The presidential race: everybody wants to get into the act (but it looks like Hillary)

May 31, 2015

I don’t think in my life time I have ever seen so many people running for president — most on the Republican side. I’ve heard the GOP candidate lineup referred to as the clown car — sadly most of them are it seems to me. And there’s seemingly a new one every day — like Jimmy Durante used to say as he flapped his arms to his side — “everybody wants ta get inta da act”.

There are some serious candidates who I am sure have potential to be credible leaders of the free world on the GOP side, I’m just not sure who they might be.

And then on the Democratic side we finally have a couple of contenders besides Queen Hillary. We have the self-avowed socialist from Vermont, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the former governor of Maryland and former mayor of Baltimore Martin O’Malley. I don’t know, is having been the mayor of Baltimore a plus? O’Malley is said to be campaigning on the notion that he has “new ideas” and that he got his inspiration from Gary Hart. I was around for Hart’s campaign and some how I missed what those new ideas were — he kept telling people to read his book (knowing that probably no one would — I didn’t, okay and I am no one).

Sanders is an improbable candidate but is said to be catching the attention of young people, even though he is an old guy.

And I just read that he is drawing large crowds (not just young people) in Iowa in advance of the all-important Iowa caucuses that start off the primary season (even though they are not a regular primary). The Clinton campaign got a warning call from a state Democratic operative to get Mrs. Clinton out there.

But unless Mrs. Clinton is tripped up along the way by, say, some kind of Clintonian scandal, it seems fairly clear that she will get the nomination and her challengers will have only served possibly to make her pay attention to the left of the party (she being a moderate or left of center). Keep her honest (keep a Clinton honest?).

So far the only candidate on the Republican side I can see having a chance to appeal to the wide electorate might be Jeb Bush — and I really don’t know why I just wrote that. It just seems as if Mr. Bush ought to be more level headed and mature from things I have read. But so far, I have to say, he has come off rather lame. Not as sure as I once was that he is the smarter brother.

There is Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Strangely he is the only Republican with different ideas, and that is because he is more of a libertarian, that strange ideology that mixes conservatism and social liberalism.

I heard him say that he, unlike other Republicans, does not necessarily think war is always the best policy and that we ought to think before we act. He also does not care for the government spying on citizens.

As I finish this post he is in a special session of the Senate trying to block provisions of the so-called and misnamed Patriot Act that allows the government to grab tons of private data en masse from citizens.

I just looked at the latest polls and they seem to show Mrs. Clinton with a comfortable lead when matched up to the various Republican hopefuls.

Also read that she is going around talking to people (voters or potential voters) and listening to their problems and writing down notes on note cards. Seems like a clever approach — listening to the people, who knew?

I want to like Hillary. I have a hard time doing it, but I want to. I’d be willing to like a Republican candidate (I’m not talking Facebook like), if one would make that possible.

I’ve been listening to a history of Theodore Roosevelt (not FDR the Democrat, but Teddy the Republican). That was so long ago. Don’t know if the history books get it right (maybe they just glorify him), but wouldn’t it be nice to have someone dynamic like that on the ticket?

—————-

But really folks, what this nation needs (besides a good 5-cent cigar) is a roaring economy in which everyone can take part, in which there is opportunity for all, not just the insiders or the one percent. We are in the global market and that presents challenges we did not have in the past — I mean this nation’s economic history was based on trade overseas, but this new global market is a different animal.

I for one think we get confused when we talk of the need for education. Education is a general concept that can mean a liberal (small l) program that introduces one to the arts and languages and sciences and a variety of cultures and it can also mean specific job skills or training in advanced technologies, and it can mean all of what I just listed. But the fact is that some people just plain need job skills for the 21st Century (and you don’t have to go to college to introduce yourself to the liberal arts — we have free libraries where you don’t have to buy the professor’s book — if that is what they are still doing in colleges). We spend a lot of economic effort taking care of people who don’t, won’t, or can’t work. Now for some it is just too late, but we keep having a new crop of young folks coming up. We need to do something for them. We need to make it plain early on that you need to start planning for what you will do for a living. Hey, I speak from experience. I did most of the wrong things.

But now that I think of it, it is vital that everyone has a good, solid general education, and that everyone be grounded in our history and government, and be trained to think critically.

Many politicians count on the fact there is a lack of critical thinking among the voters. And I am sure some also wish there was not such a lack.


Gangs could not exist without our help; they should be seen as uncool…

May 27, 2015

I just read a heart-breaking story about a police officer making his last traffic stop for the night in a suburb of Albuquerque, N.M., and before he could even draw his service revolver, or perhaps even knew he should, a passenger in the car, a purported gang member, shot him dead.

