Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Post 29a: Article of Interest from the New York Times Concerning Our Department of Justice

In the Tuesday, July 29, 2008 electronic edition of the New York Times appears an article written by Eric Lichtblau entitled, “Report Faults Aides in Hiring at Justice Department." The article reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

“Senior aides to former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales broke Civil Service laws by using politics to guide their hiring decisions, picking less-qualified applicants for important nonpolitical positions, slowing the hiring process at critical times and damaging the department’s credibility, an internal report concluded on Monday.”

The remainder of the article may be viewed at the following link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/29/washington/29justice.html?th&emc=th. We ordinarily do not highlight or draw attention to articles critical of one political party in an effort to avoid being viewed as partisan, and consistent with our philosophy that both parties are responsible for the current state of affairs in our nation, and that both need to improve. However, there is one line in this article which we thought deserved specific examination and consideration.

We should take some comfort in the fact that the investigation was conducted, and the report generated, by the Justice Department’s Inspector General and its Internal Ethics Office. Furthermore, to his credit, the current Attorney General, Michael B. Mukasey, who replaced Mr. Gonzales, said in a statement released following the disclosure of the report, that he was “of course disturbed by the findings that improper political considerations were used in hiring decisions relating to some career employees.” He also stated that he would take steps to ensure that such conduct did not occur again.

However, what caught our attention was the response of a White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, who said of Monday’s report, “There really is not a lot new here.” Sad but true, Mr. Fratto. Sad but true.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Post No. 29: The Problems Associated with Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

America is an interesting country. We should often be perplexed about the various positions in which we find ourselves. This concept called “freedom,” which we must keep in mind is a relatively new concept, has its complications. Consider the following.

Why should a populace which willingly and voluntarily eats poor quality fast, fatty, salty, and cholesterol laden food, smokes, drinks alcohol, refrains from exercise, and engages in other questionable behavior, have an expectation that it is entitled to affordable health care coverage when poor health flows from such behavior? How can the citizens, of a country that permits them to pursue virtually any educational or vocational pursuit of their choice, complain when they are unable to find a job of their liking or one that permits them to adequately support their family? How can citizens of a country purchase inexpensive products made by American companies in third world countries, and then turn around and complain about the exporting of American jobs and technology?

Who is really at fault in connection with our housing mortgage crisis, the lenders for making bad loans to customers with an inability to pay, or the homeowners, for entering into transactions which were beyond their financial means? Just this past Sunday, a psychiatrist connected with UCLA’s Student Health Services, discussed on C-Span2 Book TV, the frustrations experienced by career professional women who thought that science had advanced to the point of suspending the biological clock, only to later discover that there are complications associated with having children late in life. (http://www.booktv.org/program.aspx?ProgramId=8574&SectionName=&PlayMedia=No.)

Last week, in Post No. 28 of this blog, we touched on predictions by some that a water crisis is in the making, and suggested that America start planning ahead of time, contrary to the manner in which it approached energy. However, we did not pose the fundamental question: How did a country, with all of our great academic and corporate institutions, manage to find itself dependent on others for energy? We submit that what we have in this country is a responsibility crisis. We always want our cake and to eat it too. Both parties, and both sides of the aisle, are responsible, and yet you will never hear them acknowledge it. Taking responsibility for one’s condition is a common sense first step toward addressing one’s problems.

Two sound bites uttered this past weekend made us stop and think about our current condition. One was made by Barack Obama, during his interview on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday morning. He spoke of the inability of our politicians to make hard decisions. (Are they so focused on getting re-elected that they lack the ability to do so?) The other was uttered by T. Boone Pickens, to the effect that, “People will follow if we have leadership [emphasis added].” Pickens testified before a Senate committee on homeland security issues related to energy dependence. (http://inside.c-spanarchives.org:8080/cspan/cspan.csp?command=dprogram&record=566076979.)

In our opinion, probably the most difficult situation in which this nation has ever found itself, and which defies common sense, is our dependence on foreign oil. Pickens, a geologist by training, has committed 58 million dollars to telling America his plan for making America energy independent. You may have seen or heard his commercials on the media outlets over the past two weeks. He believes that the American public does not fully understand this confusing area. He further believes that we want to know what is going on, in some comprehensible manner, and he wants to elevate the discussion before the presidential election.

