Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obama takes the right position on 'gas tax holiday,' even though it will cost him votes

Gas is creeping upwards towards $4.00 per gallon (diesel heading towards five) and may get there this summer. Voters want to see gas prices go down. So both John McCain and Hillary Clinton have proposed a Federal 'gas tax holiday' during the summer (peak driving season.) Clinton, to her credit, at least has a plan to offset the loss of revenue-- earmarked for highway funding-- with a windfall profits tax on oil companies. I guess McCain would just as soon sacrifice the quality of American roads to serve his own short term ambition of getting elected President. Of couse he flies everywhere anyway so I guess he never has to worry about a pothole doing thousands of dollars worth of damage to his car.

However the candidate showing real leadership here is Barack Obama. In the face of the demands for a 'tax holiday,' he is making the difficult case that cutting off the gasoline tax won't reduce prices, and whether offset by a Federal windfall tax on oil companies as Clinton proposes or offset by not funding highway repairs as McCain proposes, either way in the long run it will cost more, not less.

For starters, in an economics 101 class you will learn that if you decrease the price on any item, demand increases. But if supply does not, it puts upward pressure on price which in turn leads you back to the same equilibrium point, a price at which demand equals supply. That is as true for gasoline as for any other commodity, which is the point that economists are making, Senator Obama understands and Senators Clinton and McCain either don't understand or choose to wilfully ignore in their reckless search for votes.

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- As summer approaches, Hillary Clinton and John McCain have found a common problem and a common solution. Both want to suspend the federal tax on gasoline, giving drivers a break from high prices at the pump.

At first glance, that sounds like a great idea. But if economists are right, it's their fellow senator Barack Obama who's got the better idea when it comes to the gasoline tax: Do nothing.

Both McCain and Clinton would suspend the 18.4 cents a gallon tax on gasoline. Clinton said Monday that she would also suspend the 24.4 cents a gallon tax on diesel this summer...

It would appear that Obama is risking a chance to win populist points by not standing behind a tax break, particularly when gasoline is at a punishing $3.65 a gallon. But if it's real relief the candidates are looking for, economists say, they should look elsewhere.

"I don't think that a gas-tax cut would result in a really big drop in gasoline prices," said James Hamilton, a professor of economics at the University of California San Diego. It's simple economics: Without a corresponding increase in supply, he added, the price would rise again.

Boosting supply at this stage would be difficult. In the summertime, refineries run at close to full tilt to meet expected demand from vacationing families and other summer drivers.

Since the refiners can't produce much more without building new refineries, the price has to go back up," wrote Len Burman and Eric Toder on TaxVox, the blog of the Tax Policy Center. (Their post is titled "What Were They Thinking???") "Unless the plan's aim is to boost short-term profits for petroleum refineries, the proposal makes no sense...

It might seem axiomatic that cutting taxes on gasoline would make it cheaper. But economists also say a side effect of cheaper gas would be increased demand for fuel as more people drive. That, they point out, would put prices right back where they started.

"They'll bid the price back up," said Andrew Samwick, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College and a former economic adviser to President Bush.

In fact, if the Clinton plan is adopted there is nothing to prevent the oil companies from passing the tax right back to the consumers while if the McCain plan is adopted then sooner or later the highway repairs will still have to be done, which means that some other tax will have to be used for the purpose and likely raised. So what we really see is that there is no such thing as a free lunch, just politicians who promise you one.

Obviously while Obama is right on this one, it is going to cost him votes. But sometimes leadership means doing what's right, even at a price.

The truth is, the reason for the high gas price is because we spent so many decades doing nothing (recall that Jimmy Carter had a plan to make America self-sufficient in energy by 2000 but except for the Alaska pipeline, a small part of it, Ronald Reagan dismantled the whole plan.) Just a couple of months ago, Congress passed the first increase in CAFE standards since 1978. And America is a nation of cars, partly because we lag the rest of the world in investment in mass transit (and then, like in the case of the Phoenix light rail system, we wait to build it until decades after it is proposed, and therefore at dozens of times the cost.)

We will need a comprehensive long term energy policy (which the next administration can and should put together and propose,) not a short term bandaid which will in the end save you nothing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bob Herbert is spot on about Wright.

