John Wayne is the Duke. Elvis is the King.

John Wayne's Holster: May 2007
John Wayne's Holster
Visit my main blog at Monkey Wrench Revival. Visit my birdwatching blog at The Birding Nerd.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A False Sense of Security


Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Archaeolog

The Department of Homeland Security was created by President Bush following the 9/11 attacks. The goal of the Department is supposedly to protect the US against outside threats. As part of the overall strategy, one of the things that was supposed to happen was that security at the borders and on our airlines would be heightened. I guess the idea was that people deemed to be threats to American citizens would be denied access to our airlines and not be allowed to cross our borders.

While I understand that accomplishing these goals is a difficult task, I am forced to conclude that the government is not doing a very good job. Sure a few planned attacks have been thwarted and I am sure a number of dangerous people were prevented from boarding flights or entering our country. For example, a flight carrying pop icon Cat Stevens (aka Yusef Islam) was diverted to Maine and Stevens was denied entry to the US because officials realized that he was on a no-fly list. Wow, that’s awesome. A 70’s folk singer who sings about peace and love was not allowed to enter the country to explore the possibilites of signing with a Nashville-based recording company.

Now I feel safe!

This incident raised two obvious questions. First, what was Cat Stevens doing on the no-fly list, and second, if he was on the no-fly list, how in the hell did he get on a US-bound plane to begin with?

Now we have another example of Homeland Security in action. It seems that a Georgia man with a deadly antibiotic-resistant strain of tuberculosis was recently put on the no-fly list due to the possibility of infecting others. Despite this, the unidentified man was able to fly from Atlanta to Paris on May 12 for his wedding. While on his honeymoon in Rome, he was again contacted by CDC officials and told not to return to the US and to surrender to Italian health authorities for isolation and treatment.

Again, despite being on the no-fly list, the man was able to board a flight from Prauge to Montreal on May 24.

Once in Canada, he simply drove across the border at the Champlain, NY crossing.

So let’s recap. A guy with a contagious deadly disease is on the no-fly list. Yet he is able to board and fly on two trans-Atlantic flights, and then drive straight through a border checkpoint undetected. Undetected despite the fact that he had his passport checked several times.

Now I really feel safe!

One really has to wonder about the success that the Bush administration is claiming due to the fact that there has not been a major terror attack in this country since 9/11. Is it really due to the success of Homeland Security or simply because terrorists are still in the planning phase for a major attack. After all, 8 years passed between the first World Trade Center bombing masterminded by Ramzi Yousef in 1983 and the bin Laden orchestrated attack on 9/11.

Let’s be real, if a guy on a no-fly list can still get into this country when we know exactly who he is, and despite the fact that he had his passport checked at least three times, how can we be expected to believe that the government is going to be able to stop those who truly mean to do us great harm. And let’s also not forget that this guy got through a checkpoint at the Canadian border. We have guys there checking and they still can’t stop people. How many more potentially dangerous people are coming across the Mexican border where we don’t appear to be checking many people at all?

I think I am going to start sleeping with one eye open.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Is G.W. the New Jimmy Carter?



I recently came across this article in the New Yorker about the current state of the Republican Party. I found it pretty eye-opening. What particularly caught my attention was the following paragraph about statements made by former Speaker of the House and possible 2008 Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich (R-GA).

Here is the paragraph:

Newt Gingrich is one of those who fear that Republicans have been branded with the label of incompetence. He says that the Bush Administration has become a Republican version of the Jimmy Carter Presidency, when nothing seemed to go right. “It’s just gotten steadily worse,” he said. “There was some point during the Iranian hostage crisis, the gasoline rationing, the malaise speech, the sweater, the rabbit”—Gingrich was referring to Carter’s suggestion that Americans wear sweaters rather than turn up their thermostats, and to the “attack” on Carter by what cartoonists quickly portrayed as a “killer rabbit” during a fishing trip—“that there was a morning where the average American went, ‘You know, this really worries me.’ ” He added, “You hire Presidents, at a minimum, to run the country well enough that you don’t have to think about it, and, at a maximum, to draw the country together to meet great challenges you can’t avoid thinking about.” Gingrich continued, “When you have the collapse of the Republican Party, you have an immediate turn toward the Democrats, not because the Democrats are offering anything better, but on a ‘not them’ basis. And if you end up in a 2008 campaign between ‘them’ and ‘not them,’ ‘not them’ is going to win.”


