February 24, 2008

The Audacity of Hopelessness - New York Times

Frank Rich, ever the brilliant political writer, though I often don't agree with his politics, ends today's column with the observation below. He cites the failure of the Clinton campaign machine as one BIG reason that Obama is surging ahead.

The simple fact of the matter is that Obama's rhetoric inspires people that things could/should/will be better while the Billary duo comes off as same ol', same ol'. People do want a change, but Obama, appealing as he is, strikes me as an empty suit, the kind of person you'd hire for a short term marketing job, not the CEO.

Nevertheless, his momentum in the primaries cannot be denied. I only wish the Republicans had fielded a better candidate than McCain.

"In the 2008 real-life remake of “Pat and Mike,” it’s not the fiancĂ©, of course, but the husband who has sabotaged the heroine. The single biggest factor in Hillary Clinton’s collapse is less sexism in general than one man in particular — the man who began the campaign as her biggest political asset. The moment Bill Clinton started trash-talking about Mr. Obama and raising the specter of a co-presidency, even to the point of giving his own televised speech ahead of his wife’s on the night she lost South Carolina, her candidacy started spiraling downward.

What’s next? Despite Mrs. Clinton’s valedictory tone at Thursday’s debate, there remains the fear in some quarters that whether through sleights of hand involving superdelegates or bogus delegates from Michigan or Florida, the Clintons might yet game or even steal the nomination. I’m starting to wonder. An operation that has waged political war as incompetently as the Bush administration waged war in Iraq is unlikely to suddenly become smart enough to pull off that duplicitous a “victory.” Besides, after spending $1,200 on Dunkin’ Donuts in January alone, this campaign simply may not have the cash on hand to mount a surge."

The Audacity of Hopelessness - New York Times

February 23, 2008

Vermont Senator Bill Doyle's Wisdom

I've posted in total Bill Doyle's excellent "My Turn" in the Saturday, Feb. 23 Free Press and taken the liberty of inserting some of my comments. Bill has it right!! Our Legislature is often led away from the serious issues the state faces by its present leadership. More important, good people are discouraged from running for office because of the heavy time commitment and the intense partisan bickering.


My Turn: State's citizen Legislature at risk

Published: Saturday, February 23, 2008 in The Burlington Free Press

By Sen. Bill Doyle

In recent years, there has been no contest in a significant number of open legislative seats during the election year. The political parties have worked harder than ever to recruit candidates. Potential candidates always ask about the time requirements and many have expressed they would like to serve, but the number of months away from their occupations is too great. [The fact there's a shortage of typical 'party' candidates presents an opportunity for those who believe that substantial change in direction is needed. Of course, committing the time is THE issue. We should target incumbents who are on the 'wrong side of the tracks' and who might otherwise run unopposed, supported by a strong platform]

Recruitment of legislative candidates is also adversely affected by a more recent trend, the proliferation of study groups. Sen. Peter Shumlin, the president pro tem, has said: "The line between the citizen legislature and the full-time legislature is the summer study committees. My philosophy has always been, the fewer the better. Those lawmakers who are appointed to study committees are often those who do not hold full-time jobs, which has the effect of limiting input from any lawmakers whose jobs don't allow them to sit on the off season study panels." In recent years, the number of study committees has averaged over 30. Representative Anne Donahue has written: "Those who fear we are moving more and more toward a full-time legislature and oppose it (like myself) be on guard. There are more and more legislative committees that are meeting on special topics during the "in between" of a two-year session, in addition to the oversight committees, the study committees, and the special meetings. The increase this year is a significant jump." [I don't have a particular bias against 'study groups' per se. Over the years, I've participated in a couple when my employer's interests were affected. However, they tend to be dominated by people who have resources at their disposal, special interest groups, lobbyists, not-for-profits, think tank type people. They don't hear the typical 'business' voice. Often the people who are asked to submit content and viewpoints are 'selected' with a bias to the desired outcome, or the report writers who prepare the reports can have an intrinsic bias...the power of MY pen syndrome.]

Thirteen new interim study committees were added this year, and the total cost of all the committees is estimated to be $178,000. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of bills introduced in the Vermont General Assembly over the years.

