Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: October 2004

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

It's the Minimum We Should Do

For many years, I have been an advocate of increasing the minimum wage. I find it terrible that our nation’s poorest employees have to wait for legislative action to obtain a raise. A person supporting a family cannot work full time, year round earning the minimum wage and rise above the poverty level. It is disgraceful that we allow this to happen.

It has also been my argument that increasing the minimum wage is good for the economy. Business lobbyists claim incorrectly that increasing the minimum wage hurts the companies they represent. These arguments are wrong. A person paid the minimum wage with little hope of a pay raise until legislative action occurs is probably not a happy, productive employee. Yet, minimum wage employees often are placed in key jobs essential to a business’s profitability, such as jobs they decide public perception of that enterprise. Minimum wage earners include cashiers, cooks, and hotel personnel. Subminimum wage earnings are waiters and waitresses. These low paid workers project the business image to the public. It is helpful to that business that a positive image from enthusiastic employees be projected.

While nay-sayers argue that increasing the minimum wage causes fewer minimum wage jobs to be hired, many businesses find the opposite is true. A study in New Jersey found that, when the minimum wage was increased, the total number of minimum wage jobs increased. This has always made sense to me, as increasing the minimum wage makes companies more productive, more profitable, and then able to hire more employees. Further, placing more money in the hands of minimum wage workers, who spend a large portion of their incomes, increases consumer spending which has a ripple effect of stimulating spending and increasing business profitability.

Business Week in its April 12, 2004 issue has published another striking example of this. Wal-Mart’s Sam Club and Costco have two strikingly different philosophies on how they treat their employees. Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club keeps their wages lower and their employee benefits scarcer. Business lobbyists would have us believe that a company with lower labor costs would be more profitable. Yet, to their surprise (but not mine), they are wrong. Costco not only is more profitable, yet the fact that their employees earn more is a leading reason why they earn more money.

Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club pays its employees an average of $11.52 an hour compared to Costco’s average of $15.97 per hour. Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club provides 47% of its employees with health coverage compared to 82% for Costco. Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club pays an average of $3,500 per employee in health care compared to $5,735 per employee for Costco. Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club offers retirement benefits to 64% of its employees compared to 91% for Costco’s full time employees.

The result is Costco is more profitable earning $13,647 profits per employee (despite the higher wages) versus $11,039 profits per employee for Wal-Mart’s Sam Club. Costco’s annual operating income growth is 10.1% compared to 9.8% for Wal-Mart.

How these companies treat their employees is a major factor in these differences in profitability. Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club loses 21% of its employees over a year’s time compared to Costco losing 6% of its employees. Higher turnover requires more retraining while retaining employees improve operational efficiency. Wal’Mart’s Sam’s Club overhead costs, including labor, is 17% of sales compared to 9.8% of sales for Costco, again, even though Wal-Mart has lower labor costs.

Increasing wages to low income wages improves businesses. Business lobbyists should get over their fear of increasing the minimum wage. They should even find they’ll like what it does to their business constituency.

It Is Only Our Future

A society that entrusts its’ most valuable assets to its lowest paid workers, and then further works to see that these low paid employees have no incentive to make long term commitments towards preserving these valued assets, is doomed to failure. Yet, that is exactly what we are doing. This may explain many problems we have.

Child care workers literally hold our future in their hands. Research indicates that 90 percent of brain development occurs during the first three years. It is critical that these young minds are stimulated and become ready to learn. The care of children by parents and child care workers requires proper brain stimulation.

Child care employees should be experts in infant care, child learning, health, and emergency procedures. We should want skilled employees remaining in the child care profession. Instead, many child care employees are minimum wage employees in a profession with a high turnover rate. How can we expect people to devote themselves to a career involving the greatest of responsibilities when they receive such low wages and few incentives to remain?

Innovative programs have kept child care workers in their jobs by offering child care employees scholarships as incentives to remain at their jobs. This has had several advantages. It has kept child care workers in the jobs. This gives children an important stability in their lives. For child care employees, they become better employees by gaining both more knowledge while gaining more experience.

Unfortunately, this brilliant idea of scholarships for child care employees has become a victim of politics. The Republican legislative leadership has killed funds for these scholarships. This is a step in the wrong direction. These scholarships should be restored, and expanded. After all, it is only our future at stake.

Feeling Secure?

Social security has been one of our most successful public programs. There was a time in my lifetime when over one third of all elderly people lived in poverty. Social security has been a major reason why that percentage has been reduced today to about 12%.

There are concerns that funds paid from the Social Security Fund are projected to become greater than its revenue intake in 2030. Concern over this is legitimate. It is important that we do not overreact, panic, and make things worse.

Turing Social Security over to stockbrokers is a Wall Street dream but would be a national disaster. These financial dealers are salivating over the possible creation of hundreds of millions of new accounts if Social Security is turned over to them.

We should realize that stockbrokers make their money through transaction costs when people buy and sell stocks in their accounts. It is very possible that too many transactions will eat away the profitability of these accounts. This would be a great financial windfall to stockbrokers at great cost to American citizens.

Not only will many people invest poorly, we should note that the stock market has no guarantees even for sensible managers. There would be millions of winners and millions of losers should their Social Security accounts become invested in the stock market. That is the very nature of stock markets. The question will become what happens to the millions of people who placed their Social Security money into the stock market only to discover their investments were financial losers. Social Security exists to prevent poverty for the elderly and the disabled. Should a privatized Social Security system create such poverty, what should we do then? If we don’t assist the financial losers, the purpose of Social Security preventing financial distress is lost. If we assist the financial losers, then there is no point to privatizing Social Security as it then remains a system with a set floor of benefits.

More reasoned responses exist. If we can remove the Bush Administration and its deficit spending economies and return to the budget surplus days that existed under the Clinton Administration, we could put budget surpluses towards guaranteeing the preservation of Social Security.

Other responsible options to reinforcing Social Security exist, should they become necessary. Rather than allowing all Social Security members to become account holders with stockbrokers, we could allow the Social Security Fund to invest a portion of its resources into a portfolio. This is what most pension plans currently do. It is true that a diversified portfolio tends to earn more money in the long run than investing in bonds, as the Social Security Fund currently does. Bonds are safe and reliable, which are important factors for the Social Security Fund. If the system needs greater expected investment returns, then it will make sense to allow expert fund managers handle investing a portion of the system’s fund in a portfolio.

There are other means to keep the Social Security Fund solvent. Reducing the Fund’s pay-outs by reducing benefits hurts the very people the Fund is designed to protect, and thus is not a good idea. Yet, if there are wealthy people who do not need these benefits, reductions of Social Security funds to the wealthy, perhaps by taxing benefits paid to the rich, remains a possibility. Also, taxing employers based on the total amount of wages they pay instead of exempting them for salaries over specific amounts is another possibility to help the Fund’s solvency. This would have no direct harm to any wage earner, and any employer who can afford such highly paid employees can afford to also pay these taxes.

The best news of all is, while we consider these options, there may actually be little that needs to be done. According to the Social Security Trustees, a worse case scenario is the Fund is in excellent shape for the next 28 years. The Fund is projected to experience problems after 28 years should economic growth slow to rates in the 1.3% to 3.0% range. While the Bush Administration has harmed our economy, or national growth rate in the three decades prior to Bush averaged around 4%. If we can regain a part of past economic strength, the economy will keep the Social Security Fund afloat. First, though, the best thing we need to do to accomplish this is we need to sink George Bush in the November elections.

This Also Should be a Crime

The people fighting the war in Iraq and serving in the important military functions at home and throughout the world deserve our deepest respect. While I have been extremely critical of the war in Iraq and argued against sending troops there, I believe the soldiers must receive not only our deepest gratitude but their proper reward for their service to our nation.

It upsets me to see politicians who support the war then turn their back on the actual soldiers. There were talks in the Defense Department about lowering the pay to combat soldiers by redefining the war in Iraq as non-combat. Fortunately, this idea was quickly crushed after an outraged public received wind of this idea. Unfortunately, our soldiers have been sent to Iraq without the proper equipment, clothing, and protective vests. The military commanders in Iraq still report a shortage of body armor, night sights, combat helmets, and bolt on vehicle armor, according to Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post. This is where the real test of patriotism should be: Are we prepared to not just cheer our soldiers, but provide them with what is needed so they can do their job while minimizing the risk to themselves.

It upsets me to learn these soldiers have to worry if they will have their full retirement benefits when they return. According to Federal law, a soldier with intervening service cannot be denied their full retirement benefits. Yet, state employees called into military service are being denied exactly that.

