Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ridding society of its unwanted citizens

A society ridding itself of its unwanted citizens is nothing new. In the western world, this idea first surfaced during the last years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, in either the late 16th or the early 17th century.

This was a time, Alden Vaughn writes, when England was undergoing tremendous change, some might even say upheaval. It was transitioning from being primarily an agrarian economy to one that was based on industry. In many ways, during Elizabeth I’s reign, England left the Middle Ages and entered the beginnings of the modern world.

England’s small farms crumbled, depression gripped the economy, and the population increased. It created, Vaughn writes, “the honest poor” who could not find work and “the willful poor” who turned to crime to survive.

The problem was so large that the ruling classes, or those who influenced the ruling classes, began to feel threatened, saying these two types of people were “threatening the purity and orderliness of English society.”

London “attracted the dispossessed” and they inhabited the city’s pubs, where they cursed English society and complained about the cards they’d been dealt. It’s likely they were too drunk to lead any armed rebellions against the establishment but, the ruling classes, likely found them be an unsightly lot.

This was a time when there were no government programs to help the poor. There was very little, if any charity.

But there was a need for a solution to England’s problems. And, the ruling classes began to think, it was to be found in America, or the New World.

As England’s ruling classes viewed the world, “God had ordered man to multiply and fill the earth, and the New World appeared to Englishmen a vast, empty continent,” and, therefore, a solution. In essence, it was a place to dispose of England’s unwanted, unproductive, uneducated yet Christian citizens.

The only people living in the New World, as the English rulers saw it, were a few natives. But they were considered heathens, Vaughn writes, and, therefore, needed Christian neighbors so they could enter God’s Kingdom.

As the nobles saw it, placing Englishmen, even if they were the dispossessed, in the New World was not an invasion of a sovereign nation but an attempt at peaceful colonization; and the colony’s mission was to Christianize the natives as well as a means to keep England’s dispossessed busy and productive.

Not much has changed

Today, according to Victor Davis Hanson, in his book Mexifornia, the same thing is happening in Mexico. The country’s leaders, Hanson writes, see the United States as a dumping ground for their unwanted citizens.

There’s no motivation for Mexico to stop its citizens from illegally immigrating into the United States. In fact, if anything, there’s every motivation for them to allow their dispossessed citizens out of their country, so they become someone else’s problem, namely ours.

While he doesn’t quite ask the question, Hanson wonders what domestic American politics would look like if our poor and underemployed were crossing the border in droves into Canada. What would the Canadians do? And how would our leaders react to this situation?

Mexico, as far as Hanson is concerned, wants its poor and undereducated citizens out of the country. Every citizen who leaves Mexico is one less problem the government needs to worry about.

In fact, Hanson writes, Mexico is motivated to let its citizens leave its borders illegally because it’s a way to undo the results of the Mexican-American war, which gave the United States California and large portions of the southwest.

Illegal immigrants from Mexico are also, in some ways, a solution to Mexico’s poor, Hanson writes. They send money back to their relatives and friends in Mexico. And Mexico’s citizens, living in the United States, Hanson writes, give the country “leverage in its relationship with the United States, which involves billion-dollar loan guarantees and the creation of free-trade leagues.”

Hanson writes that he’s talked about this problem with Mexico City’s elite “who privately laugh that they’re exporting their Indians and … their unwanted, into the United States.” Hanson tells them their riffraff are likely the same kind of riffraff that made the United States a great country.

“So while the powers in Mexico City regard departure (illegal immigration) as good politics – a valve of sorts that releases dangerous pressures rather than allow explosions of the type that occurred in the country’s earlier checkered history – in an odd way the joke ultimately is on them. Within twenty years the poor, brown Indian alien could enjoy a material existence in America superior to that of the upper-class white Mexican in Mexico City.”


Your correspondent hopes you’ll accept his apology for not updating this blog lately. The holiday season, along with a few other duties, prevented him from updating this blog as much as he would like. Thank you for your understanding.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thanksgiving and America's early Puritans

We’re all political beings. It doesn’t matter if we’re an elected official or making our way through life far away from any legislative body. We’re more likely to make certain statements and take certain actions that will extend our influence, keep doors open, and give us future opportunities, than we are to acerbate anyone. Of course, there are always those exceptions but, more often than not, we want to get along with as many people as possible, even those we don’t know.

The Pilgrims, on that first Thanksgiving, were doing the same thing. Not only were they thanking God for seeing them through a brutal first year – about 50 of the original 100 settlers died during the first year – in the New World but they were also playing politics with the area’s indigenous people.

To survive, writes Nathaniel Philbrick in his new book, “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War,” required a lot of help from the Pokanokets, one of New England’s native tribes. Their leader, Massasoit, decided his people should assist the Pilgrims and, while attending that first Thanksgiving, “could only hope that the Pilgrims would continue to honor their debt” to his people “long after the English settlement had grown into maturity.”

Of course, that first Thanksgiving wasn’t called Thanksgiving. To the Puritans, a true thanksgiving was very much a religious affair, “a time of spiritual devotion,” writes Philbrick.

This first Thanksgiving was more akin to an English custom that celebrated the fall harvest, writes Philbrick, “a secular celebration that dated back to the Middle Ages which villagers ate, drank, and played games.” William Bradford, the colony’s leader, ordered his men to kill ducks and geese; earlier, they had harvested their crop of corn, squash, beans, barley and peas. Massasoit and 100 of his people arrived with five deer they’d just killed.

The Pilgrims, while in some ways a stubborn people, were better diplomats than others who had previously surveyed and landed on the Massachusetts shore. They’d accepted the help from the natives and made it point to get along with them. There were a number of native tribes in the area but they got along best with the Pokanokets.

Nothing happens in a vacuum and the Pilgrims just didn’t show up on the Massachusetts shore. They were extreme Puritans who felt persecuted by the English establishment; wanted the Church of England cleansed, as they saw it, from all of its impurities; feared that England would revert back to Catholicism; and weren’t all that sure that the monarchy and the parliament were serving England well.

As life went in the 1600s, they were extremists. They separated themselves from civilization to create Heaven on earth. In fact, prior to their arrival in Massachusetts they’d spent 11 years in Holland because it was much more welcoming to the Protestant cause. And in spite of all of their concerns about England, the Pilgrims never stopped being English. They never saw themselves as immigrants to Holland and, for that matter, they weren’t about to take up arms against England.

By today’s standards, the Pilgrims don’t look at all like radicals. They were cultural conservatives: They were devout, disciplined, believed in marriage, condemned adultery, disdained public drunkenness, and educated their young (boys).

The Puritans didn’t have any issues with sex. This is a modern day misunderstanding. While the Puritans certainly wouldn’t approve of pornography, they believed that sex was a gift from God and was a means of showing love to their spouse.

King James and the government were prepared to let the Puritans immigrate because it was an easy way, nearly cost free, of letting people they didn’t particularly like leave the country. If they survived, wonderful. Then England would lay claim to the lands they were occupying in the New World. If they died, their problems were gone.

In many ways, the Puritans are responsible for what Americans have become. The notion of the “Protestant work ethic” comes from them because they didn’t believe in idleness. This made them that much more productive. Their worries about the Church of England and the government of England gave rise to the notion, now a Constitutional amendment, of the separation of Church and State; it also caused them to question whether governments had too much power.

Given their background of having lived in Holland, these early settlers were much more successful in their first year, in spite of all of their problems, than their fellow colonists in Jamestown, because they had experience living in a land that wasn’t familiar to them. Finally, they got along with the natives because they knew they needed them.

One of the biggest differences between the two colonies was that Plymouth Rock was settled by families. Jamestown was settled only by men. This likely made the Pilgrim men work that much harder to ensure the colony’s survival. One of the issues the leaders of Jamestown had was constantly reminding the colonists what needed to be done. It was akin to managing a group of free agents.

The reason we celebrate Thanksgiving these days has nothing to do with the Puritans who came ashore back in 1620. While we reference them through popular literature and crass commercialization, Thanksgiving has more to do with the Civil War than anything else. Abraham Lincoln was looking for a way celebrate the country and established, through a proclomation, that the United States should celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday.

So if you’re prone to giving a toast or saying a prayer before eating Thanksgiving, make it a point to honor the Puritans this year. Their worries and concerns about government and religion would eventually be transferred to the people who would lead the American Revolution and then write the Constitution. They were a brave people prepared to give up everything so they could live as they felt was right. Would you make the same sacrifice?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day 2006

Today is Veteran's Day. Salute all who have served. And all who are serving.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Donald: Rumsfeld & his way of thinking

Like a lot of people in the media and in government, I’ve shaken hands with Donald Rumsfeld, the departing secretary of defense.

He was on the board of directors of Tribune Company in the mid-90s, while I worked there, and the one thing that the higher ups always said about Rumsfeld is that he wasn’t likeable.

He asked a lot of questions that the senior executives didn’t want to answer. He challenged their assumptions and that made them uncomfortable.

But Rumsfeld took his job as a board member seriously. In fact, looking back on it now, Rumsfeld was ahead of his time as a board member.

Given all the corporate scandals that have been uncovered and adjudicated recently – Enron, WorldCom, Tyco – anyone who sits on the board of directors of a publicly held company knows that they’re going to be held far more accountable for their actions today than they were 10 years ago.

Rumsfeld knew that 10 years ago.

He made it a point, through his questions, to understand the plans and the marketplace. He likely signed off on a lot of actions that Tribune executives went on to execute but that didn’t stop him from gaining as much of an understanding as possible of these plans during a board meeting.