Jeremiah Wright apparently felt disrespected and angry at Barack Obama when he didn't stand 100% behind him during the controversy that erupted just over a month ago. And so he has spent the past month carefully planning how to get back, and now he has.

Bob Herbert has a very insightful column about Jeremiah Wright and his outbursts this weekend and today.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright went to Washington on Monday not to praise Barack Obama, but to bury him...

Feeling dissed by Senator Obama, Mr. Wright gets revenge on his former follower while bathed in a spotlight brighter than any he could ever have imagined. He’s living a narcissist’s dream. At long last, his 15 minutes have arrived...

So it’s not like he’s na├»ve politically. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Forget the gibberish about responding to attacks on the black church. That is not what the reverend’s appearance before the press club was about. He was responding to what he perceives as an attack on him.

Add in all the things he said this weekend, and it's pretty clear that after a few weeks of careful consideration, Reverend Wright is going out of his way to do the worst he can of proving the critics right. It is certainly true that the clips we've all seen were taken as small snippets of much larger sermons. But this weekend, the snippets were the sermons as he seemed to go out of his way to project the bogeyman that the Senator Obama's opponents have portrayed Wright as. There is no way he could have in just a weekend said extemporaneously so many of the things thich have bothered people, if he hadn't thought out well in advance how to say all of them.

Apparently Wright feels betrayed by Obama's failure to stand by him, including his sermons, when the story first appeared. So he's doing everything he can to hurt Obama now. He is being the caricature that was first put out there by Obama's political opponents. And he's not a stupid man at all, I'm sure he knows good and well what he's doing this week.

A window into his thinking was revealed in the Bill Moyers interview which started off this weekend of wall-to-wall veiled criticism of Obama mixed with outrageous outbursts. He said that Obama had responded to the intial criticism 'as a politician, and not as a man.' Apparently Wright felt then that Obama had not 'kept the faith' with him.

During his speech to the NAACP, Wright paid Obama a left-handed compliment, suggesting that his middle name (which Wright repeated at least twice at that point) is a function of language, and that there are Arabic speakers of all religions. What that did was to remind voters of Obama's alleged (though completely unfounded) ties to Islamists, and of course to remind them once again of Saddam Hussein (the first person most people associate with the name) and subliminally link Obama to him.

Obama in the end did the only thing he can do now-- he repudiated and rejected Wright completely, something he refused to do in his Philadelphia speech on race.

But let's make this clear for what it is. Jeremiah Wright, for personal reasons, wanted to do everything he could to harm Barack Obama. And now Obama has turned off the pipeline back to him, so whatever Wright says from now on won't have anything at all to do with Obama.

Texas FLDS still deserve the right to individual hearings and presentation of evidence.

As regular readers of this blog are aware, I've been quite critical of the FLDS over the issue of child abuse. Some of the things which they do, ranging from forcing thirteen year old girls into 'marriages' in which they are raped by sixty year old men, to abandoning thirteen year old boys off on the side of the road with no education beyond rudimentary construction skills, are frankly appalling to any sense of decency.

So it may come as a surprise that after waiting for a couple of weeks to digest the news of the raids in Texas, I've reached the conclusion that there are some issues here in which I have to defend the FLDS.

To begin with, what happened in Texas should demontrate conclusively that Warren Jeffs is no prophet. He picked the site of the ranch himself, and didn't trouble himself with the detail that Texas has more latitude in taking state custody of children than virtually any other state in the country. So he made a terrible decision if his basis was providing for the security, if you could call it that, of his followers.

That said, I am concerned that all the children were swept up, apparently only because of their religious identity. There were a number of traditional families (one man, one woman, raising their own biological kids) in the compound as well as the polygamous families, and the state made no distinction between them.

If this blanket seizure of kids and blanket custody decision is allowed to stand, then consider what it could lead to (all of these are prevented only by societal perceptions, which can as we know change):

Could the state someday seize all Jewish boys as soon as they are born in order to protect them from circumcision (which some people define as child abuse, even today?)

Could the state someday seize all children belonging to families whose religions practice any kind of non-traditional medicine (be it prayer, tribal ceremonies or other kinds of medicine that don't involve doctors or prescription drugs?)

Could the state someday seize all the children of families who may not make enough money to feed them?

Could the state someday seize all the children of single-parent families, citing statistics that indicate the kids could be at risk?

Could the state someday seize all the children of convicted felons, citing the need to put them in an environment in which they may be protected from 'criminal influence'?