Reluctantly, I have to agree with Newt. I think Bush has really mismanaged the country in his second term. The war in Iraq had no exit strategy – probably because Bush never intended to leave. The fact that we are currently building and/or maintaining 14 military bases in the region is a pretty good indication of that. Incidently, the bases are almost all along oil pipelines. And I thought Bush said the war was not about oil. Hmm?. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the war even if oil were a motivating factor. I just think Bush should have been up front and planned the war accordingly. That way, we would have been better prepared.

Then there is spending. Bush’s spending habits would make LBJ blush. Bush is spending like a drunken sailor. Actually, he’s worse. At least the sailor is spending his own money. Bush is spending ours. And the money we don’t have he is borrowing. As a result, we are currently $8.8 trillion in debt. And the debt is rising. Japan and China are currently financing most of our debt – about $900 billion. If they decide to sell off their Treasury holdings, our economy could go belly-up. Then there are the issues of our trade imbalance with China and Bush’s failed Medicare Prescription Drug Bill.

Let us not forget about the border. Illegal aliens and potential terrorists are flowing across both our northern and southern borders like shit through a goose. And Bush is doing nothing to stop it. In addition to threats against our national security, the illegals are costing US tax payers aproximately $15 billion per year due to their unfettered access to welfare and other forms of assistance. But because US businesses want cheap labor to do the jobs that Americans supposedly don’t want to do, Bush has turned a blind-eye to the issue.

Gas prices are another issue. Yes I have heard all the spin about gas prices rising slower that the price of milk, and the arguments about gas prices not really being that high when you adjust for inflation, etc. But I don’t buy it. The fact is that gas companies are driving up prices by controlling production. They also claim that their refining costs are high and their capabilities are low due to the fact that a refinery has not been built in this country since the late 70’s. While I am a free market person, and believe that oil companies deserve to make a profit, I don’t think the current business practices of the oil companies is legal or ethical. They are essentially operating in collusion to keep prices (and profits) high. In other words, they comprise a cartel. And these guys have Bush in their pockets, so don’t expect changes any time soon.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. The bottom line is this, the GOP is straying from their conservative principles and betraying their political base. As a result, they are putting themselves at risk of losing the White House in 2008, just like they lost control of the House and Senate in 2006.

Why?

Well. It’s like Newt says. It’s not because the Dems are offering anything better. It is just that the GOP doesn’t have much to offer. As a result, the conservative vote is going to get split a number of ways which will probably usher Hillary or some other Democrat into the White House.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ron Paul: More Conservative Than Rudy or McCain



Texas Conressman and GOP Presidential hopeful Ron Paul has taken a lot of flack – and is grabbing a lot of headlines - for comments he made during the recent GOP Presidential debate. As I am sure anyone following politics is aware, Paul, who is against the war in Iraq, stated that the 9/11 attacks were partly the results of grave missteps in US foreign policy. Former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani took excpetion to Paul’s comments, jumped on his white horse, and demanded that Paul withdraw his statement. Of course, Paul did not.

Although I felt Paul may have been overstating his views, I can not deny that they do hold some merit. I wanted to know more about Paul, so I did a little research into his record and his position on the major issues. I must admit that I am pretty impressed with him.

Paul is a strict Constitutionalist. According to his official website, “Paul tirelessly works for limited constitutional government, low taxes, free markets, and a return to sound monetary policies.” As such, he strongly supports states rights, is opposed to both Presiential autonomy and judicial activism. This philosophy underlies his positions on almost all the major issues.

So specifically, where does Paul stand on the issues? Below is a brief summary. Those interested in reading more details about Paul’s political positions can look here, here, or here.

War in Iraq
Paul is not an isolationist, but he believes that the US should be more cautious when entangling itself in the affairs of other nations. As evidenced by his exchange with Guiliani during the recent debate, he believes that short-sighted foreign policy decisions have consequences or “blowback”. As for the war in Iraq specifically, he is against it. The record shows that he was one of the few Republicans that voted against use of military force in Iraq in the first place. Although Paul favors withdraw of the troops, he is against setting a timeline to do so.

Immigration
Paul wants to secure the borders now! He has put forward a six point plan that includes:physically securing the border (a fence), enforcing visa laws by deporting those who overstay their visa, no amnesty, no welfare for illegals, ending birthright citizenship, passing immigration reform.

