Sometimes I think I am a conservative, just not a reactionary one…

October 31, 2011

I think I was approaching middle age when New York Times columnist, and conservative, Ross Douthat was born, but that boy seems to have some pretty good insights and observations on politics.

Within the column to which I will provide a link, I think he makes some pretty good points — not that I necessarily agree with it all, but he does present some things worth pondering.

He has already gone on record in another and recent column proclaiming that no matter what is said  by pundits– even by him — between now and the 2012 Republican convention, Mitt Romney is the inevitable candidate. And now he offers that Romney may reach beyond is moneyed background and do good for the common man.

He attempts to point out some flaws of liberalism and even the extreme of his own conservatism.

And if I understand what he is implying, ironically Romney could be the GOP’s answer to FDR (although I may have misunderstood — but you can read the column for yourself).

I appreciate what he and others are saying about the bloated public sector. While I confess to being, in part,  plain jealous, I have always wondered why those in local public employment, something I am more familiar with, feel it is their right to have better pay and pensions than most in the private sector and even the right to goof off on the job. I should not condemn all public workers, but I have witnessed enough and read about enough to know there is an overall prevailing attitude. And I do know that the pensions just got too cushy. And one reason is that public workers form a large voting block and the politicians know that and the public has been apathetic until the Great Recession hit, and besides many of us thought we too might get a government job one day.

I do want to say that I appreciate the help I have received from public employees, such as, and not limited to, those who work for Social Security. But that does not force me to overlook waste and abuse where it is. I think the requirements for public employment should be fairly rigorous (as far as it is necessary to fit the job) and public workers should be paid well, and have reasonable job security — with some trade-off of slightly lower pay but better security than in the private sector, as it was once intended to be.

In public education there needs to be more going into teaching than the bloated administration. I read a story in an Alabama newspaper about a law there that was enacted to allow experienced classroom teachers to collect retirement but keep on working and drawing a salary. Trouble was when it was investigated, they found out that most of those receiving the double benefit were administrators.

I’m going a little off the subject, but I believe one of the reasons, or in fact, the reason, for bloated administration in public education is that local school districts have come to depend upon state and federal aid and in so doing must make tons of documentation and grant proposals for those programs. In my mind local districts, or counties, should tax more for public education and then they would have more control and need fewer administrators and the local voters through their locally-elected school boards would have more control over how their tax dollars were spent. In addition, aid from state and federal governments ought to come in the form of block grants without so many strings attached that require so much administrative work.

I have cited this example before, but when I heard someone else cite it independently of me, I knew I was not just imagining things or misinterpreting. It goes like this:

When I was in high school we had two administrators, the principal, a kindly old man we hardly ever saw and did who knows what in his office and the more highly visible vice principal whose main job seemed to be to walk the halls to see if boys had their shirts tucked in and girls’ dresses were not too short (a ruler was even used sometimes) and to peek into the restroom to see that no one was smoking — a highly-paid and educated man and this was his job. But at least we had only two administrators. About five years after high school I returned as a local newspaper reporter. The school enrollment had not significantly changed and now there were a half dozen administrators — principals and vice principals. For a time frame here, I graduated in 1967. A lot of federal programs had been enacted during Johnson’s Great Society.

Overall our public education system in this nation has gone downhill. One of the reasons may be a great upheaval in society (to include the fact that the broken home is the norm — my own children were almost outcasts because they had a real mom and dad at home), to include changes in work ethic, attitudes toward intellectualism, the misguided notion that everyone should go to college, programs that seem to offer more to the supposed process of education than the actual education itself — fancy programs titles and grant applications and high paid administrators cannot match up to willing students and able teachers and supportive parents (and taxpayers).

Sometimes I think I just might be a conservative — but Lord please don’t let me be an ignorant reactionary one who blames everything on homosexuals, illegal immigrants, nasty liberals, Islamic terrorists, and atheists, oh, and Hawaiians.

But back to that Douthat column. If you have not already, read it and see what you get out of it:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/opinion/sunday/douthat-what-tax-dollars-cant-buy.html


Secret to getting to age 101 and beyond — keep moving…

October 30, 2011

So Mom turns 101 today.

