Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Iran So Far Only to Come Back

Iran. Iran. Iran.

The country that cannot stay out of the news. Why are they so hell-bent on irritating the Western world. Why must their President (mind you I didn't say leader) say the most inflammatory things? All these questions make me think.. why do they dislike us so much?

Well, the problem with those questions is that we, as Americans, have a unique place in the world that no one but perhaps some Western European nations enjoyed. I am talking about being the number one dog in the neighborhood.

For the United States the "neighborhood" is the majority of the world and all of the areas the US has serious interests. This is the mentality of American Exceptionalism, the thought that America is special and there never has been nor will there ever be anything like it. While there is some truth to this claim if you buy into it there are plenty of dangers. American exceptionalism rejects the idea that we can learn from other 'empires' and civilizations that also enjoyed success beyond what had been imagined. Simply patting ourselves on the back for having the luck of being born into this country at this point in history is not going to be enough to sustain the hard work of previous generations (and a little luck).

What does all that have to do with Iran?

I'll tell ya! There is a saying that even the most insane person believes they are sane and the rest of us are the crazy ones. It is beneficial to look through Iran's eyes in order to understand their actions. The first thing that we must realize is that while we here in the US use a metric of global consequences, Iran (along with most of the world) uses the metric of regional power. Iran is looking wearily at its neighbors as well as the global implications of its actions. This is the sort of thing that led Saddam Hussein to refuse admitting he had no WMDs, he was afraid of an Iranian invasion.

Iran's regional neighbors such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan, and Egypt all have a stake in the failure of Iran. This can be seen in a semi-binary fashion if one takes the Sunni-dominated versus Shi'ite-dominated leaderships of each nation. Iran over the years has made many enemies amongst its neighbors and now that the United States and Europe have put it in their bull's-eye those who felt slighted are licking their chops for revenge. (Sound familiar? It is basically what Iran has done with Iraq)

This neighborhood brawl has created a stir because with disagreement comes rhetoric. It is important to note that Iran's President is perhaps the 15th or 20th most powerful political figure in their system. He can afford to make populist hoopla, deny history, and threaten nations he has no chance of even scratching. When we listen to him it would be as if we took Representative Dennis Kucinich as the spokesman of the Democratic Party every time he opened his mouth, or if we believed that Micheal Savage was the mouthpiece of the Republican Party. Both make a difference and have a following but they are by no means important in the final product of political decision-making.

Ignore him. What is going on in Iran goes far beyond the yammering of a rhetoric-spewing, election-fixing, ill-dressed maniac. Let us look beyond him to the nation of Iran and its true political structure. That is what will truly enlighten our path to understanding Iran's nuclear policies and allow the global community to ensure they do not turn to violence.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Known Unkowns of North Korea

It seems that international relations experts can never decide exactly how to characterize North Korea's Leader, Kim Jong-Il. Is he a shrewd, cool customer or a completely bonkers and irrational psycho?

Recently, North Korea has been feeling a little lonely. Everyone is talking about Israel, Iran, Lebanon, Swine Flu, the EU, the global economic recession, bailouts, China, a beached whale, rumors of a new phone/computer from Apple, etc... To Kim Jong-Il that translates into "everything but me", and if there is one way to get on that man's nerves it is to not pay attention to him.

In the past few days North Korea has: tested a nuclear device, launched two or three short range inter ballistic missiles, and basically called off the 1953 Truce which ended the Korean War. That's pretty drastic. The problem with North Korea which experts find most troubling is that we know so little about the nation and its internal politics that its moves make very little sense. Even its closest ally (which it still mostly despises) China doesn't know much.

That of course leads us to the questions: why they do it and how to respond?

Why do they do it?

Thankfully this one is pretty simple. North Korea is as broke as a joke. They produce nothing of value, have to important natural resources, and due to the draconian government don't even export labor. So... they use bombs and threats as their economic stimulus. It is pretty predictable behavior: 1)North Korea (Kim Jong-Il) find itself running out of money, 2) Ratchet up some press through threats and wild behavior, 3) Blow something up... preferably nuclear or in the direction of South Korea or Japan, 4) Wait for other countries to come bribing you to give up the weapons for food/money/aid, 5) spend that money... but keep some to set something off later.

