John Wayne is the Duke. Elvis is the King.

John Wayne's Holster: October 2005
John Wayne's Holster
Visit my main blog at Monkey Wrench Revival. Visit my birdwatching blog at The Birding Nerd.

Monday, October 31, 2005

A Windfall Tax on Oil Gives Me the Wind

Several oil companies have reported BIG profits this quarter. Exxon Mobil posted a $9.9 billion profit, the largest quarterly profit in history! Royal Dutch didn’t do too bad either, posting a profit of $9.0 billion. Overall, it is estimated that the annual profits for the top ten oil companies will approach $120 billion.

What should the oil companies do with this money? Obviously, some should go to the shareholders who invested in those companies – either in the form of dividends or stock buybacks. How about the rest of the money? It would seem obvious to any logical capitalist that the companies themselves should decide that. Well don't cash that dividend check just yet, as it appears that Congress has other ideas.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) has introduced a bill (S. 1631) that would impose a windfall tax on oil companies. The legislation would impose “a 50-percent excise tax on the windfall profits earned by major integrated U.S. oil companies on the sale of all barrels of crude oil derived from existing wells. For this purpose, windfall profits means the amount that a barrel of oil sold exceeds $40 per barrel.” The tax is intended to provide consumers relief from high gasoline prices, which have gone from $1.86 to $2.96 per gallon over the past year.

No matter how you slice it, the windfall tax is not a good idea. Socialism aside, the tax is counter-productive. The US has tried it before, with the 1980 Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax Act, which was signed by President Jimmy Carter. According to the 1990 Congressional Research Service report, the 1980 windfall tax "reduced domestic oil production between 3 and 6 percent, and increased oil imports from between 8 and 16 percent…This made the US more dependent upon imported oil." This is the exact opposite of our current energy policy, which is designed to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil.

The tax would also discourage more production, resulting in lowers supplies and higher prices. The oil companies already invest hundereds of billions of dollars annually in exploration, expanding refineries, and improving delivery systems - with no guarantee of future returns. What is the point of putting so much money at risk if you will be hit with a windfall tax when your investment pays off?

Let’s be realistic for a moment. Oil is a commodity. As such, its price fluctuates with changes in supply and demand. In the commodities market, it’s boom or bust. If the companies take the risks, they should be entitled to any payoff that comes their way. And they should swallow any losses as well. Unless of course, Senator Dorgan is willing stay up late at night authoring legislation for a windfall losses rebate?

The oil winfall tax raises other questions as well. Should other industries also be taxed to compensate consumers? There are other industries that are more profitable than oil. The financial services industry makes twice the profits of the oil industry. Should investors expect a rebate if the market tanks? Let’s not forget about the pharmaceutical industry – they make 2-3 times as much as oil. Should we tax them to offset the rising cost of health care? What about the insurance industry? The software industry? The banking industry? Why not tax them too?

The best way to get the price of gas down is to encourage (rather than discourage) an increase in the oil supply. In addition, let the market forces dictate the price. Now that hurricane damage is being repaired, refining and distribution are beginning to come back on line, supplies should increase again. In fact, we are already seeing some effect, as oil prices dropped to below $60 per barrel today.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Bush Calls the Play-Action Pass

Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination to the SCOTUS.

In a letter submitted to President Bush, Miers stated the reason for her withdraw as a concern over the continuing efforts of the Senate to gain access to Executive Branch materials. Miers believes that turning over confidential documents regarding counsel she gave to President Bush would jeopardize the independence of the Executive branch.

Despite the impression that the White House is attempting to convey, the withdraw should come as no surprise. Political insiders have been predicting it for weeks!

Not much was publicly known about Miers in the days immediately following her nomination. Although some conservatives were disappointed, there was a prevailing sentiment developing among many to trust the President with his decision. However, as information about Miers began to trickle down to the public, it became apparent that she was not up to the task. Many who had initially supported Miers, including members of the President own party, began to openly express doubts about her qualifications.