And it almost seems as if her four children are catching up with her. I mean I’m the youngest and I’m 62, but her oldest is pushing 82 — and by all appearances is in fine shape; I just saw him last night.

Mom lives in an assisted living home but can get around, primarily by wheelchair these days, but she also rides an adult-sized tricycle around the outside of the place — she used to ride inside too, but the powers that be put a stop to that — it made some of the old people nervous, I guess.

Okay, so most people usually want to know what is the secret to longevity. All I can say is that in her case she has always kept active, but she was not the kind to do gymnastics or long-distance bike riding (shorter distance yes), or a lot of mountain climbing, or even stand-in-front-of-the-TV aerobics or whatever (I think she has attended some exercise sessions where she lives).

But mom was the old-fashioned housewife and I think that kept her moving enough to suffice. When I was real small we still lived in San Francisco and apparently were not aware that having two cars so mom can zip down to the grocery store was a requirement for modern living. I recall walking (or maybe I rode my tricycle) with her many long blocks to a supermarket, and she would return with grocery bags under both arms. Later, still having only one car in the family and dad having it at work, we lived in a small town in California’s Central Valley and mom would often walk the several blocks downtown. In later years we did wind up with a second vehicle.

But if anyone is interested in non-stressful healthy exercise, using her as a guide, I would suggest that you just keep moving.

I have personally always abhorred what I call artificial exercise, that is calisthenics. I do think that as a man I could have benefited from some weight lifting, although even in that, if you just do some physical work your muscles will tone up – expand a little too.

Mom did smoke for, well since I don’t know when she began precisely, I am estimating nearly 40 years. She quit sometime after I left high school and was away in the Army. I don’t know if she was ever what one might call a heavy smoker. I just recall that as a kid I would see her sit down and have a smoke or she would smoke in a car too. But finally she just up and quit and stayed quit.

We were meat eaters, but mom always cooked vegetables, and when I was a kid we ate meals primarily made from scratch, prepared from the raw ingredients, very little instant stuff and no takeout. People are so busy today out trying to make more money and figure they don’t have time to cook. What they fail to realize or sometimes seem to flat out reject is that preparing balanced meals from scratch is tons more economical and tons more healthy.

But Mom also has benefited from being naturally healthy, something over which none of us have complete control — often luck of the draw in life.

I’ve been informed by the medical profession that my Waldenstrom’s cancer is not likely going to allow me to match my mother’s longevity — but I’m still working and I’m still moving.

Goona move right down later today to celebrate Mom’s 101st with my siblings and others.

Happy Birthday Mom!


Why don’t the protestors make use of the existing political system? And why do people who go to college think success is a guaranteed right?

October 29, 2011

While I like the idea of public protest in the United States — a petition of government and redress of grievances as is our right as citizens in the First Amendment — I am a little dubious of this Occupy movement (and of course the Tea Party too) in that I am not sure what they would propose as an alternative or what their actual demands are or what they are demonstrating about. And any violence, and it has been minimal so far, mars the whole movement — the Constitution speaks of peaceful assembly.

As John Rothman on KGO Radio in San Francisco asked his callers the other night, I wonder why they have forsaken the existing political process. The only answers to that I caught was some kind of psycho babble — maybe I missed the cogent answer, if there was one.

It could be that many of those people protesting, for the most part young people, I believe (have not really followed all this all that closely  — too busy working), were disillusioned by Barack Obama for not taking advantage of the Democratic Party majority while he had it and for seemingly selling out to Wall Street and carrying on and even augmenting Bush-style war policy.

And while I do not believe that the Occupy movement is totally radical left wing or Marxist or communist, I do detect some of that theme. I mean it’s the masses against the capitalists and there’s this talk about not having leaders but groups that come to decisions by some magic consensus, and while that last part is not really out of Marxism (well, actually I have never studied Marxism in any detail), it does kind of sound like worker committees that are supposed to run communist societies — even though in real life practice they were run by cult of personality of one individual and strict totalitarian government where the individual counts for nothing and everything is for the state (the government).