I know, I know. Some people are saying I'm overreacting and that this would never happen. But it was only a couple of weeks ago, I thought that the state would take your children only if there was evidence that you yourself were praciticing a lifestyle which was a danger to them, not swoop down on a community and blanket-confiscate all the kids there (that's the kind of thing that happens in totalitarian regimes, not in America.) And today you'd be right, none of the above is likely to happen. But as I said earlier, societal perceptions can change. It is the law and legal precedent which protect us from them when they do.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Soldiers return to live in an appalling barracks at Fort Bragg

It seems year after year after year we keep hearing these kinds of stories about how our government treats our soldiers.

We've seen the extremes of fiscal conservatism applied to the military, at least to the men and women on the ground by this administration. We've seen how they tried to cut combat pay not long after the war began in Iraq. We've seen cuts in veterans services. We've seen how soldiers were forced to buy their own body armor while hundreds of billions were wasted on fat defense contracts buying more sophisticated long-range bombers and other equipment that is of little use in the kind of guerilla war we are now fighting. We've seen how little our soldiers are actually paid, and yet forced to stay in by 'stop-loss' programs. We've seen how much effort has gone into making it difficult for soldiers who have become disabled in Iraq and Afghanistan to apply for and get disability payments. We've seen the deplorable conditions that existed at Walter Reed Army hospital.

And through it all, the phrase 'support the troops' has been bandied about by this administration as a buzzword for 'support the President's foreign policy,' while the above situations make it clear that they have no concept for what 'support the troops' actually means.

So I'm almost not surprised at the video that's surfaced on U-tube, shot by the father of a soldier from the 82nd Airborne unit of the barracks the unit was housed in at Fort Bragg.

According to the local paper

RALEIGH --A video shot by the father of an 82nd Airborne Division soldier that shows poor conditions such as mold in a barracks at Fort Bragg near Fayetteville has gotten attention from a U.S. senator and high-ranking Army officials.

Ed Frawley, a dog breeder from Menomonie, Wis., posted the narrated video on last week after traveling to North Carolina to welcome his son, Sgt. Jeff Frawley, home from a 15-month tour in Afghanistan.

The video shows peeling paint, mold, a bathroom drain plugged with what appears to be sewage and a broken room door lock, conditions that Frawley described as disgusting and embarrassing.

"The instant you walk through the front door, you know you are in a building that should be condemned," he said.

The army's excuse is that the unit returned three weeks ahead of schedule. What kind of excuse is that? That's an excuse for not doing anything about the mold or about the feces that appears to be backing up into the shower stall? What exactly was the maintenance crew doing that was more important than making sure our own troops had better conditions to return to than what you'd find in a Baghdad slum?

What's more, is this is five years into the Iraq war (and six and a half into the Afghan war.) You'd think by now the army could have figured out that these kinds of things happening are not good for our troops and taken steps to stop them from happening.

It's too bad that the American soldier doesn't have any lobbyists on Capitol Hill or at the White House, like all those fat defense contractors that get most of what's in the military budget.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The shortage of food

Today, volume discount chains Sam's Club and Costco announced that they will begin limiting the amount of rice that people can buy.

This is just one manifestation of a problem that is sweeping the world: a global food shortage. In many countries where rice is a staple of the diet for millions of people, the price has spiraled to the point that there are literally riots in the streets as people cannot afford the food they need to survive on. But it is more than just rice. The price of nearly every kind of food has increased. Even here in America, as the recession deepens and increases the demand on food banks, many food banks are having trouble getting enough food to keep up with the demand.

There are a lot of reasons for this. The most obvious one is that production of food hasn't been sufficient to meet the demand. Bad weather is one factor, as storms and drought in many parts of the world have destroyed some crops (though as we enter a period of global climate change, it would be hasty to assume that the bad weather is limited to this year-- there is also a good chance that it represents the new 'normal.')

The cost of energy is also a factor. Except for food grown right where it is consumed, food must be transported from one point to another. But with energy costs up across the board, those costs get translated to the supermarket. We can see this here in the United States, as diesel costs for trucks are now well over four dollars per gallon, and the price to the stores which receive their cargo, and eventually to the consumers who buy it, has to rise in order to cover the increased transportation cost.

