Saturday, May 31, 2008

Quick Notes - Political Friends Turns 200

This post is the 200th post on this site. I feel the website, my readers, and I have come a long way over the last 199 posts. I created this blog with the intent to provide a spot that people could discuss politics and solutions without the conversation breaking down into name calling. For the most part, I feel that I have done that. Some of the comments on my posts have taken the discussion in directions I never thought of. With all of this in mind, I present to you a "lessons learned from 199 posts" done in the Quick Notes format.

Global Warming. I never stop being amazed at how heated some of the comments are when I talk about global warming. I saw Charles Krauthammer on Fox News this week call himself an "agnostic on global warming". I think I am probably closer to a "global warming atheist", but I like his term for it. Anytime I write about global warming, I am guaranteed to get some very heated and passionate comments.

Obama. More recently, I have gotten some very passionate responses when I write about Obama. Obama appears to be the Democratic nominee, so I will probably be writing about him a lot between now and November.

Book Reviews. Some of the controls I have plugged into this site give me a lot of feedback. For example, I can see how many people are on my site in a given day, how long the average reader is here, and what sites they are coming from. What has surprised me is that my most heavily read posts are Book Reviews. I am glad, because I really enjoy writing about them, but I need to figure out a way to get more people to comment on them. My most heavily read post on this site is my book review of the Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming.

Your Comments. I have also learned to be very thankful for my readers comments. You never really know when you write something what people are going to think about it. Some of the posts I have made in here I expected lots of comments on and got none. Others, I didn't expect any comments from, and got more than I could handle. So I am always excited to see what my readers think of each of my posts.

Thanks for the continued support. Now, let's go do another 200.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Book Review: Strategery

Rarely do you pick up a book that has quotes on the back by Rush Limbaugh, James Carvel, and Brit Hume. For Rush Limbaugh and James Carvel to agree on the same thing means one of two things. Either (a) there is a coming apocalypse, or (b) they are telling the truth. All three of the men on the back of this book were impressed with Strategery: How George W. Bush Is Defeating Terrorists, Outwitting Democrats, and Confounding the Mainstream Media by Bill Sammon.

Strategery is the third in Sammon's series of books on President George W. Bush. I haven't read the other two, but liked this one enough that I have already bought one of the others, will probably read the missing one, and I am hoping there is a forth one.

Strategery is an inside look at George Bush's Presidency during the re-election campaign against John Kerry in 2004, and his presidency in 2005. While doing research for this review, I found numerous sources that say something along the lines of ,"No other journalist has interviewed President Bush more." This shows through in the book. During each significant event, Mr. Sammon tells us what President Bush and his staff were thinking in their own words. He covers an assault on Karl Rove's house by protestors, "memogate", the Swift Boat Veterans attacks on Kerry, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, and other challenges Bush faced during this time period.

I really enjoyed the historical perspective Mr. Sammon puts on these recent event. For example, few of us remember the sequence of events after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Could there have been a better response to the Hurricane? Definitely. Was it President Bush's fault that the devastation of New Orleans reached the level it did? No.

It was also interesting reading this book with the current Presidential campaigns underway. I was reminded that some of the items that became "issues" during the 2004 election were not of the candidates choosing. It made me wonder what we might see this season.

While I don't agree with everything President Bush has done, I do believe future generations will judge is Presidency favorably. Will it be the greatest? Probably not. Will it be the worse? No. However Strategery gives us a good point to begin a real and honest assessment of Bush's presidency.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Interview, Part II

This is a continuation of an interview by me, of me. I started this interview as a way to answer some questions that have been posed to me from a number of posts. It didn't feel appropriate to answer them then, so I decided to create a time to answer them. My interview series is that creation. I hope you enjoy…

We took a small break while Andy grabbed us fresh coffee. I learned that one of Andy's vices is an addiction to coffee. Who knew?

Interviewer: Let's break from definitions for a few minutes. One of your readers asked, "The underprivileged and minorities have the right to be outraged by a political system that doesn't truly represent them since the majority of elected officials are privileged wealthy white men." Would you agree with this?