This was brought to my mind primarily because I found a Marxist radio station in the Bay Area (no not KGO) and was listening to it because it came in clear and I wanted to break the monotony as I drove along and the speakers were all agog about the Occupy movement. But again, I do not think the Occupy movement is some kind of phony thing set up by Marxists to excite the masses, but they (though their numbers be small) would like to take advantage of it.

Actually a young caller into KGO which Gene Burns of that station taped from another KGO show to play on his program gave an excellent description of what Occupy is all about, unfortunately, I forgot exactly what he said, but I do recall that he felt the social contract we have lived under has been broken with the one per centers who make the bulk of the money in society controlling the whole political process, without throwing so much as a crumb to the masses.

I personally do not know the solution, except more citizen involvement in the existing political process. Politicians want to get re-elected, and they see their re-elections as mandates. And experience has shown the only sure way to stay in office is raise tons of money to finance propaganda (that is totally non-objective, one-sided messages, replete with out-and-out lies, or at least woeful omissions) in order to convince people to vote for them. And the main source of all this is the big money crowd — rich people and large corporations with their vested interests.

If a larger percentage of the populace voted and paid more attention to the news (and it is difficult these days what with the demise of quality media, killed by the quick profit motive and the proliferation of totally partisan sites) politicians might be actually forced to pay attention to what everyday people desire — the masses as it were.

You can write, and email makes it simple, to your elected representatives. And while blocks of messages on the same subject, such as all for or all against something may be more effective sometimes, you have to figure that if enough people on their own independently tell of their grievances, the laws of probability are that many more out there are in agreement and that would be just as effective or more effective than an orchestrated campaign which can be suspect, that is suspected of being phony — you know, canned messages, boiler plate.

(I didn’t mention social media as a method of contact because I am not into that and am leery of that whole concept, and maybe too old to appreciate it. I mean technology is great as a tool or medium but when it replaces the human element, not so good.)

If the Occupy movement and Tea Party would use the existing structure — actually the Tea Party has — they would be much more effective.

I do not have a lot of sympathy for college kids who spent a lot of money, both their parents’ savings and borrowed debt (and even theirs own wages), to get their degrees and now cannot find jobs — I mean, so what is new? Why do people think that simply going to college gives you a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to success in a society that has always had an up and down economy?

One has to face the world with his or her eyes wide open and act accordingly.

I still think change can come through active participation in the political process. Not everyone is going to be super active. For all my talk on the subject, I confine my participation to keeping informed, voting, and occasionally corresponding with my elected representatives. But that is a lot more than most, and I will bet you I have a better track record on that than a lot of so-called Tea Partiers or Occupiers.

But, as I said, I am all for protest and long as it is meaningful and peaceful.

Out-and-out rebellion is justified in the Declaration of Independence, but I do not think we have yet reached the point where that is necessary — but if the politicians do not start responding to the wishes of the majority of the people I do see the possibility.

And change cannot come overnight unless you go for dictatorship — we don’t want that kind of change.

 

P.s.

My reference to the Declaration of Independence reminds me of the movie I saw in grade school in which a guy reads the Declaration of Independence on the street corner and people asked about it by an interviewer see it as treasonous — ignorance of basic civics in our own country has been rampant for a long time. I saw that movie in the early 1960s, as I recall, and it was probably made in the 1950s. I remember it was in black and white and the teacher set it up on one of those old reel-to-reel projectors.

 


Gaddafi gone, good; Islam takes over, not necessarily good…

October 26, 2011

What ups and downs. First we hear Gaddafi has been killed, good. Then we begin to realize that a billion dollars of U.S. aid to NATO in the Libya military intervention and what we now appear to be getting for it is another Islamic nation that will follow sharia law, the antithesis to western democracy.

Actually I am not sure from what I have just been reading that it is a done deal and that Libya will take the Islamic or radical Islamic and/or sharia law route. Things are in a state of flux, but reportedly the head of the provisional government there said sharia law would be adopted. I understand there is opposition there to that (oops more civil war?).

There are conflicting reports as to whether Tunisia, though a largely peaceful transition, will adopt sharia law — I just read a news story that quoted the leader of the ruling party there that said it would not for fear of offending western nations for whom it depends upon for its economy — tourism, trade.