Retirement benefits are calculated according to a formula. Part of this formula includes a multiplier. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, credit for time served as a state employee is multiplied by a 2.5% multiplier. Pennsylvania also gives credit for past military service with a 2.0% multiplier. Yet, Pennsylvania is giving returning state employers called into service a multiplier of 2.0% for their time spent in military duty when they return to their state jobs. This is not only a disgrace, it may be illegal, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Our soldiers deserve the full 2.5% multiplier.

True patriotism is more than waving a flag. It is rewarding those who serve us. Our state employees called into military service should get more than our thanks. They should also receive the compensation and benefits due them.



It Should Be a Crime

The Attorney General’s office should create an office that reviews cases where accused criminals are found innocent. Under current procedures, these cases are dropped and forgotten. Instead, we should review these cases to learn how our criminal justice system can be improved.

The Attorney General’s office should work with prosecutors and the police in researching these cases. Were there things prosecutors and the police could have done to gain a conviction of a guilty person which they failed to do? If so, people can learn from these mistakes. If it appears that a person was found innocent because the person appears to be innocent, what mistakes led to prosecuting such a person? Such review will better balance the scales of justice.

It would be helpful that such an office maintain data and statistics on these cases. It will be beneficial to discover if any patterns emerge. Much can be learned about these cases. Ironically, criminal justice is an intensely studied field with little data on this important aspect of trials. We need to create and analyze such data.

Labor Pains

The Bush Administration has successfully curtailed the rights of working people. This Administration has appointed so many people to the National Labor Relations Board who tilt so much towards management that the NLRB has become an effective voice for management suppression of labor rights. Employers have been able to retaliate against employees and to replace strikers with permanent replacement employees with great ease. If this continues, the labor weapon of striking will be effectively removed, thus allowing management powerful abilities to disregard the rights of workers. This is not the balance between the rights or labor and management that is the proper mission of the NLRB. We need to demand the Administration and Congress to provide a more balanced NLRB.

We instead should be working to strengthen the rights of employees. As Governor Howard Dean correctly proposed, employers should be limited to just one challenge as to whether a union is valid. Constantly brining this challenge slows the process to reexamine dead issues and is designed to divert union defenders into re-fighting already decided battles rather than concentrating on the issues at hand.

The unemployment compensation system needs serious reorganizing. Unemployment compensation is supposed to provide temporary assistance to employees who lose their jobs while they seek and find new jobs. Unfortunately, only about one fifth of laid off employees receive unemployment compensation, according to a study by Warne Vroman that was published by the Urban Institute. Employees and employers are paying taxes into a system that is not operating as it should.

Unemployment compensation is meant as a safety net that is letting too many people fall through. The determination of who is eligible for benefits must be widened so more part-time, seasonal, and low wage employees, now excluded from benefits, may be helped by this system. Further, we must increase our efforts to help those without jobs find jobs, and those who need to learn new skills to qualify for the jobs that are available, to obtain those skills.

We need to work in cooperation with our schools, colleges, and employers to see that skill enhancement programs exist so that employees may obtain progressively better employment. A serious mistake would be to allow people to find low wage employment, and then let them remain there for the long term with slim chances for advancement. Universities and business organizations can forecast skills that a changing economy will need and to specify where employment opportunities will shift as business expand or contract. With these forecasts, we need to coordinate our job training and job placement efforts to maximum their usefulness. Labor and business organizations have joined in calling for a national skills development corporation, yet the Bush Administration has refused to act upon this excellent concept. We do not need government that just helps people when they are down: we need government that will help people get back on their feet in even better jobs.

Our employees hardest hit by the economy deserve fairer treatment. It used to be that unemployment compensation benefits were not subject to federal income taxes. People are finding it harder to survive on these benefits, and then face further difficulties when they’re taxed on this meager support. We should except from taxation these benefits. Some in Congress have proposed exempting the first $2,500 of unemployment compensation benefits, which is a good first step.

For our lowest paid employees, those working for the minimum wage, they deserve a raise. Since the last time the minimum wage was increased, just about every other category of employee has experience wage increases. Employers who claim they can’t afford to raise the salaries of their least paid workers are only seeking to take advantage of their weakest, non-union employees. A person working full time, year round at the minimum wage does not meet the poverty level. This is a national disgrace. Not only should the minimum wage be increased, further increases should be indexed to economic conditions (i.e. the Consumer Price Index) so their wage increases are automatic rather than relying on a bitter legislative fight for another future raise.

Labor laws regarding industrial homework should be strengthened, not weakened, as many Congressional Republicans seek. Industrial homework does not prevent someone from working at home. It prevents someone from establishing and operating industrial equipment, usually without proper supervision, in a home. Labor and safety inspectors would not be able to properly monitor whether these operations are conducted with proper safety, with correct ventilation, that child labor is not being illegally used, and that employees are not being paid illegally low rates for long hours of work. Many industrial homework sites have been found to be using exploited labor, often from foreign countries using workers who are unaware of American labor rights. We should not allow Congressional Republicans to permit more abusive employers to flood our markets with items made by exploited labor.

We have labor laws that make our nation proud. We must defend these laws and improve them. Those who wish to diminish these laws only diminish our nation.

How to Feel More Energetic

How we handle our nation's energy policies will result in key influences on our economic vitality, will shape the standard of living for many, and will dramatically affect our foreign policies. If energy prices continue upwards, people will find their homes more difficult to heat and vehicle travel curtailed. Businesses reliant upon energy will see their costs escalate and our national productivity will be hampered. If we continue to depend upon foreign energy sources, our foreign policy options will be limited.

Senator John Kerry has proposed a bold plan calling for intensive research into developing new and improving upon existing energy resources. We already have the technology to create more efficient engines and to use alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Senator Kerry calls for a modern-day Manhattan Project where the Federal government will bring our best researchers together to develop ways that will make our energy nation self-sufficient. This means we can produce our own energy needs without having to rely on the instability of foreign resources. Never again would we have to bend our economic and political policies to the whims of OPEC or other energy producing nations.

John Kerry has our nation's priorities correct. We need to work with other nations in resolving international crises while becoming economically self-dependant. The Bush Administration has it backwards: they want our nation to act unilaterally in military matters, and thus endanger our international standing while placing our soldiers at risk, while shifting more of our economy and jobs overseas. We need to keep our jobs and our energy production in America while working cooperative with other nations towards establishing worldwide peace and security.

Funds for a national effort towards energy sufficiency could include oil and gas royalty revenues. This effort can have many side benefits, such as significant employment increases in the energy sector. Instead of spending $20 billion a year purchasing oil from the Persian Gulf, imagine the benefits if those purchases could be kept within our country. Instead, the Bush Administration gives us a policy one would expect from a President who emerged from the oil industry: a pro-oil industry policy developed in secret with significant input from oil lobbyists.

While working towards these goals, there are actions we may implement now that will improve our energy situation. SUVs should be more fuel efficient. The only reason they are not required to more efficient is due to government actions that did not foresee the rise of SUVs. Light trucks were exempt from higher fuel efficiency standards because the Federal government wanted to penalize passenger cars and give a break to vehicles used for businesses and farms. When this was done in 1975, the bureaucrats did not envision the SUV, which has been categorized as a light truck. In a great irony, drivers of SUVs and pickup trucks are allowed to waste more fuel than the rest of passenger car drivers. We should require SUVs and minivans to be more fuel efficient.

Roger Gallentine, President Clinton’s Assistant for Environmental Initiatives has made several useful proposals to modernize the calculations for vehicle fuel efficiency. Higher credits could be provided to alternative fuel vehicles that meet even higher efficiency standards. Credits to manufacturers who create engines that can use alternative fuels but, in reality seldom use such fuels, should be prevented from cashing-in on such credit. The credit should only apply to engines that actually deserve the credit. The testing methods could be updated by using more modern technologies so they are more accurate.

We need a national effort to upgrade our energy capabilities. The electric grid is old and vulnerable to blackouts, one which happened last year, and to possible terrorist attack or sabotage. The Bush Administration has refused to force the energy industry to modernize, and instead has responded by allowing their aging power plants to emit hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic pollution into the air we breath. Pennsylvania in particular has been harmed from increased acid rain originating from nearby states that settles on top of us. The Bush Administration wishes to increase oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an action whose environmental damages would be greater than the one half of one percent increase in our oil supply it would produce, according to Senator Kerry and most key environmental and energy analysts. The Bush Administration provides tax subsidies for ethanol, which primarily benefits one company, Archer Daniels Midlands, and requires ethanol to be used in California even though it is not ready for use: Ethanol creates water pollution while reducing air pollution, notes a lawsuit the State of California has brought against the Bush Administration. We need to first conduct research and develop on a safe use of ethanol. We can do far better than what President Bush proposes.

