Thursday, December 04, 2008

Rough days ahead

I almost feel bad for Obama, actually. Well, about as much as I feel bad for Bush. Contrary to what most presidential candidates (and most people) think the president has very say in what will define his term. The only recent president without significant surprises was Clinton, who instead manufactured his own. Carter was defined by OPEC and Iran; Reagan by the USSR and a recession (and subsequent recovery); Bush by the Gulf War; Clinton by... a Republican congress, sex scandals, and a non-war in Bosnia which is directly related to NATO / Russian tensions today; and GWB by 9/11. What will define Obama's presidency? He ran on getting out of Iraq. By the time he takes office, his position on that will be largely irrelevant.

Things Obama will have to deal with:

The possible demise of NATO. NATO represents an era of foreign policy in the world defined by long term alliances between many nations against a mutual threat. That era may well be over. Germany's chancellor essentially told NATO to shove it during the Russo-Georgian incident a few months ago. NATO is struggling to maintain a coherent face to the rest of the world, largely due to stresses induced on it by the global financial crises, a resurgent Russia and the ongoing fight in Afghanistan. It's being pulled apart. Without NATO we are back to an environment of short, shifting alliances similar to the 19th and early 20th century.

A Resurgent Russia. Russia was largely a non-factor on the world stage for the past decade. Other than a few fits of pique involving Ukranian natural gas contracts, threats of energy supply cutoffs to Europe and an internal rebellion in Chechnya which was ignored by the rest of the world, Russia has been relegated to obscurity. That all changed when Russian troops invaded South Ossetia and nearly toppled a US-backed state in the process of applying for NATO membership. It was a direct statement to the rest of the world. Russia is reasserting itself in its sphere of influence lost in the breakup of the Soviet Union. The opportunity exists because the United States is stretched thin due to deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and because NATO is no longer coherent enough to object. The world is discovering that the EU has no real power, and the UN has been a joke for decades. Russia was seemingly deliberately baited by NATO membership hints to Georgia, the Western-inspired Orange revolution in Ukraine (a nation which was direct geopolitical consequences to Russia, including Mediterranean port access, pipeline control to Europe, and geographic defense value), and western involvement in the Balkans during Clintons term. Now they have the opportunity to object to these perceived threats, and they are taking full advantage of it while it lasts.

A deteriorating state of affairs in the Indian subcontinent. One of Obama's first, and possibly most important, challenges will be to pick up where the Bush administration leaves off in India and Pakistan. Condoleeza Rice is heading to Islamabad after she finishes in New Dehli to try to prevent a crisis between the two nations. However, there are fewer and fewer options available to all players. India, driven by public opinion within, must react to these attacks. They must assure their populace that a similar attack will not occur again, much as the United States was forced to react to 9/11. The only way they can accomplish this is to address the growing factions of militant Islam functioning with increasing boldness in Pakistan. So far this has been limited to a demand for Pakistan to control these elements of their populace and military. If this does not happen, they may follow the US model in Afghanistan: namely, that a nation providing asylum or aid to terrorist interests is acting in a state of war and react accordingly. This will result in a crisis of some sort, anywhere from a buildup of troops on the border to artillery or airstrikes into Pakistan's interior.

Pakistan is in a state of near-crisis. The civilian government is almost insolvent and seems to be at direct odds with the military government, which is a separate entity. The civilian government is writing checks it cannot cash in an attempt to prevent crisis with India. They are caught between a rock and a hard place with the US and India. The United States is demanding (via Obama's incoming administration's statements) that they increase their participation and cooperation on Taliban and al Qaeda factions in Waziristan along the Afghan border. They currently have 100,000+ troops stationed along that border. However, action against the militant Islamic factions is not very popular with the Pakistani population, and even less so among factions of the military and intelligence services. How mainstream those factions are will be seen in the coming days. Any threatening action by India will result in a movement or reaction by Pakistan away from Afghanistan and toward India, which will upset the US. Any significant action against the Taliban or other militant Islamic factions may result in a failed state or elimination of the civilian government. A failure to act in any meaningful way will result in increased US cross-border attacks, which will also stir public opinion against the civilian government.