One reason that is cited, but I'm not sure accurately, is the production of bio-fuels. It is certainly true that every acre of agricultural land that is used to make cleaner burning fuels is not used to grow food. But as I just alluded to there is a cost to not making cleaner fuels as well. Further, I would argue that to blame biofuels misses the most fundamental reason for the food crisis: poor use of land.

Right now our government pays subsidies to farmers to not grow certain crops in order to keep the price up. Well, it is certainly up right now (for all kinds of food) so it may be time to end those subsidies and let the farmers grow and sell as much as they can.

But even that is dwarfed by a much more daunting problem: the overreliance in the western diet on meat. It is true that some marginal land is not suitable for growing crops and grazing is about the only practical agricultural use. But most food animals are fed grain that was produced in fields that could just as easily grow food to feed people. It is true that the food animals are eventually slaughtered for meat, but in fact it takes about sixteen pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat.

I confess, that I love eating meat. But the truth of the matter is that every time I eat a single quarter pound hamburger, it is using up as much as four pounds of food which could easily feed a family for a day.

I'm not proposing radical solutions such as quit growing biofuels or having the Government force everyone to stop eating meat but we do need to consider what impact these things have on the food supply and how we can make sure that there is an adequate food supply to everyone in the world, and that may require some changes in our own lifestyle.

Or we could ignore it, and in time the rationing of rice at these stores could expand to other stores and to other products as food becomes scarcer and more expensive, while in the meantime hunger and rioting spread across the third world.

Let's consider alternative policies that boost food production.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hillary ENDORSED McCain at a dinner I was at. So what in blazes is she attacking Obama for?

Yesterday in Reading, Barack Obama said that all three remaining candidates, including John McCain 'would be better than George Bush.'

First of all, that is almost certainly correct. That's because it is a very, very low bar. Not just me, but many Presidential historians now consider that George W. Bush is likely to go down as the worst, or one of the worst Presidents of all time, in terms of everything from wrecking the economy with his ruinous tax cuts that ballooned the deficit and gave it away to foreign governments, to his stupid war in Iraq that gave bin Laden a chance to evade capture as Afghanistan became secondary.

So by that standard, every other President is 'better than Bush.' Even Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush would be by comparison 'better than Bush.' But that doesn't mean for a moment that I would want another Nixon, Reagan or Bush Sr., and I don't want John McCain.

But Hillary Clinton, always on the prowl for something negative to say, immediately jumped on the comment by Obama. She said, "We need a nominee who will take on John McCain, not cheer on John McCain, and I will be that nominee."


I was at the Wild Horse resort in Chandler in 2004 to listen to Hillary visit and make a speech. I took my then eight year old with me. And during her speech, she praised John McCain and went so far as to endorse him for his Senate run that year (I don't know if she was trying to prove she was a 'moderate' or what the heck she was doing.) Keep in mind that this was a room full of Democrats. What was really insulting was that our statewide candidates (who had been introduced earlier) had a table of honor right in front of the speakers platform. Among them was Stu Starkey, who was running against McCain that year. I don't think that even Stu thought that he had a prayer of winning, but he campaigned gamely anyway and managed to deny McCain one jewel he would have dearly loved to have-- Stu held onto the votes of registered Democrats by a small margin (NO THANKS to the Senator from New York.) I was absolutely shocked to hear those words come from the mouth of our keynote speaker, and I doubt if I was the only one.

So to hear Hillary going after Obama after she had the nerve (right in front of me, and not more than twenty feet from the Democrat who was McCain's opponent) to gush all over McCain and endorse him for his Senate re-election in 2004 is nauseating. Absolutely nauseating.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

McCain has nothing to say about Social Security. But he's already said enough.

In 2005, President Bush introduced a plan to borrow $2 trillion to begin privatizing Social Security. He told us that if Social Security was left as it is now then it would begin running a deficit in 2014 and become insolvent by 2042.

Well, that failed. The President was actually completely correct about the crisis that Social Security is facing, but his solution to privatize the system would have done little to prevent its impending collapse while putting at risk the retirement income of millions of people.

So how does the man who wants to succeed him as Republican nominee and President feel about the issue?

Well, I went to John McCain's website and in his 'search this site' button I typed in, "social security" and well,

what I get is:

"No documents were found."

Frankly it is frightening that a man who wants to be President of the United States has so little to say about Social Security that the two words don't appear together even one time on his website.