Pickens was previously the founder and owner of Mesa Petroleum. He is now the head of B.P. Capital Management. In his opinion (and the purpose of this blog is not to support his position), the increase in the price of a barrel of oil is not due to corporate price gouging or the involvement of speculators, but rather the factor that recent production levels have remained relatively constant, while the demand has increased dramatically. (We suspect that most of you economic experts have some empirical evidence to challenge his position.) Be that as it may, he argues that the oil leaders in the Middle East are absolutely dumbfounded by U. S. energy policy. They can not understand why the U.S. has done virtually nothing to improve its situation, and yet blames the oil producing nations for the current price increases. Did we have any clues, any clues at all, in our recent history, that we should try to become energy independent?

Pickens’ company operates the largest wind farm in America. It provides the power equivalent to two and one-half nuclear plants, and it has created 15,000 jobs. The farm is located in a wind corridor in the mid-west section of the United States. Interestingly, according to Pickens, Germany is the largest user of wind generated power, and it has poor wind conditions. Overall, he claims that the United States has excellent conditions, not to mention the coastal areas which can be utilized. (Many of you may be aware that there has been an ongoing battle near Cape Cod / Martha’s Vineyard in connection with a proposed off-shore wind farm. Some have suggested that wealthy residents in the area have placed their interests above those of the public. Actually, the issue is far more complicated than that. However, it should have been resolved by now. Time’s a wasting. [http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Wind].)

Pickens made a number of interesting points before the Committee. He indicated that 38% of our oil is imported from the Middle East and Africa, from countries which are unstable. He noted that we can replace that 38% with natural gas already here in the United States. Natural gas costs 40% of crude oil. Will our supply last indefinitely? No, according to Pickens, but it will give us time to develop some alternatives. In fact, according to Pickens, if we had started using natural gas 20 years ago, our resources would be substantially depleted by now; however, we would not be dependent on others for that segment of our energy needs.

Pickens made some other interesting points. He noted that there is no one silver bullet that will solve all of our energy issues, but rather we need to use all available technologies and resources to become independent. Pickens believes that wind and solar power are the cheapest sources at this time, but that we need to consider off-shore drilling, and drilling near the Artic Circle. He also mentioned the need for government mandates to encourage industry participation in this independence effort. Pickens himself drives a Honda GX natural gas vehicle (http://automobiles.honda.com/shop/?modelname=civic+gx&ef_id=1097:3:s_f566d7a6f1f03f560e37a47917ba4e55_444155100_honda%20natural%20gas%20vehicle:gu-rNtB6B3YAAG6U7sUAAAAR:20080729045957). No American automobile manufacturer makes such a vehicle, at least not in the United States. General Motors makes them, but according to Pickens, only in South America.

Keep in mind that Pickens’ testimony was before a committee dealing with homeland security. He considers our dependence on foreign oil to be dangerous. Every time one of the senators posed a partisan question, or made a suggestion that he supported one side of the aisle or the other, he responded that his concern is about what is in the best interests of America, and American jobs. When asked specifically about whether he was in agreement with Al Gore regarding alternative sources of energy, he simply said that Al Gore’s issue is global warming. Pickens regards that as a secondary issue which can be addressed later. He considers our energy dependence on unstable countries to be the primary issue, which needs to be addressed now. According to Pickens, “There is only one enemy, foreign oil, and that’s my fight.”

All of this is quite complicated stuff to this simpleton, and I suspect that most of you feel that you already know what we need to do. However, are we going to continue to argue about all of the competing considerations, and drag out all of the litigation and bureaucratic haggling, while our energy situation further deteriorates? Even if you disagree with all of Pickens’ suggestions, and think that they are self-serving, hopefully you agree with his statement that, “People will follow if we have leadership [emphasis added].” Some one or some body needs to exercise responsible leadership. America can not afford to keep traveling down this path. We can’t have our cake and eat it too, indefinitely.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense



Thursday, July 24, 2008

Post No. 28: After We Resolve the Oil Issue, Will Water Be the Next Crisis to “Affect” America?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Remember the year in which you read this article. One of the goals of this blog is to stimulate and provoke thought. However, another goal is to encourage our readers to view issues from different perspectives, particularly perspectives which take in consideration issues larger than our personal and local issues. In other words, we encourage “big picture” and long-term analysis. We believe that it is only through this type of analysis that we will be able to “dig deeper” and determine the underlying reasons for current societal problems, and avoid inefficiently employing our time addressing the superficial symptoms.