Our vehicles use one seventh of the world's oil consumption. We have the knowledge to create engines and vehicles that lower oil consumption. We need a national spirit to develop and implement these engines. This is why the Kerry Plan for a concentrated national research effort can succeed. Unlike the Manhattan Project where the result was theoretical, we already know practical results exist. We need to find ways, perhaps through economies of scale, to make energy efficient engines and vehicles cost effective. Natural gas can be the most environmentally- friendly fuel, and we have 90% of the world's supply of natural gas. Coal, of which our nation has a 250 year supply, can be mined more cleanly and more extensively, which can also be a boost to Pennsylvania's economy. Hybrid car engines, which are more fuel efficient, and that use both traditional engines with electric engines as well as electric only engines, are already on the market. Public transit is not new: getting more people to use public transit is the challenge. The potential solutions to our energy problems exist. What has been lacking is the commitment to reach the solutions.

Car manufacturers who market cars that do not meet energy standards should be penalized. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain have produced an interesting idea which is already done in one state. As an alternative to issuing fines to manufacturers whose vehicles fail contribute too much pollution, the money instead could be provided as a reward to manufacturers who not only meet the standards but lower the amount of pollution their cars emit. Thus, overall environmental and energy standards are met while manufacturers are rewarded for producing better vehicles.

Pennsylvania also needs to prepare itself to learn from the California example for avoiding an energy crisis. When California reduced its regulations on electric companies, they mistakenly thought that competition would produce lower rates and improve service. Instead, the electric companies, no longer facing caps on their prices, escalated electric rates and forced communities to experience rolling brownouts. Pennsylvania, when similarly reducing regulations on electric companies, placed ten years caps on electric rates. Yet, these caps will be removed in a few years. We should be acting now to prevent sharp increases in electric rates.

There are energy sources such as wind power, which is appropriate in parts of Pennsylvania, which should be cheaper in the short run yet as more costly in the long run. Because of this, it is difficult for wind electric generation to enter the market. They cannot be competitive long enough to become established so the long term cost reductions can be reached.

We should be increasing, and not decreasing (as the Bush Administration wants), our commitment to LIHEAP, the program that providing heating assistance to low income households. Many low income people are finding this cannot withstand heating price increases. The Bush Administration is quick to help wealthy oil executives. We should, instead, be quick to help low income people who depend upon our assistance. The Commonwealth should contribute towards this program to assist those the Bush Administration would otherwise leave literally in the cold. Further, Rep. Bud George has proposed recreating the State Energy Office. This office use to help Pennsylvanians obtain information and assistance on home energy assistance, especially emergency relief, home weatherization, and conservation measures. The state should return to the active role in it once provided on helping with energy matters.

The Terrorists and How to Fight Them

The way to fight terrorism is to fight the terrorists. The Bush Administration’s idea of fighting terrorism by designating an affiliate of terrorists as the real enemy and then committing our nation to a deadly war against this straw horse does not resolve the problem.

I repeat: The way to fight terrorism is to take the fight to the terrorists. Osama Bin Laden has not been captured. The terrorist groups have not been destroyed. Our commitment to create a stable anti-terrorist government in Afghanistan has been ignored. Large portions of Afghanistan have fallen back into Taliban control as we have shifted our resources into Iraq. Our involvement in Iraq has been used as a recruitment tool that may be strengthening terrorist organizations. Terrorists threaten the stability of the Pakistan government, which is a country with nuclear weapons. Terrorism continues.

Instead of concentrating on ending terrorism, the Bush Administration has concentrated on ousting Saddam Hussein (who, ironically, al Qaeda wanted overthrown.) This was a major mistake, as it shifted resources from fighting terrorists to a war in Iraq. A report issued last month by the U.S. Army War College confirms this analysis. The report, “Building the Global War on Terrorism” by Dr. Jeffrey Record, concludes the war in Iraq “was a war-of-choice distraction from the war of necessity against al Qaeda.” The war in Iraq may have actually harmed our fight against terrorism by moving operational forces away from combating the terrorists.

Dr. Record points out that “a cardinal rule of strategy is to keep your enemies to a manageable number.” We were busy fighting Iraq while mistakenly paying less attention to the terrorist threat of al Qaeda. Bush’s mistake was “launching a preventive war against a state that was not at war with the United States and that posed no direct or immediate threat to the United States at the expense of continued attention and effort to protect the United States from a terrorist war with which the United States was at war”, according to the War College report by Dr. Record.

Saddam Hussein was not behind the September 11 terrorist attacks. George Bush even states this, yet in the same statement describes the war in Iraq as a war against terrorism. George Bush knows this ploy is working: polls indicate that many Americans believe Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks. Ed Goeas, a pollster who works for Republican candidates, was quoted at a recent legislative conference as stating the terrorism issue is seen by Republicans as the issue that will guarantee Bush’s reelection. Voters tend not to want to change leaders in the middle of a war. Republican leaders believe Bush’s reelection depends upon his being seen as being in the middle of a war. Unfortunately, this is not a war that stops terrorism. Nor does it appear that the upcoming elections provide any incentive for Bush to end the war. We must not reward with re-election an Administration that has been, and continues to be, so mistaken in its foreign policy.

Land Preserves, Not to be Confused with Peach Preserves

When we preserve land permanently from developing, we take steps now that will benefit future generations who will have the ability to enjoy open space, forests, parks, and wildlife. That the system preserving land is being abused here in Pennsylvania tells us we have to act to guarantee that those administering land preservation efforts are acting properly.

The Washington Post reported on its front page that a Pennsylvania developer received tax credits for agreeing to preserve the portion of a development that wasn't fit for development. This is not what the land preservation program intended. Local officials should never have allowed this abuse to occur. We see that developers are taking advantage of local authorities across the nation. In Florida, a developer received a tax credit that was greater than the purchase price by agreeing not to develop the land, which is a golf course. This is an extreme example of a total loss of common sense: a tax credit should never be more than a fair market purchase price, and a golf course should not be the type of open space intended for preservation.

It may be hard to legislate common sense. Yet, the fact that developers are taking advantages of laws designed to restrict their developing of prime agricultural land and other critical land important for parks, recreation, and our ecology indicates we need to improve this law. Easement purchases have preserved over 88,000 acres in Pennsylvania. The Land Trust Alliance confirms that most of these easements serve their proper use. We have received notice, though, that some developers have found ways to misuse a system that otherwise works. I call upon the state government to provide more oversight in determining that easements are proper and above board.

When easements are offered for tax breaks or for purchase, we need to guarantee that they are for land we wish preserved. We need to better evaluate the proper value of easements. The General Accounting Office claims landowners have been, on average, receiving more than twice what they should. Country and regional planning agencies, with assistance from state planners, should make prior determinations which land within their country or region should be preserved and thus eligible for easement credits or development purchases. The state should provide needed technical assistance, oversight, and intervene when the system is abused. We need to preserve our future, yet we need to do so in an efficient, common sense fashion.

Read This Instead of Reading "Pat the Goat"

We can help bring Iraq into the international community by allowing the international community into Iraq. The Bush Administration's insistence they lead the transition of Iraq-along with their friends from Haliburton and other key contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign who have been awarded rebuilding contracts in Iraq--excludes international assistance. Unfortunately, it is this international interaction that will be necessary to allow Iraq to successfully transform from its post-Saddam disarray into a properly functioning state.

The solution to the situation in Iraq is to allow an international response to assist Iraq in reestablishing itself as a nation. Iraq is a country largely populated by Moslems that looks to other Moslem countries as examples. The Iraqi people will resist American efforts to impose American style systems of which they are unfamiliar and of which they are culturally suspicious. The continued American presence in Iraq is generating Iraqi resistance and makes our soldiers lightening rods for attack. What the United States and the United Nations can do is guide a new Iraqi government towards democratic ideals that respect and protect human rights.

Negotiations between leadership of the divergent Iraqi groups will be more successful under international supervision and assistance than under a process dominated by the United States. Our involvement only complicates reaching solutions. We are paying for our involvement through continued guerilla and terrorist attacks on our troops.

It should be easy to understand why some Iraqis mistrust us. A Defense Department reports estimates there are at least 200,000 Iraqi civilian deaths from Desert Storm. The surviving friends and families of those who died have a natural distrust towards us. While we offer a superior political and economic system, and while we have toppled a brutal dictator of Iraq, it will take some time to win widespread support from the Iraqi people. So far, our efforts have had problems. While we have shown we are good at reconstructing the buildings we have destroyed with American contractors, we have not been as quick at restoring electricity and water systems and issuing paychecks to Iraqi employees. Prior to the invasion, intelligence advised maintaining the payroll and operations of Iraqi police and government officials. Instead, they were dismantled, operations ceased functioning, and the unemployed became very frustrated at Americans. We have insisted upon an interim government council led by an Iraqi who has a conviction for business fraud. We could be doing a much better job at stabalizing Iraq. A new and stable Iraqi government will result more quickly if established through an international effort.