Luckily though there is a record of what he thinks.

On April 1, 1998 he voted, "Yes" to Senate concurrent resolution 86 which would have set up private accounts using the then-surplus.

And in the New York Times on January 11, 2000, an article about McCain's plans for Social Security said:

McCain will present today his first comprehensive plan for apportioning the spoils of the nation’s current prosperity, calling for. a program to shore up Social Security through the establishment of individual retirement accounts. McCain also specifically allocates money to help Medicare, which like Social Security faces a financial shortfall as the population ages. He calls for workers to have the option of investing at least 20% of their Social Security payroll taxes in private accounts.

In a 1999 Fox News interview McCain was quoted as saying,

Allow people to invest part of their taxes earmarked for Social Security to investment, in investments of their choice. I am convinced that that will make the Social Security system solvent.

In 2005, McCain supported the Bush initiative.

In a GOP debate in Orlando, Florida on October 21, 2007, he was quoted as saying

It's got to be bipartisan. And you have to go to the American people and say we won't raise your taxes. We need personal savings accounts, but we got to fix this system.

He wants it to be bipartisan, and his language is a bit more nuanced, but it's clear that he still hasn't given up on privatization.

Now I know why he hasn't said anything at all this year about Social Security. If he hadn't thought about such a major issue, I'd question his qualifications to be President. But he's thought plenty about it, and he appears to agree with President Bush on it. So I'm not questioning whether he's qualified, but rather I'm questioning whether his failure to put in on his website is because he knows darn good and well that many people would view his plans as extreme, as well they should.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bush proposal on global warming too little, too late.

President Bush, after finally acknowleging the fact of global warming in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of it, is offering a proposal that will slow down the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and finally in twenty years lead to a reduction in such gases.

That is a small step in the right direction, but it is indeed a small one. There is a concern here that if we sign onto Bush's plan then the next President could be hamstrung by it. I suggest that we go ahead until next year and let the next President decide what kind of plan he or she wants to put together, and move forward with that plan.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What part of 'temporary' don't they understand?

Yesterday Governor Napolitano vetoed a bill passed by the legislature which would have made permanent a temporary property tax cut that was passed in 2006 and is due to expire in 2009.

As the Governor noted, economic conditions have deteriorated in Arizona sharply since 2006. Arizona's economy is much more tied to the housing industry than most, so the mortgage meltdown has had severe repercussions here. We face a combined $3 billion state budget deficit over the next two years, so adding another quarter billion to that next year by extending the property tax cut would be, as she noted, "the height of fiscal irresponsibility." Over-reliance on the sales tax has compounded the problem-- in a recession people spend less so sales tax revenues are down (whereas, for example, a property tax tends to be a much more reliable and stable source of revenue.)

Advocates for the Republicans in the legislature and some in the business community (who were the beneficiaries of the tax cut) have howled that she is 'raising taxes.'

That is a competely stupid argument.

If a supermarket sells a bottle of pop for $1.39, but runs a managers special in which they announce, "THIS WEEK ONLY-- $.99" for the bottle of pop, then they are doing their customers a favor for a week. If the sale ends on schedule and the price returns to $1.39 (the normal price of the pop) it would be ridiculous to storm up to the store manager and claim that by ending the sale on the day they said they would, they are raising prices. Yet that is what advocates of extending the tax cut are doing. Instead of being grateful for the three years they don't have to pay their property tax, they are instead complaining that when it expires on schedule, they will see a 'tax increase.' Maybe they would be happier if it hadn't ever been passed at all, I suppose.

This argument, of equating the scheduled end of a temporary reduction in taxes with a 'tax increase' is breathtaking in its stupidity. But we will hear exactly the same argument nationally over the next couple of years as the Bush tax cuts (you know, the ones that were supposed to give us such a great economic success story this decade) expire.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Life sentence is too harsh for videotaped beating.

We've all seen the sickening video by now of a sixteen year old girl being beaten to the point where she required hospitalization by six other teenage girls, while two teenage boys acted as 'lookouts.'

And we've heard how the Dr. Phil show has gotten into some hot water for bailing out the alleged ringleader, apparently with the promise of a future interview on the show.

It is also true that the six girls and two boys are being charged as adults. And I agree that the beating was severe enough that this is appropriate.