In the Monday, July 21, 2008 electronic edition of the New York Times, there appears an article written by Andrew Martin entitled “Mideast Facing Choice between Crops and Water.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/21/business/worldbusiness/21arabfood.html?th&emc=th.) The following excerpt is taken from that article:

“CAIRO – Global food shortages have placed the Middle East and North Africa in a quandary, as they are forced to choose between growing more crops to feed an expanding population or preserving their already scant supply of water. For decades nations in this region have drained aquifers, sucked the salt from seawater and diverted the mighty Nile to make deserts bloom. But those projects were so costly and used so much water that it remained far more practical to import food than to produce it. Today, some countries import 90 percent or more of their staples. Now, the worldwide food crisis is making many countries in this politically volatile region rethink that math.”

When one views history from a perspective of thousands of years, one recognizes the importance of agriculture (or food production) on the wealth and expansion of a society. If the efforts of everyone in a society are primarily involved in hunting and gathering for food purposes, the day is consumed with the pursuit of food, and very little else is accomplished. It is only when technological advances permit the generation, by a few, of food, for the many, that those not engaged in agriculture can devote their time and energy in the pursuit of other goals. It is a factor that we have witnessed repeatedly throughout history.

Another major factor is the availability of water, not only for drinking and irrigation purposes, but also for water transport and navigation purposes. One of the things that has plagued the development of Africa throughout history, with a few notable exceptions, has been the scarcity of water and the lack of navigable bodies of water. While most of us here in the United States are concerned about gasoline and heating fuel, we should also stop to consider the drinking and agricultural water problem, since we are now in a global economy.

This writer first became aware of this issue in 2003, when viewing an article in Smithsonian Magazine, which, by the way, is this writer’s favorite magazine “of all time.” (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/.) How many of you were aware of this developing water issue, prior to reading about it here? Is it more significant than the development of nuclear arms or terrorism? Is oil a more significant issue? Have you seen anything in the media in recent years alerting us to this issue? Is there a possibility that the media outlets in the United States have not focused much attention on this issue because of a perception that it is not particularly relevant to U. S. citizens? It is apparently enough of an issue that former U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev has been devoting virtually all of his time in recent years to this issue.

Mr. Gorbachev is a member of the Board of Directors of Green Cross International (http://gci.ch/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9&Itemid=9). In 2003, he was the President of the organization. In a March 20, 2003 article in BBC News, (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2867583.stm), author Ben Sutherland wrote, in pertinent part, the following:

“Former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev has told the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto that a failure to reverse the global water crisis could lead to “real conflicts” in the future. Mr. Gorbachev, who is now president of the International Green Cross, said that there were likely to be severe problems as the demands on water increased together with the planet’s population. It is estimated that by 2025, two thirds of the world’s people will be living in areas of acute water stress. ‘If current trends continue, we could be faced with a very grave situation,’ Mr. Gorbachev warned. It is feared conflicts could arise where rivers and river basins cross state borders. If a country near a river’s source begins using more water, this lowers the amount that reaches countries further downstream. For example, there is currently concern about what effect a proposed scheme in India to divert the Ganges to currently dry areas might have on the water supply downstream in Bangladesh.”


In Henry Hobhouse’s Forces of Change – An Unorthodox View of History (http://books.google.com/books?id=7Bd61vvaI7MC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22forces+of+change%22&ei=ZZY9SPyPE6SMygTPiLXzAg&sig=CVGKHVm_gASmSdzXCT_N8csMPLE), he submits that modern history has been shaped, not so much by human conduct, but rather natural forces consisting of disease, population growth, and food supply. Hobhouse argues that they form a triangle which balances itself. As one changes or alters the dimension on one side of the triangle, there must be commensurate change in one or both of the other two sides. To address these natural forces also requires a different type of thinking, more collaborative in nature.

Once again, we ask you to remember the year in which you read this article. The food supply issue is big; this water issue is perhaps bigger. Let’s hope that we approach the impending water issue better than the manner in which we have dealt with the oil issue. Remember – we are now part of a global community, whether we consider it to be a good thing or a bad thing. Can you envision a scenario where water is more precious than oil?

By the way, the last time that we checked, those countries with the most cutting edge desalinization technology were in the Middle East.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Post 27c: And You Thought That YOU Were Concerned About Things Here in the States

We spend far too much time on this blog discussing serious subjects, without an accompanying balance of humour. (Clue.) We are not sure of the source of this piece, and to fend off the lawyers, we acknowledge that we did not generate this piece, and it appears that it is in the public domain for copyright purposes. However, we thought that it might generate a smile on an otherwise drab day.
Message from the Queen of England


To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:

In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately.
Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy).
Your new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.
Congress and the Senate will be disbanded.
A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.
To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:
(You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary.)
1. Then look up aluminum, and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how incorrectly you have been pronouncing it.
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2. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour', 'favour', 'labour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix '-ize' will be replaced by the suffix '-ise'. Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (Look up 'vocabulary').
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3. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as 'like' and 'you know' is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as US English. We will let M*crosoft know on your behalf. The M*crosoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of -ize.
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4. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
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5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can't sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you're not ready to shoot grouse.
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6. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
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7. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
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8. The Former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.

