polygamy, the former prohibition against Blacks being admit ed to the Priesthood, proxy baptism of the dead, secret rituals, secret underwear, and secret oaths. Would it be out of bounds to ask Romney what he believes about the story of Joseph Smith and the golden tablets? Would it be out of bounds to ask what secret oaths he may have taken? I don’t know that his answer would necessarily disqualify him form being President, but in an age we can ask, “briefs or boxers” we should be able to ask questions about ones religious believes.

It is not only Romney’s believes that I would like to know more about. If a Baptist minister seeks to be President, I want to know more about his believes also. Does he believe that God directs his actions? Has he ever done something because he had a strong impression that God told him to do. If God tells him to support a certain policy, who does he check with to make sure it is really God and not his own judgement. Is he “led by the Holy Spirit?” Being “led by the Holy Spirit" is a different concept than being guided by the values of your faith.

I would also want to know if he believes that the story of Adam and Eve, and the flood are historical events and if the world is only six thousand year old. If he does, I am not sure I would trust his judgement.

I don’t mind a President who reads the Bible and prays. I would not have been offended by George Washington at Valley Forge kneeling to ask God’s blessings. I think a little civic religion can be a good thing. However, if a candidate for President talks to God I want to know, does God talk back? If he does, that would concern me.

I would like to know if any of the candidates are fundamentalist Hal Lindsey-type Christians who read Revelations and believe the world will end with Armageddon and the return of Christ? If they do, do they think it will happen in their turn in office? If so, then they may not be too concerned about global warming, or a large national deficit, or other issues that need long-term consideration. Do they believe the Jews are God’s chosen people and we have a God-ordained mandate to always support Israel?

I think it is reasonable to want to know to what extend a Presidential candidate’s most profound beliefs, convictions, and values would govern their conduct in office. I would prefer my President to be guided by reason rather than faith. Inquiry into a candidates religious faith should not be considered bigotry or impolite. It should not be off limits.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Season Greetings for Both Liberals and Conservatives

For my liberal frineds:
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our bestwishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the wintersolstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2008, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America isnecessarily greater than any other country nor the only America inthe Western Hemisphere. And without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms.This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself or himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a newwish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

For My Conservative Friends:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(auther unknown, reposted from Defeat Liberals yahoo group)

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No Nativity Scene in US Congress

There will be no Nativity Scene in the Rotunda of the United States Congress this year! The Supreme Court has ruled that there cannot be a Nativity Scene in the United States Capitol this Christmas Season.This isn't for any religious reason; they simply have not been able to find three wise men and a virgin in the Nation's Capitol. There was no problem, however, finding enough asses to fill the stable.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Folks relying on payday loans for Christmas cash pay long after season ends

By JASMINE RIDLEY, Published: Tuesday, 12/18/07 , Tennessee Voices

When I think of Christmas, I think of joy and happiness, presents and food, family and fun. I love this family time and, like everyone, the presents.

But I come from a single-parent home where my mom works full time every day to provide the basics for my sister and me. I would be truly grateful if I got just one thing off my "wish list" for Christmas, and I know how hard my mom works and tries to save to make this possible.

Every year, kids like me and parents like my mom want Christmas to be a special time, but every year families in my east Nashville community fall prey to predatory lenders, like payday and title lenders, to make this happen. Many people who can't afford to buy Christmas presents frequent predatory lending establishments to get Christmas cash and end up having to pay for holiday debt long after the season is over. ( >To continue: Folks relying on...)

My Commentary
Jasmine Ridley, a junior at Maplewood High, has written a very good article on the topic of pay day lenders. I commend her. I hope this article reaches a lot of people and the adults in her community take heed. As long as the loan-sharks are legal, the only way to oppose them is by educating the public.

I routinely see low-income people who have taken out these loans with interest rates that may be as high as 390% interest. The payday lenders, pawn shops, check cashing businesses, title lenders, and income tax preparers who market "rapid refunds" prey on the poor. I have counted over twenty such establishments in the section of Nolensville Road between Glenrose Ave. and Grassmere, a distance of about two miles. This area of Nashville, known as Woodbine, is a predominantly working class white and Latino neighborhood. All of the low-income areas of town likewise have a large number of these businesses.

I am not sure to what extend we should protect the poor from making unwise decision. To some extent, to protect them by removing the temptation of high-interest rate loans seems paternalistic and insulting. No one holds a gun to their head and makes them take out a 400% interest loan. After we ban high-interest rate loans should we next ban the sale of lottery tickets, beer and wine? Should we then ban the Rent-a-Centers? There is a limit to how much protection from themselves we can provide the weak. On the one hand, free people should be free to make stupid decisions. On the other hand, I feel we have an obligation to prevent the powerful from preying on the weak. While we can not stop all abuses or protect everyone from making stupid decisions, I do not think anyone should able to charge 400% interest.

I would wish that we could educate people to the point that they would choose not to be victims. I wish the poor would be insulted that they are being offered such loans and would refuse to be victims any longer. At my place of employment (Woodbine Community Organization) we try to educate the poor. In our Homebuyers Clubs, and Financial Fitness classes and in one-on-one counseling sessions we try to help people improve decision making and money management skills. By offering the free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) services, we keep people from going to the tax preparers who will try to sell them a tax anticipation loan at rates of up to $360% interest.

I doubt anytime soon our state legislature will crack down on the predatory lenders victimizing the low-income. As for now, the immoral payday lenders and other predators are legal. We can only hope that voices like Jasmine's will reach enough people so that they will chose not to be victims.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Merry Christmas! But, Don't Tell Anyone

by Rita Etter

The View’s Barbara Walters is upset. Why? Well, it seems she received a Christmas Card from the President and First Lady that included a small passage from the Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. To be fair, Barbara Walters is Jewish. However, a card from Elton John that included an angel, which is a religious symbol, was not seen as offensive to her.
The naysayers will spout the usual myth of “separation of church and state”, however, there is no other reason to send a Christmas card at this time of year except to celebrate Christmas. Barbara also questions the idea that Atheists and Agnostics may be receiving the Christmas Card as well and will be upset like Barbara. First of all why would an Atheist be upset receiving a card that mentions the name of someone that do not believe in anyway?
Perhaps if the mere mention of God is so offensive to Barbara, she should just tear the card up. I mean it is the season to be jolly.