The President, in an effort to reassure conservatives about Miers, stated that he “[knew] her heart.” Apparently, the President does not know Harriet Miers as well as he thinks.

Or does he?

Perhaps Bush nominated Miers knowing that she was not up to snuff, and would therefore be rejected by the Senate or withdraw. It is the political equivalent of the play-action pass. Bush takes the snap, turns to his left, and pitches to Miers. The defense pursues. Wait! It’s a fake. Bush still has the ball. He rolls to his right, fires deep down field…

Why would Bush do such a thing? There are three reasons that come to mind in which such a strategy would seem germane.

For starters, if the President were to nominate a Scalia-type conservative, there would be a battle on the Senate floor in which the “nuclear option” would be on the table. The President will need public support in order to make the nuclear option palatable. Recently, his job performance ratings have been low, hovering around 40%. As such, the political timing for the fight is not right. By nominating Miers, and then having her withdraw, the President buys some time!

Secondly, the President may have been trying to pit the Senate in a battle against their public image, in an attempt to lower the expected opposition to a conservative nominee. It worked for President Reagan! To avoid being viewed as obstructionist, the Democratically controlled Senate unanimously confirmed conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy following the rejection or withdraw of Reagan’s previous two nominees (Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg). Although opposition to Miers came from both sides of the aisle, the Bush strategy is already trying to focus the public's attention on the Left’s demand for access to confidential White House documents as the reason for Miers’ withdraw.

Lastly, the President may be creating a diversion. The timing of the Miers withdraw seems suspicious. Her confirmation hearings were not due to start until November 7th. Perhaps it is no small coincidence that the term of the grand jury in the CIA leak probe expires tomorrow. Why have Miers withdraw now? It can only mean that Friday will bring with it grand jury indictments – probably against “Scooter” Libby and Karl Rove. Now some of that attention will be turned towards Miers and speculation on the next nominee.

It seems Miers may once again have served the President and the country with distinction and honor.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Next President Clinton?

We are less than a year into President Bush’s second term, and already the focus on starting to shift to 2008. Democrats are hopeful that they will be able to recapture the White House, and perhaps even gain a few seats in Congress. And the GOP seems to be lending them a hand. Bush’s job approval rating is down to 40-41%. Although our armed forces are performing well in Iraq, the war is loosing favorability with Americans. The Valerie Plame affair, and the legal problems of DeLay and Frist are not helping matters either. To top it all off, conservatives are divided over Bush’s lukewarm choice of Harriet Miers for the SCOTUS.

The GOP is heading for an implosion, and the Dems are poised to seize their opportunity when it presents itself. That opportunity may very well present itself during the upcoming Presidential campaign.

Bush can not run – and Cheney will not run. As such, this will be the first election not featuring an incumbent in quite some time. Who will the GOP put forward to carry the conservative banner? Bill Frist? Sam Brownback? John McCain? Rudy Giuliani?

Frist has lost his momentum. Conservatives feel betrayed for his switch on the stem cell debate, and he has some legal problems to boot. Brownback is a possibility, but he is still a relative unknown outside party circles. Guiliani and McCain both have a lot of crossover potential with Dems, but many conservatives may be scared off by their left-leaning images. Condi Rice has also been mentioned, but no one other than Dick Morris seems to be taking it seriously. Condi herself said on NBC's Meet the Press that she will not run.

Perhaps it is too early to tell, but Republicans presently don’t have any strong contenders who can keep the White House in 2008. Unless someone dynamic emerges, they are primed to take a lickin’ in the next election.

Who will the Dems put forward? A few names have been mentioned. Al Gore and John Kerry may take another swing, but they both are saddled with a “loser” image that will be hard to shake. (Nixon did it, so who knows). Biden? Edwards? Clark? Unlikely.