During the past 40 years, the number of bills has doubled from approximately 500 1965 to approximately 1,200 in recent years. This has had the effect of increasing the length of the session and increases operating costs and has led to increased staffing. In fairness, legislatures throughout the nation have taken on more responsibility, and the issues have become more complex. [It's true the issues are more complex, but any legislator should have a set of rock-solid principles on which to separate the wheat from the chaff. Equally important is the ability to be truly independent in thinking and voting. Senator Doyle has this trait, consequently the Republicans have often seen him as a maverick.]

Increased partisan bickering during the legislative session is another unfortunate development. It extends the length of sessions and contributes to the difficulties of recruiting candidates to run for the general assembly. People who would otherwise be inspired to serve their state listen to the noise of politics and prefer to stay home.The ideal of a citizen legislature is in jeopardy in Vermont when we cannot attract good people to serve. Lack of candidates also has implications for citizenship in the democratic process. The system works best when the individual voter has a choice and there is competition for legislative seats. [AMEN!]

In recent years throughout the nation, the public has favored limiting legislative sessions, and according to the Book of the States, published by the Council of State Governments: "Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada and Oklahoma all approved constitutional amendments that resulted in shorter legislative sessions. Vermont is one of the few states that place no limit on the length of legislative sessions." Maybe it's time to restrain ourselves, and make a greater commitment to productivity (and consequently a reduction in the amount of political wrangling).

Decreasing the introduction of bills could decrease the length of legislative sessions, would increase the possibility of recruiting more people to run for the general assembly, would create greater public confidence in the legislature, and would result in better utilization of staff time. It would help preserve the citizen legislature and aid the democratic process by increasing the possibility of competition for a legislative seat. [Doyle's wisdom is on display. At some point we should connect with him (a small meeting with him) for support of what we're trying to accomplish. At least we should get our hands on the results of the annual poll he conducts on voting day.]

If we expect good management practices from our state agencies, we should implement good management practices for the Vermont General Assembly. [This is the type of leadership we should expect from the 'leaders' in the House and Senate. Instead, we have highly partisan rallying and wrangling and playing to the media and their constituencies rather than statesmanship in how they manage the people's business. In as many rational and public ways as possible, we should point out how our Legislative leaders have wandered from their mission.]

Bill Doyle is the minority leader of the Vermont Senate. He is the vice chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee and vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

February 20, 2008

The Cult of Obama

Watching the Obama phenomenon unfold should give thinking people great concern. As I've listened and watched the debates and media sound bites, I have to confess I don't know what he stands for because he skillfully conceals it in his infectious rhetoric of 'change' and 'hope.' Many in America seem enthralled by his charismatic speeches and emotionally engaged not so much in what he might reasonably be able to accomplish as what he says he can do. It's as though a new social network has been created and fostered by the media, and people want to adopt this new cult.

His ability to deliver on the nebulous promises requires a great leap of faith, yet many people have embraced the aura created, but where's the beef?

He seems to lean far left and his voting record seems to confirm that. He is intelligent, though naive. The only direction in which I seem him moving this country further toward Socialism, a serious mistake.

If McCain and Obama are the nominees, American voters will split down many fault lines including race, gender, age, and income. Whether McCain can beat Obama is a long shot if the cultists all vote.

I wish we had different choices in this election...and I don't mean Hillary. The 'Billary bunch' cannot be happy!

February 17, 2008

As Nuclear Waste Languishes, Expense to U.S. Rises - New York Times

Stupid is as stupid does. We have an irrational national policy regarding waste disposal from nuclear facilities. We have this multi-billion dollar boondoggle at Yucca Mountain Nevada which seems likely never to open. Meanwhile a country like France who produces 70+% of its electricity from nuclear reactors and reprocesses the waste fuel.

Certainly there is low-level radioactive waste to be disposed of, but reprocessing the spent fuel seems the rational solution and the concern of most environmentalists.

The sad reality is that anti-nuclear environmental forces are behind most of the delays and lawsuits at Yucca Mountain. No one has proposed a solution to their roadblocks. Reprocessing would seem the best hope for a long-term resolution to the impasse.

Meanwhile, plan B for Yucca Mountain could be to create a tourist destination for visitors to Las Vegas!

What a fiasco. I am embarrassed for our country when this sort of mess is allowed to develop and fester.