To avoid repeating history by not knowing history, we should note the will of the Iraqi people when England attempted to create a pro-British Iraqi state. Conflicts led to 500 British and allied Indian soldiers killed along with 6,000 Iraqi soldiers killed. Several decades of rule in Iraq that was supported by Great Britain led to an overthrow in 1958 that created a system of dictators that continued through the recent regime of Saddam Hussein. (This was recalled in the November 17 issue of "Business Week".)

We must not allow our troops to what will be an endless quagmire if they are there longer than another year. Our assistance in stabilizing and helping Iraq recovery is needed, although preferably with international assistance. We should not be bearing the burden of all these costs. This should not take much longer than one year. I call for creation of an exit strategy that guarantees that American troops are withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2004. I fear that, without such commitment, the Bush Administration will become bogged down in Iraq. Already there are announcements of committing additional Marines to Iraq that could significantly raise the total number of American troops in Iraq.

While in Iraq, we need to focus more on our soldiers and less on the multi-million rebuilding contracts. Our soldiers are being shortchanged. Dick Yarbrough, a columnist for the Augusta Chronicle, the site of Fort Gordon, recently wrote about National Guard units in Iraq. They are issued just two uniforms and one pair of boots. This clothing is expected to last their entire stay in Iraq. In a recent Harrisburg Patriot, it was mentioned there are only enough rifles for 80% of five National Guard soldiers. Previously, I have mentioned the lack of bullet proof vests that would save lives. I guess if the Bush Administration doesn't want to pay for a second pair of boots for troops, bullet proof vests must seem like an extravagance.

There is a lack of communications that not only endangers our troops but already has led to casualties by friendly fire that could not communicate with those firing. I can not understand why the Bush Administration wants to commit us to a conflict and then doesn't want to commit to achieving its military objectives. They are good at handing out no bid contracts to companies that are leading contributors to the Republican Party, but they aren't good at handing out necessities to our troops.

Deputy Defense Secreatry Paul Wolfowitz argues the United States will be secure once the entire world is shaped in America's image, as quoted by Ivo Daaider and James Lindsay of the Brookings Institute. The obvious problem with this is: the rest of the world will resist being shaped into our image. The best way to achieve this is to lead by example. As the rest of the world sees the benefits of democracy, free enterprise, and a free society, new generations will question the repression of their former generations. We saw this happen in the collapse of the Soviet Union. I believe we will see this in other repressive nations. Yet, if we seek to impose our will by military force, we will no longer be leading by example but inviting and rallying opposition and creating the very threats to our security we wish to avoid.

In the final analysis, we must step back and seriously evaluate the affects of the Bush Administration's foreign policy. A country like Iraq, which claimed it was developing weapons of mass destruction, is invaded while it is weak. A country that has weapons of mass destruction, such as North Korea, is left alone and indeed receives American financial assistance in order to keep its nuclear program from developing more weapons. The lesson learned by anti-American states is to develop your weapons of mass destruction in secret and quickly announce you have them once they are developed. This, by no means, makes this a safer world. We need to be working with and taking the leadership in international monitoring of the development of weapons of mass destruction. We should not be racing to conclusions (which may, indeed, turn out to be false), and committing the lives of Americans and billions of our money in a war that, at this point, has no exit strategy.

Learnin', Riting, and Rithmaticky Tacky

One way to evaluation how well the Bush Administration's Education policies will work will be to judge the results of his forerunner to his national policy. When George W. Bush was Governor of Texas and Roderick Paige was School Superintendent in Texas, a system of education reform was adopted. This system would be the basis of the "No Child Left Behind" program that would later be implemented by President Bush and U.S. Education Secretary Roderick Paige. We can now see the results of these reforms in Houston, and we should take warning of impending national educational disaster.

Bush and Paige proudly proclaim the "Texas miracle" they produced in Texas schools. Unfortunately, as reported by Michael Dobbs in the Washington Post, the miracle was produced by changing how test scores were reported, not by improving the education of Texas schools. Researchers at Rice University have found serious discrepancies in the reporting of drop-out rates and test scores that falsely claimed progress in educational achievement levels in Texas students.

The solution to education problems lies in a process that should reemphasize "leave no child behind" to "promote a child when the child is ready." This was a common sense policy advanced by Governor Robert Casey. It recognizes that students learn different subjects at different rates. If they fail to reach an adequate level of competence at one level, they fall further behind when promoted to the next grade. Soon, as is unfortunately common through our schools, students find themselves further and further behind in some subjects and they never catch-up to the level of achievement they should in those subjects. On the other hand, some students learn other subjects more quickly. Indeed, if they are kept behind by the slower learning pace of their classmates, they tend to become bored and actually may result in poor test scores through disinterest.

This is resolved in elementary schools by keeping children together according to age in the proper grade home room, yet they attend the basic courses according to their grade level of achievement. The basic courses are taught at the same time. A student is not advanced to the next level in that subject until the student achieves competence at that level. Similarly, a fast learning student may be promoted to higher grade levels more quickly. For example, a 10 year old may be in Grade 5 Homeroom yet in Grade 4 Mathematics, Grade 6 Science, and Grade 5 English.

The bottom line is allowing our children to learn as they best they can. Instead of focusing on test scores and statistics, let us focus on students themselves. That is where our attention should be.

To Your Worldly Health

In a global environment, diseases that affect one part of the world soon affect the entire planet. It is crucial we recognize that the spread of infectious disease does not recognize national borders. We need to make a stronger commitment against diseases. This will not only win us greater international respect, it will, in the long run, save American lives and health.

According to the United Nations and the World Health Organization, we could control the spread of infectious diseases and treat every patient with infectious diseases in Africa for a fraction of what we have spent on the war in Iraq. At present, the epidemic in Africa is the greatest health threat in human history. In sections of Africa, HIV/AIDS and malaria have killed every adult, leaving villages with only the elderly and the young.

The Bush Administration believes subsidizing pharmaceutical companies to provide more medicine is the answer. Much more can be done. Further, the funds Bush has promised will not begin being applied for another year. People who are suffering need treatment now. We need to step in now and begin working on controlling the spread of these diseases immediately.

We can lead by example and encourage the international community to contribute to the rescue of people suffering from disease across the globe. Some countries need to be encouraged to focus on disease control and treatment within their own borders. Others can join in an international effort to combat diseases in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, and wherever serious outbreaks occur. If we do not act together in this global environment where people and goods flow easily around the world (and speed the spread of diseases), we will all suffer together.

War (College) Is Not Heck

I have applauded the government’s decision to retain the Peacekeeping Institute. This is a vital internal military research unit that analyses and advises the Army on how to improve its peacekeeping operations. The Peacekeeping Institute is a component of the United States War College, an institution that conducts academic internal military research of Defense issues and prepares military officers for high level careers as Generals and Colonels.

The Harrisburg Patriot reports that now, the entire U.S. War College is under attack and is being considered for possible closure. All military bases and offices are under review for continuation or closure under routine base closure review procedures. Yet, there are particular concerns that the War College may possibly be a target to be shut down.

The War College provides independent research on the nature of military operations. Thus, it is free to be helpfully critical of Defense Department policies. This advice is an important part of their existence. Military officers at the War College evaluate and recommend ways the military may be improved. At times, their reports have been critical of the military status quo.

While the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld leadership of the military may not like any dissent to their policies, alternative policy recommendations based upon knowledge and experience are important. In fact, it has been a problem that the White House and Defense Department leaders have ignored intelligence reports, even from the CIA, State Department intelligence, and the War College. To now stifle this advice would be a grave mistake, especially when the nation would be better served if our leaders would instead pay attention to this intelligence.

The War College must remain open.

Physician, Insure to Heal Thyself

Physicians exist in a profession that has little scrutiny. The profession refuses to seriously police itself. Compared to most other states, few physicians are disciplined for mistakes in Pennsylvania. We need to shed more light on the medical profession so the real serious mistakes—the ones deserving of law suits—are discovered.

What happens in the alternative is people who believe they have been mistreated by a doctor can only seek redress through suing. Complaining to a medical review board does not help: they act very seldom and only in the most blatant and exposed cases. The system is then troubled when people who have not been harmed by a doctor attempt to take advantage of the legal system by suing frivolously.