Hillary? You bet! Unless something drastically changes, Senator Clinton will get the nod. She is savy and has a grasp on the issues. She is charismatic, attractive, and is gaining popularity. She will be a formidable opponent. Politics aside, she might even make a good President!

Republicans know this but for some reason they are taking a Jeckyll and Hyde strategy to counter the indomitable Mrs. Clinton.

On the one hand, GOP strategists are challenging Hillary for her New York Senate seat. Their plan is not necessarily to win, but rather to force Mrs. Clinton to expend some of her capital and to make her show her hand. In a sense, it is a testing ground for the 2008 campaign. Republicans have put up Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro to challenge Hillary. In a nutshell, Pirro is a social liberal, and an economic conservative. As such, Mrs. Clinton will not be able to flog her for her stance on the abortion and same-sex marriage issues. Instead, she will be forced to debate Pirro on economic and geopolitical issues. The goal is to assist the GOP in finding out exactly where Clinton stands, and then design arguments to undermine her position. The GOP can also float a variety of other issue-based arguments to see which ones will have the most impact with potential voters.

On the other hand, conservatives such as Rick Santorum, Bill Frist, Sam Brownback and Newt Gingrich have been hobnobbing with Mrs. Clinton in an attempt to move their own images to the center. The President himself has even arranged a strange courtship between former President’s Clinton and Bush in order to improve his image and gain broad-based acceptance of his efforts in Gulf coast hurricane relief.

This strategy is short-sighted and could backfire on the Right. By associating themselves with the Clintons, the Right has also given Hillary crossover appeal and credibility with fence-sitting voters who may otherwise lean to the Right.

The GOP needs to take a step back and reevaluate their 2008 White House strategy. Howard Dean is orchestrating a brilliant campaign thus far. So long as he keeps a sock in his mouth, the Left will have a legitimate shot at retaking the Oval Office. And Hillary Clinton may be the person to do it. She is a formidable candidate. Mrs. Clinton still has to win over the undecided voters in the American heartland. It will not be an easy task, but if she continues to get help from the Right, it may not be as hard as it seemed just a year ago.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

San Francisco Considers Handgun Ban

This November, residents of San Francisco will go to the polls. In addition to a bland list of candidates, there will be a gun control measure - Proposition H - on the ballot.

The gun-control measure was proposed by City Supervisor Chris Daly, and is endorsed by Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Tom Ammiano, Bevan Dufty, and Matt Gonzalez. Mayor Gavin Newsome has not weighed in on the issue yet. According to Daly, the measure was drawn up in an effort “to figure out a way to turn back the tide of violence." San Francisco experienced a 28% rise in homicides in 2004.

If Proposition H passes, San Francisco residents will be prohibited from exercising their Constitutionally guarenteed right to keep and bear arms. It will ban the purchasing or distributing of firearms or ammunition within the city. Residents presently owning firearms would have 90 days to turn them over to authorities. Firearms would still be permitted for police officers, security guards, the military, and any government employee carrying out the functions of his or her employment.

I don't know about you, but this is starting to sound a bit like a police state to me.

I think any sensible person would agree that reducing crime is a good thing. But one must seriously question the logic behind Prop H. Although it may sound nice to some, the pertinent question is whether or not it is realistic? Will Prop H accomplish its intended goals?

From a practical point of view, Prop H makes little sense. It is oblivious to reality! It assumes that criminals are just going to throw up their hands and turn their guns over because the law says they can’t have them. Well I hate to break it to you, but that ain’t gonna happen! Criminals will continue to buy and sell firearms with no regard for the law.

Prop H will only take guns away from law-abiding citizens, reducing their capability for self-defense. Take the recent situation in New Orleans as a case in point. In the looting and mayhem that followed Hurricane Katrina, only armed citizens were able to defend themselves against the looters and thugs that rampaged the city. The unarmed were at the mercy of their assailants.