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9. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.
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10. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting Nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of British Commonwealth - see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.
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11. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie MacDowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.
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12. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full Kevlar body Armour like a bunch of nancies). Don't try Rugby - the South Africans and Kiwis will thrash you, like they regularly thrash us.
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13. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.
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14. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.
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15. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).
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16. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 pm with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.
God Save the Queen!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Post 27b: Article of Interest from the Seattle Times

Many of Us Likely to Outlive Savings

Nearly three out of five middle-class retirees will probably run out of money if they maintain their pre-retirement lifestyles, a new study from Ernst & Young has concluded.

The study, set to be released Monday, finds that Americans will have to drastically reduce their standard of living before retirement to live comfortably, or even avoid destitution, later in life.

Middle-income Americans entering retirement now will have to reduce their standard of living by an average of 24 percent to minimize their chances of outliving their financial assets, the study found. Workers seven years from retirement will have to cut their spending by even more — 37 percent.

"People are going to have to adapt in a number of ways that they weren't anticipating or hoping for," said Tom Neubig, national director of the Quantitative Economics and Statistics practice at Ernst & Young. "I think a lot of people are hoping to maintain roughly the same standard of living after retirement. Our study suggests they are going to have to make some changes."

And cutting back on spending is no small feat at a time when inflation and the cost of living are rising. Fluctuating investment returns on 401(k)-style plans in this wobbly stock market are not helping matters."

Most people, if they look at their life expectancy and they think they will live to 90, they are nuts to retire at 60. They're going to be living in poverty at 80," said Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland.. "I think it's a wake-up call to baby boomers to get serious about getting their houses in order."

If a married couple is making $75,000 at retirement and relies solely on Social Security, they have a 90 percent chance of running out of money if they maintain their pre-retirement lifestyle. The addition of income aside from Social Security drops the couple's chance to 31 percent.

Sunday, July 13, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

By Nancy Trejos
The Washington Post
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/text/2008048859_retirees13.html

Post 27a: View Work of Fellow Blogger on CBS Sunday Morning

Many of you will recall that last week, we introduced you to a fellow blogger, Victoria North, who mixes her art work with commentary in a very visually appealing and thought provoking blog. http://redchair-vikkisblog.blogspot.com/ CBS News Sunday Morning has just advised her that they're using one of her Sun paintings as the logo on today's show, July 13. They have three of her painting, and she does not know which they're using for the segment.


Which ever one, it will appear at the end of an Allen Pizzey piece that they're doing about the Abruzzi region in Italy. The piece is currently scheduled to run approximately 45 minutes into our broadcast, but that can definitely change, because they re-adjust the lineup many times before the show airs. On the east coast, the show runs from 9 am until 10:30 am. You should consult your local listings.

The three fantasy Sun paintings are on her website under the Fantasy Link (2nd page). http://www.theredchairgallery.com/fantasy-art.html . Check out her work. It will be time well spent.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Post No. 27: The Inability of our Leaders to Please (or Lead?) Us

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

As simple as we like to make things for comprehension and managerial purposes, we all recognize the complexities associated with anything that involves human emotion. Such is the case with respect to those with whom we at least partially identify, and in whom we place our hopes.

Politicians are unusual animals. The circumstances surrounding their ascension to power virtually require that they be something less than straightforward and transparent. They are the personification of the Transformers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformers_%28toy_line%29) toy line. They simply have far too many different individuals and groups, not to mention interests, to please, other than their own. As the old 70’s song indicated, “Everybody wants me to be what they want me to be.”

Several months ago, this notion was brought home to me while conducting one of my regular bookstore walk-throughs. Roughly two or three times a week, I travel to the nearest Border’s or Barnes & Noble, and aimlessly walk through the various stacks. I came across a book about Hillary Clinton. It was actually a collection of roughly thirty articles written by thirty different female writers, about their perceptions of Senator Clinton, since she was catapulted on the national scene. As I thumbed through the pages, the thing that struck me was how virtually every writer did not like something about her, and suggested that she had failed to perform or behave in the manner desired by the writer, or the group which the writer felt she represented. (I conducted a Google Book Search to locate the book, and could not find it. However, take a look at the number of books written about her, and just scan the summaries to get a sense of the tone. (http://books.google.com/books?q=%22hillary+clinton%22&lr=&sa=N&start=0)

It appears that Senator Obama faces the same dilemma. Certain segments of the African-American population, which is clearly not monolithic, have certain expectations of him. Various groups within the Democratic Party have other expectations. The poor and the disenfranchised, along with the disillusioned, probably feel that he represents certain of their interests. The academic, intellectual types have different thoughts.