The solution to this problem is to have an independent review board of medical and legal experts who are capable of reviewing cases and determining which ones are frivolous. Removing these cases will reduce the costs of litigation.

The problem facing physicians is the escalating costs of their insurance. Part of the problem is driven by the costs of law suits, but that is not the only cause. Insurance companies have been responding to lower profits due to bad market investments by compensating with revenues through higher premiums. Any debate over lawsuits will do nothing to resolve this portion of the difficulty. What is needed is a Consumer Advocate in the Insurance Department. We need someone who understands insurance rates representing consumers who will advocate for you and me and against allowing insurance companies to profit unjustly.

A final solution to the high premiums will result when both the Federal government and state governments act to reduce insurance premiums for physicians.

Taxing Problems

The economy has not turned around during the Bush Presidency. Unless significant inroads are made, and so far the Bush Administration has shown no inclination towards taking the proper steps to turn around the economy, this may be the first Presidency since Herbert Hoover to see a net loss in employment. Millions of jobless are suffering. We need to make significant investments in job training and job creation in growing employment areas from high technology to alternative energy sources to infrastructure improvements. I wish we were making investments on people rather than spending the money on a costly and ill-advised occupation of Iraq.

The tax cut, though, is a step in the right direction and I support it. We need to get income into the hands of people who will spend it and keep the economy stimulated. While I do not believe that a tax cut is always the most effective way government can use to improve the economy, I do believe it would be a mistake to repeal a promised tax cut, especially to middle and low income people. People have been planning for these cuts, and they need this money to pay bills. It is the spending of the middle class, especially most recently on housing and household goods, that helps makes this a better country. Many senior citizens need the money this winter for heat. I am glad this extra money will be available.

Peacekeeping Kept

It makes sense that, out of a budget of $81 billion for the Defense Department, that $1 million be put aside for learning about peacemaking.

Peacekeeping, which includes military patrols of dangerous potential combat areas, is likely going to become more important. The notion that war is between nations and when a government falls or surrenders the war is over is fast becoming outdated. Combat is increasingly going to be with an enemy that may have an ideology yet may not have a border. The enemy may not have an established government structure. The enemy increasingly may be one who fights back with terrorist attacks and guerilla warfare. Further, the enemy may not be a traditional enemy, but an enemy intent on committing genocide against each other. In that case, it would be our role along with other nations to prevent mass destruction. Our peacekeeping role already is being tested in 49 places such as the Balkans and Liberia and will continue to be challenged.

It is good that the pressure to retain the Army Peacekeeping Institute has been successful and that the Defense Department has reversed an earlier plan to shut this office. This institute exists here in Pennsylvania in Carlisle. It is the only military research unit on how the Army should conduct peacekeeping operations and how countries whose government and social structure are crumbling can be stabilized, such as we face now in Iraq and in Afghanistan. This cutting edge research is vital in guiding important aspects of the Army.

The Bush Administration earlier proposed eliminating this institute and reassigning all the staff by this month. Recent events have led the Defense Department to note the use of an office that can provide expertise on stabilizing nations as it struggles with providing stability in Iraq. The Bush Administration’s decision has been reversed. Not only has the Administration changed its mind, the office is being expanded from a $1 million annual budget to an annual budget between $1.3 million to $1.5 million with four new staff being added.

While I am glad to see four new jobs created in Pennsylvania, I am especially happy that these positions can benefit our nation. The office is being renamed the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute. This name better reflects its mission. I join fellow Pennsylvanians in welcoming this upgraded military unit to our state.

To Your Health...Maybe

There is a serious health care problem that threatening to reach crisis proportions. This problem is the shortage of health care employees. This will be a crisis that will only continue to get worse and worse over time. We must take steps now to correct it.

Over the past few years, the average age of health care workers has increased. As this average age continues to increase, we are finding that people are leaving the health care field through retirement, resignation, or death faster than young people are entering health care fields. The emerging crisis is that the number of health care workers is declining as the demand for their services is increasing at a significant rate. As the average American population increases due to the growing numbers of senior citizens, we are seeing the beginning stages of a major problem where not enough health care workers are available to serve people requiring health care services. The demographic reality is that the number of elderly is increasing, baby boomers are entering retirement ages, and there are not enough young people responding to the call to attend to the growing health care demands.

The problems are particularly noticeable in certain geographic areas, such as urban areas and in smaller communities. It is harder for city hospitals and smaller health care clinics to attract employees. Besides shortages in certain areas, there are shortages nearly everywhere in many health care occupations, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department reports the number of graduating nurses has steadily declined since 1995. There are now about one-fourth fewer people entering the nursing profession than there were eight years ago. Nursing schools indicate they have physical room for more nursing students, yet a shortage of people who can teach nursing is causing them to reduce enrollments.

The National Conference of State Legislature reports that nurses are not remaining in their nursing careers as long as their predecessors. Ironically, many hospitals, in dealing with the shortages, are making their nursing employees work longer shifts. This solves short-term problems yet, in the long-term, causes nurses to burn out faster and serve fewer years in hospital employment.

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations estimated last year that there were 126,000 nursing jobs in existence today that can not find a qualified applicant. The situation continues to worsen. We need more nurses, and will continue to need still larger numbers of nurses in future years.

The high costs of medical school tends to drive graduates to accept higher paying jobs, such as being specialists in private hospitals. Unfortunately, the number of doctors serving clinics in urban areas, in rural hospitals, and in working as general practitioners has failed to keep up with public need.

Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to deal with this overall problem. Tax credits or school loan repayment assistance can be provided to people who enter needed health care professions or who agree to work in geographic areas where there are critical shortages. Since financial considerations are often the reasons why people decline to enter specific occupations, there is a public need to respond to these imbalances.

Many education institutions are finding difficulties in offering enough courses to students who are interested in health care. In the midst of a need for more people in health care, colleges are turning away people who wish to enter health care. We need to conduct more outreach to find people to teach the young about health care professions. We need to reach out to retired health care employees who, while not able to teach full time, could teach part-time, serve as mentors, or be available to tutor or answer questions from students. Further, we need to work with our community colleges and State System of Higher Education to see that more course offerings are made in health care fields and in allied medical professions.

We should restrict the amount of overtime that health care employees work. Some hospitals believe it should be a rite of passage that interns, nurses, and new employees work multiple shifts back to back. Unfortunately, and health care supervisors should be among the people most aware of this problem, employees who are awake continually for several shifts have diminished alertness. In an occupation where clear and quick thinking in necessary in medical situations that can be life and death situations, the public should not have to face tired and overworked health care employees. This diminishes the quality of health care. This wears out employees and helps drive them out of the health care field. There should be a limit on the number of total hours and consecutive hours that health care workers can be required to work.

Emergency rooms and trauma centers save lives. There should be more, not less, of such facilities. We need to provide greater assistance to emergency rooms and trauma centers. The distribution of funds needs to reflect this.

We need to radically reconsider our health care delivery system. Patients could access physicians using telemedicine. Symptoms can be seen by video through computers and medical questions can be sent through email. Some types of medications can be mailed or delivered to customers. While special care needs to be taken to prevent abuses, this should be a step in the future of health care. Much of this may only serve as temporary care until a physician can directly see the patient. Some of it is useful primarily in low priority health needs where the care can be provided at home. It definitely is much better than having no access to health care, which current and future shortages are creating.

There should be a better distribution of health care job chores. By freeing more time for health care employees to provide health care, part of the shortages of available care can be significantly diminished. While only licensed physicians should perform the duties of a doctor, there are some duties we currently leave only to doctors that could not only be performed by nurses or by non-physician clinicians. This can further improve health care, as nurses are often more aware of patient needs and thus better able to know what kinds of certain care are needed.

There are some nursing jobs that do not involve decisions on patient care that could be shifted to non-nurses. There should be a growth in clinicians that could both alleviate the overload burden facing nurses while providing employment opportunities to people unable to afford nursing education.

To make health care training more accessible and affordable, distance learning should be implemented more widely. Penn State already offers online courses. This allows students who can’t afford to attend college to study at home and learn careers. Greater use of this type education will create greater entry into the health care profession

Several state governments are collecting data and establishing commissions that will determine where health care shortages exist and find solutions that will resolve the problems these shortages create. Pennsylvania needs to be one of those states. The Health Care Cost Containment Council could be expanded to deal with health care shortages or a similar entity could be created. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed on a continual basis for many years. We need to begin acting now.