If this reasoning doesn’t convince you, take a look at gun control in action. Washington D.C. banned hand guns in 1976. How successful have they been at reducing crime? The answer is that they have not been successful at all. Washington D.C. has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the country, with a homicide rate that is almost eight times the national average! For comparison, in 2003 D.C. had a murder rate of 44.2 murders per 100,000 citizens, while San Francisco had a rate of 8.9 per 100,000. The numbers seems to be telling me that gun control is not working!

What do the San Francisco police have to say about this? They deal with violent crime on a daily basis. If gun control offered a workable solution to lowering the homicide rate, they surely would support the measure. But they don’t support it, because experience tells them that it doesn’t work! Some have even made the case that the ban could make San Francisco a destination for criminals, as they would likely face less resistance from their victims.

Propostition H makes no sense. It is founded on ill logic. Gun control has been tried in Washington D.C., and it doesn’t work. Prop H will not stop criminals from getting guns. It will only disarm law-abiding citizens, making them prey to felons. As the old saying goes, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns!

When you boil it all down, Proposition H sounds a lot more like Preparation H to me!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Where Have You Gone Joe McCarthy?

From the time of the New Deal right on up through the 1950’s, the US government was infested with agents of the Communist party and those who were sympathetic to their cause. How did they get there? Like most people working for the government, they were either elected, or more likely, they were appointed by elected officials.

Not everyone in Washington had the wool pulled over their eyes. There were a few people who were working to ferret out the Pinkos and expose them to the public. For example, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover provided both Presidents Roosevelt and Truman with evidence of Soviet spying and infiltration into the highest levels of our government.

Both Presidents chose to ignore it for political reasons. The establishment had its reputation at stake. They were fearful that investigations into their political appointments would uncover embarrassing associations between themselves and government employees who were tied to communism.

Perhaps the greatest crusader of truth of that era was Joseph R. McCarthy. McCarthy served as Wisconsin’s Senator from 1950-1957. McCarthy relentlessly uncovered subversion in our government. His detractors like to point to his personal failings in an effort to undermine him. And he did have personal failings! He was arrogant, he was crude, he bullied witnesses, and he was a dreadful alcoholic.

But he was also right about Communist infiltration in the US government – and the Left knew it!

The Kremlin’s apologists could not counter McCarthy’s message. Instead, they embarked on a smear campaign to destroy his public image. It’s one of the oldest tricks in politics. McCarthy was accused of being unethical, a witch hunter, and a destroyer of careers - among other things.

Fortunately, the charge of being a "destroyer of careers" is true. McCarthy did destroy some promising careers – careers of traitors whose goal it was to undermine the government of the United States. The country needs more heroes like him.

Even today, almost 50 years after his death, the term McCarthyism is employed by the Left as political weapon. Its very use is intended to impliy that the person to whom it is directed is making statements or conclusions based on shoddy, unreliable or otherwise questionable evidence. Throwing out a "McCarthyism bomb" is a convenient defensive tactic when one is being called to task for questionable behavior.

Ironically, most of the people who toss around the McCarthyism charge are grossly ignorant as to what Senator McCarthy actually did and said during his career. I guess the truth doesn’t matter. The left has found an effective tactic and they can not let go. Truth be told, the left can not afford to let go. They must maintain the fictitious image of McCarthy as an ambitious and ignorant witch hunter. To admit he was right, they would have to admit that they failed the American people. As Pat Buchanan puts it, “[McCarthy] stripped the old establishment of its reputation, credibility and moral authority...McCarthy convinced Middle America that FDR and Truman had been duped by [Stalin], and had tolerated treason…

And Senator McCarthy was right. And history has borne this out. Soviet files uncovered following the collapse of Communism, and recently released transcripts of intercepted Cold War era messages between Soviet agents and the Kremlin, validates the contentions of McCarthy, as well as those of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and communist-turned-informer Whittaker Chambers.

