Monday, November 29, 2010

Don't Blame WikiLeaks for "Cablegate"

The website WikiLeaks yesterday began slowly releasing more than a quarter million United States embassy cables. So far, 278 of the 251,287 confidential documents are available for viewing online. The release has promoted outrage from politicians and government leaders, concerned that national security is at risk as a result of the release. Some politicians, such as Representative Peter King (R-NY), have said WikiLeaks is a terrorist group, putting the website in the same category as Al Qaeda or Al-Shabaab.

However, WikiLeaks isn't to blame. Rather, it's the failure of the United States government under the administration of President Barack Hussein Obama to keep confidential documents secret, and the government now needs a scapegoat to blame. The legitimate person to blame is Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, an intelligence analyst who took the documents and released them illegally. Manning is a disgrace to the good men and women of the United States armed forces who put their lives on the line to protect this country and serve with honor. Manning currently is facing charges (under the Uniform Code of Military Justice) of "adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system" and "communicating, transmitting, and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source." Instead of these charges, which could lead to a 52-year stay in the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Manning should be charged with treason and executed for his offenses once convicted. (If he isn't convicted, then other charges should be a backup plan.)

The Obama administration also needs to take responsibility for the failures and mistakes that led to this leak. Better security measures within the government would have prevented Manning from leaking such a large amount of sensitive information. Additionally, the Obama administration needs to move towards being more transparent with the American people. A government that is excessive in hiding information from the people is not a good government. Think about how much the Soviet Union hid from its people. The United States must take care to not follow that type of model, and act as communists do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

North Korea Must Be Stopped

This week, North Korea attacked a United States ally, South Korea. The attack resulted in civilian deaths. But, North Korea was not hit back hard and stopped from mounting further attacks. Nor was anything done after they sank a South Korean ship (in South Korean waters) killing dozens.

This type of shenaniganry should not be tolerated. The administration of President Barack Hussein Obama is making the United States appear weak, unable and unwilling to come to the defense of its ally, as it sits back and continues to suggest time after time that more negotiation and multi-party talks take place with North Korea. Time after time, talks happen and North Korea fails to act in a manner consistent with global expectations. The country continues its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, continues to operate a totalitarian regime that oppresses its people and restricts free speech with “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il at the top of a country where people are starving and the economy is in complete ruins. President Obama, likely, is trying to avoid intervention in an effort to avoid his left-wing base getting upset over the United States involving itself in another war. The left opposed the United States intervention that brought freedom to the people of Iraq, and many on the far-left oppose the war in Afghanistan. These liberals, of course, were a huge component to President Obama’s 2008 election and he needs their votes if he runs again in 2012.

President Obama needs to inform Kim Jong-Il and his regime that they have 48 hours to give up control of the country to an international peacekeeping force and a transitional government that can work to implement freedom, democracy, and human rights in North Korea, and work on restoring the economy and providing the people of North Korea with basic needs. In 2003, President George W. Bush told Saddam Hussein that he had 48 hours to leave Iraq or he would face military action. When Saddam Hussein didn’t comply, U.S. warplanes began bombing. In North Korea, if Kim Jong-Il doesn’t listen, President Obama should immediately order the destruction of all North Korean military assets. The work can be done by air, with military planes used to take out North Korean assets.

North Korea is not interested in peace. Kim Jong-Il is a delusional leader, corrupt with power and greed. Only when his regime is removed from power can the people of North Korea prosper and can reunification ever take place in Korea.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christmas, America's Holiday

Every year as December 25th approaches, some people get into an uproar over how it's unfair to celebrate and recognize Christmas in the workplace, schools, and other "public" settings because of the fact that it is a day of significance to a specific religion (Christianity). Unfortunately, these people are short on facts and fail to recognize that Christmas is not simply a religious day, but that there's a secular aspect to Christmas which includes the recognition of Christmas as an official United States Federal Holiday. In 2006, author John Gibson's book The War on Christmas was published. The book argues that secular liberals took aim at Christmas.