Get That Voter's License Number

The new law to require voter ID at the polls looks, at first glance, like a sensible idea. Until you realize, especially when the bill was running just before an election, the havoc it would have brought. Most voters, especially in Philadelphia, urban areas, and even smaller close-knit communities, walk to the polls. Not everyone carries ID on them. Had the bill passed, and then had the time to be debated by and then passed the Senate and then signed by the Governor, there would have been a very short period of time to inform all voters to bring ID with them to the polls. Many voters would have been turned away by a new law they did not have time to learn about.

To me, the right to vote is an important right that should be encouraged, not discouraged. Not only would people who forgot their ID not be able to vote, many people do not have ID. Many senior citizens and people with disabilities do not have a drivers’ license. To require such people to then obtain a non-driver’s identification just so they could vote would have been a burden of time and expense. Further, had they also needed to obtain a birth certificate in order to obtain their identification in order to vote, there would not have been enough time to process this paperwork before the election. On top of that, the expense of obtaining this identification would have had the effect of a poll tax, which is unconstitutional.

Finally, let’s get down to the reality behind the issue. The push for voter ID was part of a national Republican strategy that realized that Republicans tend to live in suburbs and in rural areas and they tend to drive to polls and carry ID while Democrats tend to live in cities where they walk to the polls and don’t always carry ID. It was a political ploy to tilt elections to the Republican side.

This issue by no means was voter fraud. The Elections Bureau reports that Pennsylvania is a state that most effectively prevents voter fraud. In Pennsylvania, a voter provides a signature in order to vote. The signature is matched against the signature when the person registered to vote. This signature evidence is one of the most effective ways to combat voter fraud, and it does so in a manner that does not intrude upon a voter’s right to cast a ballot.

The War and How to Pay for It

One of the many problems with the Bush Administration and most Congressional Republicans is they want an occupation of Iraq, but they don’t want their key constituents to pay for it. Eventually you and I will have to pay for it out of our pockets. Friends and contributors
to Republican campaigns have helped themselves and all other wealthy people escape the bill.

Senator Joe Biden, one of the Senate’s most thoughtful foreign affairs experts, proposed to fund the war effort by canceling the scheduled tax cut to the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers. This would not have raised anyone’s taxes, but only would have canceled a scheduled tax cut. Plus, it would have canceled a tax cut only to people earning $400,000 or more a year.

As one who likes the tax cut to the middle class, and hopes it can be afforded in the long run, I can live with canceling the tax cut to the wealthiest Americans. If the war is not paid for now, the Federal government will only borrow money to pay for the war. Then you, me, and everyone will be stuck with the bill, with interest, in future years. The Bush White House and Congressional Republicans are hoping you don’t notice the bill for the war until after the 2004 elections.

Tax cuts to the middle class are a worthy goal. It is equitable that the burden of increased government spending falls upon those who can most afford the higher taxes. Unfortunately for us, those who can afford the taxes represent a major influence on the Republican Party funding base. We all recall how Ronald Reagan even convinced millions of voters that a system where tax benefits should go to the rich while they let slivers of their benefits trickle-down to the middle and low income was good for the middle class and the low income. The Republican Party seems to believe that the people who most need significant tax relief are those who have the most disposable income without tax relief.

Many of the soldiers who are dying, and being wounded, in Iraq are people who signed up for National Guard or Reserve duty for supplemental pay. Their strong patriotism is matched with strong economic needs. We must value our soldiers no less in providing achievable and reasonably safe missions then we do in providing educational and insurance benefits.

The war effort is costly in terms of lives lost and wounded. It is costly financially as well. Many of the Iraq occupation’s cheerleaders don’t want to pay for it. Nor do they want to fight it.

It is a shame that the Bush Administration has committed us to a war in Iraq while not being able to fully restore basic necessities, such as water and electricity, to the Iraqi people. This lack of services is likely a main rallying point for some of the anti-American attacks our soldiers are facing. If Bush could deliver on his promise to help stabilize the Iraqi economy, a new Iraqi government that respects democratic values and upholds human rights might be established with popular support.

Bush’s actions in Iraq draw a parallel to his actions in Afghanistan. After the September 11 terrorist attacks launched by Osama Bin Laden, then operating out of (and perhaps still operating out of or near) Afghanistan, we drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. We then promised to assist Afghanistan in establishing a democratic government system and achieving economic security. We then switched our attention to Iraq while neglecting many of our pledges to the Afghanistan people. Today, much of Afghanistan has fallen back under the influences of tribal warlords, and the Taliban and Bin Laden continue functioning.

The foreign policy mistakes of the Bush Administration will have long term impacts on our future. There are reports of bickering amongst Administration and intelligence staff over the mishandling of decisions regarding Iraq. The decision making team of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld is not yet changing its disastrous course. (Rumseld’s recently released doubts are an encouraging sign.) Their decisions seem to be solidified by the fact, as reported by the Center for Public Integrity, that the largest contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign have received $8 billion of Federal tax money to spend in Iraq.

To overturn this dangerous foreign policy route, we need to vote out the Bush-Cheney Administration and their supporters in Congress. We can not endlessly maintain an expensive and deadly occupation paid for both financially and in blood by moderate and middle income Americans.

A Vested Interest

There is one thing all Americans should agree upon, regardless of our differences in opinions in how our military power should be allotted, and that is we need to support our troops. These are our sons, our daughters, our nephews, our nieces, and our neighbors who are spending important years of their youth risking their lives for this country. As I salute the sacrifices from our many veterans, I salute our current soldiers as they face death and injury on our behalf.

No one should want to send our troops into harm’s way without proper protections. Ironically, this is precisely what the Bush Administration did. What is outrageous is they are knowingly endangered our soldiers and ignored obvious solutions that would minimize these risks.

“Bullet proof” (technically, bullet resistant, yet still life saving) vests are available for our soldiers. Technological advances have made them lightweight and effective. It would be wise for soldiers at risk of being fired upon to wear them. The Defense Department has been appropriated the funds by Congress to buy these vests. The Bush Administration is obviously well aware there are soldiers who should be wearing them. Yet, somehow, the Bush Administration delayed getting around to ordering these vests and shipping these vests to soldiers, particularly those in combat zones in Iraq. What really irks me is now they are running ads claiming that it was Congressional Democrats who caused the delay, when the delay was totally the fault of the Administration.

This is inexcusable. David Hackworth alerted us to this unusual situation. Once again, we learn that Bush, Rumsfeld, and those who have been planning this war for so long have continued to ignore intelligence reports and now even common sense. We have sent young people to die in a war that we were woefully unprepared to fight. In fighting back, we have excellent equipment yet the military forget to train sufficient soldiers in how to use them. We have not coordinated different areas of the military to conduct minimal communications with each other, thus minimizing their overall impact as well as endangering troops to friendly fire.
The war in Iraq is quickly becoming another lesson in how not to fight a war.

An important lesson from Viet Nam is to know how to protect yourself and learn how to fight your enemy. We entered Viet Nam skilled in conventional combat yet unprepared to fight an opponent that used guerilla warfare. Once again, we quickly won the conventional war in Iraq, yet were unprepared for the long guerilla-like combat that has resulted since. Unfortunately, we not only are uncertain how to fight the enemy this time, we aren’t even prepared to defend ourselves.

Rendell: Eddie is Ready

Ed Rendell, unlike many other politicians, entered office as Governor with a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve. Improving education was a primary goal. Reducing the hated property tax was another. He campaigned on these issues, was elected by a decent margin, and immediately set to work on his goals.

A problem with all visions is turning them into realities. The charismatic Ed Rendell discovered his career of successes in winning negotiations with a 17 member City Council composed of mostly Democrats and leading a supportive Democratic National Committee, faced a brand new challenge. He now faces 253 legislators with both Houses being majority Republican and a Democratic leadership that had mostly favored Bob Casey over him in the primary. Still, to his credit, he entered a hostile and suspicious terrain firmly committed to his vision.

Ed Rendell quickly made his first rookie mistake: he trusted people would follow what he requested of them. Instead, he learned his first lesson: never give your opponent what your opponent wants and not expect your opponent to then embarrass you with it, for your opponent will gleefully accept the gift. Ed Rendell announced to the legislative leadership he would be submitting two budget proposals: the first, a budget he didn’t want passed and a second budget, the one he really wanted, that would be finalized a few weeks later. The first budget was only a basic bare bones budget that kept government operating. In essence, it was a “stop government growth” Republican’s dream budget. Republican legislators looked at their dream budget, decided why wait for a budget Rendell wanted, and quickly passed the first budget.

The public will probably never know what exactly went on during these early meetings. Yet, it has been stated that the Republican leadership warned Ed Rendell they would pass his first budget, and he thought they would not do so if he simply requested them not to. Rendell’s vision quickly met reality.