That we had two potential Democratic candidates, who would have been the first within their respective large subsets of our population, presented all sorts of problems for the voting public. Lots of folks, including former Clinton supporters, and perhaps even some moderate Republicans and Independents, now expect Senator Obama to champion their cause. It will not happen, and it is unrealistic to expect it to happen. Yet, we keep pressing them, meaning all politicians, as if they can represent the interests and desires of us all. John McCain has been criticized for seemingly backing away from his straight talking, maverick image, into a clone of the current President. Quite frankly, it would be great if the candidates could just be themselves. Those of us serving as parents to multiple children recognize the ridiculousness of such a concept.

What also happens is that when the various groups supporting a particular candidate have far too many expectations of their candidate, it opens the door for the opponents of that candidate to attack another aspect of the candidate’s platform. Every issue becomes an easy target. Of course, we all realize that all of these issues do not have equal weight and significance. If somehow, we as citizens could reduce what we expect out of a candidate to perhaps five or six primary positions, we might be able to reduce all of this irrational slicing and dicing that is the political campaign. A candidate focusing on those five or six primary positions might also do the voting public a service, in that he or she would remind us to focus on what is most important, and to avoid sweating the small stuff.

In the very first article which appeared on this blog, we discussed this issue in another context. In his overlooked work, The Disuniting of America, (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_n9_v44/ai_12122328), legendary Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761556940/Schlesinger_Arthur_Meier_Jr_.html) wrote of how the pursuit of individual self-interests by special interest groups has lead to America’s inability to unify its efforts. He wrote of the continuing disintegration of our society driven by the pursuit of individual goals, not collective goals. He wrote of how the first Gulf War was an aberration in terms of recent events which caused us to rally together, and also resulted in the first President Bush’s 82% approval rating at the time. Unfortunately, the current war in Iraq has had the opposite effect. Be that as it may, continuing in the direction of further dissection of our candidates does not bode well for either party. Perhaps, that is why an independent, third party may hold the most promise for America’s future.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Post No. 26: Did I Miss Something Here – So to Speak?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

I’m neither particularly bright nor sophisticated. I often miss things that others consider obvious. Presumptive Democrat Party nominee Barack Obama suggested yesterday that American parents encourage their children to study Spanish as a second language. For our purposes at this point, let’s assume that you read nothing further in the paper or online, or that you listened no further to any news broadcasts, as to the circumstances surrounding his statement, or the context in which it was uttered. What would you have reasonably thought was the underlying motivation for his statement?

During the 1960’s, the study of a second language was a requirement in many secondary schools. By the time that I completed my first two years of college, I had six years of French under my belt. French made the transition to Spanish far easier when I lived in California. During the 1990s, various businesspeople, out of a desire to acquire business from Japanese firms, took Japanese immersion courses. Before traveling to Brazil and Italy, I studied conversational Portuguese and Italian in preparation for the trips. Probably of most relevance to this discussion is the fact that while teaching adult students seeking their GEDs at a local community college, I frequently recommended that they encourage their children to study Mandarin Chinese in light of the rising importance of China in the world.

Consequently, when I first heard of Senator Obama’s suggestion that parents encourage their children to study Spanish, I assumed that it was a positive suggestion, and perhaps benign at worst. Silly me. I naively thought that learning to communicate, with a significant segment of our Nation’s citizens and a major segment of the people living in this hemisphere, was a good thing. Silly me, again. By the end of yesterday, the media outlets were full of talking heads framing the Senator’s comments as those of an individual who supported illegal immigration, and necessarily opposed the effort to make English the official language of the United States.

Somebody please explain to me how any responsible, self-respecting commentator, or elected representative, could make such an argument. Is denigrating this man that important? Are the stakes that high? What message is conveyed to the youth of our Nation? We most certainly have an immigration problem. We most certainly need to figure out a way to ensure the assimilation and integration of other cultures into our “melting pot.” However, quite frankly, this appears to be the wrong vehicle to highlight our legitimate concerns about these issues. Do they regard us, the listening and voting public, as fools willing to accept any framed argument asserted against any candidate? Let’s hope that those of us listening to this crap maintain the ability to apply a little common sense.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Post No. 25: Does Everyone Necessarily Have a Point of View?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Some years ago, a documentary aired exploring President Johnson’s inheritance of the Vietnam War, and the manner in which he dealt with the conflict. I mentioned to a buddy that, despite the fact that I was in the Army during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I did not fully understand the forces in operation at the time, and that the documentary provided me with a better understanding. My buddy immediately inquired as to the “point of view” of the documentary film maker. At the time, it really had not occurred to me. It was simply “information.” While I recognized that it theoretically might have been produced with a particular slant, or a particular political purpose in mind, those factors did not loom large in my appreciation of the piece.