My Commentary
The above is from Tennessean blogger Ritta Etter. I have lampooned the Christian Warrior "Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday" counters. However, there are some nuts on the other side who seem to enjoy getting offended if someone wishes them "Merry Christmas". Right on Rita! I can't say it better, except to add: Barbara Walters, Merry Christmas and if you don't love Jesus you can go to hell!

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Arctic summers ice-free 'by 2013'

By Jonathan Amos Science reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

Scientists in the US have presented one of the most dramatic forecasts yet for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice.

Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years. Professor Wieslaw Maslowski told an American Geophysical Union meeting that previous projections had underestimated the processes now driving ice loss.

Summer melting this year reduced the ice cover to 4.13 million sq km, the smallest ever extent in modern times.

Remarkably, this stunning low point was not even incorporated into the model runs of Professor Maslowski and his team, which used data sets from 1979 to 2004 to constrain their future projections.

"Our projection of 2013 for the removal of ice in summer is not accounting for the last two minima, in 2005 and 2007," the researcher from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, explained to the BBC.

"So given that fact, you can argue that maybe our projection of 2013 is already too conservative." (read more: Artic Summers..)

My Commentary
Strike up the band for Nearer my God to Thee. We may be a lot closer to the point of no return on global warming than we thought; and the global warming deniers, keep denying and the light bulb changers, keep changing light bulbs.

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Farm bill keeping subsidies is OKd in Senate

Taxpayer groups, environmentalists and doctors have all pledged to try to change the legislation, for different reasons. Bush has threatened a veto.

By Nicole Gaouette , Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, December 15, 2007

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Friday approved a farm bill that would continue to funnel billions of dollars in subsidies to wealthy landowners and farmers who are earning record-breaking prices for their crops, rebuffing a concerted campaign by some senators to shift money to conservation, nutrition and deficit reduction.The bill has drawn a veto threat from President Bush, who has criticized the subsidy payments and the creation of a $5-billion permanent disaster fund.The White House has an unlikely set of allies in taxpayer groups, environmentalists, physicians and rural community advocates who tried vigorously to change the bill's priorities. They pledged to continue lobbying as the House and Senate now try to reconcile the differences in their respective bills. (To continue: Farm Bill... )

My Commentary
This is a bad bill and President Bush should veto it. It continues to subsidize wealthy gentlemen farmers and produces an excess of crops we don't need and drives up food prices. See my previous analysis: We Should Not Subsidize Factory Farm.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Gore Blames US For Blocking Bali

BALI, Indonesia, Dec. 13, 2007

(AP) Former Vice President Al Gore said Thursday the United States is "principally responsible" for blocking progress at the U.N. climate conference in Bali.Gore urged delegates at the conference to take urgent action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

"My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali," said Gore, who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for helping alert the world to the danger of climate change.

The United States has opposed including in a final conference document a suggestion that industrialized countries reduce emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020. Earlier Thursday, European nations threatened to boycott U.S.-led climate talks next month unless Washington accepts a range of numbers for negotiating deep reductions of global-warming emissions. (To continue: Gore Blames ... )

My Commentary

I applaud Al Gore for his continued leadership role on this important issue. It is shame and disgrace that the U. S. is not stepping up to the plate. As the the leader of the free world and militarily and economically the most powerful nation on earth, we should be leading on this issue rather than being chief obstructionist. If the U.S. would lead, the world would follow. Yet if we do not get on board, the rest of the world can not solve the problem without us.

If the majority of the scientific community are to be believed, we have only a few short years to do something about global warming or the process may be irreversible. Some experts say that we only have seven years to stop the growth and began a decrease in green house gas emission or we will have passed the tipping point.

The United States is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the only major industrial country to have rejected Kyoto. The Kyoto agreement expires in 2012 and it has failed to meet it's goals. With U. S. leadership, a workable international treaty could cap emissions and establish a mechanism for international sharing of technology and trading of greenhouse credits. If the developed world was united in solving this problem, then China, India and the evolving industrial states could be persuaded to join the world community in this effort. Without U.S. participation, the effort to solve this problem is doomed.

The U. S. lead the world to victory in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. We have lead the world in humanitarian endeavors. We have been the inspiration and model for the world in advancing human freedom and dignity. I am embarrassed they we are now AWOL on what may be the worlds greatest challenge.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

More of The War on Christmas

Dear Christian Warriors,

As a public service I am passing alone these Action Alert from the American Family Association. After promising they would honor Christmas, Kohl's has printed four of 18 planned fliers and the fliers use the word "holiday" 62 times and ZERO uses of "Christmas." Also, Gap continues to censor Christmas and at Pet Smart, Christmas does not exist. It is a shame you have to get your cat a "holiday" scratching post instead of a "Christmas" scratching post. Maybe your cat will not know the difference? Ask yourself, where would Jesus shop? To see these action alerts click: American Family Association.

Can you believe it? I just observed that in Nashville, our Parks Department is having a "Holiday Art Exhibit & Sale" and a "Holiday Recorder Concert," instead of a "Christmas" art sale or "Christmas" recorder concert. To see if for yourself, click here: Metro Parks Cultural Arts.

I don't know who the composer of this poem is, but I picked it up off of one of the Yahoo groups to which I belong. I am sure many Christian Warriors will appreciate it and be inspired by it. Maybe it will help get you in the Christmas spirit.

Twas the month before Christmas
When all through our land,
Not a Christian was praying
Nor taking a stand.
The "politically correct police" had taken away,
The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing,
About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
December 25th is just a "Holiday".
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-pod
Something was changing, something quite odd!
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty.
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton!
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
So as you celebrate "Winter Break" under your "Dream Tree"
Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holiday!

Keep up the good fight, Christian Warriors. Remember, we cannot let the secularist and the politically correct change our shopping season from the Christmas shopping season to the Holiday shopping season. I know you Christian Warriors could be ringing bells for the Salvation Army instead of keeping tabs on "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holiday", or you could be down at the Rescue Mission helping the homeless, but somebody had to do the important stuff. Right? So, keep the faith. And, you can respond to your critics with the words of one of my favorite country artist, Billy Joe Shaver, who so eloquently puts it, "If you don't love Jesus, you can go to hell!"

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, (or Happy Holidays)
Rod Williams

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Al Gore’s Nobel Lecture Calls Carbon Tax the “Most Important” Solution to Global Warming.