That's what I call a Nuclear Economic Stimulus.

How do we respond?

Well.. there are several options, unfortunately they vary from weak to certifiably insane with no options in the middle. We, of course, can continue what we are doing - bribing the North Korean regime with aid, money, food, etc.. in the hopes they stop. This obviously is not working to end the crisis but rather just buying time.

On the other hand, we could be pro-active however this would lead to a major catastrophe of human suffering and death as North Korea would shell the living daylights out of Seoul, South Korea which is within spitting distance. If you hear anyone suggest we "nuke 'em" please feel free to slap some sense into that nutcase and let them know that international relations is not a video game, real people's lives are in grave danger.

The uptick in aggression and posturing from Kim Jong-Il and his cronies should be a clear sign that something has to change. First, aid must be more dependent on actual PERMANENT improvements. Second, China must be more pro-active in its conversations with North Korea in order to communicate the realities of a retaliatory strike. Third, much more human intelligence is required in order to make better decisions. The largest drawback to current policy is that it is based on perceptions not necessarily realities of the North Korean regime.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hoping to Fail or Failing to Hope?

I know it's been awhile since I've posted but something has really been grinding my gears (thanks Peter!).

Recent comments made by Republicans about their desire that President Obama fail are tragically telling of the individuals making the statements, their party (my party, too by the way), and the country as a whole. A few of the offenders (they are indeed offensive to any rational person) include: radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, LA Gov. Bobby Jindal, Rep. Party Chairman Micheal Steele, and most recently fmr Sen. (and actor) Fred Thompson. That list includes very crazy persons.. and seemingly quite sane people and they all repeat the same thing they either "hope he (Obama) will fail" or they support those statements in a wholehearted way.

These people who are joining this chorus are losers. Plain and simple. I know at least a few of you who are reading this are already looking for the comment button to blast me for blindly supporting the President's policies and probably are ready to use a liberal sprinkling of the words : koolaid, messiah, sheep, brain dead, and biased media. If you really are that simple-minded go ahead.. but I'll just respond by letting you know you should have read past the first two paragraphs....

Like I said, these people are losers. They are failing themselves, their ideology, and the American people. First, they fail themselves. How petty do you have to be to lose a popularity contest and then hope the other side trips on their way to the podium? Pretty dang petty. These politicians and critics are doing just the opposite of what a responsible person who disagrees should do, find alternate solutions and try to convince others their way is better. Simply saying that you hope the ones with the coherent plan don't do so hot basically says "I hope the front-runner falls so I'll come in first!" Folks, that's just the voice of pettiness, anger, and desperation at work.

Second, these people are taking the Republican Party's elephant 'round back, replacing it with a giant elephant balloon than going out and publicly poking holes in it... all for the cause of advancing the party (with the notable exception of Rush, who does it for the money and power). Of all the public figures who have spewed these sentiments Rush is the only one who hasn't done harm to the party.. which is remarkable. He is one man, a man who can be (very easily) discredited at very little true political cost. I know he has tens of millions of listeners but most of these folks would be equally swayed by the next nutcase (liberal, conservative, crazy, sane, or possibly dead) who takes over the time slot. Before you go off firing the cannon on me ponder this, his listeners call themselves 'ditto heads'! They reference the fact that they are COPYING someone else, not thinking for themselves! 'Ditto head' ought to be used as a derogatory term for the blind followers of anyone (especially in a democracy that is based on the fact that people will think then vote).. not as a self-imposed label. What's wrong with us?

Enough about Rush.. back to my point, the Republican party is being hurt. By only "hoping" that the President's policies fail you basically shoot yourself in the foot and demonstrate pretty clearly that you have no idea what you actually support. Solving the economic crisis is not a two solution game where you can simply say "that is wrong" and logically that means you are right, it is the economy for goodness sake, a million solutions exist. The right way of criticizing the Obama policies should be to tie all democrats to it then say that it WILL fail, give evidence (this is important!), then inform the public of your better solution. Simply saying 'i think that's bad just cuz...' then saying tax-cuts a few times before shrugging your shoulders and going home is not going to cut it. Don't believe me.. watch for the 2010 election results.