It occurs to me that gangs do not exist in a vacuum. And they need support from other folks just to survive. I mean they must have a place to live and to sleep and to eat. They take that support, sometimes from family members and from the social welfare institution, and then they prey on the public.

But out of fear and out of cynicism of the system the gangs are protected by the very public upon which they prey.

People who live in gang-infested areas would do better to support and help the local police than to see them as the enemy.

In some places, though, the police have not made that easy. In some places the police are their own worst enemy.

But the scourge of the gang culture threatens us all.

It does not help that young people like to dress in gang-member-like attire.

It would be refreshing to see that as not being cool.

And of course the entertainment industry and other commercial interests play on the gang wannabe culture in their cynical chase for the all-mighty dollar.

It is said that the gangs are in part the result of a feeling of hopelessness among the lower class and among so-called minority groups.

But in my life I have seen two basic types of people: those who follow or try to follow the norms of society and who do what they can do be productive members of it, and those who do not — and nationality and skin color seem to have nothing to do with it.

As a truck driver I am constantly in areas where unemployment is no doubt high, and yet, I see people of all cultures and skins colors working. I feel sorry for them having to live and work around others who do not share their sense of self-worth and responsibility.

But gangs could not exist without our perhaps at times unwitting support.


We just don’t know what we are doing in the Middle East…

May 26, 2015

We might have been better off if we had never entered into the internal affairs of the Middle East. But the Middle East has oil that we have needed and it is an important trade route and it is the center of the world’s three major religions. And at one time, back in Cold War days, we competed with the Soviet Union for hegemony over the region.

The Western powers unabashedly worked to control the region with its inhabitants being treated as mere subjects to the outside powers. These days we are into fostering self-government modeled after our own Western systems.

But we are dealing with a foreign culture and competing tribal and religious sects. It’s difficult to create stable nation states in such an environment.

There was something called the Arab Spring awhile back in which it was hoped that peoples all over the region were rising up and through the use of social media they would demand more democratic government in the Western style. That would be good it was thought because then they would be more friendly to us and less inclined to follow the radical Islamist terrorists.

But for the most part all that has seemed to fizzle out. Old habits die hard.

If we were operating under the old rules we would just send our armies in there in full force and straighten things out. But if we tried that now — well we do have forces there, but they are limited — we would only serve as probably one of the best devices for terrorist recruitment ever.

Gen. Colin Powell had said if you go into Iraq and break things you are obligated to fix them. Well we went in but we did not fix anything. We just broke everything. We spent a lot of money, some of it under the auspices of fixing things, but really most of it was lost via corruption. Our military efforts in the region have been a bonanza for the defense industry and military contractors and private mercenaries.

The above is just my off-the-top-of-the-head overview, but I think it is accurate as far as it goes.

It had been said that if we developed our own energy supplies we would not be dependent on Middle East oil. Well we did. But I think we are still dependent upon that oil because it goes into the mix of the world market and affects the overall supply and the prices that are dependent upon supply and demand (notwithstanding the price fixing games of the oil monopolies).

It is tempting just to turn our backs on the troublesome region. But the power vacuum we would leave behind would be and in fact is being filled in some places by terrorists, most notably at this time, ISIS (or ISIL). And ISIS will not be content to just gobble up the Middle East. Its designs are on world domination.

One approach is to work through some coalition of Arab states friendly to the West in order to beat down ISIS. This is problematic because I think in some instances ISIS is aided and abetted by some of our so-called friends.

Our history in Iraq certainly complicates things. It was our big test case. Could we transform the nation into a modern Western style democracy and improve the life of its inhabitants and in the process make friends and develop a solid base in the region? We failed. It may have been an impossible task. But too, there was a lack of real commitment, even among the Republicans who pushed it so much. They wanted to wage a war but pretend it would not cost much and would not drain our economy. No sacrifice whatsoever was called for from the American people as a whole. The sacrifice was several thousand soldiers and a drain of a trillion dollars or more on our national budget, adding to the national debt and hampering various domestic programs — with no direct budgeting for the war. The attempt was to hide the costs to fend off a questioning and  objections to the war effort. And certainly the fact that there is no military draft made it all possible.

So, where do we go from here?

President Obama gave it a go. His first order of business concerning the region when he took office was to make what some called an “apology tour”. He said we were sorry for being such bullies and that from now on we would be a lot nicer.

And you see how far that has got us. And sending in drones to pick off bad guys and kill innocent people in the process seems to have belied what he promised. He did not end our military involvement as he promised to do, but he has kept it in sort of a holding pattern, with an escalation here and there. We still lack a plan for victory (and probably don’t know what exactly victory would look like).