Islamists and the military seem to be taking control in Egypt after the U.S., or the Obama administration anyway, got all excited about the promise of the dawning of a new era of democracy through what has been called the “Arab Spring”.

In my lifetime the official and consistent foreign policy of the United States has been to promote democracy and self-determination of people worldwide, and I think it has been partly sincere, if there is such a thing as partly sincere.

Looking backwards to the Cold War:

If self-determination should wind up being the choice of the communist path, then we were not for it, because communism is counter to everything we stand for, particularly in the field of human rights and a fair and impartial judicial system, and of course it does not fit in with our capitalist approach to economic matters.

A further problem is that even if people supposedly chose communism, the evidence casts doubt on the validity of the notion that such was actually chosen by free will.

The communist threat was in the past.

Today the threat appears to be what some call “radical Islam“. Governments that are run under the control of this radical Islam (such as Iran) do not fit our definition of what takes place in free societies brought about by self-determination and the choice of democracy.

So, years ago, in the Cold War, a democratic-communist government would be an oxymoron.

Today it is hard to conceive of a democratic-Islamist government that uses strict sharia law (which is a religious doctrine that does not square well with western ideals or human rights — particularly for women, although it is said to be interpreted differently in different Islamic nations, some being a little more progressive or liberal).

So, for our 40 billion-dollar investment in Libya we may have helped promote another Islamist state.

The irony here is that U.S. administrations have had in their thinking the idea that the promotion of western democracy means freedom of religion, but you can hardly have freedom of religion (or even freedom from religion) if its tenets and strictures are written into or directly used as the basis of a nation’s laws and if religious leaders have any control over the government.

(Our own laws may be often based on moral codes that have their basis in religion, but they have become secular — kind of like Chirstmas.)

I think the United States is correct in promoting (not necessarily through war, though) self-determination and democracy, with freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, which goes along with freedom of religion. George W. Bush was correct in saying that we are not at war with the religion of Islam itself or those who practice it. Instead we are at war with terrorists who proclaim they are following Islam in what they do.

The religious right wing in the U.S. does not help the cause of peaceful foreign relations or for that matter, the promotion of religious freedom in the U.S., when it paints everything as a Holy War against Islam.

I will admit, though, Christianity by our history and custom has been what I would call the de facto official religion of the United States since its founding. Judaism has had a struggle but has become accepted. Most others are tolerated to some extent, with the exception of Islam, which faces extra scrutiny in light of the terrorist activities,  especially 9/11.

Short of armed intervention, there is nothing wrong with generally promoting western democracy, but all-out nation building does not seem terribly practical and is subject to the law of unintended consequences.


Why isn’t the medical profession more active in health insurance policy?

October 23, 2011

I sometimes wonder why doctors, the medical profession, are not in the forefront of the issue of how to provide medical care for the populace. While they often complain they do not get paid enough by insurance, especially government insurance, from my perspective they take a back seat when it comes to how to resolve the problem.

From what little conversations I have had with doctors about this, I get the impression that they are reluctant to commit themselves because they fear if they go too far they might end up with a situation that would not maximize their profits. In this poor economy with so many people having lost their health insurance they may be hurting, but economies are cyclical things and if the economy comes back maybe more people will have insurance and the money will come rolling in. So let’s don’t get hasty about things and push for some form of all-inclusive government health care where we all will be at the mercy of Uncle Sam and Medicare.

Yes, I know we have Obamacare now, but I still have not figured that one out, that is what it does — in my personal case nothing that I know of.

I am not trying to be critical of doctors and at my age and with my health condition, which is having what I am told is an incurable, but slow-moving, cancer, I’m greatly appreciative of them. But it does seem to me that if they would take the long view of it all they might be more active in the issue. And I don’t think Obamacare has settled the issue and I think there is a good chance a Republican will be in the White House in a little over a year (not sure, just have a hunch) and all the candidates, as far as I know, have vowed to do what they can to dismantle Obamacare — then what?