On Monday in ceremonies in Oslo Norway Al Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in raising awareness of global warming. For those who will not read the 2800-word acceptance speech in its entirety, the essence of his speech is that the threat of global warming “is real, rising, imminent, and universal”. And that, “it is the 11th hour”. The penalties for ignoring the challenge of doing something about global warming “are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable.”

He says, “We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer.”

He says, “The way ahead is difficult.” He calls on the nations of the world to move rapidly to approve a new treaty to limit greenhouse emissions and calls for a moratorium on the construction of new coal burning facilities.

He says, “Most important of all we need to put a price on carbon – with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis”.

Those who are in denial about global warming, those who want to solve the problem of global warming by changing light bulbs, and those who are in denial about the importance of economic principles in resolving this crisis will not be happy. Sometimes the truth is inconvenient.

(To read the speech: Nobel Lecture)

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Mortgage 'freeze' buys time for some

Many wait too long for adjustable rate help
Staff Writer
The Tennessean
Published: Thursday, 12/06/07

A mortgage freeze to be unveiled by President Bush today may provide only limited relief to thousands of financially strapped homeowners, and may not be enough to cure the foreclosure crisis, advisers who work with troubled borrowers in Middle Tennessee said.

The Bush administration's plan, which would freeze the interest rates on many adjustable-rate mortgages at their lower introductory levels, excludes many who need help the most, including those in foreclosure and those already behind on adjustable-rate monthly payments, officials from several Nashville-area housing organizations said.

The plan, which has the support of major banks, relies on borrowers and lenders to come together to revise terms of loans before adjustable loans accelerate — sometimes to double-digit rates.

Many first-time Middle Tennessee homebuyers in danger of foreclosure don't realize how bad their situations are until they are too far behind on payments, loan counselors said. "They're trying to figure this out themselves … and when (a solution) doesn't occur, that's when they come forward," said Rosalind Robinson, president and founder of Residential Resources Inc., an east Nashville housing counselor. "For this to work, they're going to need to set aside those emotions."

Delaying higher adjustable-rate payments won't always solve the underlying cause — a propensity of homeowners to buy a home they cannot afford, some advisers said. "The mistake that they made is they were able to buy a $120,000 house, but they fell in love with a $180,000 house," said Rod Williams, director of housing services for Woodbine Community Organization, which offers financial counseling. (To read all: Mortgage 'freeze')

My Commentary
This recent announcement of a mortgage rate freeze is a positive development but will probably help few people. What we know about it at this time is that people must apply for the mortgage rate freeze before their adjustable rate mortgage resets and they must not have been late on any house payments. If they qualify, they may have their introductory rate frozen for up to five years. Unless there is a big advertising campaign most people won't even know of the program until after their mortgage resets and they have trouble making their higher house payment. This program will help only a few people, just as will the recently announced FHA Secure program.

I do not advocate a general bail out of homeowners or mortgage companies. The people who took out bad loans and the mortgage companies that made bad loans should surfer the consequences. Small steps to slow the defaults are all we should be doing. For the people who got in a house with no money down and got a teaser rate, if they lose their home, while it is emotionally devastating, in reality they are not really losing anything since they have no equity in the house. For two years they got to live in a house they could not afford. We should not feel too sorry for them. While we need to try to mitigate the effect of the mortgage crisis, we should not reward bad decisions.

However, we should not just ignore this mortgage default crisis either. It could affect the general economy. Also, even if your home is not at risk, you can be harmed by this foreclosure problem. If three houses are foreclosed on your street, the property values could drop. If the houses set empty and get vandalized, prices can drop more. For some people who were going to downsize when they retired and a lot of their wealth was in their home, they will find they are less wealthy than they thought. Also, if a lot of home prices drop, local government will reap less tax revenue from property taxes. There is a public purpose in slowing the rate of default.

A response to the crisis that would help more than anything is additional funding of housing counseling. People do not know their options, and they do not know how to present their case to the mortgage company. Unfortunately, the people at the mortgage company are often uninformed about their own options. When it is a win/win and the mortgage company can me made to understand this, many times the home can be saved or at least foreclosure avoided. About 90% of the people I counsel avoid foreclosure. To avoid the foreclosure however, someone has to know what is doable and how to propose it.

Another thing that would help mitigate the mortgage default crisis is a rescue lending pool. As part of a comprehensive loan modification or forbearance plan, the pool could loan the homeowner additional funds to bring the payment current or to make a couple house payments. Sometimes if a homeowner can be helped with only a couple house payments they could save the home. The pool should be very limited however, and funded by the lending industry. If structured correctly, this could be a plus for all concerned. Stopping a foreclosure is not only helpful to the homeowner, but the lender as well. Government leadership could establish the mechanism to establish the rescue lending pool and convince the industry that this was in the industry’s best interest. The funding pool should be used sparingly and only when part of a plan that will avoid a foreclosure. We have to accept that some of the defaults should occur, but those that can be saved by a three hour counseling session or an infusion of a small loan should be saved.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Saving the Planet!

"Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental." Dave Forman, Founder of Earth First!

"Tell a child on the eighth day that we are not lighting the last candle as a sacrifice for the environment" 'Green Hanukkia' campaign sparks ire December 4, 2007

"I live in North Carolina. I'll probably never eat a tangerine again," Elizabeth Edwards , McClellanville, North Carolina, July 24, 2007

"If you want to save the planet, I want you to start jumping up and down!" Madonna, live from Live Earth. July 7, 2007

"I propose a limitation be put on how many sqares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting.I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required." Sheryl Crow,

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O Frabjous Day! Nuke Iran? World War III? Oops, Nevermind….

By Don Williams

Add another reason to be grateful in the post-911, post-Thanksgiving world. Turns out our intelligence regarding Iran was wrong and—guess what—Iran has no nuclear weapons program to speak of. Said program was suspended in 2003, according to the latest National Intelligence Estimate. That’s the estimate provided by all the nation’s intelligence agencies combined. (Read about it here in the New York Times.) Yes, it’s scandalous, stupid, inexcusable and… heavenly to learn that the Bush administration would change course and ease up on the saber-rattling. (To Continue: O Frabjous Day!)