There are two types of people who I generally hold in high regard. Those without an “agenda,” and those who recognize that everything is bigger than their pedestrian concerns. My particular definition of those individuals with an “agenda” includes folks who are always proselytizing, disseminating dogma, or passing extreme judgment on others. (Is judgment being passed on them now through this process?) Like those individuals who recognize that the world is bigger than their concerns, those without an “agenda” seemingly have a tendency to listen more, acquire information, and be slow to judge. Those rushing to judgment have always concerned me, and arguably, should concern us all.

We encountered this reactionary phenomenon recently while observing various discussions about our presidential candidates, and reviewing some comments in response to some of our recent posts. In the political arena, party loyalists appear incapable of finding anything good about the candidate who they do not support. Is the recognition of any positive attributes of the opposing party’s candidate a fatal thing to do in an elective contest? The number of times that we have heard commentators mention that neither Obama nor McCain has done anything worthwhile in life is absolutely fascinating. (Of course, many talk radio hosts behave as if they have made tremendous contributions to science and humankind, and the advancement of society’s long term interests.)

In one of our recent posts, we presented the views of a particular citizen and inquired as to whether that individual’s views fell within the range of acceptable positions for a particular political party. One of the positions expressed was that of mandatory service in the armed forces, by all citizens, to protect and defend our nation, and consequently those freedoms which we all enjoy. We simply raised some rhetorical questions regarding one’s identification with certain political parties, and examined potential positions that might be taken by a third, independent party. Interestingly, some readers felt that we were advocating treating citizens as slaves, and branded us totalitarian pigs. Some others assumed that we had taken a position in line with Osama bin Laden and that we were not patriotic. Some frequently assume that simply because we mention someone’s name, or quote them on an issue, we support their position. To borrow a phrase, “Au contraire, mon frere.”

One thing which we have learned during the publishing of this blog is that when you raise theoretical questions and issues, you run the risk of people assuming that you have taken a position along one particular line regarding the issue. Why is that? They obviously have not read the piece from an unbiased perspective. Some have even suggested that no writer can achieve objectivity and put aside their personal biases. I wonder how judges do it, or do they? (Interestingly, it often seems that those individuals who are most offended by the posing of rhetorical questions are those who have hard and fast, unyielding positions themselves.) Our experience also highlighted something said by another writer, that being that in taking a moderate or centrist position, one does not receive some degree of praise from either side, but rather has to fend off attacks from both. Perhaps that’s why we get so little accomplished in the political arena these days, and why partisanship appears to rule. Let’s all rally around groupspeak.

There is so much negative, outlandish, and critical information disseminated daily about virtually every candidate in virtually every election in this nation. The reason is that negative information, particularly bearing on emotional, hot button issues, works. Does anyone really think that McCain plans to open up the border in Arizona and permit all undocumented workers to enter the country, as some of his detractors have argued? Does anyone really believe that should Obama be elected President, more Islamic mosques than Christian churches will be built during his tenure?

This junk is just that; however, it appears to work, at least for a significant segment of our population. We should all be concerned that the innermost “fears” of many may have an influence on the outcome of this election. (Maybe it always has. You will recall that there was a concern that by electing a Catholic, i.e. John Kennedy, the Pope would have too much of an influence in American politics.) What’s more troubling is that the manipulation of our fears is being orchestrated by heretofore, somewhat respected, well educated folks, on both sides of the aisle, who are more concerned about winning, than appealing to our good sense, logic, and fairness. Of course, America loves a winner, but are lies and misinformation any different than steroids in the quest to win?

It’s amazing that these “public servants” have any interest in running for office. The mere fact that they are willing to subject themselves and their families to this abuse suggests that something is a tad different about them. However, it may also keep prospective leaders, who could actually accomplish something of value, from coming up to the plate. Is this the environment in which we want to conduct the selection of our leaders? A totally objective viewer might conclude that none of the candidates in any election is worthy of being elected. What kind of “transformers” and actors are these folks, along with their handlers and consultants? Perhaps we deserve the lies and false promises fed to us so that they can get elected. Perhaps this can be viewed as a necessary evil and simply a means to an end, so that they can actually do something of value once they win the position. Hmmmh, is truth still the better choice, even if you do not win? Is there some value to being a noble loser who took the high ground?