Christmas from a religious perspective essentially is a commemoration of the birth of savior Jesus Christ. Whether you or your religion believe in Jesus Christ and wish to recognize his birth is up to you. That is your right pursuant to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Christmas from a government perspective has been a Federal Holiday for over 100 years. The Act of Congress making Christmas a Federal Holiday was introduced into the House of Representatives by Representative Burton Chauncey Cook (R-IL). The Senate passed the bill on June 24, 1870, and four days later on June 28, 1870 President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill.  From a secular perspective for America, Christmas is a Federal Holiday that brings Americans together and has a significant economic impact, which is especially important in times when the country can benefit from increased spending related to the holiday. Some of the secular aspects of Christmas include:

  • Sending Christmas Cards to others, which helps the producers and sellers of Christmas cards, as well as the postal service and other couriers;
  • Giving to charity, which helps the charities and those that receive aid from the charities in addition to helping reduce tax burden on donators who can often claim deductions;
  • Buying gifts, which leads to billions of dollars being spent at retailers nationwide and leads to increased hiring in the retail sector to deal with the increased customer demand;
  • Getting together with family, which leads to increased money spent on travel;
  • The Christmas tree, which helps tree farms and retailers nationwide and even abroad (as some trees come from Canada); 
  • Parades, which bring people out into a City where they'll inevitably spend money, even if it's just the cost to travel there;
  • Eating, Drinking, and being Merry, which helps food and beverage producers big and small.
An example of numbers: if the average American spent $100 on gifts at Christmas, that puts over $30B into the economy. 

Those who oppose the concept of Christmas as a secular and Federal Holiday are opposing the benefit of the American people and the American economy. Most Americans want to see an improved economy and reduced unemployment. That can't happen if Christmas goes away. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Four Loko Bans An Example of Government Gone Too Far

It's been in the news lately that many states (Massachusetts and Michigan, for example) are working on and/or announcing bans on alcoholic energy drinks, the most notable one being Four Loko. The bans come because they believe these drinks are a danger following stories about people ending up in the hospital or nearly dead following the abuse of these drinks, along with other alcohols. The FDA this week stated it was planning to declare the combination of alcohol and caffeine "unsafe," and that it could order a ban / seizure of the products (news story).

It should be noted that alcoholic energy drinks have been on the shelves for years. Additionally, people can mix alcohol and energy drinks themselves. Red Bull + Vokda is a popular drink at many bars. At The Pour House in Boston, I tried and enjoyed a drink called The Rejuvenator, which featured the combination of flavored vodka, Red Bull, and Gatorade. I didn't vomit, pass out, black out, or die as a result, because I drank in moderation. I'm sure that if I had 20 drinks in an hour, it would be a different story. In another example, we have a politician in New York who decided to experience Four Loko first hand, doing so in a foolish fashion where he throws up because he had over two and a half of Four Loko in an hour. He basically drank the equivalent of a glass of wine every five and a half minutes for an hour. Had he had one can, he probably would have been fine.

Alcohol is restricted in all 50 states to people of age 21 or higher*. Like tobacco, the decision to drink an alcoholic beverage is one that an adult should be able to make on his or her own. The government shouldn't decide what you can drink, you should decide. What the government's role should be is to make sure that people are able to make an informed decision. That is why I propose that the same standards requiring nutritional data and ingredient disclosure in food be applied to alcoholic beverages. If a can of iced tea has to have nutritional data and an ingredient list, then a can of Four Loko should too. Alcoholic beverages should not receive a special pass from the requirements of other beverages. Perhaps in addition to the normal warning from the Surgeon General on alcoholic beverages, an additional warning about the caffeine / alcohol should be added. In the end, though, if people choose to ignore these warnings, that should be their right and their freedom as an American living in what is supposed to be a free country.

*A future blog will likely discuss the topic of the age 21 drinking age, which has many problems and actually has led to greater rates of alcohol abuse in the United States than in other developed countries with lower drinking ages.