As Nuclear Waste Languishes, Expense to U.S. Rises - New York Times

By Making Holocaust Personal to Pupils, Sarkozy Stirs Anger - New York Times

France's new leader sure knows how to stir things up and keep himself in the headlines! It seems to me this Times story gives more ink to his critics that to his supporters, to be expected I suppose when a leader begins to talk about religion and God.

As for the Holocaust, humanity must never forget the terrible tragedy. Before Sarkozy's proposal is implemented, though, he will continue to be roundly criticized. He'll revel in the controversy, methinks. Nevertheless, children in school must lear the facts of the Holocaust, not the propaganda of those who would downplay or deny it.

By Making Holocaust Personal to Pupils, Sarkozy Stirs Anger - New York Times

February 16, 2008

A Little Piece of Microsoft Aids Small Business - New York Times

I'm reminding myself that I must check out the new Microsoft Small Business Live in more detail. I've had an MS Live account since they first offered the service in 2006, but have done little with it. David Pogue at the Times thinks they're on to something now that the services have been revised and much of the package offered free.

I think MS may be on to something, too. Most folks see Google more for geeks, except for search which is mainstream. No one is offering as much as Microsoft, not even Google with its Google Apps package. I've not signed on to Google Apps as a package, but I use all the features ...and luv 'em...except my own mail domain.

Microsoft should never be counted out as a successful player in any space they choose.

A Little Piece of Microsoft Aids Small Business - New York Times

Toleration and Islamic Law - WSJ.com

This from the Wall Street Journal (Subscription may be required to view the complete article) earlier in the week. The archbishop is far off base to think that more than one legal system can exist in a democracy. England and the other countries with large Muslim populations should be clear and crisp on this issue. Only one legal system is possible in a democracy. Otherwise the democracy begins a slide down slippery slope to chaos or worse.

"The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, earned an unusual rebuke from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week for suggesting that some version of Islamic -- "Shariah" -- law would inevitably be introduced in Britain. Even in rejecting the idea, however, Mr. Brown noted that some aspects of Shariah could be accommodated on a "case-by-case" basis.

This exchange highlights an issue that is fast reaching a boiling point in Britain and other Western countries with increasingly assertive Muslim communities. Can a modern democracy house more than one legal system, even on a limited basis, and remain a democracy as we have come to understand that term over the past two centuries?.."

"...Permitting any portion of the body politic to have its legal rights defined by community, rather than citizenship, would be a giant step backward. It is by no means clear how Western societies could practice such accommodation, even on a limited basis, without undercutting their social compact."

(Messrs. Rivkin and Casey served in the U.S. Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.)

The Economist piece on the subject skillfully points out the fallacy of creating more than one legal system in a democracy. Acuiescence would play right into the hands of those who would detroy democracy...and the demographics are on the side of the Muslims. Thew archbishop had best keep his mouth shut on this subject.

Toleration and Islamic Law - WSJ.com

February 15, 2008

Fresh Start Conservatism - New York Times

David Brooks is continuing to talk sense about what ails our economy/country and proposes steps to fix the decline in educational readiness in the U.S. I'm afraid our culture has become anti-learning, particularly for some minorities and many teenagers without goals. It's unfair to wholly blame the education establishment, and Brooks doesn't do that. But some people do.

Please read his views at the link below. Don't you agree with him. Please don't tell me it's 'W's fault' or blame it on NCLB. The roots are far deeper that that.

Fresh Start Conservatism - New York Times

February 13, 2008

Top Hezbollah Commander Killed in Syria Bombing - New York Times

Some good news from Syria...for a change!

Top Hezbollah Commander Killed in Syria Bombing - New York Times

The terrorist bastards are not happy, according to this AP story.

Hezbollah Chief Threatens Israel
By SAM F. GHATTAS (2/14/2008)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — The chief of Hezbollah threatened Thursday to retaliate against Israeli targets after accusing the Jewish state of killing the militant Imad Mughniyeh in Syria.
Hassan Nasrallah addressed supporters of the Lebanese Islamic militant group in a videotaped eulogy broadcast on a giant screen at the Beirut funeral for Mughniyeh, who was accused of masterminding dramatic attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s.

"You have killed Hajj Imad outside the natural battlefield,"
Nasrallah said in remarks directed at Israel. Hezbollah has long contended it only fights Israel within Lebanon and along their common border.

