Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Obama Should Stay the Heck Out of Iran!

Free Iran, #IranElections, Political Elections...Image by BL1961 via Flickr

The President of the United States, according to headlines in the June 23, 2009 papers, expressed his outrage and dismay at the Iranian government's actions in its ongoing riotous dispute with its democracy-minded people. He has, however, no business expressing an official opinion about Iran's bad behavior.

We must make an effort to separate our feelings as people from the appropriate acts of our government. As individuals, we most of us deplore how the Iranian government is treating its people. The President, as head of our government, has no business with Iran's internal problems and should keep quiet, as should all American government officials.

Of course, the US government cares about what happens, mainly in our own self interest: We'd love to see the government of Iran change into one that respects Western values more, and we'd even more like to see the power of the mullahs curtailed. With luck, they might interfer less in Iraq and in Isreal and environs.

However, we are half a world away from that area. We cannot help the Iranian people by government action; imagine how embarrassing it must be for Iranian patriots to be backed by The Great Satan!

We are in the middle of an awful conflict in Iraq that started with righteous indignation and a desire for revenge and defense, and has degenerated into a ludicrous disaster and a smear on the good name of our country. You'd think we'd learn, wouldn't you?

Remember, we had an election a few years ago that many people think was stolen from the rightful winner, with the acquiescence of the Supreme Court. I'm sure the Democrats would have welcomed assertions on th

Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton vis...Image by US Army Korea - IMCOM via Flickr

eir behalf from the mullahs and government of Iran at the time, yes? Certainly, the government of Iran has been impacted very much since then by the guy who actually took office in the US, so they sure have an excuse!

In North Korea, we find ourselves making efforts to force Japan, China, and S0uth Korea to take the lead in solving the problem. (The North Koreans, no fools, insist that the US take the lead; they love how easily we are mislead and how readily we accept lies at face value.) Really, we need to butt out of that whole mess too -- yes, North Korea could, maybe, lob a missile at Hawaii; why on earth they'd do that I don't know, and neither does anyone else. If we didn't have a mutual defense pact with South Korea and with Japan, and if we didn't have troops in both places, the North Koreans would be no more interested in us than they are interested in bombing Switzerland. Then maybe it would be time for Japan and China to figure out how to deal with those nuts up north.

Is there really no place on Earth our government does not consider game for meddling? Can we not mind our own business? If you would only keep in mind that every time you concede to the government the job of interfering somewhere overseas, that excuse is used not just by the guys in charge today, whom you trust, but by whatever knucklehead we voters fall for in the future! Use your head! Be afraid!
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Let's Have a Little Disrespect for the Office of President!

A colleague writes, speaking of John Hodgman's gentle roast of Barack Obama at the 2009 Radio and TV Correspondents' Dinner:

"Maybe it's just me -- but this is the President of the United States. I think he deserves a lot more respect than this comedian was giving him -- and certainly the office does."

John HodgmanImage via Wikipedia

I disagree. The roast wasn't actually at all disrespectful, but that's not the point, my humorless friend above notwithstanding.

IMHO, the President of the United States gets far too much respect, for a democracy with no royalty and no classes. George Washington would be embarrassed.

It is the very instinct to treat our leaders as if they were royalty -- to think that because the "office" of POTUS is so (excessively) powerful in domestic and international affairs--that somehow the holder of that office personally deserves to be treated with -- not just respect, but deference -- exactly this misguided instinct that risks turning a nice, grounded guy like Barack Obama into another George Bush II.

This country really needs a guy to walk beside the President and mutters in his ear while others sing hosannas, "Remember, Caesar, thou art human!"

The President should be addressed as Mr Obama in regular speech among his colleagues, not as Mr President; so likewise Senators, who get swelled heads from being called Mr or Madam Senator. G. Washington hated being addressed as Mr President, but settled on it rather than having to hear "Your Excellency." His distaste for titles -- and for the instinct to genuflect before power -- was well founded; too bad it has long been lost.