According to reports published late last week in the Lakeland-area newspaper The Ledger, and to Polk County Sheriff's Office affidavits, Mulberry High School cheerleader and honor student Victoria Lindsay had fought with her mother and was temporarily staying with her friend Mercades Nichols, 17, at Nichols' grandmother's house. On the evening of March 30, Lindsay entered the house, and Nichols and 17-year-old Brittini Hardcastle began to threaten her. Fourteen-year-old April Cooper struck Lindsay in the face and slammed her head into a bedroom wall, knocking her unconscious. Lindsay awoke on the living room couch, surrounded by Nichols, Hardcastle, Cooper, and three other girls, 17-year-old Britney Mayes, 16-year-old Cara Murphy and 15-year-old Kayla Hassell. Lindsay's complaint also alleges that she was held down and prevented from escaping as the girls took turns beating her while they videotaped the incident, statements supported in the video obtained by law enforcement.

What I disagree with is the prospect that at least three of the girls may be facing a life sentence in prison.

All eight suspects are being charged as adults with kidnapping and battery, say court records. The kidnapping charges constitute a first-degree felony, with a maximum sentence of life in prison. The battery charges are first-degree misdemeanors with a maximum sentence of a year in jail. Three of the girls are also charged with witness tampering, a third-degree felony with a maximum of five years in prison.

A stint in prison is probably appropriate for a serious case of assault. And the lack of remorse by the principles involved (and their parents) is sickening. But I'm not sure that a life sentence, or even a very long prison sentence is the answer. Clearly the girls who perpetrated the assault require a lot of counseling (and there are likely some home issues involved that resulted in their becoming this violent) but five year (or life) prison sentences are most likely going to transform them from out of control youth to career criminals.

I believe that some serious work, in the form of community service, may be in order, and that they probably should all go on the 'Dr. Phil' show-- to apologize publically to the victim (with all proceeds from the show to go to her.)

But while it may be appropriate to charge them as adults, I hope that the court will see the wisdom in sparing them serious prison time.

Friday, April 11, 2008

What exactly was Cheney fishing for?

While on a fishing trip, this photo was snapped of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Here is a closeup of the sunglasses. Take a good look at the reflection.

The official White House explanation is that the reflection is NOT of a nude woman, but rather of the Vice President's arm and tackle.

Decide for yourself. But whatever you do, don't go on an outdoor sporting trip with Dick Cheney.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The size of the army

During the recent discussion on Iraq and Afghanistan, we are being confronted again with a hard, cold reality-- that we simply do not have enough ground troops to fully cover the manpower needs of both wars (and you can forget about the idea that our military, at least in terms of being able to invade and occupy yet another country, is an effective deterrent anymore to Iran or anyone else who wishes to pull our tail.

Republicans often love to point out that the military was downsized after the end of the Cold War during the early 1990's and blame Democrats. That is at best an oversimplification however and at worst an outright revision of history. Following the end of the Cold War, the idea of a 'peace dividend' in which less would be spent on the military in the absence of the Soviet threat was widely bandied about Washington by politicians on both the left and the right. In hindsight, it may have been naive to suppose that there would not be other threats, and to fail to anticipate the threat from Islamic extremism, but it is certainly not anything that our friends on the right warned us about back then any more than anyone on the left assumed this would be a problem moving forward. And further, the military of the 1990's was plenty big enough to handle minor crises and wars in places like Haiti and the Balkans.

Since 2003, when we put Afghanistan on the back burner and invaded Iraq though we've had a consistent manpower shortage. The army has struggled to meet recruiting goals, tours have been extended, we've sent national guard units to fight in frontline combat operations in much higher numbers than we ever had before, we've 'stop-lossed' thousands of soldiers who were due to leave the army and some people are back in Iraq on their third and fourth tours. And recently it has become even clearer, as the administration has all but admitted that we don't have enough troops for Afghanistan because of how many are tied up in Iraq.

There was also a mini-scandal of sorts that came out this week in that it turns out the number of new recruits who have 'waivers' allowing them to join the army despite juvenile convictions or other issues has jumped from about 5% of all new recruits in 2004-2005 to a rate so far this year running at around 13%. For the record, that doesn't bother me at all since I believe that many young people make mistakes when they are younger and I don't believe that getting busted for underage drinking, drug use or some other petty crime in high school should disqualify someone who wants to turn his or her life around from doing so in the military.