Some among the multitude of Republican presidential candidates are calling for stronger military action in the Middle East but without much specifics. Only Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina is specifically calling for, what is it? Ten thousand more U.S. ground troops in the region? Most everyone else prefers air power and support of indigenous troops friendly to us.

I have a feeling they would all wind up in the same predicament that others before them have.

I’m thinking we would do better to keep up our own defenses at home and let those in the region fight it out. We might support some who are friendly to us in order to fend off the terrorists. But in the end it should be up to the inhabitants of the region to settle their own affairs.

Or, we could go in all out — like in one of those card games “we’re all in”. We could take the gamble and go for broke and send our forces into Iraq and Syria, clean out the real bad guys, take over, and give them back their countries once they learn how to govern.

And now the concern seems to be that the Iraqi soldiers as a whole do not seem motivated enough to fight for their country.

That was the storyline in Vietnam.

We know how that came out.

If we have to save Iraq, then don’t we get some ownership in it?

Do we want it?

P.s.

And I will put what should be the lead at the bottom as an afterthought: the news today is that the chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff admits that there were no contingency plans for the advance of ISIS. We just don’t plan things out. No wonder we fail.

P.s. P.s.

I don’t seem to have mentioned Afghanistan. We are still stymied there as well.

 


Santa Barbara oil spill threatens the beauty of the coast and life itself…

May 21, 2015

I consider myself to have been privileged to drive along the California coast in the Santa Barbara area many a time. And while all of the coast is beautiful of course, I think that area is one of the most spectacular sites to behold, and so much of it in a natural state. But it has always made me uneasy to see those oil platforms out there in the ocean. They kind of look like invading aircraft carriers or something. I think they somewhat despoil the view. But my main concern was what happens if there is an oil leak? Well it has happened. Earlier this week area residents smelled a pungent odor and then oil was discovered covering the beach and upon inspection authorities found a leaking pipe line. Before it could be capped, more than 100,000 gallons had spilled out, over the beach or beaches and into the ocean. The depth of the environmental tragedy is not known yet.

What was a far larger spill, as I understand it, occurred in 1969, and is said to have been the inspiration for the modern environmental movement.

I realize we have to have oil (I guess we do) but there needs to be more safeguards — I mean we really need to stay on top of it — and there needs to be some kind of balance. We can’t just ruin our own nest, our natural environment, to produce energy.

Preserving the beauty of the planet is a good enough reason for me to limit offshore drilling and have restraints on all oil exploration and drilling and transporting, but that might not mean much to some. However, preserving the natural environment, our ecosystem is vital to life on this planet. The ecosystem is a miracle (a God-given one if you please) of interactive organisms and geology that makes our life possible and bearable. But I don’t think a lot of people understand that nor care. I also think money, money now, damn the consequences, blinds many to the need for conservation of the planet.

But most of all I just hate to see such a beautiful place despoiled.

I was afraid something like this might happen. And it has.


I’d like to see a candidate with a new way of looking at foreign relations, live and let live

May 20, 2015

The accepted narrative nowadays seems to be that the Iraq war was a mistake but one made due to inaccurate intelligence.

But much has been written about how the George W. Bush administration, egged on by then Vice President Dick Cheney, cooked the books, ignored any warnings that intelligence might be inaccurate, and went into the whole thing with the preconceived idea that we must go to war with Iraq (we just needed an excuse).

The so-called neo-con movement had written a paper, what was it called? Project for a New Century. In that paper it was said we needed to take control of the Middle East and that we needed a Pearl Harbor to wake us up. And sure enough we got our Pearl Harbor in 9/11.

It was only natural that even though we were not attacked by Iraq, well Iraq was close enough so we just went to war with Iraq (that was where the precious oil was), and in fact put more resources and effort into that than Afghanistan, which we invaded first because that is where 9/11 was launched and supported from via the then Taliban government.

(And all our most of the attackers were from Saudi Arabia, our supposed friend, go figure.)

I’d have to go back and do some research but I am fairly sure that I heard at least one radio talk show host warn us that the Bush administration was hell-bent on going to war in Iraq and was overstating things about or misleading us on Iraq. He hammered on this night after night (he eventually discredited himself when it was discovered he was a sexual pervert).