There’s likely no bureaucracy in Washington that’s more set in its ways than the Defense Department. Generals and admirals are often accused of using obsolete strategy and tactics to fight the war effort they’re leading.

Rumsfeld challenged his subordinates to think differently about how they’d fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. More than one senior officer likely didn’t appreciate these questions. They probably would have preferred a defense secretary that would rubber stamp their war plans.

That’s not Rumsfeld. He doesn’t rubber stamp anything.

The results in Afghanistan were startling. The United States was the first western army to conquer Afghanistan. Compare that to the British, who lost an entire army in Afghanistan in the 19th century and, later, the Soviet Union, which decided they couldn’t successfully occupy or pacify the country.

There are a lot of questions that need to be resolved about Afghanistan. But the victory orchestrated by Rumsfeld can’t be dismissed.

The same is true with the Iraq War of 2003. The basic tenants of the plan weren’t all that new – the British basically went in the same way in the early 20th century – but the results were no less outstanding. Even military historian John Keegan confirmed that.

The mistake that Rumsfeld made in Iraq was not planning for the postwar occupation. There’s every reason to believe that he never thought about an insurgency.

Still, in the course of executing these war plans, Rumsfeld forced the generals and the admirals to think about fighting wars far differently. For some of them, it was probably the biggest challenge they’d had since they attained their high ranks.

Some of the thinking that Rumsfeld instilled in his officers will likely remain around for decades, and, yes, it could, one day, be criticized as being obsolete.

Perhaps had Rumsfeld come across as a nicer man he wouldn’t have been forced out of his job. We’ll never know. And, yes, Rumsfeld does deserve a lot of the criticism he’s received. Even he would admit that.

And while I’m sure Robert Gates, the defense secretary-designate, is a capable executive, I wonder if he’ll bring the same level of intellectual energy to the job as his predecessor.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Morning After

Thank God the election is over.

By the time Tuesday rolled around, I’d had my fill of phone calls from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, First Lady Laura Bush and others pushing the Republican cause in Illinois’ Sixth Congressional District.

Rudy called here about three times. The first time he called, I wasn’t home. So he was kind enough to leave a message. I didn’t erase it. Instead, when my wife got home from the office that night, I told her Rudy called, seeking her vote for Peter Roskam.

She didn’t believe me. Then she checked the messages and she couldn’t believe what she heard – a recorded political message from Rudy. That went on through the last four days prior to the election, with Rudy calling back three more times; Laura called only once.

I’m not sure I ever want to see another flyer ever again either. I’m not sure how many we received from the Roskam campaign, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was around six. Tammy Duckworth only sent one or two.

Now comes the hard part – governing. The Democrats and President Bush must lead the country under a new set of circumstances. The smart thinkers among the Democrats will soon learn that skills required to be an administration’s constant critic are quite different than the abilities needed to manage, govern and lead. Smart Republicans, at the same time, are figuring out where they can agree with their loyal opponents, so they’re in a stronger position in 2008 and than they were this year.

For U. S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the next likely Speaker of the House, and President Bush, their challenge will be keeping their supporters on the extreme left and right under control as they find areas where they can easily compromise and pass legislation that benefits them both.

Pelosi is a smart political thinker. She knows her margin over the Republicans is thin. The same will hold for whoever is elected as the next Senate Majority Leader.

For that matter, President Bush and the Congressional Republican leadership know that while they’re not quite down and out, they need to play their cards smarter if they want to ensure their future.

Pelosi’s challenge will be to make sure this election isn’t a fluke. Her challenge will be to hold together moderates and extremes within her party, and it’s my prediction that she’ll temper her views, at least publicly.

Bush and Pelosi, in fact, may discover that sometimes there’s nothing worse than an ally with whom you share the same political affiliation.

This is one of these times in our political history when the goals of both the executive and legislative branch are just as equally aligned as they are opposed.

For the President, his goal over the next two years will be to secure a legacy that has him riding high in the polls by the time he leaves office. He will also seek to make Republicans far more palatable to the electorate, so he’s succeeded in 2009 by another member of his party.

The Democrats also want The White House. So they’ll do whatever is necessary to hold their position, so they’re perceived as elect-able and able to govern the country.

How will all of this turn out? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Results 2006

The election results shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to anyone. The Democrats were always favored to gain the House of Representatives while control of the Senate remained debatable.

Here's some quick commentary on some of the elections:

-- Illinois' Gubernatorial Election -- This was never in doubt. It was always Democrat Rod Blagojevich's election to lose. The larger question is will he survive a second term. The scandals involving some of his supporters may also hit the governor.

-- Illinois Sixth Congressional District -- Had Tammy Duckworth stayed focused on the district, and worked the campaign harder, she'd be the toast of the Democrats today. Instead, Peter Roskam, undeterred by all the attention Tammy received, kept his nose to close the ground, worked hard for every vote, and today is Henry Hyde's successor. Tammy's loss also begs the question: Did the Democrats do everything they could to help her? Answer: No!

-- Illinois Cook County Board President -- This is machine politics at its best, resulting in Todd Stroger succeeding his father as Cook County Board President.

-- New York's U.S. Senate Race -- Hillary wins and she's reported to have a campaign war chest of around $15 million. What's in store for 2008? I'm guessing it's a run at the Democratic nomination for president.

-- California's Gubernatorial Election -- Arnold owes this victory to his wife. When the polls were down, she did a complete makeover of Arnold's office, installing a Democrat as his chief of staff. This resulted in Arnold moving toward the center and securing his re-election.

-- Connecticut's U.S. Senate Race -- What were the Democrats thinking when they deposed U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman as their candidate? Joe proved he knows Connecticut voters better than his opponent, Ned Lamont, and the national DNC party. Now the Democrats are forced into making amends to Lieberman. And Joe's in a position to do pretty much whatever he wants in the U.S. Senate. How refreshing! Hats off to Joe!

-- Virginia's & Montana's U.S. Senate Races -- As of this writing, the results show that neither election has been called. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

American DNA: An Attempt to Define American People & Thought

With the mid-term elections underway, people around the world are wondering– once again! – what the United States is all about.

Are we a bunch of fire-breathing, church-going fanatics, war-mongers, money-hungry capitalists, pornographers, exporters of pop culture trash and fast food, and Fox Network viewers? Or are we, instead, a group of erudite, peace-loving, highly educated, New York Times-reading, wine drinking, brie eating liberals sporting a nuanced approached to all that we undertake?

Many Americans attend a religious service on the weekend, filling themselves up with spirituality only to trash it by 9:30 Monday morning in the name of the Almighty bottom line. And if someone gets hurt along the way, well, that’s just too damn bad.

Some of us, on the other hand, spend our free time attending a cultural outing; updating ourselves with a serious newspaper or magazine and then complimenting ourselves for being so damn smart; we then complete the weekend by downing a thick, succulent pork chop with a side of mashed potatoes, washed down, of course, with an appropriate libation that would meet the approval of the discerning editors of the Wine Spectator.

And that’s the problem with the United States. It’s a mix.

There are the extremes, like meat-eating conservatives and vegetarian liberals, along with every possible combination in between. We might ask a mathematician what the factorial is so we have an idea of just how many possible combinations exist. But, as those people around the world see it, if we Americans could just be one or the other, conservative or liberal, then they wouldn’t be so confused about our identity.

There have been numerous books and shows about the American state of mind. Each takes a different approach, thinking they’ve summed up pretty much how Americans think and then act. And, this week, if you have access to satellite radio, you can listen to a BBC program that attempts to explain America to its listeners around the world.

The foundations of American culture and identity are found within the two surviving, English-speaking colonies, Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. These two colonies, one about money, the other about religion, left ever-lasting impressions, determining, in many ways, U.S. priorities and concerns that continue to this very day. In many ways religion and money provide Americans a prism through which issues are interpreted, considered, thought about and often through which polices are created.

U.S. history pretty much leaves Jamestown out in the cold. But it is no less significant. In fact, the main crop of Jamestown, tobacco, remains with us today and causes legal and medical problems to this very day.

Jamestown is nearly forgotten because there are no national holidays which resulted from its founding. In comparison, Plymouth Rock and its Puritans have fared much better over time because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Settled in April 1607, about 13 years ahead of Plymouth Rock, Jamestown was all about cash. It was originally owned by the London Company, and its charter, granted by the British Crown, was to make a profit. It was to happen, the original managers thought, through the mining of precious metals.

Not much is known about Jamestown’s first settlers. Alden Vaughan, author of “American Genesis: Captain John Smith and the Founding of Virginia,” writes that the original settlers included “more than fifty gentlemen … one clergyman … four carpenters, twelve laborers, two bricklayers, a blacksmith, a mason, a tailor, a surgeon, a sailmaker, a drummer, and four boys.” The ships’ crews were not included in this original count. We don’t know much about the character of these people other than the London Company was looking for men “of skill, energy, and self-sacrifice.”

Unlike their fellow settlers in Massachusetts, the men of Jamestown were expected, writes Vaughan, “to meet the company’s demand for profits.” The London Company’s shareholders would earn dividends through the Colony’s successful mining of precious metals, farming and trade with Native Americans.

Jamestown’s managers and colonists quickly discovered that there were no precious metals to be found. Four years after the colony’s founding, John Rolfe planted tobacco. His first crop was harvested in 1612, Vaughan writes, and he was exporting it to England shortly thereafter. Three years later, he exported 2,000 lbs of tobacco to England; by 1620, he exported 40,000 lbs of tobacco; the amount exported increased, by 1629, to 1.5 million lbs.