My Commentary

Hallelujah! I have been fearful that any day we may wake up to news that the U. S. has bombed Iran. I could hardly believe the report yesterday when the National Intelligence Council announced that Iran had essentially discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In a recent post on this blog I had expressed my distrust of the Bush Administration but also worried that their is always the possibility that Bush could be right. (See Bush Might be Right)

In this article my liberal brother, the award-winning columnist Don Williams rejoices in this development and speculates on its meaning. While I may express myself in a slightly different tone of voice, I think he is essentially correct is his assessment and I share his relief and joy at this turn of events.

Don speculates on why this development occurred and I find his speculations plausible. I would like to add one more: Maybe the loyal and professional people in the intelligence community who were manipulated into cooking the intelligence books to take us to war in Iraq, refused to let it happen again and decided to cut the President off at the pass by giving an honest assessment before it was too late.

This event does not mean that Iran is still not a renegade country and a potential future nuclear threat, but any rationale for a war with Iran has been removed and the next President can deal with Iran. We can sleep easier tonight.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Study: Immigrants don't raise U.S. crime rate

Eunice Moscoso
Arizona Daily Star

"The misperception that immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, are responsible for higher crime rates is deeply rooted in American public opinion and is sustained by media anecdotes and popular myth," said Ruben G. Rumbaut, a sociology professor at the University of California-Irvine. "This perception is not supported empirically. In fact, it is refuted by the preponderance of scientific evidence."

The incarceration rate of U.S.- born men 18 to 39 years old in 2000 was 3.5 percent — five times higher than the incarceration rate of their immigrant counterparts, the study found.
The report — which analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, police records and other sources — also shows that a large increase in illegal immigrants has not resulted in a rise in crime. Since 1994, violent crime in the United States has declined 34 percent, and property crime has fallen 26 percent. At the same time, the illegal immigrant population has doubled to around 12 million.

The study also details a "paradox of assimilation" in which second- and third-generation immigrants have higher crime rates than those who first come to the United States.
For example, foreign-born Mexican men had an incarceration rate of 0.7 percent in 2000, more than eight times lower than the 5.9 percent rate of U.S.-born males of Mexican descent. To continue: Study..)

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Urban Legends

New immigrants may be the best thing that ever happened to American cities, but don't wait for the leading presidential candidates to tell you that.
By Christopher Dickey
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 4:28 PM ET Nov 28, 2007

The "Safest City" awards published a few days ago by Congressional Quarterly back up this kind of thinking. Among the top 10 with populations over 500,000, four are in Texas: Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and the border town of El Paso, which is the second-safest big city in the country. Two are in California: San Jose and San Diego, which, again, is right across the line from Mexico. The safest city of all is Honolulu, with its very diverse population, while New York City ranks fourth. (New York City also looks as if it will have fewer murders this year than at any time since reliable statistics became available, in 1963.) "I would say, if you want to be safe, move to an immigrant city," Robert J. Sampson, chairman of the sociology department at Harvard University, told me on the phone this afternoon. (To continue: Urban Legends)

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Friday, November 30, 2007

No Hablo Ingles

Congress in tiff over English-only rules
Republicans prevent EEOC from enforcing rules on language discrimination
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A government suit against the Salvation Army has the House and Senate at loggerheads over whether to nullify a law that prohibits employers from firing people who don't speak English on the job.

The fight illustrates the explosiveness of immigration as an issue in the 2008 elections.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing hard to protect employers who require their workers to speak English, but Democratic leaders have blocked the move despite narrow vote tallies in the GOP's favor. (To continue: Congress in Tiff… )

My Commentary:
I have generally been opposed to those efforts that prohibit the use of the Spanish language or mandate “English Only”. Earlier this year there was an effort in Nashville to pass a local ordinance prohibiting Metro government from conducting business in any language but English and declaring Metro government as “English Only”. With the growing Hispanic population, many agencies of government had hired bi-lingual personel in service positions and had a Spanish option on the telephone answering services. Some native English speakers took offence and a bill was introduced in the Metro Council to prohibit the provision of services in any language but English. After much public discussion, a watered-down version of the bill passed the Council but Mayor Purcell vetoed the bill and the council failed to override the veto. (To read about it: Nashville Mayor… )

If I had still been serving in the Metro Council, I would not have supported that bill. I think it was mean-spirited and unnecessary. The bill would have probably hurt tourism and development and it does not project the image I want for the city I call home. During the public debate about this bill, some of the mean-spiritedness was really revealed. On radio talk shows, people complained about every encounter with Spanish-speaking people and complained about signs in Spanish and they even complained about ATM cash machines that give an option of having the ATM give the instructions in a variety of languages. Having traveled independently in several foreign countries, I know how welcoming it can be when signs are in English and you encounter people who can speak English and I am thankful that English is an option on ATM machines around the world. The US has few bi-lingual people compared to the rest of the world. With the increase in globalization and the shrinking world, I think it is a plus for America if there are languages other than English spoken in this country.

The current legislation before Congress is different from the English-only bills like the one that Nashville considered. The legislation before Congress is an Amendment to the EEOC budget that would prohibit the EEOC from prosecuting an employer who requires his employees to speak English. This bill would not prohibit anyone from speaking his or her native tongue, and it would not mandate that anyone speak English. Senator Alexander was prompted to propose this amendment by a lawsuit filed in April by the EEOC against the Salvation Army for allegedly discriminating against two of the Army's employees in a Massachusetts thrift store for requiring them to speak English on the job. The Salvation Army had clearly posted the rule, and the employees were given a year to learn English.

It is important that foreigners who are going to live in American learn the language and assimilate. It is not mean-spirited to encourage them to learn English. It should not be against the law for an employer to require his employees to speak English on the job. With a backlog of 56,000 cases, the EEOC should be doing something other than prosecuting employers who require their workers speak English. I commend Senator Alexander for this common sense proposal. (read more: Alexander...)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Reporting from The War on Christmas

A few days ago, on one of the several chat groups to which I belong, a fellow group member alerted us that one of the major retail outlets was calling their Christmas trees, “Family Trees” this year. Uh-oh, here we go again: The Christmas-time (or is it Holiday-time) culture wars.

I don’t know that there really is a “war on Christmas,” but there does seem to be a move to use the term “Christmas” less often. Whether it is a desire to make people of other cultural or religious traditions feel less excluded or has some other motive, I don’t know. As a public service, I thought I would examine all 17 pounds of the Tennessean Thanksgiving Day newspaper inserts to see which advertisers are Christmas-friendly and which are politically correct. (I really don’t know that there is 17 pounds of inserts, but it is a heck of a lot of newspaper that normally goes in the trash unread.)