But I do recall at the time before we invaded hearing people say: the president knows things we don’t know. It’s hard to believe that George W. Bush could know anything that most of us don’t know. But maybe they meant that he was privy to some special top secrets and that for some strange reason he could not reveal them. And I don’t exactly understand that. Never did. I mean I do get not revealing our sources to those secrets in order that they not be compromised and made useless in the future and put our friends’ lives in danger. But to simply say we know that Saddam Hussein has “weapons of mass destruction” but we can’t tell you where they might be or prove in any way how we could know this, we just know, take our word for it seemed a little suspicious to me at the time.

I’m surprised that Hillary Clinton fell for that. But I have read that maybe she felt she had to “man up” and vote to go to war.

But in defense of George Bush, kind of, I would say that there might have been some justification for taking military action against Iraq simply for not allowing U.N. inspections.

But Bush the candidate who proclaimed he had no interest in “nation building” nonetheless invaded Iraq and tried nation building himself and it was a total disaster. He and his successor have also failed in Afghanistan.

I have more than once written that we should not let Iran develop nuclear weapons. But perhaps our best tactic on that would be to improve relations with that nation. It seems there has been some positive movement on that.

The Middle East is home to culture or cultures that seem to defy our Western thinking. Trying to get them to model their governmental institutions after us with the idea that we will have better relations is problematic to say the least. Maybe we should quit trying.

Eventually people decide they want a better way of life. If they think we do then they might follow our lead. Maybe they don’t always think we do.

What I have written here is kind of a jumble I realize. What I am thinking, though, is that I would like to hear a candidate for president express the idea that we need to reform our ideas about international relations. We need to do our best to live and let live with the rest of the world but of course we have to consider our own defense foremost. If there are bad actors who threaten our own part of the world we have to deal with that as much as is practicable.

The alternative is to try to be the world’s policeman. It seems that this has over-taxed our resources.

And while I believe in cooperating with like-minded nations, I would definitely not be for some new world order in which we give up any of our own sovereignty (to some extent we have done that with the U.N. perhaps, but in a limited sense).

There are no easy answers.

 


Graham might just have what it takes to get elected president…

May 18, 2015

So Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina is entering the presidential race (for all but sure) now, with his announcement to the press Sunday (ahead of a formal announcement to be made on home ground). He adds his name to an already absurd number of Republican candidates. But he may not be absurd. We’ll see.

I’m not good at political prognostications — I mean I thought Romney had a good chance both times he ran (regardless of his party and his politics, I just thought he looked and acted presidential and that he was moderate enough to appeal to both sides). But I think Graham has a whale of a chance.

His main theme right now is that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that the U.S. needs to confront ISIS and other terrorists before they come (back) here. He also says that opposition he has faced in elections in his own state were because he has a record of cooperating with the other side — the Democrats. He thinks both parties need to work together more.

And on foreign affairs he boasts that he has been right more often than not. I don’t know, but at least he sounds confident. He is hawkish, I know, to say the least (but we are either a military power or we are not — and like Madeline Albright once said: what good is a military if I can’t use it, or something like that (is what she said). Okay, I just looked that up. She is quoted as asking Gen. Colin Powell, in reference to the Bosnia situation: “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” And I know I am off the track here, and we are using our military in the Middle East, but we keep telling everyone we are leaving (even though we don’t and just hang around to get more people killed).

No we don’t need a war hawk who just wants to flex muscle or make up for the war he missed or the one his daddy did not finish (I’m talking George W. who dodged Vietnam service and who may have sent our troops into Iraq mostly just to make up for his daddy not going all the way to Baghdad). But we do need someone who can use our military to the nation’s best advantage. And I am not touting Graham. I have to hear more of what he says he is all about.

Now I was a little sarcastic about his military bluster the last time I wrote about him. And I think too much militarism is dangerous, but I imagine a lot of voters have concern about the nation’s slip in its military advantage and power across the globe.

I should wait to hear more — much more — but it seems that Graham is a polished speaker who does not come across as someone just tossing out meaningless jingoism. Don’t know where he stands on social issues.

The advantage he or other Republicans might have this time around is that they are not running against an incumbent.

The advantage Graham has is he does not appear to be part of the clown car that makes up most of the remainder of the Republican field.

Yes, his stance on social issues will be interesting.

And as for some of the others, like I said in my previous post below:

I cringe every time I read that a presidential candidate is having to “bone up” on foreign policy. Why are we choosing between people ignorant of the world? We are the world’s superpower and yet some of our candidates are not up on foreign affairs.

We elected (well I did not but someone did) at least one president who did not have a clue about the world in general. His initials were George W. Bush. And now his supposedly more intelligent and cerebral brother is running and he seems to need to “bone up” on world affairs — he’s already stumbled on Iraq where his brother made such a mess.

But there are others too. Why are these people even in the race?