Tobacco became the colony’s saving grace. There was a ready market in England for Virginia tobacco; and by consuming Virginia tobacco, England was no longer putting money into the coffers of their leading rival of the day, Spain. While tobacco certainly provided the colony with revenue, those running Jamestown became so concerned about the colonists appetite for growing tobacco that they had to force them grow corn (wheat) so they’d survive.

While he wasn’t the colony’s only leader, Captain John Smith personifies what Jamestown was all about. His dream, writes Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler in their book “Captain John Smith: Jamestown and the Birth of The American Dream,” was to create a colony where men of limited means but great spirit “could prosper and, yes, grow rich.”

This desire to become rich is found throughout American history. And, as a result, Americans are concerned about pocketbook issues. The politicians know this which is why taxes and economics merit so much time and energy, especially during elections.

Are you better off today than you were four years ago, Ronald Reagan asked back in 1980 while running for president. The majority said no, tossing aside President Carter in favor of California’s former governor.

In 1620, a very different kind of colony was founded on the Massachusetts shore. The Puritans, the evangelical Christians of their day, first landed in what today is Provincetown, on the northern tip of Cape Cod, before forming a permanent colony in Plymouth Rock. They came to America, Paul Johnson writes, in his book “A History of the American People,” to create Heaven on earth.

The Puritans were about taking Christianity back to its roots. Purifying it, you might say. They interpreted the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Christian New Testament literally; and because there’s no mention of any kind of church hierarchy in the New Testament, it was their belief that the Church of England was fundamentally out of step with God’s will.

Puritan belief said that the Scriptures “were God’s direct way of communicating to mankind,” writes Neil Baldwin in his book “The American Revelation: Ten Ideals That Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War.” This kind of thinking left no room for priests or bishops because their authority was considered “arbitrary and unwarranted.”

Puritans did not sing hymns because they were considered to be a “corruption of God’s word,” writes Nathaniel Philbrick in his book “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War.” They did sing psalms; and they never knelt while taking communion because “there was no evidence that the apostles had done so during the Last Supper,” writes Philbrick.

The original settlers to Massachusetts were very much radicals of their day. They were “Separatists,” who left the Church of England, an illegal act at the time. They went to Holland before heading to America because the Dutch were far more tolerant of different religions. And, frankly, England was just as ready to rid themselves of them.

Prior to their actual landing in Massachusetts, 41 male settlers signed the Mayflower Compact, by which they agreed that “ … for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our King and country … (we) … solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another … combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation … constitute … just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”

Today such a document is easily dismissed but when looked at more closely, and considering when it was written, this is the first example of average people signing a written pledge about how they’d behave within a larger political body. They pledged themselves to doing what was necessary for the good of the colony. So they’d subjugate their individual desires and needs for the greater good of the colony in order to ensure its survival. And, of course, as you’d have expected of those times, only the men signed the compact.

Both Jamestown and Plymouth Rock went through very difficult times. Colonists died due to disease, occasional fights with Native Americans and starvation. Life was hard. But the ones that survived, along with their descendents, determined the character of what was to become the United States. The turmoil produced a hardy people who conquered their environment, indigenous peoples, and the land that would become the United States.

Unlike other countries that were created by people sharing a similar background, ethnicity or geographic location, America is an idea. This means it accepts all who arrive at its shores. The two primary ideas that have driven people here, religious freedom and boundless economic potential, supersede, in many ways, political freedom. That would come much later, after the Revolution in the late 18th century.

It’s easy to dismiss people who are religious as fools. But one should keep in mind that the first politics of American settlers included religion. This was the way the Puritans distinguished themselves from the majority in England. Religion will always remain very important to Americans.

Henry Steele Commager, one of the 20th centuries brightest political thinkers, said Americans were defined by “the whole of the American environment – the sense of spaciousness, the invitation to mobility, the atmosphere of independence, the encouragement to enterprise and to optimism.” Europeans, wrote Commager, “lived so much in the past (but Americans) lived in the future, caring little for what the day might bring but much for the dreams – and profits – of the morrow.”

Commager said that Americans, while “often romantic about business … (were) practical about politics, religion, culture and science. He was endlessly ingenious and resourceful, always ready to improvise new tools or techniques to meet new conditions.” This American mind, which was the title of one of Commager’s books, borrowed freely from the natives as well as the other immigrants in order to survive.

Seymour Martin Lipsett, in his book “American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword,” writes that there’s such a thing as an “American Creed.” It is described “in five terms: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.” These values, Lipsett wrote, “reflect the absence of feudal structures, monarchies and aristocracies” within the United States.

Because the United States never experienced feudalism, it has always been a country whose people have never understood or accepted class divisions. But, writes Lipsett, “European countries, Canada and Japan have placed greater emphasis on obedience to political authority and on deference to superiors.”

The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world. “It has exhibited greater acceptance of biblical beliefs and higher levels of church attendance than elsewhere, with the possible exceptions of Poland and Ireland,” writes Lipsett. Church attendance in America is voluntary and churches are not state supported. This means that all denominations “must raise their own funds, engaging in a constant struggle to retain or expand the number of their adherents,” writes Lipsett.

Religion in America also defines how the country goes to war, writes Lipsett. “Americans must define their role in a conflict as being on God’s side against Satan – for morality, against evil,” writes Lipsett. He goes on to write, “The United States primarily goes to war against evil, not, in its self-perception, to defend material interests.”

So while many Americans took issue with how President George W. Bush took the country to war against Iraq, let’s consider for a moment how he defined the conflict. He said Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” Earlier, Bush defined Iraq, and Saddam in particular, has a nation that does “evil.” In many ways, President Bush used language that the American Heartland understood and, equally, how it defined America’s place in the world.

By defining the conflict in terms that many Americans understood, Bush was able to receive the support he needed to conduct the war against Iraq. He used the same language and spoke to America’s patriotism to secure re-election 2004. Had Bush’s opponent, U.S. Sen. John Kerry used similar language to criticize President Bush, he might very well be sitting in the Oval Office today.

So what are we? Well, it’s hard to completely define in this blog or anywhere else. But to sum it up, we’re a people who savor their freedom, are highly religious, enjoy independence, and are wary of state control. We’re also very generous. And much of what defines America today can be found in the two English-speaking colonies that survived, Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. It was their descendents who put America on the path to independence and greatness.

Today’s election results will be interesting to learn about later tonight and tomorrow. Study the winners. It’s likely that they studied the American mind in order to win.

If you want to know more about the American way of thinking, here’s a list of books you should consider:

“American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword,” Seymour Martin Lipsett, W. W. Norton & Company: 1996. I’ve found this to be the best book that sums up all of the ideas that have created the American state of mind. Lipsett is a political scientist.

“American Genesis: Captain John Smith and the Founding of Virginia,” Alden T. Vaughan, Little, Brown and Company: 1975. I read this book in college while majoring in history. I’ve found this to be the single best book on the Jamestown colony.

“Captain John Smith: Jamestown and the Birth of the American Dream,” Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: 2006. A very readable book but it takes second place to Vaughan’s book.

“Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War,” Nathaniel Philbrick, Viking: 2006. This is a great read. I just bought it without my wife’s permission. Yikes!!!!!

“The American Mind: An Interpretation of American Thought and Character Since the 1880’s” Henry Steele Commager, Yale University Press: 1950. Commager was an American icon in political science circles in the mid-20th century.

“The American Political Tradition & The Men Who Made It,” Richard Hofstadter, Alfred A. Knopf: 1968. Anyone who has ever studied American politics has read something by Richard Hofstadter. I first came across him while studying U.S. History in high school, when I was expected to read his tome, “The Age of Reform.”

“The American Revelation: Ten Ideals that Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War,” Neil Baldwin, St. Martin’s Press: 2005. An excellent book but I keep wondering why he didn’t write about Jamestown.

“Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War,” E. Brooks Holifield, Yale University Press: 2003. This is heavy reading, especially if you’re not all that grounded in religious thought.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Supporting dictators

On rare occasion I've actually "voted" for someone. But usually, like most Americans I suppose, I've just voted against their opponent.

I can probably list on one hand the number of times I voted for someone. It includes the likes of John Anderson, a congressman from Rockford, Illinois, who ran an ill-fated independent presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan 26 years ago and Richard Daley, who first ran for mayor of Chicago back in 1989. I'm sure there are others but, for the life of me, I can't remember their names.

More often than not, I've gone into the voting booth, held my nose, and made my selections. It didn't matter if they were Republicans or Democrats. I haven't liked the candidates I've chosen.

Some of this is due to the way campaigns are managed these days. To be victorious in a presidential primary, for example, a candidate needs to appeal to their party's true believers. The result is that we get Republicans and Democrats who appeal to their party's extremists, leaving people like me, more oriented toward the center, feeling as if there's no one they really want to vote for during the general election.

On the whole, I've found Republicans to be usually far more conservative than I'd prefer and Democrats to be out of touch with reality.

In spite of these observations, however, it's never stopped me from voting. And it shouldn't stop you either. Even if you despise both candidates.

If you don't vote, you're supporting an argument made centuries ago -- that people are incapable of ruling themselves. This argument continues to have life to this very day in places like Africa, the Middle East, Asia and maybe a few other places I've forgotten about, where human rights are spit upon.

And I don't know about you, but under no circumstance do I want to find myself holding the same political position as North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il.

By voting, you're proving that people are capable of understanding the issues their community, state or country faces and selecting the candidate that is best suited to handle them.

So get out and vote!

You don't have to like every candidate you chose. But, at the very least, you should take the time to understand the issues and then vote for the candidate you think will do the best job.