It's Not Conservative to be Uninformed

Tonight I had the pleasure -- or pain -- of watching Hannity on the FOX News Channel with conservative commentator Ann Coulter on the show. Ms. Coulter is often controversial, hated by liberals, but often makes good arguments that are in-line with the facts. Ms. Coulter was on the show tonight to discuss the latest controversy regarding the Transportation Security Administration, with the new "enhanced" pat downs and whole body imaging that is currently in place at many airports with plans for expansion eventually to all U.S. airports.

Unfortunately, her comments tonight on Hannity were a disgrace to conservatives worldwide, as Ms. Coulter spewed off information that was blatantly wrong regarding backscatter x-ray machines at the airport. Whether you like the idea of whole body imaging being done in an effort to prevent terror or not, the facts are still the same about the machines. Ms. Coulter talked about how the machines were dangerous and exposed people to high levels of radiation. Unfortunately, to debunk her comments, you only need to be smart enough to read an article over at HowStuffWorks, or read articles about radiation exposure that have been written by people with academic expertise, such as this one from Idaho State University.

For the purposes of this blog, I'll debunk Ms. Coulter's comments in a straight forward way. A common unit of radiation dose is the Röntgen equivalent man, or rem. 1 rem breaks down into 1,000 millirem (mrem). In the average day, a person's radiation exposure is 1 mrem. An average of 2,000 mrem a year is considered safe occupational exposure, with 5,000 mrem a year as the maximum safe exposure in any single year.

How much radiation does a backscatter x-ray machine give a person? 0.02 mrem. If you flew twice a day, every day of the year, and went through a backscatter machine each time, your total dose of radiation would be 14.6 mrem. That is less than 1/100th of the safe exposure limit for a year. For a traveler who makes a more reasonable number of flights, say 100 a year, they're looking at 2 mrem, which is 1/1000th of the safe exposure limit.

If radiation from a backscatter x-ray is a serious concern, the more serious concern would be the 2-4 mrems that one would experience on a New York to Los Angeles flight due to the high altitude. Using the low side, 2 mrems, you're getting 100 times more radiation on the actual flight than you are by going through the backscatter x-ray machine. If Ms. Coulter believes there is a danger from the backscatter x-ray machine radiation, then she should become an advocate against air travel entirely given that it's 100 times worse.

Had Ms. Coulter checked the facts and done some simple mathematics, she could have realized that the argument against backscatter x-rays due to radiation concerns is a very poor argument. Instead, Ms. Coulter should have focused on the real issues that exist: the invasion (or perceived invasion) of privacy that the machines create; the high cost that taxpayers are paying to implement technology that might not be very effective and may have failed to catch last year's "pants bomber"; and the greater invasion of privacy and people's emotions created by TSA's use of the new "enhanced" pat-down. Unfortunately, Ms. Coulter went along with rhetoric that was incorrect and untrue. What she did, sadly, was brought her self down to using the tactics that some on the far-left she warns about in books like Godless: The Church of Liberalism often use. True conservatives believe in the truth and the facts, and Ms. Coulter's conduct tonight on Hannity goes against the Reagan-esque principles of openness and honesty that true conservatives embrace.

In Defense of Bristol

If you've been watching Dancing with the Stars this season, you know that teen advocate Bristol Palin, a huge underdog in the competition, has managed to avoid elimination for nine weeks. Three times, including this week, it came down to the end of the show where one pair would be eliminated and the other would move on for Ms. Palin and her partner Mark Ballas. All three times, they moved on.

According to many on the far-left, the reason for Ms. Palin's success is because right-wing Republicans and Tea Party conservatives have maintained an effort to ensure that Bristol doesn't get eliminated from Dancing with the Stars. Bristol's continued success is nothing more than a right-wing conspiracy. It isn't just the left-wing bloggers and liberal media outlets putting the story forward. Bloomberg last week reported the following:
Bristol Palin survived another elimination round on ABC’s "Dancing With the Stars" as fans including Tea Party supporters mustered enough votes to overcome low scores from the talent show's judges.
But could the Tea Party really have such power? After all, on November 2nd, the Tea Party was unable to win the Senate seats it wanted in Nevada and Delaware. In fact, a majority of Tea Party candidates lost their elections. Plus, if you believe the far-left, then obviously Tea Party members aren't concerned with Dancing with the Stars because they're too busy watching their supporters over on FOX News Channel, or better yet, counting stacks of money on their yachts.