When a comedian can't make a disrespectful joke about those in power, power has gone too far.

[By the way, John Hodgman's Roast is hilarious, gently humorous, and reveals Hodgman, the "I am a PC" actor in the TV commercial, as a real wit. Worth viewing. Hodgson is a humor writer with a great bio on Wikipedia.]

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Obama's Health Care "Reform" -- Why Medicare-style insurance will kill our health care system


I am doing you a huge favor with this link to the Reason site: You will get a sensible, understandable explanation of why the Democrats' widely admired plan to create a type of government-funded "reformed" health-care system is a really bad idea, one that you, personally, will come to regret. You haven't been getting it anywhere else.

Until now, you will likely have read only praise of the Obama administration's efforts to reform health care in the US, with most criticisms limited to only one of two forms:

1. It's not enough; it's not single-payer enough to do the trick; it's not comprehensive enough; it's only a first step; what a shame the administration and the Dems are unable to really do the job right.


2. References to the opposition of most Republican politicians, the health-insurance industry, and other elements of the health-care industry -- details of the opposition are not spelled out in much detail, and are always accompanied by references to special interests influencing these opinions. In other words, the opposition is pretty much dismissed out of hand as dishonest, arising only from industry greed, Republican cupidity, and political cowardice. (This is an example of the partisan worldview of newspaper reportage the conservatives complain about all the time; it's real.)

If you click on the above link and read the discussion, you will find a very different kind of essay from what you're used to: A comparison to the real performance of one of the most disastrous federal programs currently in existence, Medicare, on which the new health-reform plan is modeled.

You can only dismiss these issues out of hand if you are so completely partisan and, let's face it, greedy that you don't *care* what impacts health-reform legislation will have -- you just want to get free health care, with somebody else paying for it. You'll demonize anyone who gets in your way. You've completely bought into the worldview of the politician: Everybody wants what they want, and they want somebody else to pay for it. Unhappily, this is the one promise politicians keep: I can guarantee you that in the future, you will not pay for your own health care--somebody else will. Unfortunately for you, the other guy won't pay for his health care either -- you will.

I pay for yours; you pay for mine; bureaucrats take their cut off the top; new special interests arise that will stymie any future attempt at reform; everyone will fight for more of the pie at no cost.

God help us; because the Democrats and the Republicans (who are just as perverse as Dems think they are--and vice-versa) won't.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Why Must the *US* Solve the Mid-East Crisis?

* (en) Israel Location * (fr) Localisation de ...Image via Wikipedia

Becky C., of the blog Just A Girl In Short-Shorts

"But why does everyone feel the
[caution: work-unsafe illustrations], asks the question nobody else ever seems to ask, about America's insistence on traveling the world solving everyone else's problems: United States has an obligation to solve the thorny Israeli-Palestinian problem?

While it's true-- we were complicit in the creation of Israel —but we are no good at this sort of thing. Is there a single instance where the United States, acting as as an arbitrator or mediator, has had any degree of success in something like this? We are simply not qualified or up to the job...."

"[1.5 billion Muslims are obsessed about Isreal], a piece of land about the size of New Jersey—that has no oil, and not even enough water .. ."

"The Muslim countries have a lot of problems—virtually none of them caused by the United States or Israel. I can't help but think that Islamic life would improve immeasurably if they were able to let this go."

"The very best thing for us to do would be -- to butt out."

"What we need to do is cut everyone loose and let them grow up.... The president should quit running over to Riyadh, and ineffectively trying to jawbone those wealthy Bedouin chieftains into pumping out cheap oil. Although the King hands out some awesome swords and bling, we don't need to be bosom buddies with these guys. Their penchant for whacking off someone's hand or imprisoning a woman because she was gang raped — tends to offend American sensibilities. And with the exception of Turkeyand Iraq — the Muslim countries are all dictatorial police states or medieval kingdoms. Some nice business relationships would suffice—and certainly no more weapon handouts.