By not voting, you're supporting the political positions of dictators and monarchs. Their argument goes something like this -- you're too stupid to govern yourself.

Have some pride, vote!

Friday, November 03, 2006

The U.S. Daily Newspaper earned its fate

If you're reading this blog, you may very well not be reading a daily newspaper, a course of action not even this correspondent would recommend.

One of the great tragedies of the modern world is that daily newspapers in the United States, which remain the single best source for staying informed on current events, whether they're happening around the globe, the country or in your very own backyard, are in a precipitous decline.

To be blunt, the U.S. newspaper industry is sucking wind. And that's putting it mildly.

Earlier this week, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which measures the number of copies that newspapers sell (as well as some weekly newspapers and magazines), reported that the U.S. daily newspaper industry, on average, is selling 2.8 percent fewer newspapers this year than it was last year.

In some cases, the drop is extraordinary. The Los Angeles Times is selling 8 percent fewer newspapers this year than it was a year ago. It wasn't all that long ago that the Los Angeles Times boasted a daily circulation in excess of 1 million.

But, recently, top executives of the paper cut back on some of their circulation drives and, as a result, the paper now sells 775,766 copies, on average, during the week. That's a drop of between 300,000 - 400,000 copies since 2000, when the paper was purchased by Tribune Company.

This story is seen all around the country. Newspapers are losing ground as print products.

In fact, of the top 10 newspapers in the United States, only two, the New York Post and the New York Daily News, reported circulation gains.

Unlike their brethren in the daily newspaper industry, these two newspapers are tabloids. They tend toward using sensational headlines, which capture their readers' interest and, as a result, are purchased, usually at a convenience store or in a box or at a newsstand.

The way they present the leading issues of the day -- whether it's a national or international story or just a local, juicy crime article -- bothers their colleagues at more sedate newspapers -- to no end.

People who work at tabloids, the purists among journalists will say, are not real journalists. They're all about hype just so they can sell an extra copy of their paper.

And that criticism might actually be justified. But at least the editors and reporters at the New York Post and the Daily News are doing something to ensure their future.

As New York Post editor Col Allen said recently, American newspapers, if they're not the Post and the Daily News, are "boring as bat shit."

About a year ago, American daily newspaper executives began to wake up to the fact that fewer people were reading them -- at least as print products. While their Internet sites were gaining traction, they still weren't covering their paper's costs.

This circulation decline is attributable, in many ways, to the fact that few, if any, top newspaper executives have a background in circulation. Publishers and their bosses tend to come up through the advertising and editorial ranks. Sometimes they'll come up through the finance or company's legal ranks.

But rarely, if ever, is someone anointed a publisher who has a background in selling the newspaper. Which is tragic. Because if there's any one individual at the newspaper who is cognizant of how the paper is received in the community it serves, it's the executive carrying the title of Circulation Director.

As a result, the people running daily newspapers in the United States haven't a clue as to what their readers are thinking. Oh, they might have some idea because they've asked their circulation director for information about their readers and non readers, but they don't carry their knowledge in their gut -- like their circulation director does.

The great tragedy of the American newspaper industry, if it were to disappear one day, is that there's no one who will cover a community, a nation and the world with as much depth as it does.

The television and radio networks, their affiliates, and independent radio and television stations, can only skim the surface of the issues. That's not a criticism of how they do their job. It's reality. Magazines only come out once a week and they tend to cover large geographic areas.

I grew up in the New York metropolitan area and became a daily New York Times reader when I was 15. I'm still one to this very day. My dad also read the Times as well as The Wall Street Journal; on the evening train home from New York, he'd purchase the the Post and bring it home. We always had fun laughing at the Post's headlines.

One of the things that my dad noticed on the train was that, in the morning, people tended to buy The Times and The Journal and read them cover to cover. In fact, the morning train was as quiet as a library because people were devouring every sentence published in the Times or the Journal.

But in the late afternoon or evening, when these people were coming home, they bought the Post or the Daily News. They were stock brokers, investment bankers or leading executives at Fortune 500 companies. A well-educated, high-income, sober group.

I still recall learning about the appeal of the New York Post from my dad. He asked an investment banker why he bought the Post every evening.

"Easy," he said. "I read the Times and the Journal in the morning. At 10 am I've made a deal. At 2 pm I've lost a deal. At the end of the day, I want to read about the nigger in Queens who's got it worse off than I do."

Say what you will about the New York Post. At least the editors know their audience.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tammy Duckworth: Confused

Someone needs to explain politics to Tammy Duckworth, the Democratic nominee for Illinois' Sixth Congressional District. And while they're at it, they should hold a calender in front of her, pointing out today's date as well as that of the upcoming election.

Eight days ahead of the election, Tammy thought it would be a good idea to head to New York to receive an award from Glamour magazine, the Daily Herald reports. There's nothing wrong with the magazine or even accepting the award, unless your opponent, a veteran politician, is pulling out all the stops to ensure his victory --not yours.

Which is exactly what is happening. Peter Roskam, the Republican nominee, was visited yesterday by U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a rock star in American politics. Later this week, Roskam will receive First Lady Laura Bush

The Roskam campaign consistently shows itself to be one very well-organized machine. It has updated its television advertisements and sends new literature every week.

The Duckworth campaign, on the other hand, looks like a football team that's on its opponent's two-yard line but doesn't know how to score. Other than a new television ad shot with U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), most of the advertising that's seen for Duckworth is from the Democratic National Committee. And even then it appears on a cable channel, not a local channel that's likely being seen by most of the voters.

This is what happens when your campaign is nearly broke, which is the state of the Duckworth campaign. It's also confused. Someone needs to take Tammy aside and explain to her that the swank lunches and dinners stop the moment she loses the election. She needs to focus on campaigning to win the election -- and that's all.

It also makes me wonder: Do the Democrats really want Tammy to win? I'm not sure what the answer is but if actions are stronger than words, then the Democrats, at the national level, give every appearance of having thrown Tammy overboard so they can focus on elections they can win.

Tammy can't even vote for herself. She lives in Hoffman Estates, a Chicago suburb that's in Illinois' Eighth Congressional District. She'll be able to vote for fellow Democrat Melissa Bean, who will appreciate Tammy's vote because she's in a tight re-election contest against Republican David McSweeney.

If Tammy pulls off this election, it will be in spite of her campaign. But right now, I'm betting on a Roskam victory. It may be marginal but he's going to win.

And then we'll see the usual dribble from the loser. After conceding the election, Tammy will say she'll continue to speak out on the issues. As if anyone will care.

Friday, October 27, 2006

GOP Fights for Roskam

Worried that the hotly contested Congressional race for Illinois Sixth District seat is far from locked up is bringing out the heavy hitters from the Republican party next week.

First Lady Laura Bush will campaign for Peter Roskam, who seeks to keep the Congressional seat in Republican hands. And U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will also make an appearance next week for Mr. Roskam, attempting to show that Republicans of all stripes have more in common with one another than they do with a moderate Democrat like Tammy Duckworth, who's seeking an upset victory.

The Daily Herald reports that both candidates are in a "neck-and-neck race."

McCain's visit is considered controversial because Roskam doesn't support the illegal immigration bill that the Senator co-sponsored. Ms. Duckworth, however, supports the legislation.

This race, while interesting, is pretty boring. While both candidates led clean personal lives, neither is all that exciting. They're only separated by their ideas.

Duckworth does her best to come across as a moderate Democrat while Roskam is a GOP candidate in the mold Henry Hyde, the Congressional seat's current occupant.

It will be interesting to see if the Democrats respond in kind during the final days of the campaign by having some of their heavy hitters also make an appearance on Duckworth's behalf. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Oil, The Fed & everyone's economic future

Last month, your correspondent weighed in on oil prices, suggesting that they'll sooner determine your economic future than just about anything else. Oil prices have been falling lately and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is now above 12,000. This just in, from the London Financial Times' investment editor:

The Short View: On the Fed and oil
By John Authers, Investment Editor

Published: October 25 2006 18:13

"The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee left the Fed Funds rate unchanged at 5.25 per cent on Wednesday, and warned that 'some inflation risks remain'. The market’s response to Ben Bernanke, Fed chairman, mirrored the deathless one-liner of Mandy Rice-Davies, caught up in a notorious British scandal of the 1960s, when told Lord Astor had denied sleeping with her: 'He would, wouldn’t he?'

"The market brushed off the ritual hawkish sentence at the end of the Fed’s communique, and also gave a Rice-Davies response to Jeffrey Lacker, who for the third time dissented and voted to raise rates. The rest of the statement was doveish enough – 'inflation pressures seem likely to moderate over time' and 'the economy seems likely to expand at a moderate pace' – to convince traders that the Fed believes the economy is heading for a 'soft landing'.

"They had feared something more hawkish, so this was enough to trigger an afternoon rally. The dollar weakened, the yield on the 10-year treasury bond shed 4 basis points (making 6 basis points for the day), and US stocks showed solid gains for the day.

"But was the Fed decision really the most important market news on Wednesday? Earlier, the energy market was shocked by supply figures showing that US crude oil inventories actually fell last week. The market had expected a rise. The result was a sharp bounce in oil prices. Nymex crude futures gained 3.6 per cent to stand at $61.52 per barrel, above the $60 floor that the Opec group of oil exporters is trying to establish.

"This matters. The 'reduced impetus from energy prices' was a factor the Fed named for believing that inflation pressures would moderate over time. And there is good evidence that the current remarkable world stock rally has more to do with falling oil prices than with the Fed’s 'pause' on interest rate rises.