Lastly, this approach is terrible for the American electorate and the nation as a whole. When policy debates keep gravitating to personal and distracting issues faster and faster the American people find themselves uniting less and dividing more. That is isn't good for us as a nation. I'm not saying one side should lay down and surrender, what I am saying is that if we both just agreed that we both want the same thing then debated how to get there we would have some progress. Simply pointing fingers and name-calling doesn't produce solutions it produces doubts, political demons, and more problems.

Remember that fear, smears, and lies only go so far before we, the American people, get fed up and vote in your replacements. Be careful.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Strong Moderate Blog's 1st Birthday!

Happy 1st Birthday!

Over the past 12 months the topics have been wide ranging, although mostly focused on these "Obama" and "McCain" fellas. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I did. Here's to hoping for another great year!

Strong Moderate & Flaming Moderate

Friday, February 6, 2009

U.S./Emirates go nuclear... deal

What is small, smart and full of oil? No, it's not Dick Cheney's heart - it's the United Arab Emirates.

The U.A.E. is one of the most forward thinking and advanced countries in the Middle East and I would venture to say, the world. As a small confederation of mostly tiny desert emirates the UAE is looking to the future.. and that future includes international cooperation, an expanded relationship with the US, and energy stability.

I know you're probably scratching your head going "The UAE? Aren't those guys swimming in oil?" and yes, yes they are. The UAE is one of the most oil rich countries in the world, especially considering its puny size and small population. Unlike other Arab and oil-producing countries the Emirates are looking forward to the age of energy-independence and oil's inevitable decline.

If 2008 has taught the oil-producing countries of the world anything it is that fortunes can swell and then disappear very quickly. In the past year oil prices climbed from 70 dollars a barrel up to 150 at the height of summer, then down to $40 at the end of the year. That means most OPEC countries had horrible years because they expected the prices to either keep going up or hold stead at the price of $75/barrel. There were very few bright spots, one of those was the Emirates due to their plan to turn their tiny country into a travel, tourism, and foreign investment destination as well as their own economy's diversification.

There is one great weakness however in the Emirates, energy. How? Well, when you at home and you plug go to the electrical outlet where does your power come from? A coal plant? The UAE has no coal. A wind farm\solar energy? The Emirates would have to build a wind mill or solar panel every 20 ft to meet their needs. A hydroelectric dam? Good luck finding rivers in the desert. Finally, the most efficient, a nuclear power plant. Well.. the UAE is on its way.

The UAE signed a nuclear deal with the United States for nuclear fuel and access to important knowledge regarding the construction of one or more power plants. This deal is mutually beneficial, the Emirates get their precious energy, the US has something to cement their relationship with the oil-rich country, the US gets loads of cash (which they need), and the whole thing will be overseen entirely by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

I do love it when a plan comes together.

What do you think? Do you think this is a smart move by either party? Any aspects you think I'm missing? Enlighten everyone with a comment!


U.S. and UAE sign nuclear deal

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stimulus... for WHAT?

Republicans leaders are finding the new $825 Billion dollar stimulus package that passed the House (without a single GOP vote) a little hard to swallow.. and rightfully so. As the minority party the responsibility falls to them to propose alternate ideas and better solutions. Since being the majority party and having their President in the White House Republicans have really fallen off and the way they are acting so far this year has been downright sad and regrettable.

So Republicans decided instead of coming up with a cleaner, leaner, and possibly more effective bill they went to the "well your plan is terrible" path and just offered a list of some of the items they consider useless, pork, or unnecessary spending. The list, which follows, has some of each.. and then there is some stuff that just sounds a little childish to dispute or items which should be fully funded but have nothing to do with a "stimulus" package. , The bullet pointed the items are the ones the GOP Congresspeople object to and I decided to follow each item they object to with a little comment of my own... enjoy. Some of the items are hilarious... hilariously sad.