"We need to liberate Israel by letting them know, that even though we love them like Abraham loved his son, the full, faith and credit of the United States is no longer behind them — it creates more problems than it's worth — for everyone involved. They are free to grow up and solve their problems in any manner they desire — but we do not want to be involved — however, we wish them the very best. If they decide to blow up Tehran, they don't need to check in with us. Likewise if they want to start treating Palestinians like first-class human beings—great -- it's about time.

"America, simply by virtue of our enthusiasm for sticking our nose into every aspect of the Middle East, is a major destabilizer — and it is simply none our business.

"Once it dawns on these well-meaning clowns and scoundrels that they are going to have to solve their own problems—they might make a serious stab at it.

"It's worth a try."

And I agree. Likewise the rest of the world's hotspots that aren't next to our borders, like North Korea. As I posted in comments to her site:

You're right as rain on this one, Becky -- it's amazing nobody asks these simple questions about our foreign policy.

While we're at it, we should take a similar look at our numerous other world commitments. Why are *we* carrying water about North Korea? Isn't there a South Korea, a Japan, a China, and a Russia in the immediate threat area? Why don't *they* take the ball?

Yugoslavia-that-was? Why were we there? There's an entire continent directly affected. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, *we* came halfway around the world so the Saudis and Iranians and Isrealis wouldn't have to talk to each other to figure out how to handle that nutcake dictator.

We're idiots. We're letting politicians play with dynamite, like they always like to do. Idiots.

How Florida (!) Solved Its Budget Crisis

The old Florida Capitol Building with the new ...Image via Wikipedia

From Looking at California from Florida by Randall Holcolme, The Independent Institute, May 27, 2009

As a Floridian, I’m looking at California’s budget mess with some amazement. The state’s 2009-10 budget is $111 billion, up 6% from the prior year, and $25 billion more than the year’s projected revenues of $86 billion. The budget’s expenditures are 29% greater than projected revenues! Yes, times are tough, we’re in a recession and all that, but during tough times shouldn’t we tighten our belts? Instead, California’s expenditures are growing at a fairly good clip, and 29% larger than revenues. This strikes me as crazy, and I’m happy to be saying this from Florida rather than California.

Things are tough in Florida too. In 2006-07 the state’s budget was $73.9 billion, but with the collapse in the real estate market, the recession, and the associated decline in tourism, revenues have fallen just like in California. The difference is, our state legislature has cut expenditures to match the decline in revenues, and Florida’s 2009-10 budget is $66.5 billion, a cut of more than 10% from its high a few years ago. And, the budget is balanced.

Florida’s legislature balanced the budget pretty much without raising taxes. There were a few “revenue enhancers” here and there—most significantly, a $1 per pack increase in cigarette taxes—but by and large the state held the line on taxes. Florida’s 6% sales tax rate (lower than California’s 8.25% rate) remained unchanged, and Florida never has had a personal income tax. Pretty much the way things went were, revenues fell, and the legislature cut expenditures to match the reduction in revenues. That’s fiscal responsibility.

People complained, of course, but the loudest complaints were from people who worked for the government, or special interests who wanted some particular program funded. You didn’t hear ordinary Floridians saying they wanted their state government to spend more. I’m giving our state legislature a lot of credit for holding the line on taxes and spending within their means. I don’t see that kind of fiscal responsibility at the national level, or at the local level (in Florida, local governments are all scheming for ways to raise more revenue and increase their spending). And, looking all the way across the country, I don’t see it in California.

I watched with interest (actually, morbid curiosity would be more descriptive) last week as Californians voted down the state’s proposed solution to the budget crisis. I would have voted against the state’s plan too. Now I’ll be interested (I mean, morbidly curious) to see what California’s legislature has up their sleeve as Plan B. Fortunately, Florida’s political leadership shows more responsibility. Sacramento is 2,700 miles from Tallahassee, and I confess I don’t follow California news that closely. But I really don’t understand how California’s political leadership can put the state in that much fiscal peril and still remain in office.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Debunking "Mars Big as the Moon in the Sky!" Email Spam!