Andy: I don't think so. Where I live, I have a wealthy (compared to me) black man who is my representative in the U.S. Congress. He doesn't represent my views not because he is black, but because he is a Blue Dog Democrat. I don't think a person has to be from my same background to represent me. That would be a bit of a narrow viewpoint. I believe it is racist to think a Black man can't represent me. Similarly, I think it is racist to think a white man can't represent underprivileged people or minorities. An elected official has to try to view issues from his constituent's viewpoints. I think many do a good job of it, and some don't. I don't think it has anything to do with what race the representative is.

Interviewer: So you don't think minorities should be upset with their representation in government?

Andy: Look at the U.S. Supreme Court. There is a woman, a black man, a Jewish man, and the son of an Italian immigrant in addition to the white men on the court. I think that is a diverse group of people. Our current presidential front runners are a white woman, a black man, and an older white man. While there are a lot of well off white people in government, if we were ruled by elite white men, surely John Edwards would be well on his way to the presidency. Instead, he bowed out some time ago.

Interviewer: Another question we received for you surrounded Rev. Wright…

Andy: Uh-oh.

Interviewer: What do you mean by that?

Andy: I am starting to look at him the same way Obama does, he is becoming more and more trouble for me. Many of Obama's supporters can't stand the fact that Obama might have someone around him that has some very bad ideas. If the Ayers family gets much more coverage, those Obama supporters might really be upset.

Interviewer: Well, I leave the discussions surrounding those three to you. Anyway, the question was about Rev. Wright, and the reader wrote, "A wise person is not an infallible person…

Andy: … I would agree with that…

Interviewer: …Should you castigate a trusted advisor because you disagree with them on one or more key points? " The reader pointed to examples of Rev. Wright encouraging his congregation to get tested for AIDS and wanted to know if you thought the congregation should dismiss this advice out of hand because of Rev. Wrights more controversial remarks.

Andy: The short answer is no, you don't throw an advisor under the bus simply because you disagree with them on a point. I think most people, and the reader who asked this question, would agree with me on this point. But this begs to other questions: Since Obama threw Wright under the bus, was he a trusted advisor? And secondly, should Wrights congregation ignore this advice.

Interviewer: What are your thoughts on those questions?

Andy: Well, to the first, I take Obama at his word on this point. Obama had noted numerous times how important Wright was to him. He called him his mentor; he was the individual that brought Obama to the Christian faith. Wright was definitely important to Obama. But I think Obama threw Wright out because it was the political thing to do. Obama is a politician first and foremost, no matter how much he would like to be perceived as above politics.

Secondly, I think Wrights flock considers him a trusted advisor. I also think many of them would agree with Wright's "controversial remarks" as you called them. Because of that, they would see no reason from Wright to avoid getting tested.

And on that note, we will end this portion of the interview. There are still more questions to answer, so look for another installment of the interview. Feel free to throw any other questions you would like to see answered in as well.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Quick Notes -- Issues for November

Don't worry; another segment of my interview will be coming up soon. Between now and then, I wanted to hit on what I think the issues in November are likely to be. It is still too early to tell which of the three candidates are going to be our next President. However, if we can guess what issues are being discussed in November, we might get some insight towards who might be ahead right now, no matter what the polls tells us.

Iraq and the War on Terror. This is McCain's number one issue. It is also the number one issue for a significant number of voters on both sides of the aisle. We have had a number of victories in Iraq and Afghanistan on the military and the political fronts. If this keeps up, McCain may be able to hang his hat on that. If there is another terrorist strike in the U.S., there is no telling what the voters will do. On the other hand, if things in Iraq take a nose dive for a few months during the summer, Obama or Clinton may be able to use the War in Iraq as their number one issue.

The Economy. No matter what you think about our current economy, you can bet candidates from both parties will be talking about it. If the Republicans can do a good job talking about the negatives of ethanol, and the need for more oil production here in the United States, this could be a good issue for Republicans. However, they have to couple it with real answers, and it will be a tough sale. People will look for leadership, and if the Republicans don't talk about solutions, you can bet the Democrats will get big points from the economy.