Abortion
Paul is an obstetrician and is opposed to abortion rights. However, Paul does not believe their should be any federal legislation regulating abortion. As a Constitutionist, he believes it is a state – not a federal – issue.

Second Amendment
Paul is a strong supporter of the right to bear arms. He believes is is necessary to place a check on government tyranny, not to allow self-defense.

Same Sex Marriage
Like abortion, Paul believe that marriage is a state issue, and therefore voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment. Instead, Paul has expressed support for the Defense of Marriage Act which essential says that each state should independently define marriage and the federal govt could not force one state to accept the marriage definition of another.

Taxes & Spending
Paul favors tax cuts. Call it supply-side economics, trickle-down economics, voodoo economics or whatever. Paul believes in some version of that economic system. Tax cuts allow more spending, saving, and investing which helps the economy. They help create jobs. However, the govt. has to behave more responsibly when cutting taxes. Currently, the US is almost $10 trillion in debt, yet spending is on the increase. So in addition to tax cuts, Paul wants more fiscal responsibility.

In my view, Paul is one of the most conservative candidates among the GOP hopefuls. He is certainly more conservative that the two front-runners, Guiliani and McCain. But due to his stance on the war in Iraq, many of the talking heads in the media sho are drinking the GOP kool-aide (e.g. Hannity, Malkin, etc) do not like him. In fact, during a recent interview on The Big Story With John Gibson, Michelle Malkin went as far as to state that "Ron Paul really has no business being on stage as a legitimate representative of Republicans"

I strongly disagree!

Although Paul does not currently seem to have a realistic chance at winning the nomination, he will certainly draw the attention of the strong conservatives who make-up the party’s base. This could spell trouble for Guiliani or McCain – trouble they don’t want. In fact, it already seems that the GOP are already revving up the smear machine to discredit Paul by painting him as an anti-Semite and a racist.

Despite this, Paul is making some ground. In the recent GOP debate, Paul made a pretty good showing. A FOX News poll conducted after the debate showed that 25% of the views thought Paul won, compared to 19% for Guiliani and 4% for McCain. In addition, the AP reported that “Paul finished second among GOP candidates in money raised in New Hampshire and Montana in the first quarter of 2007. He also raised the most money of the second-tier candidates in 14 other states, including Florida and Texas.

So while Paul’s supporters shouldn’t get their hopes up yet, there is a good chance he might hang around for awhile. And anything can happen in politics - so I wouldn’t count him out just yet.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

My Take on the GOP Presidential Debate



In case you missed it, the Republican candidates for President squared-off on Tuesday in a debate hosted by FOX News (watch it here). I will not go into to a break-down of the debate, as there are plenty of web sites and blogs that have already done. Rather, I would just like to offer a few observations and address some potential fall-out.

Going into the debate, former New York governor Rudy Guiliani and Arizona Senator John McCain were battling for the lead in the polls. Other candidates were still trying to break into double digits in the polls.

Although their were no real suprises, the pool of candidates should begin to thin after the debate. Going into the debate, there were ten declared candidates: Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, former New York governor Rudy Guiliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, California Rep. Duncan Hunter, Arizona Senator John McCain, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

The three front-runners (Guiliani, McCain and Romney) all fared well. I think Romney gained the most, as he presented himself well and was strong on the issues. McCain started slow, but seemed to gain momentum as the debate progressed; however, he did begin to reveal that he is a Beltway insider. This could go either way. It may hurt him if voters perceive him as unprincipled or left-leaning. On the other hand, it may help him if he is seen as a someone who is willing to reach across the aisle to get things done. Guiliani also fared well, but has a real flaw. Traditional conservatives do not support his views on abortion or gun control. However, Rudy is doing his best to make the election about national security. On that issue, he is head and shoulders above the rest of the field. But will it be enough to make voters ignore his liberal position on other issues?

Who were the losers?

Brownback, Gilmore, Tancredo, and Thompson all had poor performances and did not appear confident or “Presidential” to me. Brownback in particular looked particular weak to me, appearing more like a politician who gave carefully measured answers. In my opinion, these guys won’t be in the race much longer.

Who imporved their standing?

Both Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter performed very well in the debate. Both appeared presidential and were strong on the issues. The problem for both of these guys comes down to fact that they are not well known to voters outside their home turf. Fund raising is also an issue, as the three front-runners have bigger piggy banks. While I think these guys will hang around for awhile, they will eventually drop out for the above mentioned reasons.