One of my best friends was a college and professional level coach for many years. The phrase which I recall him repeating most frequently is, “Don’t judge.” What he was really saying was to listen, acquire and be open to more information, and do not rush to judgment. As the professor noted to Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, there are issues bigger than those which we now face, and which have a longer term impact.

The next time that you read or hear something, try to avoid processing it from your point of view. Try to avoid assuming that the writer has a particular point of view. Simply view it as information. The next time that you hear something with which you disagree, assume for a short period of time that you misheard it, or that there is a reasonable explanation for the position taken by the speaker. Consider the prospect of your brain functioning like a hard disk on a computer. Just take in the information, store it there, and process it later when you have additional information and time to reflect. As the old song during the 1970’s used to say, “Expand your mind, you might be surprised at what you might find.”

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Friday, July 4, 2008

Post No. 24: What Constitutes American Interests Abroad?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

For years, all of us have heard discussions about protecting American interests abroad. We spend a significant amount of our tax dollars in foreign aid, and in connection with various military operations. Earlier this week, we learned that we are supplying North Korea with fuel oil as part of an agreement in connection with its relinquishment of certain aspects of its nuclear program. It also appears that we have been providing North Korea with food for some time now.

We obviously had some concerns about its potential use of nuclear power, and the possible sale of nuclear weapons or enriched plutonium to others. However, have you ever really taken the time to think about what constitutes American interests? Can those interests be generically described as anything that keeps America strong and safe, and perpetuates our position as the dominant superpower? What limits exist, if any, on the exercise of our power in terms of our involvement with other countries?

This is not the kind of stuff about which the average citizen speaks during the course of an ordinary week. However, this analysis is being conducted on a more frequent basis by the common person in light of the state of international terrorism, and some of our recent ventures. Despite the cries of many, it has never been quite clear to me that we have been motivated by oil alone, although a plausible argument to that effect might be advanced. During the first Gulf War, over 82% of the American public supported our response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Did the American public feel that it was primarily about oil, or was it about a bully taking advantage of an ally of the United States?

Author Michael Scheuer appeared on a number of media outlets during the past week to promote his book. Scheuer served in the Central Intelligence Agency for over twenty years. He was the Chief of the Osama bin Laden unit from 1996 until 1999, and he also served as a special advisor to the unit for a three year period following 9/11. Last weekend, he appeared on C-Span2 Book TV (http://www.booktv.org/program.aspx?ProgramId=9227&SectionName=&PlayMedia=No) to discuss his most recent work, Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq (http://books.google.com/books?id=qjWdGAAACAAJ&dq=%22marching+toward+hell%22&ei=VcJtSLO2IIHAigHO3sGPBg).

During his discussion, Scheuer suggested that the current Administration, and its supporters, have characterized or framed the underlying motivation of radical Islamic extremists, our rather amorphous enemy, as trying to destroy our “Western way of life.” Having studied the messages communicated by this element over many years, particularly Osama bin Laden, Scheuer disputes this theory. He suggests that the real underlying motivation is that they find American intrusion into their society, and presence in their lands, as offensive, and they simply want us out. He claims that they could care less about our music, and freedom, and our ability to wear short skirts in a free society. (He further suggests that if we were to ratchet up the use of force, and actually function like a superpower, we would be better off.)

Be that as it may, what was most intriguing about Scheuer’s discussion was his analysis of whether the United States really has any significant interests in various locations. In a number of instances, he noted that if one removed oil from the picture, the United States would not have any interests worth the sacrifice of the lives of our soldiers. This naturally led us to consider whether there are other interests of the United States, other than those energy or economically related, which we might justifiably seek to protect abroad. In this regard, we pose the following questions:

1. Are there interests that the United States has in Haiti, Zimbabwe, and Darfur?

2. What are those interests?

3. Should the United States do anything more than what it is currently doing in those regions of the world?

4. If so, would you support sending U.S. troops, whether unilaterally, or in conjunction with other nations, to any of those countries to assist the people in addressing their issues?

5. Do you think that the United States should continue to support Israel, and if so, for how long without some progress on the peace front?

We’d be interested in your thoughts. After all, this is your country, and you have an interest in what it does, where it goes, and how it spends your tax dollars. Don’t you?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Post 23: What Views Would the Members of a Truly Independent American Political Party Hold?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

The following is a partial list of the views, controversial though some may be, of a particular, well-educated, middle-class American citizen:

1. Men and women who choose to have heterosexual sex make a “choice” when they do so, and society should not interfere or be responsible in any way for what happens to them following pregnancy. The fathers and mothers should negotiate all further responsibility or lack thereof.