"Data from Tim Bond of Barclays Capital show that since the start of 2004, the negative correlation between forward price/earnings ratios on the S&P500 and spot oil prices has been 0.87. Thus, 87 per cent of falls in multiples could be explained by rising oil prices, and vice versa. And if oil keeps rising, expect equities to fall, whatever the Fed says."

So there you have it. The house expert at the Financial Times writes that there's an inverse relationship between oil prices and stock prices.

More fodder for the Democrats. Not only could they create a campaign centered around making U.S. foreign oil dependence a national security issue, but now they could also make oil prices an economic security issue for the common man.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Firing the Big Guns

The Democrats’ big guns are coming out in support of Tammy Duckworth. U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), considering a run for his party’s presidential nomination in two years, is featured in the latest television ad endorsing Duckworth while today, in Chicago, former President Bill Clinton provided his official backing.

The latest Chicago Tribune-WGN Channel 9 poll says that Duckworth is running nearly tied with Republican Peter Roskam. She’s supported by 39 percent of the people in Illinois Sixth Congressional District, says the poll, compared to Roskam, who is supported by 43 percent of the voters.

Without a doubt, this is the strongest run any Democrat has ever made for the office she seeks. Still, her campaign is out of money and gives every appearance of being lackluster.

Yes, the new ad helps, as does the endorsement from the former President, but more needs to be done in the next two weeks if she hopes to win. She needs to remove the gloves and create some more excitement about her candidacy.

The highlight of the new television commercial is Senator Obama explaining that Tammy supports the same illegal immigration legislation that’s supported by 2008’s leading Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. John McCain.

Duckworth has taken some hits from Roskam over her support of this legislation. By saying that she supports the same legislation that’s supported by McCain, Democrats are attempting to show that she’s, at the very least, a centrist, not some crazed liberal.

To be sure, highlights of the illegal immigration legislation that was passed in May by the U.S. Senate include allowing illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for two to five years to enter a temporary worker program.

Those inside the country for more than five years are eligible for citizenship after an 11-year probationary period. They’re also required to learn English as well as pay a penalty and back taxes. Those illegal immigrants here for less than two years would be returned to their home countries.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What about those yard signs for Duckworth and Roskam?

Perhaps it’s no big deal, but it’s interesting to note the differences in the yard signs for Tammy Duckworth, Democrat, and Peter Roskam, Republican, the leading candidates in the Sixth District Congressional race.

The Duckworth sign states prominently that it’s all about Tammy. There’s no mention of her party affiliation.

The Roskam sign, on the other hand, makes clear that a vote for Peter is a vote for a Republican.

Does the Duckworth campaign think it should hide her party affiliation? Or are they attempting to say, in an understated way, that she’ll be an independent voice in Congress?

Is the Roskam campaign boasting that the state senator is the choice of the Republican Party? And that because of the District’s longstanding habit of returning a Republican to Congress that such a marking on his yard sign assures victory?

I don’t know what to think, but if you have any thoughts, please send them. I’ll post them. Thank you.

Tammy Duckworth for Congress

I’m voting for Tammy Duckworth for all the reasons presented in the Chicago Tribune’s endorsement. She's not wedded to Democratic Party politics, giving every appearance of someone who would be a moderate voice on Capitol Hill. But I question whether or not she really wants the job and whether the leadership of the Democratic Party wants her to win.

I've lived in Illinois' Sixth Congressional district for 13 years and this is, without a doubt, the most contested congressional race I've seen during my time here. Never before have more signs for a Democratic Congressional candidate been posted on the front lawns of so many residents. She’s the best candidate the Democrats have ever had in this District.

Peter Roskam is basically Henry Hyde Light while Duckworth is an entirely different candidate. She's hard to define, making her a candidate that's difficult to dismiss as simply a "liberal."

For the record, I’ve always voted for Henry Hyde. I didn’t always agree with his positions – abortion comes to mind as does the impeachment of Bill Clinton – but Henry was an excellent representative if the job is defined as working for the people he represented. What sold me on Henry was how he went to bat for the residents of Glen Ellyn whose houses are located near the train tracks.

One night, about 10 years ago, a Union Pacific freight train was parked on the tracks in the middle of Glen Ellyn. Its engine was running and one mother decided she’d had enough. The train’s engines were keeping her kids awake. So she walked out onto the tracks to talk to the engineer. She was killed by an oncoming train.

This tragedy, as might be expected, caused quite the uproar. There was a meeting between town officials and representatives from Union Pacific. Henry Hyde was there, too. Just by being there, Hyde changed the dynamic of the meeting and Union Pacific agreed to park its trains further up the tracks, away from the houses, and to turn off the engines. Henry forever earned my vote.

The problem with the Duckworth campaign is that it doesn't have any pizzazz. There's nothing sexy or unusual about this campaign. There are the customary campaign stops, debates, television ads, endorsements, and signs posted throughout the district. But that's it.

If Duckworth really wants the job, she needs to do something different. She needs to take a "walking tour" through the neighborhoods that she’d like to represent. I'm not belittling her war wounds. I'm suggesting, instead, that she do the unexpected, something different, that will help break longstanding habits among Sixth District voters. Maybe she's getting this advice from her political consultants. Maybe she isn't. I don't know.

To make matters worse, the Daily Herald reports that the Duckworth campaign is running out of money. As of September 30, it was down to just over $200,000 for the final month of the campaign. Compare that to Roskam’s war chest, which, as of October 1, had $1.5 million.

What this means is that Duckworth can’t afford the television ads. A new ad is now appearing on television and it’s paid for the Democratic Congressional Committee. It essentially slams Roskam. Nothing new there.

But other than taking over the television ads, where is the leadership of the Democratic Party? Here's a chance to represent a district which, heretofore, has been safely in Republican hands. Why aren't they making campaign stops with her? Why are they missing in action? Do they really want her to win? My worst fear is that Senator Durbin set her up to take a fall.

I can see why they might be worried about sending Rahm Emanuel or Nancy Pelosi out here, but certainly there are other, more moderate Democrats who could give her a helping hand. Senator Hillary Clinton could come here for day, maybe even her husband, someone who could give the campaign that extra push.

Or is the lack of an appearance from top party leaders indicative of today's politics? Is this just another way of telling Tammy and others that unless they tow the party line adinfinitum, forget it? They'll do nothing to help.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Say again?

“Condoms, diaphragms, sponges, cervical caps, and spermicidal jellies and creams, which must be applied at times of sexual activity, often fail because couples are unprepared or unwilling to interrupt a moment of passion," writes New York Times health writer Jane Brody in this week's Science Times section.

How can they fail if they’re not used?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hold the applause on North Korea

While President Bush and his administration are giving themselves high fives for their diplomatic victory against North Korea at the United Nations, let’s keep in mind what the sanctions didn’t address on Saturday – the demise of North Korea, which means, for the foreseeable future, Kim Jung Il will continue to menace the world in general and the United States in particular.

China, North Korea’s best ally, sharing a border with the rogue state that’s about 880 miles long, has every reason to support Kim Jung Il. While Beijing may have lost some respect for not being able to control their stooge in Pyongyang, their interest in mining North Korea for gold and other precious metals supersedes anything they lost last week.

The Chinese have their eyes on the country’s natural resources and are prepared to pay North Korea for the rights to mine them. China will sell these precious metals. North Korea, for that matter, needs assistance bringing these natural resources to market; in addition, Kim Jung Il knows that whatever payment he receives from the Chinese will prop up his regime.

China will talk a good game about enforcing the U.N.-approved sanctions against North Korea, but don’t expect them to lead the charge, let alone do much. In addition, China views North Korea as part of their area of influence. As The Economist reports, Beijing considers a unified Korean peninsula a potential threat to national security. They prefer a divided peninsula because it maintains their influence with Japan.

To be sure, some damage has been inflicted on North Korea. Kim Jung Il’s favorite bank, Macao-based Banco Delta Asia, has been pressured by the United States to shut down or freeze the accounts of the North Korean leadership. This certainly crimps Kim Jung Il’s style but not so much that he feels his days are coming to an end.

So, essentially, very little progress has been made against North Korea. The only thing that’s likely to bring the regime to an end is either a U.S.-led war or a charge led by renegades inside North Korea. Neither is on the horizon.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Requiem for my mother

I love my mother. I love her dearly. And because my love for her is so strong I want her dead.

When I think back on my childhood, she’s the one parent who was there during key events and turning points, doing whatever she could to make sure everything turned out just right. No matter how bad things looked, she always had a way of showing me it was never as bad as it appeared. She was my fiercest critic and my biggest cheerleader.

Whether it was putting me on the path to recovery from a childhood illness, to making sure I was actually learning what was being taught in school, to helping me understand people and the human condition, my mother was always there. She taught me how to love, how to conduct myself at all times, and even how to drive.

She could talk about anything. Whether it was people at my dad’s office, events at his company or current affairs, mom could discuss it all. She had a way of making people so comfortable that they would take her into their confidence. Maybe it was her youth, her beauty or her charm that made her so trustworthy.

With few exceptions, I never held much back from her. And I never once felt embarrassed talking about the most intimate of topics with her.

She could discuss sex openly and frankly, never hesitating to answer difficult or embarrassing questions. As she said many times, “My mother never talked to me about sex. I want you to understand it.”

When I think about her, I think more people should have had my mother as their mom. She coached a few of my friends through some difficult days; she was easily able to make friends with all of my friends as well as their parents. Everyone loved her.

Whatever she lacked, she made sure I had. This was especially true of self-confidence. My mother never really believed in herself. But she made sure her two sons believed in themselves. She helped us find our strengths and showed us how to hedge against our weaknesses.