We can still bomb the heck out of anyone who gets in our way but in the kinds of guerilla wars we find ourselves fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, overwhelming air superiority is at best only a minor benefit. In fact, this points out one of the basic problems we've had. We still spend as much as twenty times as much on our military as any other country in the world. So funding isn't the issue. But we've bought far too much expensive military hardware that has little use in today's wars, while neglecting the most basic of resources-- the 'boots on the ground.' We still have thousands of nuclear warheads, including those in storage, but not enough feet with boots on them. Some of this has to do with the structure of Washington itself-- makers of expensive planes and other high-tech equipment have a whole lot more lobbying muscle in Washington than does anyone whose priority is simply to make sure that we have a military tuned to the demands of the present and foreseeable future.

It is also true that during the 2004 campaign John Kerry promised that if elected he would authorize and expansion of the army to include the creation of two new combat divisions. George Bush was asked about it once during the campaign and said he'd 'consider it.' Unfortunately Bush won that election, and whether for reasons of pride (because the idea originated with his opponent) or because he is too dumb to realize the urgent need for a larger ground army, he never followed up on the proposal. Of course it takes time to authorize, pay for, recruit, train and equip a larger army (not that much time though-- in WWII we trained, equipped, won the war and had them back home in less than four years.) But had the President borrowed a good idea from his opponent and asked for the two divisions back when he began his second term they would be well on the way towards being usable and giving us the capability to fight two ground-intensive wars that we now lack.

I don't believe that we have to spend any more money to get a larger military either. I believe that instead of spending over a billion dollars on a single bomber, we should maybe look at reprioritizing our military budget and prioritize towards having more ground troops available and fully trained and equipped.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Clinton campaign's obsession with Bill Richardson is not helping them.

A couple of weeks ago I put up a post on Bill Richardson's endorsement of Barack Obama in which I described some of the angry reactions that came from Clinton supporters, especially James Carville's comment comparing Richardson to Judas Iscariot.

Things haven't died down either. This week it was reported that Bill Clinton, while meeting with a group of Super Delegates in California and being asked about Carville's comments, blew up, got red in the face and according to one participant 'went off like a grenade.' He was quoted as getting red in the face, shaking his finger and saying about Richardson, "He promised me five times to my face he wouldn't do that." Richardson has since denied that he ever promised Bill Clinton (or anyone else) that he wouldn't endorse Obama.

Well, in this game of he said/he said, one thing is clear-- at least one part of what Bill Clinton said is demonstrably false. While running for President himself, Richardson was clear that he was running to try and win the nomination on his own. He withdrew on January 10. CNN reported Tuesday that they had compared the two men's schedules since that time and found that the two men were in the same place only once since then-- on February 3 when they watched the Super Bowl together. So at most, Richardson COULD have only made such a promise one time, not five (since Bill Clinton clearly said "to my face," which to me pretty clearly indicates in person, not by phone, email or other messaging device.) Whether he made the promise on that occasion is an unprovable, but given that at least one part of Clinton's statement has already been shown to be less than truthful by the CNN sleuths, all other things being equal Richardson has more credibility on this than the former President.

More to the point though, the longer this goes on the worse it hurts Hillary Clinton. She is running against Barack Obama right now, not Bill Richardson. So no matter how bad her campaign and supporters make him look, they are taking their eye off the ball. Maybe it's little wonder that her lead in Pennsylvania, which just a week or two ago was polling as high as twenty points, is now less than half that much. Yeah, keep on campaigning against Bill Richardson. I can see the Obama campaign thinking, 'heh-heh-heh,' the longer this goes on.

It is true that the Richardson endorsement broke through a couple of weeks of static and has since led to a steady trickle of other super-delegates and influential party leaders endorsing Obama (including Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Minnesota Senator Amy Kobluchar, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal and former Indiana Congressman and 9/11 commission co-chair Lee Hamilton, in addition to a comment not quite rising to the level of an official endorsement by former President Jimmy Carter who strongly hinted that he will vote for Obama at the party convention.) But beating up on Richardson some more still won't turn off the tap on superdelegates declaring their intention to vote for Obama giving him some substitute for momentum during a six week stretch between primaries. So it's hard to see what the Clinton campaign has to gain from this.
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