Afghanistan / Iraq. Directly related to the former, Obama will have to deal with realities in Afghanistan -- namely, that without a significant increase in troop levels or a drastic change in policy, the US will not win in Afghanistan. The Taliban is too entrenched in "off limits" areas to directly engage. Without NATO involvement (see above) or Pakistani compliance, the US will have to go it alone -- a proposition most of the population is not ready to face. If the Indo-Pakistani crisis develops into a real mess, the options for the US in Afghanistan will rapidly decrease. The Bush administration is preparing for this already. Gen. Petraeus has already began to float indications of negotiations of some sort to reconcile Taliban factions into the existing government. This is very similar to the recent about-face the Bush administration did on their stance with Iran in the face of the Russian crisis. As Russia asserts itself, other geopolitical issues must be reprioritized. US "agreements" with Iran and Iranian factions in Iraq led to a not-good-but-OK solution in Iraq. If not a US-friendly government, Iraq will at least be, for now, a US-neutral state. Obama will be left with this tenuous arrangement and will be the deciding factor in the future of Iraq. Again, this future is largely out of his control, as most of his options will be reactionary.

And that doesn't even begin to factor in all of the mess on the economic front -- all the better, too, because he seems hell-bent on following the path of FDR and the New Deal. It wouldn't make his future look any brighter.

The biggest problem for Obama is going to be that the decisions he must make have no happy answers, particularly for his base. He will be, as all successful politicians, a pragmatist. This is why his cabinet has been largely Clinton retreads and middle-ground people. This will make a lot of people happy, but it will (and has) infuriate large portions of his base. He will have to consolidate his base of power while navigating through decisions that have no win-win solutions. We'll see how he does -- and how long it is before people evaluate Bush fairly.

Read the rest.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The kine that tread the grain

This is something that I've been thinking heavily upon in the past few years. I find our current system of no-cost universal suffrage to be unsustainable. Therefore, in the spirit of preserving our great nation, I propose that we continue to make suffrage universal but no longer make it free.

Let me explain. I do not want to deny anyone the right to vote. Attaching a cost would have that affect, but in the end it is not the desired outcome. Instead, I want all people to place a higher value on the votes that they can cast. Rather than voting being a meaningless thing with no value attached to it that we must do once every few years, I would like voting to be something that is cherished.

People do not value that which they are given, or that which they do not earn. This is the greatest single failure in mass socialism. If we accept this, why do we continue to allow an unjust system of entitlement to continue in this nation? The bottom 50% of workers pay less than 3.5% of taxes while the top 5% pays over half. And yet the votes of the bottom 50% of earners count every bit as much as the votes of the top 5%. This is not fair. Furthermore, this is unsustainable in a climate where politicians willingly pitch class warfare as a campaign platform and where people view the rich as evil, greedy and selfish.

As long as the American citizen can freely vote to steal money through reapportionment of wealth we will be caught in a downward spiral where fewer and fewer people are pulling the cart, and more and more are riding it. Eventually, Atlas will Shrug.

To counterbalance this I have a few proposals. The first and most logical is this -- a nonprogressive income tax based on a single flat percentage of income. For those who do not currently pay taxes, this would be a burden -- but what sort of justice is it where a man who works hard may come out with less than a man who does not work? Why should a greater and greater amount be taken out of a paycheck for increased success? This is perhaps the simplest and easiest way to eliminate some of the pain of the current system. Under a nonprogressive, universal income tax everyone would have a fair stake in the game.

An alternative to this would be to keep the current progressive tax system but require that one must present that year's income tax return showing a net positive amount paid to the government in order to vote in that year. This is similar to voting on "shares" in a corporation except that it does not afford the rich more votes based on the increased amount of dollars. However, the principle is the same -- if you want to vote, you have to buy in. There is absolutely no valid reason for a person who has not even paid the "cover charge" to get to decide how the nation is run.