Gay Marriage. California may have given an issue to the Republicans that the Democrats wanted to see left alone till after November. Many conservatives and centrist aren't comfortable redefining marriage. The California Supreme court has done that, and there are groups trying to get a California Constitutional amendment on the ballot for November. I expect Democrats and Republicans are going to have to explain to voters how they feel on gay marriage.

The Second Amendment. Like gay marriage, this is usually a thorny issue for Democrats. The last few elections, Democrats have tried to avoid talking about gun laws. In 2004, Kerry even went looking for a hunting license. The U. S. Supreme Court is hearing a case involving a D.C. handgun ban. This could keep the Second Amendment debate going on until well into 2009.

This list is by no means an exhaustive one. I have also only highlighted issues I think might benefit McCain, if he handles them correctly. What issues do you think might have an impact on the November election? Are you a "single issue voter"? If so, what is your issue?

As an aside, I have added a link to allow my readers to buy their own authentic Political Friends t shirt. I think they are the wave of the future, and if enough people buy them, I might be able to afford a real journalist for my next interview.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I Interview the Writer Behind Political Friends

I have been asked to answer a few questions on here from some of my readers. I thought an interview might be the best format for this. I also thought it might be fun. However, with the limited budget available to me ($0.00), I had to do the interview myself. Here is the first in a multi-part series where I try to answer questions that were asked of me that had nothing to do with the post at the time. Enjoy.

I arrived at Andy's house one evening to begin our interview. Andy invited me into his office where he had been playing Kingdom of Loathing before I arrived. We sat in comfortable chairs, drinking coffee while we discussed some of the questions his readers had asked.

Interviewer: First, thanks for taking the time to have me here today. I am looking forward to your responses to the reader submitted questions.

Andy: Your welcome. I am glad for the opportunity. I am very excited to discuss the issues my readers find interesting. I created this site to discuss politics in a civil forum. Too many sites like this degenerate into name calling and insults. I have tried to avoid that with Political Friends.

Interviewer: I think most of your readers would agree that you have avoided it. But onto the questions. First, how would you define "Anger" and "Hatred"?

Andy: I think both of these words are thrown around to easily sometimes. "Anger" is an emotion that can be brought out in someone, but is usually a stronger than just being "mad". For example, if someone cuts me off in traffic, that usually gets me pretty mad. A few seconds later, the feeling has passed or I might not even think of it any more.

Anger is feeling that you might get if you have been seriously wronged by someone. For example, if a co-worker stabbed you in the back at work, you are probably going to go past the "mad" stage and into the "anger" stage.

Hatred is an ugly feeling that is in an entire realm past anger. There are abstract concepts I might hate, and actions I might hate, but I can't think of any individual I hate. My faith teaches me that to hate is wrong. I can't off the top of my head come up with a person I hate. This may be a terrible definition, but perhaps my readers can come up with a better one.

Interviewer: Fair enough. While we are on definitions, how would you define a "patriot"?

Andy: I think many people think of different things when they think of patriots. If someone asks for a definition of a patriot, I think they are really looking for two other definitions: patriotic, and unpatriotic.

I think it is easy to describe patriotic: a soldier in the field fighting for his country or an athlete representing his country in the Olympics. For the most part, whenever you put the nations interest ahead of your own, you are a patriot. I like to think that I am patriotic because I try to teach my daughter and others about the history of our great nation. I try to convince people who believe our nation is no better than any other nation that they are wrong. I wouldn't call myself a patriot though.

Since 9/11, many people have used the term unpatriotic. I think in some cases it was used appropriately, and in some in wasn't. It isn't "unpatriotic" to question your country's actions, or the motives or actions of its leaders. It isn't "unpatriotic" to argue against your nation using military force. These are all arguments that fair and sane people with the best of intentions can disagree on.