"You have crossed the borders," Nasrallah said. "With this murder, its timing, location and method — Zionists, if you want this kind of open war, let the whole world listen: Let this war be open."

Senate Votes to Expand Spy Powers - New York Times

Common sense reigns, for a change, in the Senate, no thanks to our two Vermont senators. Now the House should promptly agree with the major provisions of the Senate bill. Since this bill gives the President the power and discretion for surveillance, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton who did not vote on it, but said they would have opposed it, could choose not to implement it, should one of them be elected. Their pandering to the liberal left is obvious.

Granting immunity against the lawsuits brought against the telecom companies is absolutely the right thing to do in the wake of 9/11.

"The bill, which had the strong backing of the White House, allows the government to eavesdrop on large bundles of foreign-based communications on its own authority so long as Americans are not the targets. A secret intelligence court, which traditionally has issued individual warrants before wiretapping began, would review the procedures set up by the executive branch only after the fact to determine whether there were abuses involving Americans.

“This is a dramatic restructuring” of surveillance law, said Michael Sussmann, a former Justice Department intelligence lawyer who represents several telecommunication companies. “And the thing that’s so dramatic about this is that you’ve removed the court review. There may be some checks after the fact, but the administration is picking the targets.”

The Senate plan also adds one provision considered critical by the White House: shielding phone companies from any legal liability for their roles in the eavesdropping program approved by Mr. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks. The program allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without warrants on the international communications of Americans suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda.

AT&T and other major phone companies are facing some 40 lawsuits from customers who claim their actions were illegal. The Bush administration maintains that if the suits are allowed to continue in court, they could bankrupt the companies and discourage them from cooperating in future intelligence operations."

Senate Votes to Expand Spy Powers - New York Times

February 10, 2008

Gates Says NATO at Stake In Afghan Mission Debate - WSJ.com

Gates Says NATO at Stake In Afghan Mission Debate - WSJ.com

The U.S. cannot be 'alone' in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. NATO had best step up to its obligations to do its part. I wonder if Senators Clinton and Obama have a plan to provide for our common defense?

MUNICH, Germany -- Survival of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization alliance, a cornerstone of U.S. security policy for six decades, is at stake in the debate over how the U.S. and Europe should share the burden of fighting Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates
said Sunday.

"We must not -- we cannot -- become a two-tiered alliance of
those willing to fight and those who are not," Mr. Gates told the Munich Conference on Security Policy, where Afghanistan was a central topic. "Such a development, with all its implications for collective security, would effectively destroy the alliance."

[Robert Gates]

Washington has had innumerable disputes with its NATO allies in the 59 years since the alliance was founded as a bulwark against the former
Soviet Union. But today's debate over the importance of the mission in Afghanistan and how to accomplish it was portrayed by Mr. Gates as among the most difficult ever.

A central theme of Mr. Gates's speech was his assertion that al Qaeda extremists, either in Afghanistan or elsewhere, pose a greater threat to Europe than many Europeans realize.

After delivering his prepared remarks Mr. Gates fielded questions from his audience, which included dozens of top government officials, mainly from Europe and the U.S., as well as military officers, private security specialists, members of Congress and European parliamentarians.

Planning for Vermont's Burke Mountain Resort Project

"Quality of life" is an attractive draw to Vermont for people who don't have it or can afford more. People want to enjoy Vermont. For decades we have talked about the need for economic development in the Northeast Kingdom. Now that a big development comes along, apparently with the financial resources to do it 'right,' we have a terrible time deciding what 'right' means.

Or could it be we have some built-in resentment against those folks who can afford to live this more affluent lifestyle? Some in the area, particularly landowners, see an opportunity to make a buck, given the rise in land prices. Others apparently feel overwhelmed.

What would the taxes be for a development of this scale and how would the sleepy towns use the windfall? Could it be that some of the buyers of the resort property might consider establishing other business here? Perhaps this is an economic development opportunity that would reach beyond the limits of the resort itself.

We seem to have several models to judge the impact: Stowe; Rutland region; Stratton area; Sugarbush and environs. I think Vermont would be very hard-pressed economically without its resort destinations. Why not Burke, too?