It’s all a sales job. They study talking points. Real debate and substance don’t stand a chance.

Am I cynical?

Yes.

 

P.s.

A president ignorant of the world can easily be led astray by someone with evil intentions (Cheney effect on W.).

 


Guess we better move quick on safety, humans to be taken out of the driver’s seat…

May 15, 2015

UPDATE: (6:42 P.M. PDT, 5-15-15)

So just maybe the Amtrak engineer in this week’s train crash was distracted by a flying object — a rock thrown at the train while it travelled though a bad part of Philadelphia? Weapon(s) fire?The latest today was that new information, including communications from another train, is that a projectile of some type may have hit the train. Glass breakage on the train’s windshield seems consistent with that possibility. Other trains, including, reportedly, another one just before the one that crashed, have been hit.

–   –    –   –  –  –  –

The Daily Beast is now reporting from an unverified source that the train engineer may have been exhausted because he just came off a run where existing electronic devices were not working and he had to depend upon eyeballing all signals (apparently not easy to do and fraught with danger because views are sometimes obscured) and that he had not had enough rest. The report said that engineers are forced into speeding so they can have a break at one end of the line before they go back the other direction. Interesting — is that any way to run a railroad?

–  –  –  –  –  –  –

So while most of my post below talks about the need for responsible drivers, maybe the reality is the reality most modes of transportation will soon be remote-controlled (with maybe no drivers at all). So we will be dependent upon the sophistication and upkeep of the technology.

(About the rise of the robots, see story link at end of this post.)

For the past two decades I have been an over-the-road truck driver (did not get into that until well into my 40s). Coincidentally this afternoon while driving my own private vehicle (I’m on some time off) I was hearing a radio talk show where the speaker confidently predicted that soon (and I did not catch how soon he meant) virtually all cars and trucks will be driverless (hey it was radio and I did not catch what his credentials were, but I have been hearing and reading all of this so much lately that I believe it — like it or not (and mostly not).

I see a lot of issues with all that, not the least of which is so many people (not just drivers) will be thrown out of work.

But the issue at hand is what happened to that train. We don’t know for sure yet, but it seems parts of the puzzle are coming together.

————————————-

In all of this talk of why the Amtrak train that derailed after going more than 100 miles per hour in a 50-mile-per-hour zone in Philadelphia did not have an emergency electronic braking system it seems to me the main point is being missed:

Why was the train going in excess of 100 miles per hour going into a steep curve?

I’ve never driven a train — I mean I don’t know if somehow the throttle can get stuck and the engineer can’t immediately do anything about it.

The engineer’s lawyer says his client does not remember anything about what happened. Yeah, he might do well to stick to that story (and maybe he really does not).

But until it comes out what happened, it seems as if the engineer was negligent. So the problem is competent personnel to drive the train. Electronic safety devices certainly should be operational but unless we go to driver-less trains (and I am sure that is down the road like it is for everything else, or actually already here),  we need people who act responsibly.

There have been recent commuter train accidents in which the operators were texting or sleeping.

This distracted driver thing is a problem in all modes of surface transportation in this world of cell phones. And let’s not even talk about air — there we apparently have to worry about suicidal pilots who want to do away with themselves and take everyone with them — well pilot, I’m referring of course to the German Wings incident.

And then Republicans and Democrats or mass transit fans vs. not so mass transit fans, or Northeast Corridor lawmakers vs. non-Northeast Corridor lawmakers are bickering over Amtrak funding. In fact a congressional committee denied extra funding a day after the crash in Philadelphia.

There is the troubling story now that in the latest accident, in which at least eight people died, the train was equipped with an electronic braking system but it was not yet operational because congress failed to provide adequate funding and to mandate the necessary broadband access so Amtrak was having to negotiate with private entities.

There is still an open question as to why another safety system or systems on the train did not prevent the accident and why a safety device in the direction the train was traveling had not been installed and why Amtrak officials were not even aware of that until after the crash  — all of this kind of muddled here. I’m not into the  technical stuff but I can detect that there seems to be blame being traded back and forth with some blaming congress for lack of funding and others blaming Amtrak management for not using funding wisely. If only our government was more into doing things than playing the blame game, but that is in all life, I suppose.

I know Republicans, the ones most likely to oppose additional funding, are supposed to have good business sense, but when in comes to public safety I think it is hard to put a price on that.

But right now I just want to know why that train was going so fast.

P.s.

In the near future we won’t need to worry about human error. Of course none of us will have jobs. Read the following story and weep:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/books/review/rise-of-the-robots-and-shadow-work.html?hpw&rref=books&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well