However, I dont' think it is patriotic to attack the motives of our soldiers wholesale for political reasons. I don't think it is patriotic to blame the worlds problems on the feet of your country. I don't think it is patriotic to try to weaken your nation. I don't think it is patriotic to put the interests of foreign powers ahead of your nations. It's one thing to argue that getting into a war or a military engagement is a bad idea. It is quite another to try and weaken you nation once it is engaged in that war.

Being a patriot doesn't mean blindly accepting whatever your country does. However, when you repeatedly accuse your nation of atrocities, one after the other, you should expect your patriotism to be questioned. But what I really don't understand is why it is so important to people. If you truly believe you are doing the right thing, then why do you care what label people put on you? I believe I am right on the vast majority of issues I talk about on Political Friends. Many people call me names and criticize me for it. That doesn't change or impact my opinion of what I think is right.

The rest of the interview to be continued always, I welcome your comments and suggestions, thoughts and ideas.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Book Review: What’s So Great about Christianity

If you walk into any book store and browse the newest books, you are likely to see a book attacking religion in general or Christianity specifically. A market has sprung up around such books as The God Delusion, God Is Not Great, or Letter to a Christian Nation. Dinesh D'Souza has written a very good rebuttal to these books. The first thing I noticed when I picked up What's So Great About Christianity is the lack of a question mark in the title. The Title isn't a question, it is a defense. In this very well written book, D'Souza attacks many of the common myths professional atheists use to attack Christianity. He doesn't use scripture to refute their claims, but history, science, and reason.

What's So Great About Christianity is divided into a number of sections. Each section is roughly three chapters long. Some of the sections include: Christianity and the West, Christianity and Science, The Argument for Design, and Christianity and Morality. D'Souza analyzes many of the attacks against Christianity using noted atheist such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens to explain the atheist viewpoint. He then tears apart the atheist claim piece by piece.

What's So Great About Christianity is a very serious defense of a key element of Western Culture. D'Souza states, "Many of the best things about our world are the result of Christianity, and some of the worst things are the result of its absence, or of moving away from it." This is a very bold statement and by the end of the book, it is one that is hard to argue against. Whether you are a believer or not, it is hard not to acknowledge Christianities part in shaping our world for the better after you read this book.

I would encourage both Christians and non-Christians to read this book. D'Souza's asks unbelievers to not, "…read this book merely as an intellectual exercise," for in a very real way, your life may depend on the questions in this book. Instead, put serious thought into it. If you are undecided, D'Souza points out that death will eventually force a choice on you. "Death forces upon you a choice that you cannot escape…when you die all abstentions are counted as 'no' votes," says D'Souza.

I have read very good books about religion before. I think this one is a step above most of them. I would challenge any of my readers who think Christianity is the root of many of today's problems. I would ask you to go into your local bookseller and read a random chapter of What's So Great About Christianity. You might be surprised, and you might find yourself asking questions you haven't asked before.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Cyclone Nargis

Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar (or Burma) on May 3rd. As of the posting of this blog, the military government of Myanmar has allowed one U.S. aid plane to land, and has confiscated two U.N. aid shipments. With relief organizations forecasting the death toll to exceed 100,000 people, the government of Myanmar has yet to issue a single visa to any relief workers. The government has asked foreign countries to send aid, but not people. Many organizations and governments don't want to blindly turn over supplies for fear these supplies will never reach the people who have been hurt by the cyclone. I have seen quotes in news articles from people in Myanmar saying the government doesn't care about it's people, only its hold on the country.

The Danish Red Cross is one of the only relief groups to be allowed into the nation so far. They are reporting that many of the dead are still floating in the water around the villages. If people with the knowledge to deal with this kind of devastation aren't allowed in soon, things could go from tragic to catastrophic. The UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian affairs says, "If we do not act now, and if we do not act fast, more lives will be lost." To make matters worse, the region is expected to get more rain in the coming days. With this in mind, I offer my humble solution:

Operation Merciful Python

As drastic times call for drastic measures, I offer what may be the only hope for ten's of thousands of people still holding on in Myanmar. This solution requires fast action on the part of the U. S. government, and a true re-ordering of priorities for the military government of Myanmar.