We owe a great debt to Senator Joseph McCarthy. As James Drummey states, ”McCarthy was a brave and honest man. There was nothing cynical or devious about him. He said and did things for only one reason - he thought they were the right things to say and do.”

Perhaps Medford Evans summed it up best when he stated, "The restoration of McCarthy ... is a necessary part of the restoration of America, for if we have not the national character to repent of the injustice we did him, nor in high places the intelligence to see that he was right, then it seems unlikely that we can or ought to survive."

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Stork Has Arrived!

On Saturday October 8, just moments after Joe Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions defeated Ohio State, we made a wonderful discovery.

Yes the Nittany Lions are now ranked in the top 10, but that is not the wonderful news I am alluding to.

What is the wonderful news you ask?

The stork has arrived! Our Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches have given birth to a small swarm of baby cockroaches. I know, I know…some guys get all the luck. My wife is pretty excited to - as I am sure you can imagine.

Above is a picture of the little critters in their mulch-lined crib. Look closely, you can see about ten of the little guys. Overall, there were about 25 offspring.

Here is a picture of one of the kids holding the proud parents. That’s mom on the right. Dad is over there on the left hugging Maria’s finger.

Here is a picture of dad with a few of the kids. Dad is really proud. I hate to break his heart, but the kids aren’t really his. Mom kinda gets around. She was pregnant when she moved in with dad. Dad should be wearing a green hat (ask one of your Taiwanese friends to explain).

Anyway, my previous offer still holds. If anyone would like to adopt one of these cuddly critters, let me know and I can send one or two your way. If I get no takers, the hamster gets ‘em. He loves ‘em - especially when they are covered with chocolate. Hmm, if there is chocolate involved, I might even have to try one myself.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Are Conservatives "Misunderestimating" Bush?

Is there a strategy behind the nominations of John Roberts and Harriet Miers?

John Roberts has recently been confirmed – overwhelming I might add – as the 17th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Upon his nomination, many on the Right were somewhat dismayed. Ann Coulter refered to him as a Rorschach Blot, and many others were drawing parallels to Bush Sr.'s choice of David Souter.

I must admit that I myself was not thrilled with the choice of Roberts. Why? It is not so much because of what he stands for. It was more because I don't know what he stands for. And there were many other potential nominess with clear conservative track records that got passed over - sorta like Letterman got passed over for the Tonight Show gig.

Bush was re-elected (despite what the Left says) with the expectation that he would have one or two vacancies on the SCOTUS to fill. His political base (red staters) had hoped that Bush would send judges with a strong conservative record to the bench. Judges in the mold of a Clarence Thomas or Anton Scalia - like Edith Jones, Priscilla Owen or Janice Rogers Brown. Sure there would have been a fight in the Senate, but some things are worth fighting for. And the Republicans enjoy the majority in the Senate as well, so there is a pretty good chance that they would have prevailed.

Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard has suggested that the Roberts for Rehnquist swap was a wash. As such, the focus then shifts to the replacement for Justice O'Conner. This was Bush's opportunity to change the balance of the Court. Surely he would nominate a constitutionalist - a strict constructionist - someone with a paper trail emblazoned with a conservative judicial philosophy.

Instead, Bush nominated Miers.

Who? Don't be embarrassed, many asked the same question. Bush nominated Harriet Miers. Miers is an attorney and was the first woman to serve as president of the Texas State Bar and the Dallas Bar Association. For the last several years she has served as White House Cousel for President Bush. Miers is not a sitting judge which may have something to do with why Bush nominated her.

Because she was not a judge, she has no paper trail. Nothing for the Left to latch onto. Nothing by which they could "Bork" her. Nothing to induce the Right to exercise the "nuclear option". The lack of the paper trail is also what has the Right concened. Just what does Miers stand for? What is known about her?

Information about Miers politcal and judicial philosophies is starting to come forward. And conservatives are getting queasy. Miers donated to the political campaigns of Lloyd Bentsen and Al Gore. She is on record as supporting the establishment of the International Criminal Court and homosexual adoptions.