$2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.

Because all the US Government needs is a coal power plant! I guess they wanted something familiar (especially in Illinois): dirty AND inefficient.

A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film.

This is really outrageous. Has Hollywood had any problems buying motion picture film? Is there a shortage? With all the garbage Hollywood produces every year having a limited amount of film might actually make them make a good movie every once in awhile.

$650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.

Why? The government has been broadcasting warnings about the digital tv conversion for TWO YEARS! If folks haven't got a box yet they ought to be penalized, by NOT getting a free $40 bucks off.

$88 million for the Coast Guard to design a new polar icebreaker (arctic ship).

I actually don't see much of a problem with this however this spending belongs in the 2.65 trillion dollar defense budget not a stimulus package.

$448 million for constructing the Department of Homeland Security headquarters.

• $248 million for furniture at the new Homeland Security headquarters.

Building a headquarters for the DHS isn't a bad idea. spending more than half of what you did on constructing the place on furniture is baloney. Some furniture makers are getting rich selling DHS $4,000 desk chairs and $50,000 toilets! Once again, this doesn't belong in a stimulus package, it belongs in the appropriations bill for the DHS.

$600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.

Umm... I'm not sure if this means they will be giving tax incentives for employees to buy hybrids... or they plan on purchasing hybrids as fleet vehicles (a good idea by the way in terms of fuel economy).. or Oprah decided that the President ought to tell federal employees: "You get a new car, and you get a new car, and you get a new car...." Oh yeah, how does this stimulate the economy again?

$400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD's.

That's nice.. I support funding the CDC but this really isn't stimulating the economy, there isn't a financial meltdown because sexually promiscuous individuals have STD's.

$1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.

This could be very useful and helpful if done correctly... but it belongs in the Department of Agriculture or Dept of the Interior's appropriations bill.

$125 million for the Washington sewer system.

Careful folks! Improving the sewer system might cause more waste to end up in the Potomac. Congress, I suggest you begin investing in swimming lessons! Seriously, complete pork.

$150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.

They need it! The Smithsonian museum system is a national treasure but this isn't really going to stimulate the economy.

$1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.

Completing a Census is very important. It tells us about the direction of the country in so many ways and it leads to the reapportionment of districts for the House of Representatives and countless state/local legislative bodies. Something troubling.. how does a program run a $3 billion dollar overrun with a budget of $13 billion? Was someone trying to impress the new boss with a ridiculously low estimate for costs or are these people just incompetent spending money?

$75 million for "smoking cessation activities."

Great. That's right I'm a HUGE anti-smoking advocate. Go cry about it. Better yet, go cough, wheeze, and give yourself serious disease.. far away from me. Oh yea, this is a good investment because it does decrease health costs down the line, so it is borderline OK to include in a stimulus package but it doesn't do anything for the "now" or "today" of this crisis.

$200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.

Why do the GOP object to this? This is a great idea. In bad economic times people who are out of work often turn to education to help them find gainful employment and are trained in new areas giving the American worker more skills and a wider variety of experience. Computer centers can add to that by giving community college student access to more resources, including online job listing and resume-makers (and this blog!)

$75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI.

The FBI has a budget. This is a stimulus package. The stimulus package is not the FBI budget. 'Nuf said.

$25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction.

Great... a good $25 million dollars to spend on the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget. This could really uplift reservations out of their third-world environment if the money was allocated in the right place and used wisely on programs that have been proven to work not sunk into the same old programs that have shown no promise over the years.

$500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.

Ok... going for the whole TVA thing (Tennessee Valley Authority, for those who didn't pay attention in High School US History). A nice FDR touch could actually be helpful if it was used to protect cities (like New Orleans) while respecting wildlife.

$10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.

Speaking of New Orleans... I'm not sure this is quite a "stimulus", it is needed but still.. I'm not sure it applies

$6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green" buildings.