I’m not sure why she never had any confidence. Maybe it was her mother’s fault. Or maybe it was a generational thing. She was one of the last groups of women expected to marry young, stay home and rear the children. And, basically, that’s all she wanted to be – a wife and a mother. And a stay-at-home one at that, long before the term “stay-at-home mom” became fashionable.

She packed up our house eight times in 12 years for moves across the country and overseas. She managed nearly all of the details, making sure everything arrived just as it had been packed.

Looking back on her abilities and accomplishments, I’m impressed. There wasn’t anything about her background that would have led someone to predict the kind of life she would live. Her education was limited to a high school diploma from Charles City, Iowa, and about a year’s worth of secretarial school in Des Moines, where she worked for the state attorney general. By the time she was 32, she had two sons, 12 and 8, and had just returned to the United States after living in Hong Kong for two years.

Her life, I believe, caused quite the rift with her mother and even her sister. I’m sure there were some personality differences between them but there was also some jealousy, too. My mother left Iowa while they remained behind.

I suspect that’s not a new story. I’m sure there are other families with similar stories, where one member leaves to see the world while the others remain close to home.

The most devastating thing that happened to my mother was her divorce. She was married to my dad for just over 20 years when they announced they were separating. About a year later, their break-up was made official.

My mother was single at 42. The previous 23 years of her life had been defined as being a wife, homemaker, mom and hostess for my dad’s business functions. Suddenly, everything that gave her life meaning was ending. I was graduating from college and about to start my first job while my brother was off to college.

She was scared. Alone. And probably depressed. Her mother couldn’t advise her because she’d never experienced such a devastating blow. Her sister’s advice: Return to Iowa.

Mom remained in Connecticut and overcame some of the trauma with the help of close friends. They supported her but I suspect even they were eventually at a loss for words or guidance. She probably should have found a therapist.

But that wasn’t mom. She was the type of person – at least when it came to her own health – who thought freshening up her make-up, lighting up a cigarette, a new drink and a few good friends would make the pain go away. It did – until the party was over and she had to confront reality again by herself.

Today, at 64, she’s an Alzheimer’s patient. She lives near us in an assisted living facility. She still recognizes me, my wife and my children.

But her condition, in spite of all of the drugs that she’s taking to keep her brain working, worsens. Lately her mind’s demise has started affecting her behavior. She acts like a child, not only in front of my sons but also in front people she’s never met.

She demonstrated this behavior this week while we were waiting for her dental appointment. She went into her kid routine, with two other adults in the waiting room, and then proceeded to walk backwards out of the waiting room.

Then she peeked around the corner of the lobby into the waiting room to see if I noticed she was missing. These are the antics of a child who’s 6 or 7 – not a 64-year-old woman. An hour later, she acted like a kid for a 19-year-old waitress at the restaurant where we’d had lunch.

Her dignity is gone. If I introduced the mom I knew five years ago to the mom I know today, she wouldn’t want to be around. In fact, she’d want to be dead.

And that’s where I am on this. I want her dead. I’m not about to kill her or help her commit suicide or anything of the sort. But if there’s any one thing I pray for it’s her death. The sooner, the better.
Sometimes people commend us for all that we’re doing. We sold her house, moved her here, and her financial assets are well looked after.

But I feel like I’m walking on quicksand. Other than doing the best we can, I don’t think we know what we’re doing. She’s alive, somewhat healthy, comfortable, safe, and I guess that’s as good as it’ll be. But I keep thinking I failed her.

And even though modern medicine can slow her brain’s death, it can’t change the eventual outcome. At some point, if she’s still alive, she’ll be in some sort near-coma. This is what happens to Alzheimer’s patients if they live that long. They appear to be asleep; but, really, they’re just gone.

They don’t recognize anyone; they can’t do anything for themselves; they don’t know their name; they might recall pieces of their childhood. Mentally, they’re dead. Why should anyone stay alive at that point?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea

If we are to believe today’s news reports, North Korea has a nuclear bomb. If you’ve been following the news for the last few years, this shouldn’t surprise you. The best guesses on this most secretive regime was that it was developing a nuclear bomb for quite some time.

The question, as always, is does North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, have the willingness to use it. And this is a question that can only be answered with sheer speculation.

To be sure, the latest reports indicate this isn’t much of a bomb. It wasn’t anywhere near the size of the atomic bomb, today’s Wall Street Journal reports, that the United States dropped on Japan during World War II.

Still, a nuclear-armed North Korea shouldn’t settle well with anyone. It doesn’t help China’s self-perceived position as Asia’s honest broker to see its key ally openly defy it, which it did by exploding a nuclear bomb. And it begs the following questions:

• Do the Chinese still have any influence with Pyongyang?
• Are the Chinese, while officially against a nuclear-armed North Korea,
secretly celebrating this latest development?

The answers: Who knows?

So this latest development begs us for options. Here they are:

1. Invade North Korea. While this might settle well with all of the hawks, the problem with this policy is that President Bush doesn’t have enough political capital to take the country to another war. If North Korea successfully launches a nuclear strike against the United States or Japan, then the President’s political position changes. But until then, North Korea remains safe from a pre-emptive war.
2. Cut off aid to North Korea. This one might actually fly. For years, the United States, through the United Nations, has provided food to North Korea. The deal went something like this: We give food to North Korea so they don’t develop nuclear weapons. Since this deal has been violated, the United States is in a good position to tell North Korea, the United Nations, and, more importantly, China, that it will no longer provide food assistance to North Korea. The latest reports suggest that North Korea, a country of around 23 million people, is practically starving.
3. Give nuclear arms to Japan. This changes the balance of power in Asia dramatically and it won’t settle well with China, which views World War II as something that happened last week. But it might actually be something the United States can do to keep North Korea guessing. It might also be the strongest military action the United States can successfully carry out in the near term. Questions about this option will involve China’s response. China can be expected to react strongly against a nuclear armed Japan. Japan might resist this option because it has a new prime minister, and he may not be ready to risk any chance he has of improving relations with China.
4. Complain to the United Nations. The problem with this body is that it can’t resolve the average, run-of-the-mill genocide. So don’t expect it to resolve, to our liking at least, anything as complicated as North Korea and nuclear weapons. This is a nice choice from the standpoint of increasing our goodwill throughout the world; but, seriously, don’t expect it to do much in terms of bringing this issue to a resolution.
5. Do nothing. This policy might settle well with the isolationists in the United States but it’s problematic. South Korea is an ally and the United States is committed to its defense and survival. This is not an option.
6. Find out what the Chinese know. Spending time with the Chinese makes sense because China is North Korea’s best ally. The latest developments in North Korea make the merits of such talks questionable; but the Chinese, on the q-t of course, might release information about North Korea that only they know. Which might help the case the United States is making.
7. Survey our allies in Asia. This means finding out what the thinking is with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand about the developments in North Korea. This is helpful and important but doesn’t provide any immediate satisfaction in terms of resolving the issue.
8. Continue the six-party talks with North Korea. Given yesterday’s news, the possible results of this plan are questionable.
9. Talk one-on-one with North Korea. This is exactly what Kim Jong Il wants – respect from the United States. George W. Bush is in the final two years of his presidency. He’s coasting, you might say, until he turns over the keys to the Oval Office. There’s a case to be made for him to talk one-on-one with Kim Jong Il but it’s highly unlikely that the United States will ever enter into direct talks, alone, with North Korea.

The problem with all of these options is that, with the exception of the first one, none of them leads to the solution which is needed – the demise of North Korea. The problem with keeping North Korea around is that it will likely behave in the same manner – or worse – in the coming months or years.

And it begs the question why does the United States want this problem to remain unsolved. It doesn’t but right now the president doesn’t have the political capital and the military doesn’t have the means of taking out North Korea once and for all.

So we’re stuck with this problem – unless Kim Jong Il acts irrationally. He won’t. He’s far too smart. Be prepared for more saber-rattling from North Korea and a few more explosions.

Friday, October 06, 2006

"I never touched her!"

It was just phone sex. It’s not like I really touched her.

That was the position of former Congressman Mel Reynolds (D-IL) while being tried on sexual assault charges 11 years ago.

Reynolds was a great story. He was one of those rare finds in American politics: someone who worked his way up and succeeded because he had skill and talent – and a few breaks. Like the president he served under at the time, Reynolds was a Rhodes Scholar who likely had a bright future in politics.

In fact, had he kept his sexual desires at bay, he might very well occupy the U.S. Senate seat that’s held by Barack Obama.

But his desires and fantasies got the better of him.

As a result, he was convicted in August 1995, of criminal sexual assault, stemming from a recorded telephone conversation he had with 16-year-old Beverly Heard, one of his campaign workers.

”He maintained that he and Ms. Heard had only fantasized about sex in telephone conversations,” reported The New York Times. “Mr. Reynolds, who is black, said he was the target of a racially biased, politically motivated prosecution.”

The Times went on to report that “prosecutors built their case on graphic tape-recorded telephone conversations in which Mr. Reynolds discussed sex acts with Ms. Heard.”

The interesting thing about the trial was that Ms. Heard spent 13 nights in jail because she refused to testify. She later told the jury that she and Reynolds had a consensual sexual affair.

Keep all of that in mind as you consider the case that should be made against former Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL). Like Reynolds, it doesn’t appear that Foley actually touched someone, but he certainly engaged in behavior that’s out of line – for anyone!

The problem here is that the age of consent in Washington is 16. So there’s a good chance that Foley will never see a day in prison.