President Bush is trying to alleviate some of the Right's concerns. According to the President, Miers is a strict constructionist - someone who "will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws...She will not legislate from the bench." We are also being told that she is a born again Christian, and that she has turned from the "Dark Side" and embraced conservatism. Last week FOXNews reported that Miers pushed the American Bar Association to adopt a neutral position regarding abortion.

I suppose that there is something there for the Right to hold on to, but there is also a few things to turn them off. The President is essentially asking conservatives to trust him. Conservatives are hoping that Bush is right!

Perhaps conservatives should put a put more faith in the President. After all, he has made a number of judicial appoints to the Federal Courts. For the most part, those appointments have been good ones, from the conservative view point. As such, I think the President deserves the benefit of the doubt - at least for now.

I suppose there is always the possibility that one or both of his SCOTUS appointments (assuming Miers is confirmed) could end up being another Souter. However, I think it is also possible that both Liberals and Conservatives are "misunderestimating" the President. For starters, the President knows both of these appointments personally. He and/or his father has worked with them for years. Some have even leveled the cronyism charge against the President for nominating them. Speaking of Miers, Bush told a Rose Garden audience that "I know her heart." And perhaps he does. Bush Sr., on the otherhand, did not know Souter's heart. He relied on the advice of others in making the appointment. Maybe the President knows something about Justice Roberts and Harriet Miers that the rest of us don't.

Time will tell. Hopefully Bush gets the last laugh. Maybe putting forward nominess with no paper trails is part of his strategy - A trojan horse!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Choking-Off the Euphrates Rat Line

A few weeks back, I posted an article detailing the progress coalition forces were making in securing the Syrian border and cutting off al Quaeda’s supply lines. Here is an update. For a detailed account of the day to day operations of the coalition forces, I recommend visiting The Fourth Rail or Security Watchtower. Below is a summary of the info I gathered from those sites, as well as other new sources.

al Quaeda relies on three major entry points on the Iraq-Syria border by which they are supplied with weapons and aspiring jihadists. The three entry points are Rutbah (along the major east-west highway into Syria), Rabiah (near Tal Afar), and al Qaim (along Euphrates River).

Operation Cyclone was conducted in mid-Sepetember, in the city of Rutbah. It was essentially a cordon and search operation designed to root out insurgents, disrupt their operations, and destroy their networking ability. Rutbah has been secured.

Over the past few weeks, coalition forces have focused their efforts in NW Iraq, in the region around Tal Afar. During operations in Tal Afar, 157 insurgents were killed and nearly 600 were captured. According to coalition commanders in the region, the insurgency has been effectively flushed from the region.

Once Tal Afar and Rutbah were secured, coalition forces stepped-up their efforts along the Euphrates Valley, in an effort to disrupt the rat line established by the insurgency. The rat line stretches from Qaim at the Syrian border, through Hiditha, all the way to Fallujah (just west of Baghdad). This is the insurgencies main supply line from Syria.

A series of three operations along the Euphrates valley was launched: Operation Mountaineer in the region around Ramadi, Operation River Gate in the region around Hiditha, and Operation Iron Fist in the region around Qaim.

Operation Mountaineer, which concluded Tuesday, was essentially a cordon and search operation. A few small arms clashes were reported within the city between insurgents and Iraqi military forces, resulting in the deaths of seven terrorists. Coalition forces cleared out a neighborhood in the southern end of the city, and uncovered a fairly large weapons cache. In addition, they secured a railroad bridge across the Euphrates that was being used for weapons smuggling. An Iraqi army batallion currently maintains a presence in the city, and Iraqi security forces are working to secure the area.