Philip Plait at The Amazing Meeting on January...Image via Wikipedia

The excellent Bad Astronomy blog in Discover magazine posts this week about the notorious email spam that asserts (from time to time) that Mars is coming so close to the Earth in its orbit that later this year it will "appear" to be as big as the Moon appears.

Yes; as big-seeming as the Moon seems in the sky. That would be something!

If it were true. But it's not even close to being true.

As astronomer Phil Plait explains in his blog, "I tire of debunking this every freaking year, so just read this post from last year, or from 2007, or 2006, or 2005, or 2003, when this evil viral thing got started by someone who I hope is now covered with a copious slathering of honey and ensconced in the ground near a fire ant mound, preferably surrounded by quicksand, a tar pit, and a bunch of TV sets all tuned to the Oprah show."

Geez, he's been countering this thing for five years. And it won't die.

Pity the rationalist.

This diagram shows the approximate relative si...Image via Wikipedia

He also mentions the amusing series going on in the comic strip NonSequitur on the same subject....
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Killing General Motors Softly

General Motors Building, View southeast showin...Image via Wikipedia

Reason Foundation's Shikha Dalmia, based in Detroit, writes:

"The president seems to think that there is nothing that G.M. has that a visit to bankruptcy court won't cure. Amputate its liabilities to bondholders, excise all its promises to unions (no, actually, scratch that one, that didn't quite happen) and, presto, it'll be ready, once again, to kick some foreign ass.

"If only!

"Chapter 11 is certainly a necessary - and a long overdue - condition for G.M.'s return. But it is not a sufficient condition. What G.M. also needs is a winning business model...

"Far from returning the $50 billion, G.M. is likely to become an unquenchable money-guzzler that taxpayers will have to feed for many, many, many years to come."

A Green Ride for Government Motors

Jacob Sullum: How Not to Run GM
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California's Fiscal Doom and the Federal Deficit (Reason)

Cropped image of Arnold Schwarzenegger.Image via Wikipedia

Reason magazine's Brian Doherty examines California's cash crisis, the massive federal deficit and what all of this red ink means:

"Federal revenues for 2007 ($2.6 trillion) are sufficient to have spent twice as much as federal outlays in 1975, adjusted for inflation, with no deficit at all. While life in these here United States was hellish on many levels in 1975, not least the fashions and food, even those with a much bigger appetite for government than I might agree that a government twice as big as what we enjoyed/suffered that year should be able to manage its necessary functions. (And no, there is no convincing reason that in a growing economy the government’s cash grab as a percentage of GDP should remain stable.)

"When contemplating California’s fiscal present and the U.S.’s fiscal future, it’s not quite right to say that where California is now, the U.S. as a whole will follow. The U.S. is already in a deep hole, much deeper than California's, and has been for some time. Even President Barack Obama knows it. He told C-SPAN recently, with wonderfully disarming frankness, 'we are out of money now.'

"The U.S., unlike the state of California, when faced with a dearth of cash, can just make more, which is in essence Obama’s plan—for a while, at least. As in his most famous movie role as the Terminator, Schwarzenegger is metaphorically a visitor from a dangerous and unpleasant future that awaits the rest of the United States.

"The Golden State is absolutely a political bellwether now in the sense that the crisis-induced fiscal seriousness Schwarzenegger is at least pretending to attempt will be essential to the U.S. in the near future—and should be seen as essential this very second.

"But while California can hold out hope that the federal government might bail it out of its troubles, the U.S. government, alas, has no higher power to which it can direct its own appeals. The buck stops there.

"The only problem, as Obama himself claims to understand, is they are all out of bucks."

Matt Welch: Blame the Voters, Pass the Buck
Watch Welch on Fox News Discussing California's Deficit

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