February 8, 2008

Studies deem biofuels a greenhouse threat | CNET News.com

We seem to have something less than consensus as to whether biofuels are good for the planet. I have always maintained that ethanol from corn (kernels) was and is a boondoggle that has very serious and negative side effects that may not be counter balanced by the reduction in the growth of petroleum usage. It's putting big bucks in farmers' pockets right now, but we're paying for it in food prices.

Here's the NY Times take on the studies.

Negative baggage of corn-based ethanol includes: higher food prices; higher land prices; higher prices for non-corn agricultural products as land is taken for growing corn; collapse in the price of ethanol because production increases are not matched by demand and distribution capacity.

""When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially," said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University. "Previously there's been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis."

These plant-based fuels were originally billed as better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they were burned was balanced by the carbon absorbed when the plants grew. But even that equation proved overly simplistic because the process of turning plants into fuels causes its own emissions--for refining and transport, for example."

Studies deem biofuels a greenhouse threat | CNET News.com

Global-Warming Jujitsu - TierneyLab - Science - New York Times Blog

John Tierney continues to expand beyond most of the palaver in the NY Times that passes for informed opinion (certainly not settled strategies) about what to do about global warming. Fight it with untold $Billions (Kyoto protocol style, a failure so far) with little prospect of success or take rational action to ameliorate the effects in those parts of the world that will be disadvantaged by climate change...if it occurs as some think. Much of the world will see an advantage from global warming, but that's seldom what we hear in the MSM.

I am in the camp that says we are far better off spending money rationally to ameliorate bad effects rather than wreak havoc on productive economies as some extremists advocate when those economies in the future will be better able to cope with adverse results with better technologies.

While I don't support a carbon tax as Tierney does, his article and the quotes from a Cato Institute study are well worth the read.

Global-Warming Jujitsu - TierneyLab - Science - New York Times Blog

February 7, 2008

How will Real ID affect you? | CNET News.com

My guess is that most people have paid little attention to this simmering controversy over the federal government's plan to require states to meet the Real ID requirements to be implemented on May 11, 2008. You should click on the link at the end of this post to understand the import on a state-by-state basis.

The personal solution to this controversy at this time is to obtain a passport if you don't already have one.

Here is one excerpt from the linked information:

What is Real ID?

Federal regulations creating a uniform national ID card--called Real ID--take effect on May 11 (2008). If your state hasn't agreed in principle to upgrade its driver's licenses to be Real ID-compliant, you could have trouble traveling by air and taking advantage of some government services.

A CNET News.com survey shows that just over half of the states have signed up, while some have flatly refused to participate, typically citing costs or sovereignty worries. Privacy is another concern, with a mandatory barcode on Real ID cards lacking encryption or legal prohibitions against misuse, and mandatory linking of states' motor vehicle databases.


Vermont has requested an extension until 12/31/2009 for implementation of the requirements. Below is a quote form the linked-to article:


"Vermont requested and was granted an extension until December 31, 2009."
--John Zicconi, spokesman, Vermont Agency of Transportation

How will Real ID affect you? | CNET News.com

February 1, 2008

DSIRE: Incentives by State: Incentives in Vermont

This is a very comprehensive site with loads of information about energy efficiency programs and incentives for each state. Very nice reference. The link below is for Vermont.

DSIRE: Incentives by State: Incentives in Vermont

Kenya | More mayhem than mediation | Economist.com

Have we come to expect too much of Africa?  Given the frequent ethnic and tribal violence that grips country after country, endemic corruption, rampant AIDS/HIV, and the devastations of drought and floods,  is there any hope?

"But if there is no breakthrough, Kenya could tear apart even more drastically along ethnic lines, with Mr Kibaki's Kikuyu-dominated government controlling the wealthy centre of the country up to Nakuru, north-west of Nairobi, while Mr Odinga's Orange opposition holds sway over the west and much of the north. Most of the Kalenjin people in the Rift Valley are hostile to Kikuyu political domination.

For many Kenyans this is both an appalling and, until recent events, incredible prospect. The country's largest newspaper, the Daily Nation, which had slightly favoured Mr Kibaki during the election campaign, has lost patience with him. An editorial declared that the government's “inertia and ineptitude” were “exposing base instincts and driving the country back to pre-colonial times”. "

Kenya | More mayhem than mediation | Economist.com