Ron Paul is another story. He was definitely burr under the saddle in the debate. Reflecting on his left-leaning or libertarian views, some questioned if he was seeking the nomination for the right party. His views on 9/11 were also prety contoversial and evoked the only real fireworks of the debate. Paul claimed that “blowback” from American foreign policy played a large role in provoking the 9/11 attacks. Guiliani took exception to those remarks and challenged Paul to withdraw them - which he did not. Frankly I think Rudy was grandstanding to divert attention from his left-leaning positions mentioned above.

Now some Republicans are trying to silence Paul. Accordingly, “Michigan party chairman Saul Anuzis said he will circulate a petition among Republican National Committee members to ban Paul from more debates”.

In my view, this would not be a good move by the GOP. For starters, although I think Paul overstates his views, I think he does has a legitmate point concerning our foreign policy mistakes - but I will save that topic for another posting. Regardless of how I feel about Pauls’s views, I think they will make for a good debate and will force the candidates for be more forthcoming on their positions.

Over the course of the next few month, the current pool of candidated will begin to thin. There is still a possibility that Newt Gingrinch and/or Fred Thompson will enter the race at some point, but until that time comes, I will avoid discussing their views in any detail.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Junior Bolts DEI


Could Dale Jr. Take the Wheel of Daddy’s No.3 Car?
Photo Credit: All Posters

Across the pond, Tony Blair announced today that he is stepping down as Labour Party leader and British prime minister effective June 27th. In the US, President Bush announced that he will seek an agreement with Congress on benchmarks to measure progress in Iraq.

But the BIG story of the day is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has announced that he will leave DEI racing at the conclusion of the current NASCAR season.

As those of us that follow NASCAR are aware, DEI was founded by Dale’s father, the late and legendary Dale Earnhardt. Dale Sr. always foresaw his son taking the reign of his company at some point. But following his death in the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001, contol of the company went to Teresa Earnhardt, step-mother to Dale Jr.

Dale Jr. - NASCAR’s most popular driver, and arguably one of its most talented - is currently in the last year of his contract with DEI. He has been working on a contract extension. As part of the negotiations, he was seeking contolling ownership (51%) in DEI – something his step-mother was unwilling to concede.

Although Junior concedes that both he and his step-mother have the same goal – winning the NEXTEL Cup points championship – they do not have the same vision as to how to get there. As a result, Dale Jr. is jumping ship.

Now the speculation starts. Where will he go next?

Although Dale Jr. currently owns and operates Junior Motorsports, from which he runs a Busch series team, that seems unlikley. JRM may not have the resouces to compete on the NEXTEL cup level, and Dale Jr. has already expressed his concerns about growing the company too quickly.

Most racing insiders believe he will join ranks with an established team running a NEXTEL series program. Due to Junior’s preferences for taking the wheel of a Chevy, the most attractive candidates are porbably Hendrick Motorsports or Richard Childress Racing. Perhaps even Joe Gibbs Racing.

Hendrick is arguably the best Chevy team in NASCAR,and would be a good fit for Junior. But they are already fielding four teams and therefore may not have any room for him in the garage. Childress on the other hand does have some room. In addition, they own the rights to the No.3 car driven by Dale’s legendary father. If Dale Jr. were to join forces will RCR and take the wheel of his late father’s car, he would undoubltedly become the reigning king of NASCAR – at least as far as marketing goes. But that would only bring comparisons and might be too much pressure.

Another place for Little E to land is with Joe Gibbs Racing. He is a good friend with Joe Gibbs. If he does join JGR, he could team up with Tony Stewart. They have both helped each other out in the past during restrictor plate races. There is one potential problem that could prevent a deal with JGR from going down. Junior wants to keep Budweiser as his sponsor. Gibbs is an evangelical Christian and has a policy of not accepting sponsorship from companies that sell alcohol. So if Junior wants to team up with JGR, somethoing has to give.

If he goes to an established team, he certainly won't feel light in the wallet. He is going to cash in big time. He may even become the highest earning free agent in sports history. He would probably fare better on the track as well since the distractions of the DEI negotiations would be behind him. Although he made the cut for the chase last year, he never really was in contention for the title. The year before that, there was some domestic trouble in the garage and he failed to qualify. The clost he has come was a few years back when he finished 3rd.

Hopefully he can focus on racing now and bring home the NEXTEL cup title.