But, like Reynolds, he should. And if does go to prison, he should be forced to display a sign by his house or apartment that tells everyone he’s a sexual predator.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Capitol Hill's double standards

Congratulations to House Speaker Dennis Hastert for putting together an independent investigation about what we already know: A member of Congress sent out sexually explicit e-mails to a teenager.

With all due respect to former FBI Director Louis Freeh, what's he going to tell us that we don't already know? Not much.

To put this in perspective, last week, Hewlett-Packard's top officers were summoned to Capitol Hill to testify about nefarious wrongdoings under their watch. They're also being investigated by California's state attorney general, who's filed charges against HP's former chairwoman, Patricia Dunn, and others.

Here's the point: Hewlett-Packard's top leadership is forced to live with the law. Congress, however, goes on as if nothing really happened.

Sure, there's lot of noise and everyone's posturing on the issue involving former Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL), but top Republican leaders, unlike the people who oversaw Hewlett-Packard's corporate governance, aren't resigning -- or even being forced out.

When will Congress live with the laws they make?

Post a Sexual Predator Sign on Capitol Hill

The problem with the revelations involving former Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL), and the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, is that it shows just how far out of touch Washington is with the rest of America.

If the average office worker, teacher, minister, doctor, in other words, anyone, sent sexually oriented and explicit e-mails to a teenager, their careers and lives would come to a crashing halt. First, they’d be convicted by public opinion. Then they’d be convicted in court.

And once they did the time for the crime, they’d be forced to register with the local police force. In addition, they’d be forced to place a sign outside their house or apartment, informing their neighbors about their past conviction.

Maybe it’s time to post such a sign – a damn big one! – on Capitol Hill.

Maybe all of us, especially the parents of these teenage Pages working in the House of Representatives, should know that their children are rubbing shoulders with child sexual predators.

Maybe it takes this kind of drastic action to get Congress to realize it’s not above the law.

And, ultimately, that’s the problem. Members of Congress think, their actions suggest, that because they make the laws, the laws don’t apply to them.

None of this started with Congressman Foley. This kind of behavior has been seen before.

And none of us, the voters, do enough to stop it. We’re upset for a week or two, or maybe the next time we’re at the polls, but, basically, we give these guys a pass. Not, perhaps, the congressman who’s charged with the crime but certainly the rest of them.

It’s time to start demanding accountability from these elected officials. Let’s start by voting out all of those whose hands touched this crime but didn’t do enough to stop Congressman Foley. Then let’s force Congress to unfurl a huge banner on their lawn – something that can be seen for miles – that says the Capitol houses child sexual predators.

Let’s do to Congress what they, through the legislation they’ve passed, would do to us if we were charged and convicted with the very same crime!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Feeling Rich?

If you invest in the stock market, you might be feeling a tad richer today. That's because, as you likely know, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped nearly 57 points yesterday to a high it hasn't seen in more than six years.

It was brought about by falling oil prices. A barrel of crude oil is running just under $60 a barrel, which means it's not as costly as it was two months ago to run a business.

Oil prices are directing our economy. The Federal Reserve, which overseas the money supply and our banking system, experts say, will likely not increase interest rates any time soon because oil prices have fallen so low, reports today's Wall Street Journal.

Stockholders at ExxonMobil and other U.S. energy companies, however, aren't so happy. Falling oil prices make their stock prices drop.

So perhaps you're feeling richer. Let's face it, it's not as costly to fill that gas tank; and your company or business may find it easier to increase the bottom line because energy costs are easier on the budget.

The problem with this feeling of elation is that it's short lived.

Oil prices will increase; and American consumption isn't about to change. The United States will remain the world's leading oil market.

So if President Bush is serious about ending the country's "addiction" to oil, as he puts it, he better set about creating a plan to bring this about. The Democrats, for that matter, might stop harping on the Page scandal in the House of Representatives and show themselves to be a party of ideas by coming up with their own plan to reduce America's oil consumption.

Be on the lookout for what our two political parties do -- not for what they say.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Save Yourself: Get to the dentist

Truth be told, I hate going to the dentist. It’s not that I hate my dentist. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a great guy. In fact, the prospect of having to replace him sends shudders up and down my spine because I’ve been his patient for the last 17 years.

He knows my mouth inside and out. And prior to seeing me, he worked on my dad, so know he’s warned me – on more occasions than I can remember – that since my dad’s mouth is rotten, of the need to be extra diligent at brushing my teeth.

Every time I visit my dentist I think we’re playing some version of the TV reality shows Survivor or The Weakest Link. Which tooth will be voted out of my mouth this time or get drilled down to nothing so it can be capped – or worse? Stay tuned.

My bad luck with the dentist started years ago, when I was about 10 years old. One of my two front teeth wouldn’t come down from the gums. So it was off to the oral surgeon, my dentist said, to figure out was going on. This was back in the early ‘70s, the day and age when the specialists in the trade, not your average, run-of-the-mill, dentist, used x-rays.

They revealed a cyst and within a few days, at a hospital, it was removed. Within a week after the surgery, I finally had my two front teeth.

But that’s not the end of it. I also suffered through about 10 years of braces. Since this was the dark ages of dentistry, my mouth appeared to be one, big metal track. The only thing missing were the trains.

If I still had those braces on today, I’d never be able to fly. In fact, it’s my guess that the airport’s metal detector would have to be replaced after sensing the amount of steel in my mouth.

So, as a result of all that childhood fun, I’ve been pretty diligent over the years – at least since graduating from college – about taking care of my teeth. I brush three or four times a day, rubber tip my gums, floss, etc.,etc.

My wife once observed that it takes about 30 minutes to get my teeth ready for bed.

During one visit to my dentist, I got so pissed off upon hearing the news about one more costly, in-depth procedure that needed to be done that I through up my hands up in frustration and said, “Gerry, I just want to know, how many kids have I put through college?”

“I don’t know. But you bought a few cars,” he replied.

I admired the come back.

My luck at the dentist is so bad that I had two root canals in three months earlier this year. The dentist who performs these root canals, not the guy I usually see, is just like my regular dentist: An all-round excellent practitioner of the trade with a sense of humor.

As he was about to start my second root canal, I said while these hook-ups were a blast, really, I couldn’t keep this up, financially, much longer. So I asked him, what’s the best way to avoid these meetings.

The good news, he reported, was that I was running out of teeth. Thank God for that, I replied.

He then went on to inform me that most root canals happen in molars, the teeth that are farthest back in the jaw. They’re prone to cavities and, if they’ve been drilled and filled, there’s something like a 90 percent chance that they’ll be victims of a root canal.

The material used to fill cavities is porous, allowing all sorts of gunk to seep in there, causing further decay and, eventually, a trip to the endodontist, a dentist who specializes in root canals. So you’ve got to brush the teeth that have been treated for cavities just as well, if not better, than the other teeth that haven’t been drilled if you want to avoid a root canal.

The good news about today’s dentistry is that it has changed, for the better, since my youth. The country’s water is pretty much fluoridated, which prevents a lot of dental problems. In addition, kids, if their parents take them to the dentist, receive care that’s advanced significantly over the last 30 years.

My dentist, in fact, tells me that my sons, ages 4 and 3, will very likely never have a cavity in their entire lives. I hope so. But, he warned me, they may take their teeth for granted so much that they’ll have gum surgery. At least that’s what the dental profession is seeing, so far.

On any given day that I have a dentist appointment, I would prefer to see my physician instead, for a check up on my prostate and testicles. Not that I enjoy it, but, somehow, it’s easier to drop my trousers for a few embarrassing, completely undignified minutes than it is to subject my teeth to the phrase, “Open wide. This won’t hurt a bit.”

The problem, however, is that there’s a link between dental health and overall fitness of one’s heart. This first became news to the general public about 10 years ago with the death of a somewhat famous, and rather successful, columnist, named Lewis Grizzard.

Lewis was truly one of the funniest people to ever write a newspaper column. He knew how to turn a phrase like a few others and was right up there with the likes of Dave Barry and Art Buchwald.

Unfortunately, like too many highly talented people, he passed away early. And his doctors were quoted as saying part of Lewis’ heart problems was his dental health. It was rotten.

If you’ve got bad teeth, there’s a good chance you’ll have a bad heart, the experts say. All that stuff that’s in your mouth – it was once reported there are more than 200 different kinds of bacteria living in anyone’s mouth – can affect your cardiovascular system.

That’s why you need to floss and see a dentist for regular check ups. It’s the first line of defense in maintaining overall good health.

About a week ago, it was reported in The Wall Street Journal, a number of insurance companies are covering more dental procedures because, they’ve concluded, they could prevent “a range of expensive medical problems” in the future.

The reason for the advanced coverage, The Journal reported, was due to “the result of an increasing number of studies linking oral health to general health and well being.”

There are now studies, The Journal said, that report links between bacteria around the root of a tooth and pre-term births. There’s also evidence that “the same bacteria in the mouth” can clog arteries, worsening heart disease and stroke risk.” Finally, The Journal said, diabetics find their blood-sugar levels difficult to control if there’s any inflammation in their body.

So if you’re interested in staying fit, work out, eat right, see your physician – and get yourself to the dentist. It just might keep you alive.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The political lessons of President, whoops, sorry, Senator John Kerry

Before going to town on the National Intelligence Estimate, the Democrats might step back, take a deep breath, and think about the man who should be the president of the United States, John Kerry.

2004 was Senator Kerry’s election to lose. The war on terror wasn’t all that popular and the economy then, like today, was troublesome. But lose he did.

He could have said everything he said and still be president today, with one exception. Had he not inferred to America’s military families that their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters were fighting and dying in the wrong war, he would occupy the Oval Office today.

