Monday, July 30, 2007

An Old But True Confession

It started out innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then -- just to loosen up. Inevitably, though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker.
I began to think alone -- "to relax," I told myself -- but I knew it wasn't true. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.

That was when things began to sour at home. One evening I turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She spent that night at her mother's.
I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't help myself.

I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau, Muir, Confucius and Kafka. I would return to the office dazed and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here?"
One day the boss called me in. He said, "Listen, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't stop thinking on the job, you'll have to find another job."

This gave me a lot to think about. I came home early after my conversation with the boss. "Honey," I confessed, "I've been thinking..."

"I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!"

"But honey, surely it's not that serious."

"It is serious," she said, lower lip aquiver. "You think as much as college professors and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on thinking, we won't have any money!"

"That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently.

She exploded in tears of rage and frustration, but I was in no mood to deal with the emotional drama.

"I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door. I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche. I roared into the parking lot with NPR on the radio and ran up to the big glass doors. They didn't open. The library was closed.

To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night. Leaning on the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra , a poster caught my eye, "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked.

You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinkers Anonymous poster.
This is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker. I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was "Porky's." Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.

I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home. Life just seemed...easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking. I think the road to recovery is nearly complete for me.
Today I took the final step... I joined the Republican Party.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Chicken-Hawk Debate- my thoughts

My fellow liberals have been effectively using the “chicken hawk” label on those Republicans who support the war in Iraq but whose own personal contribution to that war effort has been relatively non-existent. In the movie Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore made some pretty good hay out of that alfalfa and it is interesting looking at the various military records (or lack thereof) of most Presidential candidates. Is it fair to take into account the lack of a military record when it comes to president? The last president to fight in a war was George H.W. Bush. Bill Clinton’s lack of a military service was a source of great contention during his presidency and George W. Bush’s questionable commitment to his military service surfaced in his campaigns for office.

On the Republican side this time around, there is of course John McCain. Without a doubt, McCain served his country honorably. It is interesting that his views on the use of torture diverge from his fellow Republican candidates who never were in harm’s way. Perhaps he realizes that when we justify torture of prisoners, we no longer have the moral high ground to insist others refrain from it. This puts our own soldiers at greater peril.

Particular interest in the chicken hawk debate concerns Utahns and their relative contribution to the war effort. Individually, there have been many who have sacrificed greatly in the Iraqi war. However, collectively Utahns have not made as big of a contribution per capital as the people of most other states. Does this fact influence Utah’s continued support for the war effort? This could be viewed from several directions? Certainly, there may be many Utahns who support the war but have no one close to them risking their lives in this enterprise. However, among those who do have someone close to them engaged in this effort, I’ve noticed a greater likelihood that they would support the war. People support those things for which they’ve made a sacrifice. Often times it is harder to concede that those contributions are in fact, “sunk costs.”

I admit that I often play “devil’s advocate” with my fellow Utahns when they shout the praises of the Bush Administration and the wars the administration have engaged us in. Admittedly, I mostly talk to friends and relatives whose kids aren’t joining the military but are opting for religious service and college. None of my own nephews or nieces have considered the military an option nor have most of their friends. I’ve needled people whose commitments to the war seems to be mere lip service and flag waving. Is the fact that Utah stands as the Bush Administration’s last bastion of support due to risking less in Bush’s wars? I haven’t made my mind up yet on this question. However, if we are going to continue on in this war, I have some proposals that I think should be considered.

1- A draft without deferments for college or religious service
2- Expand the military so the war on terror doesn’t leave us vulnerable on other fronts
3- Refine the training in the military and create more units that specialize in counter-insurgency tactics
4- Raise taxes to pay for re-armament, improved military pay and benefits and a more realistic commitment to reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan.
5- Re-commit to the provisions of the Geneva Convention regarding torture

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)

The release of the newest National Intelligent Estimate (NIE) by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) articulates what most think tanks had already concluded, that U.S. invasions of Afganistan and Iraq have not had the desired effects of constraining and marginalizing Al Qaeda. The NIE indicates that Al Qaeda has grown both in numbers and in the proficiency of their tactics. Particularly, the invasion of Iraq has mobilized the muslim world and the radical elements within that broad community has grown significantly.

To a great extent, this is disheartening news. Despite the billions spent, the thousands of lives lost, the basic freedoms surrendered, and the dividing of an already divided country, we are probably less safe today than we were when the towers fell.

For the record, I supported the decision to go into Afganistan. However, I opposed the decision to invade Iraq. However, I have also opposed timetables for withdrawal, which is something I believe emboldens the insurgents in Iraq. However, I understand the angst felt among Democrats, who re-took the House and Senate on the basis of the public demanding a new direction in Iraq. The frustrating thing about this war is that the President was given political cover from the "Iraq Study Group" to take a different, more diplomatic approach to the issues in the middle east. However, the surge idea seems to be too little and probably too late to resolve the problems in Iraq.

I believe that the United States and her allies had a window of opportunity after the capture of Bagdad that was ultimately botched by an administration that seemed incapable of reconstructing Iraq and providing the manpower and infrastructure to pull off the successful building of a workable coalition government in Iraq. The day is fast approaching when we will need to consider Iraq a sunk cost. Unfortunately, the damage this will do to the credibility of the United States will be considerable, as will the risks of wider conflicts erupting in the middle east, putting at risk the oil supplies our nation is dependent upon.