A great idea.. that sounds like it is going to turn into a stimulus for "green" contractors who will be rolling around in our "green". "Green" buildings are good for saving on costs down the road, but maybe this could be done piecemeal, with the most cost-efficient work done first then work our way towards true eco-friendlier buildings.

$500 million for state and local fire stations.

Good. They are feeling the pain out there. Not sure if this belongs in a stimulus package but they really do need it, as do the communities these fire stations serve courageously.

$650 million for wildland fire management on forest service lands.

NO. The over-protection of the forests from fire is one of the leading causes of the current crisis that has killed MILLIONS of acres of trees across the country, from the Rockies clear out to the Pacific Northwest. If you want more info on this leave a comment.

$1.2 billion for "youth activities," including youth summer job programs.

How about instead of "including" we cut out all the non-work/service related program funding and focus in on pushing the next generation of American worker into positive programs that will really help in the long run.

$88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.

1) Sounds like too much, 2) Public Health is important 3) their building may need some repairs - they should include an extra $88 million on their next budget request

$412 million for CDC buildings and property.

Too ambiguous. Possibly reasonable, maybe not.

$500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland.

*sniff* Oh yeah.. smells like pork, a big half billion dollar load of pork. These facilities fall in Rep. Van Hollen's Congressional district.. who is that you ask? Rep. Van Hollen is Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means as well as the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform" --quote from Rep. Van Hollen's website

$160 million for "paid volunteers" at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

This is a good idea, one thing the country could really use this period of economic downturn for is to renew the Community service spirit and get people involved in their own communities, helping each other so the government doesn't have to help them. Ask for a cup of sugar from your neighbor and offer to carpool to work instead of putting your hand out and asking for a bailout from Uncle Sam. A community can serve as a helping hand to help you find those bootstraps and get you out of despair.

$5.5 million for "energy efficiency initiatives" at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.

This one stinks so bad... well, you can finish that one. If they need it then they should ask for it in their annual budget, it seems that Congress is willing to give anything to the VA, no matter how useless, in order to prove to their voters that they "care" about returning soldiers. Hardly. Most are just token supporters who only cared for vetrans when Walter Reed (the hospital, not middle school) came up. Most have already forgotten and almost none have worked towards projects like the Hagel/Webb G.I. Bill.

$850 million for Amtrak.

Why? Oh yeah.. it IS a bailout. I don't even know what Amtrack would use the money on! Their trains, service, employees, and scheduling has been terrible for years (except the DC-Wilmington, Del. service). Heck, most folks are use to it, don't change it now - especially when that money could go to better uses like stimulating the economy!

$100 million for reducing the hazard of lead-based paint.

Congress: Tell companies to stop putting lead in paint.

I'll be expecting my $100 million dollar check in the mail, thank you.

$75 million to construct a "security training" facility for State Department Security officers when they can be trained at existing facilities of other agencies.

This is a good idea, it think all State Dept personnel should be well trained especially with the hazards of the current age, none larger than the threat of a ballistic Hillary Clinton. Oh yeah, put this in the Dept of State budget.

$110 million to the Farm Service Agency to upgrade computer systems.

I'm really not sure how badly this is needed or what its effect will be so I won't judge. That's right, I didn't know the answer and I decided to own up to it instead of putting a snarky comment here. How many bloggers do that? Not a lot.

$200 million in funding for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations.

Lease? Leasing is the biggest scam in the auto industry since the advent of the "Under-vehicle protective coating" that "must" be purchased with a new car. Stop leasing and just buy vehicles, negotiate sane service plans, and put this spending in the Dept of Defense budget where it belongs.

Wow. Wasn't sure if I was gonna make it through that heap of garbage but I think it'll be ok.

Agree? Disagree? Think there is something more outrageous in the bill? Leave a comment and let everyone know. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama

Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's 350 Billion Bucks, really?

President-elect Obama is urging Congress on his hands and knees then from his mighty pedestal to pass the second half of the Bailout money. Most Congressional members, Democrats included, are a little resistant to that kind of thinking. There is a glimmer of hope that is attached to this debate.