What prompted this post is an article I just read in the online version of the Sacramento Bee newspaper about local dentists feeling the pinch of the economy with so many patients not being able to afford treatments. For some reason, I have noticed, dental insurance is hard to get and is paltry in its payments. I know mine, through work, is. I used up my big $1,000 in yearly allowance and just forked over a pile of bills out of my pocket for further treatment — it you wait on dentist work, the tooth decay and gum recession does not and it costs a lot more or you go without any teeth (that was my thinking). Anyway, it occurred to me that maybe those poor dentists should have been a little more concerned about how to provide dental healthcare to the public at large in the past.

I know that both medical doctors and dentists are busy professionals who spend a lot of time providing care for their patients and maybe feel it is up to the politicians to figure out public policy. Well you can leave it up to them and this is what you get.

But should any of my doctors read this — again, I am not criticizing, really I’m just writing words — it’s my form of recreation, but maybe it is something to ponder.

—————

About dentists losing business to economy:

http://www.sacbee.com/2011/10/23/3998013/dentists-patients-feel-economys.html


Mitt Romney is all business and he might be right (on many things)…

October 21, 2011

I like the idea of just asking a candidate five questions, as in the interview I saw conducted by the Las Vegas Revue-Journal. They posed the questions to Mitt Romney.

While I may have agreed or disagreed with his answers, I was impressed with the way he handled it. Kind of like a job interview. I am providing a link so you can see and hear for yourself.

But I think this type of format is far better than the so-called debates we have seen on TV, which are more like multi-candidate free-for-alls with some managing to get a word in and some not and a lot of silly crosstalk and talking-point one-liners — no real discussion or substantive or to-the-point answers. I would prefer one-on-one debates in the traditional debating format — something that has rarely been done in modern times. The Kennedy-Nixon debates, I believe, came the closest. I also saw some good issue debates on the late William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line program on PBS.

But back to Mitt:

He comes across as a cold (or cool), calculating businessman when he answers the question as to what to do about the housing (underwater mortgage) problem. He says we have to let the foreclosure cycle run its course so we can hit bottom and go from there — and you know? as cold as that is, he probably is 100 percent right. But when he says let investors buy up the houses and put renters in there, I form this mental picture of my own life, much of it spent as a renter — as a renter you often feel like a second-class citizen (I don’t nowadays as a renter, though), at the mercy of the landlord.

He calls for ending Obamacare as part of the steps he would take to balance the federal budget (and I would presume work towards paying down the national debt). Since I still don’t personally understand Obamacare, I’m a little dubious on that.

I think you would also infer from his answers that he would seek to cut down on the benefits of Social Security and Medicare in various ways and maybe not allow high earners to draw as many benefits as lesser earners, but the good thing is that he is on record as wanting to preserve those programs as a “safety net”. He also talks about introducing “managed care” into the program. We all know that managed care means managing to give the patient as few benefits as possible.

On defense spending he claims that the eventual draw down of troops in the current wars will end up saving a lot of money, but other than that he calls for building more ships and airplanes and maintaining a strong force. He indicated he would tend to follow the military leadership as to the withdrawal schedule. I agree with him about strengthening and maintaining our armed forces — like a late French ancestor of mine said in his writings: the military is a “necessary evil”. I also know that as the world’s superpower we have to stay that way, otherwise we are going to be at the mercy of some people who really don’t care for us.

I did pick up on a slight inconsistency in his answer about picking Supreme Court justices: He gave the standard Republican/conservative line about he wants justices who rule based strictly on the Constitution as interpreted by the framers’ original intent. Well before that interview he was quoted as saying: “corporations are people too”, in reference to the current state of federal law that gives corporations the same rights and privileges as individual real people, as if a corporation (which is nothing more than a business arrangement) were a real live person, often referred to as “corporation personhood”. This theory comes out of the 14th Amendment. But nowhere in that amendment does it say anything about corporations being treated as real people. You see the justices in case law inferred that, originally in a 19th Century case called Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, and I think followed the same reasoning (whatever it was) in the recent Citizens United case, in which it held corporations have a right to pour money into elections under free speech rights granted any live person. So, apparently judge-made law is okay with conservatives if is helps their cause, but not when it goes the other way, such as in Roe v. Wade, in which the court held that though there is no specific language in the Constitution, somewhere in there it can be inferred that women have the right to have control over their own bodies.