Phase I would begin with an immediate televised speech by President Bush. During his speech, the message would also be delivered to China with instructions to pass it along to their contacts in Myanmar. The message is simple: The Myanmar government has 72 hours to allow humanitarian relief in the form of aid and workers into Myanmars worst regions, or the U. S. will get the relief in by force. The President would immediately mobilize the Marine Expeditionary Force on ready status to steam towards Myanmar.

Phase II would be implemented 72 hours later. If the government was still refusing relief workers access, the Marine Expeditionary Force could create an entry point in Rangoon. By controlling this city, U.S. forces could establish a safe haven for refugees and relief workers. Supported by the Marines and an appropriate carrier battle group, this force should be able to withstand anything the Myanmar government could throw its way.

Phase III would be implemented within 3 days of the establishment the U.S. controlled city of Rangoon. The military would set up a democratic government within Rangoon, and hold free elections to govern the U.S. occupied territories. As the villages are rebuilt, and as the clean up continues, more local governments could be elected until we have replaced the military government of Myanmar with the Democratic government of Burma.

I recognize this is a bold and unheard of solution for a humanitarian crisis. However, it does three things. First, it gets aid to the victims in Myanmar who may otherwise die. Second, it replaces a military government that has no concern for its citizens with a democratic government. Finally, it gives other regimes something to think about if they don't want to allow aid from the U.S. or the U.N. to reach their citizens in times of crisis.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Pigford Claims Remedy Act

Like any political junkie, I spend a substantial amount of time each day reading political commentary, and the "hot" news items of the day. Some of the best articles I like to clip and file away for others to read, or I may hold onto them for background information for a future blog post. When the stars are perfectly aligned, I come across an article that makes me take immediate action. I found one such article today by Ms. Jennifer Rubin entitled "Farmer Reparations". After reading Ms. Rubin's article, I started digging into the topic, and contacted my Representative and both Senators.

The Pigford Claims Remedy Act of 2007 (HR 899 and 3073 and S 515) is designed, "To provide a mechanism for the determination on the merits of the claims of claimants who met the class criteria in a civil action relating to racial discrimination by the Department of Agriculture but who were denied that determination." These bills in short are designed to extend the claims process from discrimination suits brought against the Department of Agriculture in the 1990's. To date, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid out almost $1 Billion for, "…alleged racial discrimination by local offices administering farm loans under the Farm Service Agency." If the USDA discriminated against a number of people, and those people are owed money, then the government should have to pay up. However, Ms. Rubbin points out that many people associated with the cases believe that a large number of the claims that have been brought forward are fraudulent.

The original case was brought forth by three black farmers in 1997 (Pigford v. Glickman) alleging that the USDA had discriminated against them and other farmers by denying loan applications to African-American farmers. In 1999, a consent decree was issued settling the lawsuit and setting up a process where those individuals who felt they had been discriminated against could file a claim. According to Ms. Rubbin, in 1997 there were an estimated 18,500 African-American farmers (remember this number) and of those, it was estimated that some 2500 to 5000 farmers were discriminated against. However, a lawyers dream was laid out in the settlement, with, "…only a simple affidavit signed by someone who alleged he had applied for a loan or merely that he had 'attempted to own or lease farm land,' $50,000 (tax free no less) would be paid out." The USDA began notifying people who might be involved, including a $500,000 TV ad campaign to get the word to African-American farmers. Meetings were held in local communities explaining how African-American farmers could file claim.

There is an Office of the Monitor website where anyone can get the latest details of the settlement. As of April 28th, the total payout is over $750,000,000 in cash with almost $ 1 Billion total in "relief". I told you to remember the fact that there were an estimated 18,500 African-American Farmers in 1997. The Monitor's website shows over 22,000 claims have been approved. Ms. Rubbin points out that there have been almost 96,000 total claims!

Simply put, the Pigford decision has become a great money making tool for scam artists, lawyers, and unscrupulous advocacy groups. The original deadlines have now played out and some Representatives and Senators want to extend this deadline and allow more claims. Already the U.S. government has paid out $1 Billion dollars. Isn't it time to put this behind us?