Ed Rendell signed the budget to keep government operating but vetoed the sections dealing with Education. Rendell stuck to his commitment to reform Education while reducing property taxes. He hopes the lack of Education funding will put pressure on the legislature so they will eventually cave into his vision. That is where the budget issue is as of this writing.

Many Republicans are split on this issue. There are some who see their school districts operating short of funds and having to borrow large amounts of money. They are feeling the pressure and are pushing to reach some type of accord. Some compromises have been discussed, some of which gives Rendell a part of what he wants in Education while giving Republicans more influence in other areas of government.

There are other Republicans who see little need to compromise. There is a growing “less government-libertarian-Milton Friedman” movement nationally who have set their goals for greater privatization, even in the previously untouchable areas of health care and even Education. Distressed schools across the nation that do not rebound may find themselves privatized. For this type Republican, the current budget is exactly what they want. They have won. Why negotiate any further? Unfortunately, there appears to be some of this sentiment within the Senate Republicans, who are, so far, generally resisting negotiating any further.

How this ends will tell a lot. Most people presume that some type of compromise will be the eventual result. Yet, should one side or the other, either Rendell’s vision or Milton Friedman’s vision, be the winner, long will be the discussion of the brilliant strategy that led to this new reality.

Please Curb That Gun, and Get a Doggie Bag for Yourself

A film has been released showing the shooters at Columbine High School firing their weapons and commenting on what it would be like to shoot people. A few weeks later, they, and the world, found out. Despite this tragedy, and despite the tragedies that occur daily across our nation, many still refuse to admit the sad but important truth: There are too many guns available and too many of these guns find themselves into the hands of irresponsible people.

A major problem with the gun control issue is the rhetoric has permitted most discussions on the issue to lose their proper focus. Any attempt to address the matter responsibly is met with brutal attacks falsely claiming that any step towards making gun ownership more responsible is a plot to pry guns away from the hands of all. Like me make this vividly clear: This is absolutely false.

There is no legislation, nor any politician, advocating eliminating guns, nor even any legislation or politician proposing to take away hunting guns. Rest assured, any politician who ever did so advocate would immediately be politically buried. Still, associations with connections to gun manufacturers, who favor sales to anyone who can purchase their product, may stir paranoid fears that taking away your gun and my gun and everyone’s gun is what motivates gun control efforts. That simply is not true.

The hypocrisy of groups such as the National Rifle Association reached a zenith during its opposition of an amendment that sought to allow Philadelphia to ban assault weapons in public housing. A landlord has the right to ban weapons. The city of Philadelphia, as landlord of public housing, should have the right, if they so choose, to decide to implement the same ban that many other landlords choose. Yet, the NRA led a successful drive to defeat this amendment. By some convoluted logic, if you ban gun ownership in city public housing, your right to hunt deer might someday be imperiled.

Just so everyone is clear: there is no need for a public housing tenant to have an assault weapon. There are very few deer roaming the streets of Philadelphia. There is no place in Philadelphia where one may legally hunt deer. Even if a public housing tenant wanted to legally go deer hunting, an assault weapon is not the gun of choice to hunt deer.

Let us be clear, just in case this is news to an NRA member: A person has an assault weapon in Philadelphia has one in order to shoot humans. The ratio of humans shot with assault weapons by Philadelphians compared with the number of deer shot with assault weapons by Philadelphians is astronomical. In case anyone doubts that, I urge the NRA to conduct a scientific survey of Philadelphia public housing tenants who own assault weapons as to whether their guns are used more to protect drug dealing or used more for deer hunting.

There is a need to restrict and register guns. Restricting guns so they are kept out of hands of felons and the insane makes sense. Registering them to enable the police to better solve crimes makes lots of sense. Banning rapid fire guns that are useful only for killing people and that cannot be properly used for hunting, and banning bullets that can pierce police vehicles that are used by criminals and not by hunters, makes so much sense that even an NRA member should realize it.

Fortunately, surveys show there is a sizable group of NRA members who do understand that these items make perfect sense. As responsible gun users, they know the harm that can be caused by irresponsible gun users. Yet, the leadership of the NRA has fallen to people with political motivations. It is sad to see the politicization of a once prominent organization that was known more for its advocacy of proper gun safety and competitive marksmanship. Instead, it has become an organization that galvanizes a minority of its membership into political activism. This in itself is fine, and increased political awareness and dialogue is good. The distortions on the issue, and the use of fear to mobilize activism, is just, plain wrong.

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Iraq may well go down in history as George W. Bush’s greatest mistake, same as Viet Nam will forever scar the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson. George Bush, though, bears a stronger burden for his mistake. Lyndon Johnson escalated a war he inherited based on bad intelligence reports. George Bush got us involved in a war of his creation while ignoring good intelligence.

The intelligence reports before Bush’s invasion of Iraq warned there was no need for an invasion. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, yet his powers were contained. With swarms of inspectors searching Iraq for arms and the world’s attention focused on him, Saddam Hussein dared not make use of his military. Had he made any military move, there would have been worldwide approval to restrain and remove him. Yet, not only was he contained, it appears very likely he no longer had weapons of mass destruction. Despite intelligence declaring Saddam Hussein posed no threat, George Bush was the one person who believed Saddam Hussein’s false claims of bravado.

We should be lucky that Saddam Hussein did not have such weapons. Indeed, what was George Bush thinking when he sought to corner a foe if Bush believed the foe’s last means of reacting would be to lash back with weapons of mass destruction? The very worst way to handle such a threat would be corner him militarily, which is exactly what George Bush did.

Saddam Hussein’s abuses will not be missed. Yet, George Bush’s actions have alienated much of the international community. The United States has lost much of the worldwide sympathy we gained after the September 11 terrorist attacks. This has proven to be a lost opportunity to improve our position in international relations. Instead, many foreign leaders now view us as a country that acts only in its interests with no regards for other nations. Our international reputation has been shattered. We should be the leader in promoting democracy and serving as the example for others to seek to replicate. Instead, we have lost opportunities to reduce the fears that spark terrorist groups to organize against us.

The United States should be the example of responsible democracy that respects human rights. By serving as this example, we will, in the long run, allow others to see our example and to work to move their countries in this direction. We have seen this happen successfully in Russia and Eastern Europe. Yet, if we begin showing that our first response to international crises is to act militarily, we will be the example of what a country should not be. We will commit ourselves to war that cause us to lose ground. The mistakes of George Bush should never be repeated.

Warning: Do Not Read. Well, You Were Warned.

The new Osama Bin Laden tape has me again wondering what he is thinking (see "It's Too Late, Baby"). We need to understand this terrorist, his motivations, and how he thinks in order to better protect ourselves from his actions. What does he mean what he blames our leaders for allowing 50,000 people to be in the buildings his organization attacked? What did he expect would happen when he attacked those buildings?

We need to understand our enemy and what drives our enemy to do what they do. Consider that the Defense Department now estimates that 100,000 people have died during our occupation of Iraq. Put that on top of the over 200,000 people the Defense Department estimates died during Desert Storm. Revenge and continuing the cycle of violence is very likely a strong motivator in those that are attacking our troops.

The fact that Osama Bin Laden was able to make this tape should be a warning to the American public that our current Administration has failed to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. Yet, the political pundits are claiming that this tape reinforces the Bush campaign objective of making terrorism the key issue and this may help Bush in the polls. Let's see: we reward President Bush for his failure? Something is wrong with this picture.

Heads, It's Kerry; Tails, It's Bush

Today's newspapers tell us that the voting machines count the vote with a margin of error of over 2 per cent. Two per cent? At least that is slightly better than the margin of error the pollsters have.

If this race is within two percentage points, as many polls claim, and the vote is counted with a two percent margin of error, aren't we picking the next President by a process more akin to a coin toss?

Friday, October 29, 2004

A New Meaning to Cell Phones

The FBI is investigation where there were illegalities to the nobid contracts that the Defense Department of Rumsfeld gave to the Halliburton corporation of Cheney. After all this time that people have been commenting on how Cheney made strong allusions that these contracts should be awarded, and how Cheney did not sell his stockholding in Halliburton, I wonder more how it took so long before anyone became suspicious of all this.

Now comes the important question: Will Cheney be able to effectively run the government from a prison cell?

It's Too Late, Baby

I ran into Carole King yesterday. On the spur of the moment, I told her that I didn't realize years ago when she wrote "It's Too Late" that she knew George W. Bush back then. At least she laughed.

Speaking of inappropriate things to say, I was recalling a comment I had during September 11, 2001 that, back then was so obvious to me, yet no one dares mention it since. In fact, when I was discussing putting this on my blog, I was warned I could get into serious trouble for mentioning it. I figure: go ahead, the blog could use the publicity.