Michael’s full-size insert featured almost nothing but Christmas décor and Christmas trees but Michaels was able to avoid the word “Christmas.” The front of their insert featured “Pre-lit trees,” “Donner Pine,” “Madison Fir,” "Frasier Fir,” etc. but no “Christmas Trees.” They had lots of “holiday” items, including “holiday” cards. They did however offer one “Christmas Collection” garland. “Christmas Collection” was the brand name.

On the other hand, Old Time Pottery bragged “We are your low price Christmas Tree Headquarters,” and Old Time Pottery had “Christmas Trees,” “Christmas stockings,” “Christmas mugs,” “Christmas wrap,” “Christmas tins and trays,” “Christmas gift boxes” and "Christmas" everything.

Jo Ann Fabric and Craft stores, a chain I am not familiar with, is also very Christmas-friendly. Their insert had “Christmas Food crafting supplies,” “Christmas gift wrap,” “Christmas Décor,” and “Christmas ornaments.”

Petco, where you can buy your cat a “Holiday ginger bread Cat Scratcher” or a “Kitty Hoots Holiday Stocking for $12.99, used the term “holiday” numerous times and almost made it into the politically correct column but redeemed themselves by offering a “Kitten’s First Christmas Collection.”

Rite Aid offered “holiday Savings,” and “holiday light sets” but they also had “indoor Artificial Christmas Trees” and “Christmas stocking stuffers.” Walgreen’s was very Christmas-friendly and had “Christmas Window Clings” and “50% off select Christmas Ornaments and Garland,” and “Hershey’s Christmas Candy” and their trees were all “Christmas Trees”. CSC Pharmacy seemed to try to avoid the C word and had “Merry Brite lighted Cone Trees,” and “Holiday Decorations” and “Holiday Scented 5.5” Pillar Candles” but they did offer an “Angels of Christmas Ornament.” “Angels of Christmas” appears to be brand name.

Circuit City’s ad had was heavily winter holiday-themed (Christmas-themed?) and mentioned “Santa’s Little Helper,” “the joy of giving” and “spread some holiday cheer” and almost avoided the C word but then they did offer “Christmas DVD’s” for $9.99. “Christmas DVD’s” was not a brand name; that is what Circuit City called them.

Party City had lots of party stuff and had “75% off Boxed Christmas Cards.” Best Buy had “fun holiday gifts” and told us to “have a holiday movie marathon,” but no Christmas at Best Buys.

JC Penny’s advertised a “7.5-Ft pre-lit Wonder Tree”, but did not call it a Christmas tree. They had “gifts that spread holiday cheer,” and featured “holiday Motif Jewelry” but no Christmas at Penny’s. Goody’s advertised “sweaters & knits in a holiday mood” and “the perfect stocking stuffers” but no mention of Christmas. On the other hand, Bed and Bath told us they had “Extended hours now Through Christmas.” Sears had “Christmas Trees.” Macy’s had no Christmas. K-mart had “holiday” trees and told us to “Spruce up your holiday home,” but no Christmas at K-mart.

Sprint had winter holiday-themed (Christmas-themed?) ads with play-on-word advertisements like “Text the Halls,” “Dashing through the songs” and “Hands-free for the holidays” and “Jingle bell rock, faster” but they avoided the C word.

Lowe’s featured a “6-1/2 ft. 400-light clear pre-lit tree” and lots of other “holiday” décor. They did not use the word “Christmas,” while Home Depot told us to “buy any live Christmas tree and receive $30 off any future purchase at The Home Depot.”

I don’t know what to make of this Christmas battle of the culture wars. I am not going to boycott companies that use the term “holiday trees” but I do think Christmas trees ought to be called “Christmas” trees. I won’t get mad at you if you wish me “Happy Holiday” or “Merry Christmas,” but I do sometimes pause before I wish someone else a “Happy holiday” or “Merry Christmas”; use the wrong term and they may take offence. I pity the poor retail clerk who must say one or the other or neither and risk offending someone.

One of my favorite country artists, Billy Joe Shaver, testifies with humor, “If you don’t love Jesus, you can go to hell.” I think a lot of the culture warriors have that attitude and they are not being humerous. Lighten up people.

Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays).

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Going Green? Easy Doesn't Do It

By Michael Maniates

Franklin Roosevelt didn't mobilize the country's energies by listing 10 easy ways to oppose fascism.

The hard facts are these: If we sum up the easy, cost-effective, eco-efficiency measures we should all embrace, the best we get is a slowing of the growth of environmental damage. That's hardly enough: Avoiding the worst risks of climate change, for instance, may require reducing U.S. carbon emissions by 80 percent in the next 30 years while invoking the moral authority such reductions would confer to persuade China, India and other booming nations to embrace similar restraint. Obsessing over recycling and installing a few special light bulbs won't cut it. We need to be looking at fundamental change in our energy, transportation and agricultural systems. (To continue: Going Green? )

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Climate Change Disaster Looms; Time for Action is Now!

Scientists are by nature a modest and cautions lot. Gravity is still a theory. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last Friday issued their fourth report on climate change and it is probably about as close as scientists come to issuing a panic alert. The report summarizes the three previous reports and issues new dire warnings and for the first time gives a time-frame for taking action. The news is pretty bleak.

The report says that “warming of the Climate system is unequivocal”. It says that there is “a high agreement and much evidence” that with current climate change mitigation policies that global green house gas (GHG) emissions “will continue to grow over the next few decades.” It says that continued GHG at or above the current rate will cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate. The changes include increase in extremes of hot weather and heat waves, increases in tropical cyclone intensity, decrease water resources in now semi-arid areas, increased extinction of species, flooding of low-lying coastal areas, and increased mortality.

Previous reports from the UNIPCC have given only “highly likely” scenarios; this report was less cautious and gave a range of possible consequences of the coming climate change, including complete melting of the ice caps and rising sea levels of 40 feet. If the event that the events rated less than “highly likely” do occur, we are up the creek without a paddle. The longer we wait to do anything, the more likely the “less likely” become.