Instead, he was, willingly or unwillingly, held hostage to the pacifist wing of the Democratic Party, which maintains that all war – even the ones the country is forced to fight – is evil.

There’s nothing good about war, mind you, but sometimes, they need to be fought. And the last thing that any presidential candidate, especially one who’s affiliated with a party whose national security credentials are easy to dismiss, should do is criticize a war effort. Even if they disagree with the war.

Those who have lost a loved one will think their family member died in vain. And that’ll just force them to vote for the opposition.

The Democrats stand a good chance of making some significant gains in the upcoming mid-term elections. The economy is on shaky ground and the execution the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been less than spectacular.

So instead of becoming all hyped up about the national security report, the Democrats should tell the country that they’ve been the party that’s defended the United States during times of great peril – World Wars I & II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War come to mind – and that they’ll be just as vigilant, if not more so, if they’re at the helm during the war on terror.

Americans want to be safe. The last thing the voters will do is choose someone they suspect, even the slightest bit, will put the country at risk.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the man who’s sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office. It’s not John Kerry.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Inspired to attack

Let's keep something in mind: The appeasement policies of Neville Chamberlain inspired Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain tried hard to keep Hitler in a bottle and even gave away Austria, thinking it would satisfy him.

As we all know, it didn't. Hitler attacked Poland and then followed up that campaign with one against Western Europe.

So, if anyone tells you that the war in Iraq is only inspiring the terrorists and making the United States more vulnerable to attack, ask them this: What did the United States do, before 9/11, to inspire the terrorists?

If anything, we've done more for Muslims than they've ever done for Christians or, for that matter, Jews. At the direction of President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the United States, and its NATO allies, defended Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo with bombing campaigns over Serbia and other parts of the Balkans.

And, I note, there were no Saudi fighter jets, or any other planes from Muslim and Arab countries, flying sorties against the Serbians. If they hate us, fine. But, at the very least, Arabs and Muslims could do a better job of defending their own kind.

In addition, the United States has provided millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.

Sometimes a country can do nothing, like Great Britain, and yet still be hated by another country, like Germany of the 1930s, or a terrorist group.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Update on the United States Military

This update: The United States military, reports today's New York Times, because of its combat obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan, wants more help from the National Guard.

While the Army is planning to expand to 42 combat brigades, there's concern, among people in the know, that the military -- including the Marines, Air Force and Navy -- lacks enough manpower to handle another war.

It's not likely that the North Koreans would cross the DMZ but if they did, we would be hard-pressed to stop them.

The United States Census Bureau reports, in its 2000 census, that there are 63 million men between the ages of 18 - 49.

While not everyone in that pool is qualified to serve, it's time for the United States to reinstate the draft, so we have the forces necessary to win in Iraq and Afghanistan. Citizenship means more than just voting and paying taxes. It also means serving the country in time of need.

For the record, your writer is 44 and in pretty good shape. But who knows, I may not be fit for combat.

NATO's Secretary-General, meantime, reports that the organization needs additional forces to defeat the Taliban. NATO has performed well against the enemy. But it needs more troops if it is to succeed in the longrun.

It's time for us to have a debate in this country about victory. Do we want it? Or do we want to hole up on our shores and pretend that the terrorists, whatever their stripe, will just go away. Also, what's our obligation to Iraq and Afghanistan now that we're there?

How the Democrats win the 2006 and 2008 elections

Drip, drip, drip. Do you feel any pain? You shouldn’t. This slow drip gives you freedom, speed and warmth.

What is it?

It’s oil.

It doesn’t really drip into our economy – it floods it. And it’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to get through a day without touching something that was made from oil. It underlies our economy and is powerful enough to undermine it.

Crude oil prices influence our stock markets and play a role determining whether our economy is headed for good times or bad. In addition, because, as President Bush says, we’re addicts, oil influences our foreign policy.

If the United States hasn’t made the world safe for democracy, it’s at least made the world safe for oil, thanks to its military.

The Department of Energy provides these statistics on U.S. oil consumption:

  • The United States is the world’s leading consumer of crude oil at 20 million barrels a day. Worldwide, nearly 84 million barrels of crude oil are consumed daily.
  • We import 10 to 14 million barrels of crude oil every day.
  • We produce about 5 million barrels of crude oil each day.
  • Canada and Mexico are our top two importers of crude oil, followed, in order, by Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Algeria, Iraq, Angola, Russia and the United Kingdom.
  • Our crude oil consumption is expected to increase, by 2030, to nearly 28 million barrels a day. Global consumption is predicted to increase to 118 million barrels a day by 2030.
  • The United States started importing oil to meet its domestic energy needs in 1949.
  • The U.S. consumes nearly 600 million gallons of gasoline and diesel a day.

Each barrel of crude oil produces gasoline, heats homes, fuels jets and ships, and produces electrical power, lubricants, asphalt, road oil and kerosene. Just about anything touched in our daily lives is either composed of oil or is made from a product that uses a derivative of oil.

And, so far, other than the hybrid car and limited uses of nuclear, hydrogen, wind and solar power, there doesn’t appear to be a plan for the United States to wean itself from oil.

The only good news is that we’re not as dependent as our allies for oil from the Middle East. Starting in the 1970s, on the heels of the Yom Kippur War, the United States started diversifying its suppliers. Instead of being solely dependent on the Arabs for oil, we started buying oil from countries in Europe, Latin America and Africa.

The cost of this commodity is staggering. At today’s prices, roughly $60 a barrel, our daily supply of crude oil costs $1.2 billion or about $440 billion a year.

Let’s keep something in mind – that $440 billion is just the cost of the raw material. It doesn’t reflect all of the other costs, including marketing, refining, transportation, employees, which U.S. consumers pay to buy crude oil’s by-products.

So if you’re upset about the price you’re paying to fill ‘er up, then you need to think deeper about this issue. The $2.70 or so a gallon we’re paying for gas, while unsettling, is nothing compared to astounding costs we incur to keep ourselves – and the world – safe for oil.

Prior to the outbreak of the Iraq War, $60 billion was spent annually to keep our Navy in the Persian Gulf, estimates the Brookings Institution. The Navy was keeping the sea lanes safe for shipping oil and keeping Saddam Hussein in check.

Today’s war in Iraq, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is costing U.S. taxpayers, more than $100 billion a year. And while the war isn’t directly attributable to keeping the world safe for oil, it plays a role. Iraq, the Department of Energy reports, is estimated to have oil reserves that are in excess of 100 billion barrels. That’s the third largest supply, after Saudi Arabia and Canada.

Keep in mind that crude oil prices started 2005 at around $40 a barrel and then started to double. The U.S. economy went into shock last year when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita halted drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, one of our primary domestic sources of oil. Crude oil prices shot up to about $70 a barrel; suddenly, in some places, people were paying $4 a gallon for gas.

Two months ago, because of the war between Israel and the terrorist group Hezbollah, crude oil prices touched $80 a barrel, and there was speculation that we’d soon be paying $100 or more. Today, crude oil prices are hovering at $60 a barrel, resulting in lower gasoline prices. The prices dropped because there haven’t been any interruptions in supply and demand is down for petroleum-based products.

And while that might provide everyone with a sense of relief, it shouldn’t. Lower prices usually mean an increase in consumption, which usually results in higher prices; the only thing that might stem this intake is that it’s September – not July or August, when Americans take to the road for vacation.

But even if crude oil prices continue to drop, the United States will remain the world’s largest oil-consuming market; in addition, we’ll continue to have troops overseas so the world remains safe for oil.

President Bush announced this year that the United States needs to bring its addiction to oil to a halt. It’s hard to say how serious he is because the White House has yet to release a plan to cut our oil habit.

I understand why the Republicans, the party of big business, never show up for debates about oil prices.

But where are the Democrats?

Why are they missing in action over an issue that could likely help them seal a victory for The White House and Congress in the next two years?

Environmentalism, until recently, was perceived as a fringe cause. But no more. Americans are recycling left and right. SUV sales are down and people are becoming more familiar with conservation.

President Bush is right: It’s high time we cut our addiction to oil. And the Democrats could play this up by making our oil addiction not an environmental cause – but one that’s about national security.

They could tell the nation, for example, that we need to cut our dependence on oil – big time! – so we can deal with the Middle East from a position of strength, not dependence. Think how the dynamic of our relationship with Saudi Arabia or any other oil-producing nation would be if they knew we didn’t need them.

It would increase our options. We could tell Japan, which buys nearly all of its oil from the Middle East, to start sending its own navy to patrol the Persian Gulf. We would be in a position to significantly reduce our military presence in the Middle East, if not just outright end it. It would also force our friends, whether they’re in Europe or Asia, to start maintaining their own oil security, just as we’ve been doing for them for the last 30 years.

To get everyone on board, the Democrats might start getting closer to big oil companies, like ExxonMobil. Instead of bashing them, they should start proposing legislation that would provide these companies with incentives to find alternative sources that would fuel all of our energy needs. They might also start talking to Detroit, encouraging the Big Three auto companies to produce more and better hybrid cars.

Such a plan could also have some residual benefits. An initiative that begins to reduce the country’s dependence on oil could also affect countries run by dictators. Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s strongman, for example, might not look like the hero he is to some if, suddenly, we weren’t knocking on their door to buy oil. Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s desire to regain some of his country’s old-time influence around the globe, when the country was known as the Soviet Union, might be clipped.

If we do nothing, then this addiction of ours will just continue to grow. If the Democrats fail to take up this cause, then they look no different than the Republicans – a political party, under a different name, that loves the status quo.