A third idea is to have anyone able to vote based on some sort of earned suffrage, which must be universally available. By that I mean that anyone should be eligible to earn their citizenship, but that it must nevertheless be earned. Citizenship would, under this system, be voluntary. I feel this is a strong idea, but the devil is in the details. What would qualify a person for citizenship? Public service, of course...but what constitutes sufficient service to the public? Military service, would be one, including the national guard and the reserves. Would being a fireman or a police officer count? How about a doctor or nurse?

My tentative answer to this is to allow any person of any vocation, skilled or otherwise, to opt to work for society for a specified amount of time to earn their suffrage. Thus, a bricklayer could lay bricks for, say, five years. An engineer could engineer; a soldier could soldier; a doctor could doctor. No vocation is worth more than any other...and if you're unskilled, there's no harm in that: you join the military.

The crux of the matter, though, is that at the end of the day they would have to buy in to the system. Suffrage would come with a price -- greater for some, perhaps, but a price nonetheless.

Under this system there exists the risk of tyranny: the citizenry riding roughshod over the non-suffraged members. But aren't we at that point now anyway? The tyranny of an unchecked majority? We see the effects of a rabid, unlimited "democratic" majority in the French Revolution -- is that what anybody wants? Furthermore, suffrage would be guaranteed to be universal: if you don't like it, sign up and then vote. It would end the never ending deluge of complaints about the system.

In summary, I believe that the kine that tread the grain should be rewarded. In that train of thought, though, those that do not tread should not eat.

Read the rest.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Thoughts

This is a random mishmash of thoughts about the election.

I hope the right doesn't act like the left has for the past eight years. I hope I will never hear the hatred or vitriol towards President Elect Obama that I heard against Pres. Bush -- things like "chimpy mc hitler" or "shrub". For starters, it's childish, and it's unbecoming of a nation to eat its own like that. The Right has consistently decried the Left for "Bush Derangement Syndrome," most disgustingly personified in the attempts of the Left to sabotage anything they deemed to be associated with Bush, including our efforts in the GWOT. Let's not be hypocrites now, hmm? As some guy recently said, "Country First".

Another thing I hope is that people like Buckley were right and he'll tack toward the center, thought I doubt it. We know very little about this man, and, frankly, he has very little reason to do so. Now, his popular vote is hardly a mandate (though keep and eye out for the media to spin the electoral college mismatch as such... a thought process strangely absent from the Bush wins) but he is very nearly immune to approval ratings for a year at least, given the fact that his party controls the senate and the house convincingly. I don't think most people realize this but as things stand he will have more power on his inauguration day than most presidents ever realize across their entire terms. With that in mind, why on earth would he tack center? Particularly if his personal ideology is far left (as I believe it is)?

The timing of the credit crunch is particularly...humorous, given its origins in leftist legislation. Just as it seemed we were finally free from the malaise left to us by Jimmy Carter, in comes Obama to capitalize on the meltdown cause largely by the community reinvestment act. I don't believe most people have an understanding of the financial crisis or its underlying causes, making the story that the economy won him the election all the more bitterly ironic.

As an employee of an industry that is tied at the hip to both the power generation and energy sectors I have particular concerns with Pres. Elect Obama's energy plans. My employer's customer base varies from paper mills to electrochemical companies but is by far represented the strongest by power generation and oil & gas production. This gives me double cause to pause, as the plan to defame the coal industry alongside "evil Big Oil" will not only pain me on an ideological level, but possibly on a practical (read: employment) one as well. Coal fired electrical plants make up a very large portion of our electrical infrastructure. Coal plants are wonderful for baseline electrical loads. They represent cost efficient, reliable, and proven technology. Many coal plants under current regulations actually exhaust air cleaner than they take in (specifically plants in states with strict regulations such as California). The campaign against them is foolhardy and, if taken to fruition, will ultimately bankrupt an industry which employs tens of thousands while simultaneously increasing costs on every item every consumer buys. Ever tried to do much of anything without electricity? Why fix what ain't broke?