The report says that we currently have the technologies we need for mitigation. This is not an issue we cannot do anything about. However, the longer we wait to do something, the harder it will be and the more costly. There will come a time when it is too late to do anything about it. The report suggests a return to 2005 rates of GHG emission by the year 2030. The report list several options for addressing mitigation but prominently mentions a carbon tax as a primary mitigation method. (The report at this point is still considered a “draft” but is expected to be adopted. To see the full text of the 23 page report see: IPCC)

Why is this new report being so downplayed? The New York Times reported it under their “Environment” sections. Our local newspaper carried it on page 5. Newspapers want to sell papers, right? Why was this story not bold banner front page headlines? Why is not each presidential candidate at every campaign stop asked what they will do to combat global warming?

This looming disaster is treated is as if we are all on the Titanic, and after telling us the menu for the evening meal and the entertainment, they mention that, “Oh, by the way, we have hit an ice burg and will probably be at the bottom of the ocean in about six hours. Enjoy your dinner.”
Even the movement environmentalists don’t seem to panic. In fact, they often seem more interested in changing human nature than stopping global warming. Look at the lame policy suggestions: change light bulbs, properly inflate your tires, increase CAFE standards, subsidize ethanol and build wind farms. In the last eight years China has build 603 coal-fired power plants. We must do more than change light bulbs. It is if on the Titanic they announce, “To mitigate the hole knocked in our hull by the iceberg, each guest will be given a bailing pail. Enjoy your dinner.”

This is a crisis. The US needs to set GHG emission targets and mandate a carbon tax sufficient to achieve the target. We then need to show world leadership on this issue and use the tools at our disposal to encourage other nations to do their part. It is an embarrassment that the US is tied with China as the worlds leading producer of green house gases and we are doing nothing serious to curtail our GHG emissions.

We can avert this looming disaster. Destruction of the planet by global warming is not inevitable, but time is running out. It is time to take actions now. Don’t strike up the band. I don’t’ want to hear “Nearer my God to Thee.”

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

We Should not Subsidize Factory Farms

Nor, Try to Save Family Farms

Congress is again debating a Farm Bill, or as the Wall Street Journal calls it, the No Farmer left Behind Bill. While there is something in it for everyone, the big farmer however, gets the most with two-thirds of the aid going to the wealthiest 10% of farms. With the average full-time farmer having an income of $81,420 last year, don’t think of the Farm bill as help to the depression-era subsistence farmer.

So why do we subsidize farmers?

We, the consumer get cheaper food, right? Well, no, not exactly. The farm price supports are actually designed to keep food prices high. So in addition to the taxes we pay to subsidize farmers, we collectively pay about $12 billion more a year for food than we otherwise would.

Well, we are preserving a way of life? We are keeping the family farm alive? Well, to a certain extend, you could argue that some family farmers benefit from the bill. I think protecting the Family Farm however is the job of Willie Nelson, not the tax payers. (See Farm Aid) Why should this segment of the population get protection from the demands of the market place? Year by year, farm productivity increases; it takes fewer people to produce more food. Why try to keep them on the farm? Why should I pay more taxes so some kid in the country can grow up milking a cow? We don’t preserve the life-style of the buggy whip maker or the Ma and Pa grocery store owner, so why farmers?

Farm aid helps provide a rich variety of farm produce? There is something in the bill for everyone, so there are subsidies for vegetable, fruit and nut growers, but 80% of the money goes to subsidize five commercial crops: corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat. Have you ever noticed that corn syrup is in almost every product you buy? Read your product labels. From dog food to Wheat Thins to peanut butter, many products contain corn syrup. It is hard to find a product without it. Peanut butter does not need corn syrup. With an obesity problem in America, we don’t need to be adding calories to everything we consume, yet we subsidize the production of corn, so there is a surplus of cheap corn syrup.

Well, we produce a lot of surplus food and help feed the hungry of the world? America does provide a lot of commodities to foreign countries. (Food for Peace) However, if would be less costly to directly fund aid agencies and let the agencies purchase the food in the market place. And while we are generous with our surplus food, some of the food aid we provide is sold by aid agencies, which undermines the farmers in the country we are tying to help and keeps the country from becoming self sufficient. (See, As U.S. Food Dollars Buy Less…) Also, by subsidizing American farmers we are putting the farmers of all poor third-world countries at a disadvantage. Our farm policy is protectionism for American agriculture which actually contributes to world poverty.

The farm bill taxes us to make food cost more, to enrich the already rich factory farmer, to keep some family farmers on the farm when the marketplace says they are not needed, to make third world peasant farmers poorer, to produce and abundance of corn syrup we don’t need, and to undermine America’s leadership on Free Trade. So why do we subsidize farmers? It is politics. As Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Georgia Democrat who refers to himself as "the peanut congressman," said recently, "That's what politics is: Who gets what, when and how," (See, Farm Aid Pork) Earlier this year he amended an Iraq appropriations bill to include $74 million for storage of peanuts. He said he would have done it even if peanut growers had not given his most recent reelection campaign $35,750.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

by Thomas Friedman

In the wake of 9/11, some of us pleaded for a “patriot tax” on gasoline of $1 or more a gallon to diminish the transfers of wealth we were making to the very countries who were indirectly financing the ideologies of intolerance that were killing Americans and in order to spur innovation in energy efficiency by U.S. manufacturers.

But no, George Bush and Dick Cheney had a better idea. And the Democrats went along for the ride. (To continue, Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda)

My Comment: Following 9/11 the American people were ready to sacrifice. Bush could have used his political capital after 9/11 to pass an energy tax, instead he squandered a historic opportunity and today we continue to transfer American wealth to Islamic depots and to other autocratic regimes in unstable parts of the world. In addition to the national security logic of reducing dependence on oil, a serious response to global warming requires we reduce our consumption of oil. We had a historic opportunity to break our oil addiction following 9/11. It is not too late. The national security threat and the global warming threat warrant a radically new energy policy. It is a shame we have no one in either party willing to lead. Rod

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bush Sought "Way" to Invade Iraq, Says O'Neill

If you missed the recent 60 Minutes program with a segment about former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and his revelations about the innner workings of the Bush Administration, it is worth following this link (60 Minutes) and watching.

A new book called The Price of Loyalty has just been published that draws on interviews with several high ranking officials who gave the author their personal accounts of their experience within the Bush Administration. Paul O’Neill was the most forth coming of those interviewed for the book, not only sharing his insight but giving the authors thousands on internal Bush administration documents.

O’Neill seems appalled at the way Bush conducted the business of running the country and he has some very interesting things to say. He says that in cabinet meetings the President was "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people.” “There was no discernible connection," forcing top officials to act "on little more than hunches about what the president might think." O’Neill says that the president did not make decisions in a methodical way and there was no free-flow of ideas or open debate.