What the far-left is doing is trying to attribute Ms. Palin's success on Dancing with the Stars to far right efforts led by supporters of Ms. Palin's mother (former Alaska Governor and rumored 2012 Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin). They're doing this because they're scared. They're upset that this conservative woman has manage to capture the support of viewers of Dancing with the Stars. They're looking forward at 2012 and beyond thinking that the American people will decide that they want to move towards more conservative principles, having gotten tired of the wasteful spending and earmarks that they've fought for. They are afraid of Ms. Palin, because her position as a well-spoken, attractive, young conservative woman means that other young people are more likely to listen to her than them.

The truth is that Ms. Palin continues to advance on Dancing with the Stars because viewers like her. They've seen her working hard throughout the show, and they've seen as she's put in an effort week-after-week to become a better dancer. Ms. Palin has no background in dancing, and I would suspect that the majority of Dancing with the Stars viewers don't. People feel a connection to Ms. Palin, and they see her as the a hard-working American who can achieve success by making an honest effort and working hard. People like underdogs, and they like to see an underdog become top dog. As a result, people pick up the phone and they vote for her to move forward on the show. That's why Ms. Palin has made it to the finals of Dancing with the Stars. It's not a right-wing conspiracy, it's not cheating, its good, honest work.

(As a full disclosure, I believe that the best pair this season on Dancing with the Stars is not Bristol and Mark, but rather Kyle and Lacey. I think they'll end up the winners, with Bristol and Mark taking second place. We'll find out next week when Dancing with the Stars airs.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Waiting for QE3

A couple weeks ago, the Federal Reserve under Chairman Ben Bernanke announced plans for a second round of "quantitative easing," which quickly became known as "QE2" for short. The plan involved pumping $600 billion into the economy. The idea behind "quantitative easing," officially, is to lower interest rates for two purposes:
  1. To promote job growth, something that the United States desperately needs and that the Obama administration has continually failed to deliver;
  2. To avoid deflation
I won't argue with the concept of job growth. We need jobs here in the United States. Unemployment remains above 9%, and many unemployed will soon reach the end of extended unemployment benefits. However, the concept of avoiding deflation is absolutely absurd. Has anyone noticed any real deflation in this country? I constantly see prices going up. It costs more to travel, it costs more to eat, and it costs more to buy clothes. And just look at precious metals. The price of gold, silver, and platinum have skyrocketed. (On a stock / finance note -- if you're NOT invested in precious metals, you've been missing out.) For many, we are paying more than ever before in taxes. Sure, some products have come down in price, but this is limited to technology products which are introduced at high prices and then come down to more "mainstream" prices as newer technologies come out.

If you go out on the street (and I'm talking Main Street, not Wall Street) and ask people what "quantitative easing" is, most people don't know. The Federal Reserve is using complicated financial terminology in order to hide what "QE2" really is: the printing of more money, which devalues the U.S. dollar, and makes the money that Americans have worked hard to save worth less.

It seems that whenever times are tough, the government moves forward with plans that involve pumping in more money. If the $600B doesn't do the job, then their next idea will probably be to move forward with "QE3" and pump another $600B (or more) into the economy, devaluating the American people's savings even more.

You cannot solve all problems by simply throwing money at them. Zimbabwe tried this. They ended up with, according to their own government, over 230,000,000% inflation. (Forbes estimated the inflation to be so much that to express the figure, you need to use scientific notation - 6.5x10^108%.) Using the government's numbers, that means that a person with $2,300,000 ended up with their millions being worth just $1 in a matter of a few years. Do I think the Federal Reserve would be as irresponsible as Zimbabwe's Central Bank? No. Do I think President Obama is as foolish as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe? No. But simply printing money up isn't a long-term solution that can solve our country's economic problems.