One thing about Romney, though, if he sees that his position on anything does not catch the current mood he is willing to alter it. Let’s just say he is flexible, as in he provided the framework for Obamacare in his own program in his own state (when he was governor of Massachusetts), but now that he is a Republican presidential candidate and as such is obliged to be anti-Obamacare, he is against it (he was for it before he was against it).

I look forward to seeing one or more head-to-head debates (leave out the moderators/reporters as participants) between Romney and Obama (nothing so far has made me think the GOP nominee will be anyone other than Romney). I think both would be excellent debaters and it would be fun to watch.

That link to the interview:

http://www.lvrj.com/multimedia/Five-questions-with-Mitt-Romney-132028338.html

P.s.

Listening and analyzing Romney’s positions and past positions and actions, one can’t help but feel that although he is fairly conservative (or is he moderate?), he feels the privileged rich still have a social obligation to society. I still would have a hard time voting for him — maybe it’s the company he keeps (those other folks in the GOP nomination race).

P.s. P.s.

This just occurred to me after doing my original post: although Romney is no Barry Goldwater, I do recall, in reference to my headline about Romney might be right, that the Goldwater presidential campaign slogan was: “in your heart you know he’s right”. Maybe, but he did not get elected.


IRAQ: What a way for U.S. to end war, it gets the bum’s rush…

October 21, 2011

So the good news is that the U.S. military will essentially be out of Iraq by the end of the year, President Barack Obama announced today.

But it is a strange way for us to end a war. We are for all intents and purposes being kicked out by the country we invaded, help set up a new government in, and occupied for nearly a decade.

It’s as if either Japan or Germany had kicked us out before we had decided our occupation after World War II was done.

Besides the fact that it was probably a needless war, it shows how we began from a position of strength and then wimped out (the civilian leadership, not the soldiers) then how we almost lost the whole enchilada for a while and then how we came on a little tougher in what was called the surge and then how we wimped out (the civilian leadership again) and are now being run out the country with its government, which is supposed to now be on our side, telling us it can no longer guarantee immunity to our soldiers and contractors. We let them tell us that?

The upside to our modern wars is that not as many people (on our side anyway) die (although a lot do — too many), but the downside is that they don’t seem to settle much and they are a severe financial strain on our economy.

And what is really exasperating in all of this is that anyone knows that the overriding reason we went to war in Iraq in the first place was to secure our oil supply. But we did not even do that. We had a good excuse to take the oil fields over as spoils of war.

Now Iraq is subject to the influence of Iran.

Afghanistan, after a decade remains a quandary and a quagmire.

While our recent adventure in Libya was pulled off without our troops on the ground being involved and no cost of American lives — NATO and the Libyan rebels did the heavy lifting — it is hard to know what will happen there now. Obama took a gamble on that one, bypassing congress, and seems to have won.

But my own position on war continues to be avoid it at nearly all costs, but once there is no way out, do it, go for total victory and unconditional surrender by the forces you face (although with non-state connected terrorists that might not exactly be possible) or at least annihilation of them as far as possible if they do not surrender, and then any occupation for as long as it seems necessary.

As I understand it, we will still have some military and contractors remain in Iraq to train them how to use the weapons we sold and/or gave to them (which they with the help of Iran may one day turn on us).

Hey, but if it all works out for the good, fine. I have my doubts. And the cost has been high — some 4,200 of our troops dead and thousands more gravely wounded and a trillion dollars that could have been spent on health care, business investment, environmental cleanup or just mad money in the pockets of American consumers.

P.s.

I often compare the military actions we have taken since World War II with WWII itself, as if that were the model of how we handled everything in the past — I realize, and perhaps sometimes conveniently forget, that throughout our history we have made various military interventions around the world, to include an unsuccessful one early in the last century into Mexico going after Pancho Villa, as well as sending troops to help put down the Boxer Rebellion in China, and our occupation of Haiti back in our own Hemisphere and other interventions. But I feel that simply using our military as a tool for international relations is generally not good (although as Madeline Albright quoted herself as saying in reference to opposition to intervention in Kosovo: what good is a military if we can’t use it? — I suppose she does have a point). I think we should do our best to practice what we preach — peace.