Most interesting is O’Neill report of Bush’s obsession with Iraq from the very first National Security meeting. O’Neil recalls that during the campaign, candidate Bush had criticized the Clinton-Gore Administration for being too interventionist, but that from day one Bush was planning an invasions of Iraq. “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” says O’Neill. He says that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration, eight months before Sept. 11. “From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime,” "It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this,’

I don’t guess Mr. O’Neill’s revelations should surprise any of us by this point, but they offer insight in to just what a poor leader Bush really is and offer further confirmations that the decision to invade Iraq was already made before Bush ever got elected and Bush was not to be deterred. Bush was going to have his war with Iraq no matter what.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

November 9th Should be a Day of Celebration

November 9th should be a National holiday. Or better yet, it should be a worldwide holiday. It should rival a combination of New Years’ Eve and the 4th of July. There should be concerts, dancing in the street, Champagne toast, ringing of church bells, and fire works.

On November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and the world changed forever. As the world watched, we did not know if Russia would send in troops to put down the rebellion or not. We did not know if East Germans guards would fire on their fellow citizens. In 1958 an uprising in Hungary was crushed. In 1968 the Czech rebellion was likewise suppressed. As we watched in 1989 it was hard to believe that the East German rebellion would end differently, but there was reason to hope.

There was reason to believe that there were few true believers in Communism left behind the Iron curtain. Gorbachev, to save Communism, had launched Perestroika and Glasnost, which had not saved Communism but sealed its fate. The Soviets had been forced to realize that they could not outspend the west in the arms race. The Solidarity union movement had sprung up in Poland and not been crushed and Catholicism had a Polish pope who was encouraging the Catholics behind the Iron Curtain to keep the faith, and America had a president who said his goal was not to co-exist with Communism but to defeat it. The West was more confident and the East seemed exhausted.

With modern communications and contact between the captive peoples of the East and the free people of the West, Communist governments could no longer convince their people that Communism was a superior way to organize society. And, for the first time, attempts to spread Communism had failed. From the tiny island of Granada, to Nicaragua, to Afghanistan, attempts at expansion had met with failure. When the demonstrators in East Germany began chipping away at the wall, the guards did not fire, the Soviets did not send in tanks and the walls came tumbling down.

It would still be a couple more years before the other Communist dominoes fell, but one by one they did, except for the two dysfunctional teetering states of North Korea and Cuba. China did not fall, but morphed into a state that Marx or Mao would not recognize. While still nominally communist, China became a capitalist state with an authoritarian government that daily continues to change.

From the time of the establishment of the first Communist state in Russia in 1917, Communism had steadily grown taking country by county until by the time of the fall of the Berlin wall 34% of the worlds populations lived under Communist domination. And by peaceful means, Communism was gaining ground in much of the west with “Euro-communism” gaining acceptance and becoming parties in coalition governments. For more than seventy years, freedom had been on the defensive and Communism at been ascending.

During that time, between 85 million and 100 million people were killed with a brutal efficiency. Approximately 65 million were killed in China under Mao Zedong, 25 million in Leninist and Stalinist Russia, 2 million in Cambodia, and millions more in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America. This was accomplished by mass murders, planned famines, working people to death in labor camps, and other ruthless methods. From the thousands of Cossacks slaughtered on the orders of Lenin to the victims of Mao’s “land reform” the totals mounted. In addition to the millions of deaths, many more millions spend part of their lives in prison in the Gulag of Russia and the reeducation camps of Vietnam and China. Those who never spend part of their life in real prisons, lived in societies with secret police, enforced conformity, thought control, fear, scarcity, and everyone spying on everyone else.

While the world looked with horror on the approximate 11 million victims of Hitler’s Europe, for some reason less attentions was paid to the 100 million victims of Communist tyranny. While the Nazi era lasted for only 11 years, the Communist terror began in 1917 and continues to this day. The story would be complete if the last Communist regime fell, but the fall of the Berlin Wall is a land mark event. By the fall of the wall, it was clear that Communism was not the wave of the future and that freedom would survive in the world.

Not only would freedom survive in the world, but the world itself would survive. It is easy to forget what a dangerous place the world was on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The world's nuclear stockpiles had grown to 70,000 warheads, with an average destructive power about 20 times that of the weapons that were dropped on Japan. One deranged colonel, one failure of a radar system, or one misreading of intentions could have led to events that destroyed the world. We were one blink away from destruction of life on earth. If there is any event in the history of world worthy of celebrating, it should be the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The fist time I saw the Berlin Wall

(Excerpt from The World is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman, Chapter 2, The Ten Forces That Flattened the World)

The fist time I saw the Berlin Wall, it already had a hole in it.
It was December 1990, and I was traveling to Berlin with reporters covering Secretary of State James A Baker III. The Berlin Wall had been breached a year earlier, on November 9, 1989. Yes, in wonderful kabalistic accident of date, the Berlin Wall fell on 11/9.

The wall, even in its punctured and broken state, was still an ugly scar across Berlin. Secretary Baker was making his first visit to see this crumbled monument to Soviet Communism. I was standing next to him with a small group of reporter. “It was a foggy, overcast day,” Baker recalled in his Memoir, The Politics o f Diplomacy, “and in my raincoat, I felt like a character in a John le Carre’ novel. But as I peered through a crack in the wall [near the Reichstag] and saw the high-resolution drabness that characterized East Berlin, I realized that the ordinary men and women of East Germany, peaceful and persistently, had taken matters into their own hands. This was their revolution.”

After Baker finished looking through the wall and moved along, we reporter took turns peering, through the same jagged concrete hole. I brought a couple of chunks of the wall home for my daughters. I remember thinking how unnatural it looked-indeed, what a bizarre thing it was, this cement wall snaking across a modern city for the sole purpose preventing the people on the other side from enjoying, even glimpsing, freedom.

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Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

This is the text of Ronald Reagan's remarks at the Brandenburg Gate, delivered on June 12, 1987, to the people of West Berlin. The speech was also audible on the east side of the Berlin wall.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

(To see the full text of this famous speech, click here: Mr Gorbachev...)

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's Fred!