First off, Congressional democrats are already off to the wrong start for the 2010 elections and would be in a tough spot if not for the bunches of retiring Republican Senators. Democrats pledged over and over again their allegiance to Obama's plans during the campaign, especially health-care related items, but now are having a little trouble reconciling their own political futures with the Obama Economic plan.

Congress finally buckled and released the remaining half of the $700B bailout they approved in October. After all their complaints they decided.. "hey, maybe we are just whiny! Let's just approve it!" As usual they were exactly wrong. Usually (most) members of Congress are whiny and ask frivolous questions and engage in self-serving "investigations" while the American people suffer or could someway be better served. In this case there are legitimate questions to be asked. Where did all the money go?!

We were told that this money would fix the financial markets and one would think that the over 500 Billion dollars we've spent would have done that however the banks are asking for more and other industries are getting a piece of the pie too. Where's the money? Banks refuse to tell us.. or Congress.. or their shareholders. Seems a little suspicious. Let me draw up a scenario: You are a rich philanthropic individual and you see a bunch of poor homeless people. You want to help them and a bunch of Soup Kitchens come to you telling you the only way to do that is by giving them a million dollars, you give them 500,000 and then come back a year later and find that nothing has actually changed. Do you: 1) Wonder if the Soup Kitchen people are crooks? 2) Call the police to investigate? or 3) Both. Obviously you'd do #4, just fork over the rest of the money.. because evidence is for the weak.

Just sad.

In the 2008 election we had a choice between one candidate who was surrounded by Oil Industry executives and one who was surrounded by Financial Industry executives. Guess which one we picked? I'm not saying President-Elect Obama is in their pocket but he needs to start showing some backbone if he wants to really get us out of this thing.

Friday, January 2, 2009

So... I was at a local fast food place when I saw two young African-American couples, their children, and a couple other African-American adults sitting waiting for their meals to arrive. I was seated nearby and just so happened to hear them discussing something, where would a "good" place in town be for them to go "enjoy" the day in such nice weather.

Obviously I was distraught. Blacks would only possibly "enjoy" dealing/using drugs or involvement in some kind of crime! I went to the counter and immediately flagged down the manager, "oh my! You have got to get the cops down here, those.. people over there are planning something bad!" I said. Of course, with crime rates going up in town the manager ran to the phone and the police arrived soon thereafter.

The police questioned them and decided there was nothing wrong and assured everyone that there was a mistake and everything was alright. Just before the police left they went to the counter wondering if they could get their food, the manager informed them that the fast food restaurant no longer would allow them to purchase food there and they could go elsewhere. Even after the police spoke to the person at the counter, still the black family & friends couldn't get their food and were asked to leave.

Great Story right... I mean that makes me sound like a racist. It makes the fast food place and its manager sound damn near crazy and racist as well. Also, it just isn't rational. Although I'm sure that sort of thing does occur, that story is not true I just wanted to illustrate a point.

My point here was that when a US-born but foreign-looking (six Pakistani, two Turkish, one black) group of Muslims got booted off a plane because they were overheard looking for the "safest" place to sit on the plane. AirTran has a policy that you get to choose your seat essentially and on their way to the back of the plane the two males were heard discussing how they wouldn't like to sit near the engines because if there was an accident it wouldn't be safe. Not exactly the kind of talk you'd expect to hear from hardened terrorists but they got thrown off the plane, interviewed by the FBI, then for several hours not allowed to fly to their destination or home... by AirTran, even when FBI agents spoke to attendants at the counter on the family's behalf telling them that the family was cleared to fly and there was nothing to fear.

Really sad. If this were a story about a bunch of guys joking about killing people or committing terrorist acts, I'd say these folks are dumb... but they still should have been allowed to fly thereafter. This family group however was doing no such thing and the FBI understood that but still AirTran balked for hours about either refunding tickets or giving them a later flight. Despicable. I'm no bleeding heart but when people are treated completely different in our paranoid society just for looking different it really cooks me inside. If it can happen to them today.. it can happen to you tomorrow.