The next few thoughts I'd like to share came to me as I was trying to go to sleep last night. When the networks began calling the victory for Obama, cheers, whoops, and yells began to ring out in the apartment complex I live in. I heard shouts of "Praise Jesus, he won!" "Obama! Yes we can!" and other similar cries. Shortly thereafter I began to hear arguing over his victory, whether he was a good choice, and shouting of a different sort.

A few things occurred to me as a I began to think about it. One, that anyone who is excited enough about this election (or any other) is likely due for an extreme letdown.

As the media is already noting, this does not erase the history of race in this country, for better or for worse. It does not prove that people are (or are not) racist, and it does not fix the tensions between people. Judging from the shouting match I witnessed last night, it may have exacerbated the problem. This election was not unifying on any level -- race, party, or geography. Furthermore, I don't really believe that it was intended to be. Divisiveness has fueled the political machine in this nation in ever increasing amounts for the past twenty years. Why should it stop? It should be noted that most of mention of race in this campaign came in the form of unfounded accusations and threats of threats from Obama's own party!

These people who are so deliriously ecstatic are going to wake up in their same beds, with their same jobs, their same lives tomorrow as they had the day before. People can not, must not, look to external secular leaders to give their lives meaning or happiness, hope or joy. To do so is inviting disaster. Obama's victory brought elation to those who voted for him, and perhaps rightly so. But to assume that it will somehow transform this country for the better is sheer foolishness.

Those particularly ripe for letdown are blacks in this country. I am a strong critic of the current state of black culture in this country. I feel that the lack of a father figure, the prevalence of single-mother households, and the chip-on-the-shoulder victim of white oppression angle has severely handicapped black America. Unfortunately, Obama's victory does nothing to assuage these serious concerns, and in reality his brand of politics will most likely lead to legislation that will be to their detriment. His choice of preacher is telling, as are his constant "reminders" to his race, the so-called "plight" of blacks in this nation and the hearty serving of guilt to the "rich white people" that "caused" it.

I wish him the best of luck in upholding the duties which he will assume once sworn in. I will support him as an American in defending America and fulfilling the obligations of his office. However, I will vehemently oppose him in any endeavors to swing our free market further towards socialism, to increase the dependence of the poor on the government, or to limit our strength militarily. I hope others on my side of the political spectrum -- and on the opposite side as well -- will be similarly thoughtful.

Finally, this election has proved to me one thing beyond all possible doubt: the ignorance of our nation will be our downfall. Take that for what you will.

Read the rest.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Where has all the warming gone?

Seriously, wasn't the polar ice cap supposed to totally disappear this year? Or something like that?

Instead, enter reality:

Two hundred years of glacial shrinkage in Alaska, and then came the winter and summer of 2007-2008.

And this:
Cold temperatures set several new record lows this weekend, including a low of 22 Saturday in downtown Pendleton that broke a 118 year-old record of 24.

Record lows started falling Thursday with a new low of 20 for Meacham, four degrees cooler than the previous record from 2006, according to information from the Web site for the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Pendleton.

Heppner and Long Creek then set new low temperatures Friday. Heppner hit 29, the coldest that date has seen since 1960 when it was 30; and Long Creek was 21, besting the 1987 record by four degrees.

And...this, too:
Temperatures dropped to 31 degrees in the Ukiah Valley on Saturday night and early Sunday morning, the coldest Oct. 12 morning since record keeping began in Ukiah in 1893, said Troy Nicolini, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Eureka. The previous record was 34 degrees in 1916.


As always, the disclaimer: Anecdotal evidence is beyond stupid as support or condemnation of global warming. I only point these out as a foil to the increasingly shrill comments and stories presented by the mainstream media linking warm-weather aberrations to global warming.

Read the rest.