Whomever takes up residence in the White House in January of 2009, will have their hands full with some of the most complicated foreign policy challenges our nation has faced in a long time. We'd better choose wisely.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Why the Firing of U.S. Attorneys is Disconcerting

Whenever the story of the firing of several U.S. Attorneys by the Bush Administration comes up, Republican apologists always point out that Clinton fired all of the U.S. Attorneys when he took office. Well, that is true, as it is with all new administrations. However when re-elected in 1996, Clinton retained the U.S. Attorneys as has been tradition for past two term U.S. Presidents. Most Presidents have had an understanding of the importance of giving U.S. Attorneys a great deal of prerogative on prosecutorial issues. The reason behind this is to maintain public support for the impartiality of the legal system. If political considerations get in the way of the decision to investigate and/or prosecute, public trust will suffer.

Enter the George W. Bush administration. What is disconcerting about this President is the fact that so many decisions he makes are based upon political considerations. When U.S. Attorneys are fired for “performance” issues and the definition of “performance” is whether the U.S. Attorneys are willing to take direction from the Attorney General and the President’s key advisors on where to focus their attention, and where not to, all Americans should be concerned. Should a U.S. Attorney worry about prosecuting key Republican politicians in this environment? Would lengthy public investigations and prosecutions of Democrats be a means by which a U.S. Attorney gains job security?

Whether it is a Democratic or Republican administration, I believe that the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorneys should do their jobs based upon proper administration of the law, not based upon partisan political considerations. George W. Bush appears to have a different interpretation of their proper role. Americans of all stripes should insist that the truth come out on what considerations resulted in the firing of the U.S. Attorneys. Bush’s use of “executive privilege” lends credibility to the impression that Bush has something to hide and has not understood the importance of having independent prosecutorial arm in the federal government.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Does A President's Religion Matter?

As the furor over Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has ramped up, I’ve tried to give some thoughts to what extent religion could or should matter in a race for president of the United States. To some extent, my answer at this point has been a diplomatic one, asserting that “no it shouldn’t.” However, the more I thought about this position, the more I’ve drifted to the position of most economists: “it depends.”

Personally, I’ve voted for tons of Mormons here in Utah. Usually, my choice has been between a Mormon Democrat and a Mormon Republican. I generally have voted for the Democrat, but I’ve also crossed party lines, particularly in local races, where ideology often is and should be trumped by managerial competence.

So, under what circumstances would religion matter? I’ll start with some extreme examples. Say an American Islamic Mullah decides to run for President with his platform of abolishing the constitution, instituting Islamic law and forcefully converting all non-believers to Islam. I can honestly say that I would not support this person for President, nor any other office in government. It isn’t his religion that I am opposed to, it is his application of his religion to his political world view.

Would I vote for a Christian for President? Probably. However, if a candidate is such a strong believer in his interpretation of Christianity that he/she wants to impose his views on the rest of the country, then I have issues with this candidate. There are certainly Bible thumping Christians out there to vote for, but not all of them are willing to amend our laws to comply with the dictates of the Book of Leviticus where the stoning of adulterous women is sanctioned.

Again, what matters is their application of their beliefs and what it would mean from a policy perspective for the citizens of our country. For those Mormons who crawl on their cross with little provocation when Mitt’s religion is brought up, I usually ask them “would you vote for an atheist for president?” They usually concede that “no they wouldn’t.” What I ask of Mormons regarding Mitt, is to not vote for Mitt because he is a Mormon, but because they can truly articulate why he is the best candidate, regardless of religious considerations. Also, if you bristle up at the thought of people dismissing Mitt because of his religion, you should be equally bristled up at yourself discounting someone from consideration because they don’t believe in God.

In my opinion, what we should focus on in evaluating candidates is what are their policy objectives and how they align with our own objectives for our country. We should also evaluate what indications they give that they have the political savvy to accomplish those objectives as far as garnering support from the legislative branch. You also want someone who isn’t easily led or influenced by others. I want a President with a skeptical mind, willing to ask the hard, yet important questions of subordinates that give our Republic the best chance of operating effectively. Religion may influence some of the things I just mentioned, but they may not.

We as citizens who go to the ballot box have a responsibility to be informed and make our decisions on who to vote for on a sound and rational basis. Does religion of the candidate matter? It may, but I sincerely hope it doesn’t.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Introduction and Objectives of this Blog

This is my first post for a blog designed specifically to talk about politics in Utah. Some national and world issues may creep into the discussion, but it is my intent to keep things as local as possible. Utah is a unique state with a significant conservative slant in the populace and the people they elect. My own politics will noticeably be left of center by Utah standards. But I believe Utah needs an alternative voice in this wilderness of unfettered conservative hegemony.

My goal is to be provocative, yet respectful. If the political landscape is to change in Utah, more people must be persuaded away from ideologies that so many people accept out of mere tradition and expectation. At times, the underlying assumptions that drive many Utahns to the positions they hold will be brought under scrutiny on this blog. The intent is not to attack people, but to challenge their beliefs and the paradigms that led to them.

It is also the intent of this blog for me to get appropriate feedback. If my ideas cannot withstand the bright lights of discourse, then they need to be reconsidered. My father once told me "if you are that sure of yourself, you might want to reconsider." Politics subject the human mind to competing interests and competing priorities. As a result, most issues are rarely black or white, but every shade of gray. Recognizing this reality, the goal of my writing is always to articulate what I understand, change it as I digest more information, and try to reach correct conclusions based upon the weight of the evidence.