2. All citizens of the United States should be required to serve a minimum term, in a combat role, in our armed forces to defend the interests of America, but only on a domestic basis, and not outside of our country and her possessions.

3. At some point in the not too distant future, we should start dividing the states in half, and all liberals shall have the opportunity to start moving their families and assets to those states designated as liberal, and all conservatives shall have the opportunity to start moving their families and assets to those states designated as conservative. Over time, perhaps 100 years, when the process has been completed, the country should be divided in half into two separate nations, with each functioning separately, harmoniously, and independently.

4. Students should be strongly encouraged to pursue certain academic areas, through government incentives, based on carefully calculated predictions of the needs of our society over the next 50 to 100 years, and those who choose not to avail themselves of those incentives should be left to fend for themselves.

5. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be repealed, along with the Equal Protection Clauses, and all forms of discrimination should be permitted depending on the individual’s desires.

6. Marriage should be outlawed, along with all sexual interaction between any citizens. The societal costs (spousal abuse, child abuse, out of wedlock births, legal system, divorce, mental health, and substance abuse) associated with interpersonal relationships is far too high, and society should not have to pay that price for individual decisions.

7. Working together, the armed forces of committed nations should provide advance notice, and with the agreement of the Palestinians and Israelis, simply surround the Palestinian Territories and Israel, allow those individuals not currently living there to enter before the containment, and those not wanting to be part of the fight to exit, and then allow the two sides to fight as hard and long as they deem necessary.

Is this individual a male or a female? Is this person a heterosexual, a gay or lesbian individual, or a bi-sexual? Are these the views of a Republican, a Democratic, a Libertarian, an Independent, or perhaps a member of the Green Party? Do you agree with this individual with respect to any of their views? There is an odd number of opinions expressed, thus permitting you to choose four with which you most closely agree. If you were told that four of them were the positions or the party platform for a particular party, would you consider yourself a member or adherent of that particular political party? Can you identify an underlying philosophical theme or thread running through all of these positions?

Earlier this year, there was a rather interesting device circulating on the Internet, when there were still more than fifteen candidates competing against one another for their particular party’s nomination. The reader was asked to indicate his or her position on roughly 20 to 25 issues. Based on the positions taken by the various candidates up to that point, the device advised the reader of the name of the candidate who most closely supported the reader’s positions. Would you be willing to have a president elected through such a mechanism, with the candidate scoring the highest combined percentages of support in all areas deemed the winner?

Let’s get back to our citizen? Is our citizen a male or a female? Located in the South, North, or West? Is this individual a Christian? Is this individual of good moral character? Would you allow your son or daughter to marry this individual? Would you be willing to work with this person? At what point did you decide that you disliked or liked our citizen? At some point, as you proceeded down the list of seven positions, did you change your mind, and perhaps change it again?

Not only have we entered an era where we dissect anything and everything associated with a political candidate and those connected with or supporting that candidate, we also make assumptions about the totality of individuals based on individual issues. Let’s assume that either Candidate McCain or Candidate Obama truly and honestly held any one of the views held by our citizen above, and the candidate had the guts to express that to the American people. Could either one still manage to get elected? Which one would be a disqualifying factor? Would two, or three, or four of the views held subject the candidate to disqualification? Let’s assume that two remaining candidates following a primary process both held these personal views, but agreed to abide by and pursue the platform determined by their respective parties, despite their philosophical differences. Could they still be elected?

Is there some value to categorizing someone as good or bad based on a few factors or a few opinions? You can be reasonably certain that the views expressed by our citizen are held by millions of others, if they honestly disclosed their views. However, are the views too radical and too controversial for any sensible member of our society to openly embrace without fear of retribution? How many of you said to yourself, “We don’t do things like that in America”?
I ask you, are all of these attacks on individual statements and opinions necessary? Do we really get the honest views of our candidates in America? Should a politician pursue, once elected and after disclosing their true views to the American people, his or her personal goals, or simply those of the people, or are they one and the same? Some would argue that we have reached a point in out society where we really don’t truly know who we are electing these days. Consider the possibility that the best actor, with the best handlers and PR people, could probably manage to get elected, by saying just the right things, and playing it safe. You tell me. Do you like this, or is it that we can’t do any better?

Oh, by the way, for those of you who know me personally, which one of the seven opinions do I hold?

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

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