Operation River Gate is focused in the region surrounding Hiditha. The region serves as a major hub for distributing weapons and supplies procured by smuggling operation across the Syrian border. River Gate began with nighttime strikes on three bridges spanning the Eupharates, hampering the insurgencies ability to flee the city. As of Wednesday, six insurgents have been killed and over 100 have been captured. The ability of the insurgents to move about the area has been severely hampered. The operation is ongoing.

Operation Iron Fist is focused on the region around Qaim, near the Syrian border. Of particular interest are the small towns surrounding Qaim, such as Sada. The insurgency has been intimidating the locals and forcing them to leave town. The small towns are being used as bases for insurgency attacks against coalition forces. After three days of fighting, the Marines have cleared Sada and have taken the battle to Karabilah, where the insurgents have major support. To date, 42 terrorists have been killed. The goal of the coalition is not to occupy these small towns, but rather to clear them out and install Iraqi security forces to disrupt the insurgency’s ability to plan and carry out operations. This will have the effect of putting a stranglehold on the insurgents occupying Qaim. Once the security forces are in place, the coalition will focus on clearing and occupying Qiam, and thereby securing the Syrian border.

The occupation of the Qiam region and the securing of the bridges in the Hiditha region also limits the ability of the insurgent to move throughout the region. In effect, all traffic north and south of the Euphrates is now funneled through the Rawah region where the coalition has a strong presence.

Thus far, the Operations along the Euphrates Valley have been very successful. The insurgency’s bases in Western Iraq have largely been disrupted, and the supply line along the Euphrates Valley from Syria is being choked off. These events are all coming together at a critical time for Iraq. The referendum on the Constitution is fast approaching. Under the present circumstances, it will be difficult for the insurgents to carry out their plans in disrupting the referendum.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Sad State of the American Electorate

I Know Nothing

During a speech at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication last week, former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite stated that "[Americans] are not educated well enough to perform the necessary act of intelligently selecting [their] leaders." Although I don’t typically agree with Cronkite, I think he is on to something here.

Most Americans are too busy or too distracted to learn much about the political issues that effectively shape and direct their lives. They seem to be more interested in material pursuits and frivolous entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, everyone deserves to kick back and enjoy themselves once in awhile, but most Americans have become inebriated with self-indulgence. Knock!-knock!-knock! Hello. The 60's are over!

To many, political issues only become important in the month or two prior to a national election. And then, only superficially so. The typical member of the electorate informs himself about the issues much in the same way a hard-partying frat boy crams the night before his final exams. Most voters are content to know their candidate’s position on an issue - whether he or she is "for it" or "against it". They pay little or no attention to the candidate’s policy on that particular issue. Is their policy realistic? Will it work? What are the alternatives? Is it consistent with one's political ideology? What will it cost? And where will the money come from?

Apparently those details are unimportant! After all, in our fast-paced culture of instant gratification, who has time for the nitty-gritties?

In the 2000 National Election Study, participants were asked 31 basic questions about the political process and the issues of the day. One-third of the participants had scores that were not significantly different from that expected by random guessing!

According to the Cato Institute, the majority of the electorate do not know the basic structure of the government and how it operates. When it comes to the issues, they are just as clueless. Although most were aware of the federal budget deficit, almost 60% believe that domestic spending has not made any significant contribution to that deficit.

The electorate also appears to be ignorant of just who it was they actually voted into office. Data gathered by the 2002 National Election Study showed that more than two-thirds of registered voters did not know which party currently controls the House of Representatives. And almost 70% could not name either of their state’s Senators.

How can a democracy function this way?

A substantial portion of the electorate are emulating Sgt. Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes fame – they are “know-nothings”. When the electorate is not adequately informed, the government will not accurately reflect the will of the people. In addition, the electorate becomes susceptible to manipulation by agenda-driven agents who are striving to get "their candidate" elected. The regurgitation of party talking points and the spate of so-called 527 ads prior to the recent presidential campaigns illustrates this point quite nicely.

As Walter Cronkite himself has stated, “our democracy, our republic…is in serious danger.”