Fred Thompson has favorably impressed me from the first time I ever heard of him. From his role in bringing down the corrupt administration of Tennessee Governor Ray Blanton and getting justice for whistle blower Marie Ragghianti, to his role as minority counsel in the Watergate hearings, to his service as Tennessee Senator, I have liked Fred Thompson.

When Fred Thompson announced for President on the Jay Leno show, however, I was less than impressed. With my disgust with the Bush administration, I wanted to see someone who would distance himself from Bush. Thompson didn’t do it, but I guess that was just too much to expect from any Republican candidate seeking his Party's nomination. (see “Not Ready to Jump …")

Today, I watched Fred Thompson being interviewed by Tim Russert on Meet the Press and liked what I heard. I am supporting Fred Thompson for President.

On the social issues: He and I are in the same place. He is a social conservative but not a hardliner in the pocket of the religious right. He doesn’t pander. He said the Federal Government should never have gotten involved in the Terri Schiavo case. Amen, Fred!

He flatly stated he did not support the Republican Party platform plank that calls for passing a Right to Life Amendment to the Constitution. He opposes abortion but does not support a constitutional amendment to outlaw it. He thinks Roe vs. Wade was wrongly decided and hopes someday it will be reversed. If it is, then no doubt many states will legalize abortion. He stated he believes in Federalism and the people of each state have the right to decide their states abortion policy. He also said that while he has always voted pro-life, that he admits that at times he has had doubts about the moment at which life begins. No doubt the most pro-life element in the Party will not be pleased with Fred’s response. Most people who consider themselves pro-life, I suspect, have a position closer to that of Thompson however, than to that of the pro-life activist.

On the issue of gay marriage, he said that while he believes marriage should be between a man and a women, if some state wants to define a marriage as a union of two people of the same sex, then that should be up to the people of that state.

On Foreign Policy: Fred said for now we need to stay the course in Iraq. Our policy is making progress. However, Fred does not become jingoistic and rattle sabers when talking about Iraq. He does not sound like a man on a crusade. He impresses me as someone who would be pragmatic and decide the best course of action as events unfold.

On Iran, he warned of the danger of a pre-emptive strike and said we need better intelligence and he was critical of the intelligence failure in Iraq. He said we should be doing more to support the moderate forces in Iran. While he said he would do all he could to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, I do not fear that a Fred Thompson Presidency would prematurely conduct a pre-emptive strike.

On these and other issues, I agreed with Thompson, but there are other issues that were not addressed. I do not know the details of Thompson’s position on other issues that I care about such as combating global warming or immigration reform. I may not agree with Thompson on every issue, but I don’t suspect there is anyone with whom I would agree 100% on every issue. As far as I am concerned however, I care as much about how someone thinks as what they may think.

Fred Thompson has the intelligence, the temperament, and the integrity to make a good president. I do not take caution and thoughtfulness as a sign of weakness. We have had enough cowboy politics; we do not need a knee-jerk ideologue who will shoot first and ask questions later. Fred Thompson’s thoughtful nuanced position will not play well with those who want a passionate hardliner. Anyone who finds policy-making easy, however, concerns me. The issues we face are tough. Certainty of the righteousness of one’s position, I do not see as a virtue. Thompson’s positions do not translate well to sound bites or slogans. Many of his positions do not fit neatly on a bumper sticker, but Fred Thompson is the kind of thoughtful, moderate, modest, conservative we need as President. He is reassuring. He is someone I could trust.

I am making my donation and putting a Thompson bumper sticker on my car.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hillary is Just Not That Scary

I read in the paper today that in a AP-Ipsos telephone poll that by a wide margin when people were asked which presidential candidate would make the scariest Halloween costume, 37% named Hillary Clinton, which was far ahead of her closest rival Rudy Giuliani at 14% and other presidential contenders at around 6%.

I know conservative radio talk show pundits and bloggers are trying to scare us to death with the thought that Hillary could be our next President, but I just don’t find her that scary.

Don’t get me wrong. I will more than likely vote for the Republican nominee over Hillary. If, however, the Republican nominee is Rudy Giuliani he will have to woo me. If we must have a Democrat, I think we could do worse than Hillary. She is no scarier than the rest of the Democratic pack, and less scary than Kucinich, Richardson, Edwards, or Obama. She does not advocate an immediate pullout of Iraq. She has been cautious in her foreign policy pronouncements, especially the threat posed by Iran. While I am sure I would not like her Supreme Court nominees, I doubt they would be any more liberal than those of any other Democrat.

I doubt she is the socialist bogeyman that the right is making her out to be. I suspect that if she is the next president she will be fairly moderate. Face it; Bill Clinton was a moderate. In fact, as Alan Greenspan has argued, you could say Bill Clinton was one of our best “Republican” presidents. With Bill Clinton we got Welfare Reform, something that had eluded Republican presidents. We got NAFTA and an extension of globalization and free trade. We got a budget surplus, a reduction in the national debt, and only a moderate increase in domestic discretionary spending. Clinton was not afraid to exercise American leadership and take us to war when the stability of Europe was threatened, but he avoided getting us bogged down in that war. All in all, Clinton was moderate to fairly conservative. I doubt Hillary Clinton is that far to the left of Bill Clinton. As Merle Haggard has said, the best thing Hillary has going for her is Bill.

The one thing that does slightly scare me about Hillary is that she will probably try to nationalize health care. However, she failed when she tried it as first lady and I doubt she will succeed as President. Anyway, unless Republicans push for market reform of health care, socialized medicine will probably eventually happen anyway. Hillary is probably no more likely to succeed in nationalizing health care than any other Democrat.

After eight years of a Bush presidency, nothing can scare me. Hillary is just not that scary.

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Bush is the biggest spender since LBJ

David Lightman McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — George W. Bush, despite all his recent bravado about being an apostle of small government and budget-slashing, is the biggest spending president since Lyndon B. Johnson. In fact, he's arguably an even bigger spender than LBJ.

“He’s a big government guy,” said Stephen Slivinski, the director of budget studies at Cato Institute, a libertarian research group.

The numbers are clear, credible and conclusive, added David Keating, the executive director of the Club for Growth, a budget-watchdog group. “He’s a big spender,” Keating said. “No question about it.”

Take almost any yardstick and Bush generally exceeds the spending of his predecessors. To continue (Bush is Biggest Spender)

When someone ask me why I am a Republican, one of my replies is, “Because I believe in fiscal responsibility and small government.” I will have to scratch that reason off my list. Rod

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