Here goes: Why did the planes hit the top of the Towers? And at 8:45 am and 9 am? Perhaps the pilots were not trained enough to lower their planes, although the pilot who hit the Pentagon was able to lower his plane to hit the Pentagon. Perhaps just hitting their target was the goals and there was no consideration for the loss of lives, except, of course, the terrorists expected casualties to result. If, as it appears, that these attacks had been planned for months, isn't it interesting that the terrorists did not plan towards achieving the most number of deaths? No one expected the Towers to fall, certainly not the brave rescue workers who entered the buildings, and, according to a subsequent tape of Osama Bin Laden, even he expressed surprise that the towers fell. If the terrorists wanted to maximize the number of deaths, they would have until after 9 am, when the most employees had entered the buildings, and they would have crashed into the lower floors and trapped everyone.
What they did was horrible and unforgivable. Yet, despite being told this is taboo to discuss, we should explore why they didn't aim for potentially 100,000 deaths that day. What were the motivations and aims of these horrible attacks?

In order to fight the enemy, one needs to understand the enemy. I think we don't understand our enemy too well. Once again, we find ourselves fighting a guerilla or insurgent enemy in Iraq we do not comprehend nor seem to know how to fight, while our real enemy, al Qaeda, continues to threaten governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not knowing your enemies is a vital mistake.

George W. doesn't understand his enemies. In the words of that great philosopher, "it's too late, baby, it's too late. Something inside has died. We tried, but we just can't make it." It's time to try a new President.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Bill Clinton Comedical Historian Moment

I leave the following story for future humor historians. I recall meeting Bill Clinton when he was Governor of Arkansas. He told a joke about three men who were running for Sheriff of Hog County, Arkansas earlier in the 20th century. (There is no actual Hog Country, yet Governor Clinton explained that one of the counties adopted Hog County as its nickname.) The first candidate stood up before a crowd of voters and explained how he lost his leg during the Civil War and thus he had the courage to be elected Sheriff. The second candidate stood up before the crowd and explained how he lost his arm during the Civil War and thus he should be elected Sheriff. The third candidate was a younger man who had both arms and both legs. That candidate explained that he was too young to have served in the Civil War, but that he had served with Teddy Roosevelt on the charge of San Juan Hill. He claimed that Teddy Roosevelt turned to him and said "you realize, the first man to the top of that hill is going to elected President someday." The candidate then said he responded "You go ahead, Teddy. All I ever want to be is Sheriff of Hog County."

Is It Alive, or Is It Dead, and Should I Touch It?

I was asked if live comedy is dead. Live comedy died? I was awaiting for the birth announcement. I need to keep updated more.

No, live comedy is alive. Like people debating whether the theater is dead, I note that people have been proclaiming its death since the theater's second season. I am positive somesaid said "Shakespeare, he's a fad. No one will remember him in six months", or at least "Doth Shakespeare make an impression? I think not."

To answer specifics, "Saturday Night Live" continues to be strong. Even when it makes mistakes, it makes memorable ones. I am always amused to see the Not Ready for Primetime Players funnier on SNL than once they hit prime time. Television's problem is they adhere to formulas, and then once the public becomes bored with the formula, someone breaks the formula, and then all shows start following this new formula until it gets boring again. SNL at least allows greater experimentation.

I have a "Tales of the New Depression" story. One of the staff mentioned they were busy with "Tying the Knot", and I forgot that was the name of a movie. So I sent my congratulations on the upcoming wedding. "Tales of the New Depression" did a great job jabbing at Bush and the Establishment. I understand they stopped running it as they feared the jabs could backfire from a viewing audience that might not understand their brand of humor. I hope they return after the elections, as there is still much out there deserving more jabs.

The standup comics in Hollywood were good. As I note in New York, there are lots of good comics out there, yet you can see that special something that the comics have when they make it on national television that the up and comings ones don't yet have. Generally, comics need to understand how to combine actually funny jokes with timing, voice inflexions, and facial expressions. Sally Mullins I saw has what it takes: she's funny, her timing is good, and she has the expressions going for her. I saw one comic who I think has the potential to make it, and I wish I wrote down his name. Hopefully I will get it so I may post it later. He was 17 and he almost has it all: his jokes were funny, his instinct for timing is good (especially at that age), and he even puts body motions into his comedy. I was also impressed that he could do his comedy with his parents watching (frankly, some parents would ground their child for a week for some of the things he said, so I presume they knew it was all for the comedy). The only thing he needs to work on is his facial expressions: he had a stone face. He either needs to work on that, or put his stone face into his act.

But then, what do I know. I'm the glad who predicted that guy Seinfeld needed to work on his act. What do I know? But then, I always thought his friend Larry David was hilarious, so I think I know something.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Die Laughing, or Vote

The "Vote or Die" campaign is making recorded phone calls to increase voter turn out. Yet, there are some consequences that they may not realize. I was in an elevator with two elderly women who were talking. One woman seemed quite upset. She claimed a man telephoned and said he'd kill her if she didn't vote.

Where Have You Gone, Ron Reagan?

From today's

Me: "Any chance of your returning to "Saturday Night Live"? How was it hosting that show?"
Ron Reagan: "It was fun. That was a long time ago. So far I haven't been invited back."

Hey, Saturday Night Live: invite Ron back. As a strong advocate favoring stem cell research, he deserves more attention. OK, so maybe you don't want him imitating Tom Cruise, but then, neither does Nicole Kidman, so no loss there. Maybe he could debate the Bush daughters. Incidentally, how does the one twin NOT get into Yale, with three generations of Yalies before her, including a U.S. President and a U.S. Senator from Connecticut? What did she do to not get in?

Go Ron Reagan, and continue standing up against those who fear progress. We need to convince more of the Religious We're Right that they should be more humanitarian by supporting efforts to save lives and lessen human suffering. Now, I know some nuns support human suffering, but that's another story. Let's join in solving problems.

Presidential Race Runs Like a Stocking

The Ralph Nader campaign is offering a DVD where Nader is spliced into the Presidential debates. Thus, you may watch the Presidential debates as if Nader had been invited. The DVD is available for $20. For $50, you may order a video where Nader is spliced in as the second baseman for the Red Sox during the World Series.

Barbara Bush and Bill Clinton are both in the area today. Some American History students were debating which event would be the more useful to see. I told them they should see Clinton: afterall, Clinton ran the country for eight years while Barbara only ran the country for four years.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Not Hef's Bunnies

In reading the postings of my classmates from my elementary school classmates (and should it bother me that my elementary school classmates keep in touch better than my high school classmates do: maybe there is some truth to that old "Southern hospitality"), a classmate mentioned how I was funny even back in first grade. Frankly, I think most first graders are fairly funny, but that's another matter. He claimed he even remembered the first joke I told. Thus, I will share with you the first remembered joke I am remembered to have ever told:

Question: "What is one plus one?"
Answer: "Two bunny ears."

Huh? The joke doesn't even make any sense. Granted, I was in first grade, but how can that possibly be considered funny? How can anyone even remember such a lame joke except for the lameness of the joke?

Maybe it's a first grade thing. I tried the joke on a first grader. "What's one plus one? Two bunny ears." The first grader thought it was hilarious and was rolling around on the floor laughing. (I warned you most first graders are funny.) How can such a nonsense joke possibly be that hilarious?

Maybe I was missing something. I tried the joke on adults. They stared at me blankly, waiting for the rest of the joke. No, adults don't understand the joke.

My market research indicated that the joke is a hit with first graders yet fails with anyone with a second grade education (which somedays is hard to find around the Capitol). Finally, I had to ask a first grader what is so funny about the joke. It was then that I learned why the first grade mind is so different from the rest of us.

There are essentially only two things one learns in first grade. They are: 1 plus 1 equals 2. The other is that bunnies have two ears (except for the bunny belonging to the very strange student in the back row who should never be allowed near animals ever again). That in fact is the usual final exam to graduate from first grade: 1+1= (choose one) 1,2, or 3 and the bunny has (choose one) 2,3 or 39 ears (students choosing 39 are promptly drug tested).

I recall my very first joke differently. It was "Where is the best place to get shot?" The strange student in the back row would usually guess "in the fleshy part of the arm: take my word from it from personal experience." I would say, wrong, the best place to get shot is Cape Canaveral.

Get it? Shot? Into space?

Obviously, my first grade routine wasn't ready for prime time. Yet it would have been a smash hit during the children's programming.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Googled to Death

OK, I admit it. I am an idiot and I have no idea what this Google thing is doing. Help! I'm being googled, which I believe is an offense in most states. If anyone out there can explain to me where this google thing should be, please let me know.


Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny


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