Monday, September 28, 2009

And Iran

There are many out there who seem to fear the progress that Iran has made in the last few years when it comes to nuclear technology. Many fear that once Iran has the ability to detonate a nuclear weapon, they will take that bomb and strap it to a missile in an attempt to destroy Israel. While these concerns are not without merit, there is not a very realistic chance that that will happen.

When we look back at the first and arguably only nuclear standoff, we know that the idea of mutually assured destruction can be an effective way of staving of nuclear attack. Some argue that there are those out there that would be willing to die to destroy their enemy, but this logic will not hold when it comes to entire governments. While it is clear that many leaders around the world are willing to sacrifice the needs and wants of their people in order to accomplish their goals, there is no evidence that those same leaders are willing to truly risk nuclear war to accomplish their goals.

What Iran tried to accomplish when it test fired several short and long-range missiles this weekend was nothing different that what North Korea did this last summer. Iran is positioning itself for negotiations with the international community which will begin the first week of October. This all come on the heals of the international community discovering that Iran has had a secret nuclear facility that it has been using to develop nuclear technology for the last several years.

Should the international community be concerned that another state may become nuclear in the the next few years? Absolutely, but not for fear of war. Many nuclear powers have fought wars without using nuclear weapons. Rather, they should be concerned that the technology is secure and that it cannot reach the hands of the small groups of individuals who do wish to start nuclear war.

While the media thrives on images of rockets and missiles being test fired as a show of force, the only real power that these images give a country is the fear that they create. There is no true threat that Iran will destroy the middle east in the next few year, that is unless they forget to lock up their nuclear weapons at night and one or two of them just "happen" to disappear.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Today, President Obama address the United Nations for the first time in a move that is being viewed as the first step in repairing relations in the international community. While speaking on several subjects, several points have been seen as major changes from United States international policy. While it is clear that the President is trying to repair what many felt was major damage caused by the Bush Administration, President Obama made it clear that the US was no longer willing to act independently of the international system. Obama address was mostly focused on a new age of international interaction in which the President called for the world to move past points of conflict in the past and focus on the major problems in the world today.

Was this a concession on the part of the United States caving to international pressure against the war in Iraq? No , the President made it clear that the world had a responsibility to work together to create peace and stability. He states, "The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise. And that treaties will be enforced, We must insist that the future does not belong to fear."

The President is not trying to remove blame from the US on their lack of international cooperation, but does admonish the world to set aside their mistrust and opposition to previous US policies assuring the UN that the US is now ready to work with the international community and not in spite of it. He states, "The United States stands ready to begin a new chapter of international cooperation -- one that recognizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations"

There are many in the US who fear that a weak stance on the world stage will hurt the US ability to influence world politics. They would be misperceiving what happened at the UN today. It is clear to everyone that President Obama's approach to international politics is much different that Bush's, but this is not necessary a bad thing. There will be times in the world where talks fail and countries solve problems though armed negations, but trying to bring the world together with the very real power the the US holds on the world stage is more beneficial than many would lead the American People to believe. When we make the effort to try to resolve differences in peaceful means, be it problems we have with other countries or ones that other countries have among themselves, we will not only prevent war, we will enhance our position of peace and create a trust among the major international sources of conflict in the world.

Anything we can do to increase trust and reduce fear in the world moves us towards a better world community. While not all of the changes President Obama has made in US Government has been for the good of the people, the call for international cooperation, even if it is simply lip service, is a call that can only help all people, living in the United States or abroad.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pay For It Yourself

Today, President Obama announced that the US Government would be throwing out the plans to create a missile defense shield in Europe and replacing it with an updated program. The President did not state what the new program would consist of, but he did state that the Joint-Chiefs of Staff were all in agreement over the change in systems.

This is once again an example of the President cutting out programs that President Bush worked so hard to get passed. Is this a bad thing? No it is not, but we need to keep a close eye on the actions of President Obama as he continues to cut programs in order to fund his own agenda. There has been too much waste on both sides of the aisle. There have been far too many Republican and Democratic projects that have been paid for by the Federal Government that are simply pork projects that need to be cut out of the Federal Budget. These projects, while helping the local areas, are more designed to keep politicians in office than they are to help the country as a whole. These projects should be paid for by the state and local governments. Only in those areas where there is not a substantial tax base, such as western Wyoming, should the Federal Government step in to take control.

This would not be a popular idea. The American people love it when others pay for their needs, but it should not be that way. This does not mean that we must raise taxes in order to pay for every new project, rather we should be spending the taxes in the area that they are being collected from. This would not only prevent wasteful spending and increase spending on the truly important projects, but it would also help the American people to have greater pride in the infrastructure of their communities. When you must pay for your own bridges and stop lights and libraries you are more likely to not only use these services, but also to take care of them.

The overall effect of this idea is that not only will we be wasting money on random projects, but the things that we use today will last longer. This only save the people more in taxes. President Obama should cut wasteful programs, but we must make sure that it is not so that he can just pay for his own "bridge to nowhere".

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Health Care and The Deathstar

Tonight we were once again addressed by the President of the United States in what can be seen as the end of the month long intermission that we have had from the healthcare reform debate. For months now we have heard about death panels and never ending lines in Japan as people wait to see a doctor. What the President wanted to do was to get his message to the people in a softer light than has been cast by so many in the last few months.

While there is no argument that the President is great at giving a speech, there are a few different points that need to be addressed. First off, there are some things that everyone agrees about. Those things include access for everyone to affordable health care, the right for people to group together to get better prices on insurance, including those who pay for their own insurance, the need for the people to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves and that insurance companies should be able to provide incentives for those who participate in wellness programs. While these all are very good thing that we need to see in the near future, it is more important to work on the things that there is so much disagreement on. The President tried to correct what he referred to as "misconceptions" in the healthcare reform bill, but there are flaws in what the President feels is solid health care reform.

First, the dreaded "Death Panels" that have been the source of so much debate. This come from the idea that there will be a panel that seniors will have to go before where the panel will decided if paying for health care for these individuals is worth the cost, or should they no longer provide coverage. The President firmly denies these allegations in a very Animal Farm type statement. I believe that the President and members of Congress believe with all of their hearts that these panels will not happen, but what they fail to realize is that the possibility of these panels is there. It will not come in the next 5 or even 10 years, but one day down the road, the bureaucracy of the US Government will start to work its wonders as the need for a set system of rules will bring the likelihood of the denial of benefits creeping closer and closer simply because they do not met a set standard of criteria. While this may not be the problem that it has been made out to be, it will be very important down the road when for the individual that is sitting before the board praying that the government will continue to pay for their treatment.

Second, in what is bound to be the most talked about moment from the speech, the President stated that the program would not cover any illegal aliens, to which Rep. Joe Wilson shouted out "You Lie!" This moment(above), which was clearly disrespectful and should be apologized for, only shows a small hint of a much larger argument of illegal immigration. The questions is who will pay for the hundreds and thousands of illegal aliens who cross the border simply because they are sick and know that they will receive health care free of charge because the people of America cannot stand to see a person in need turned away. Will the border hospitals be forced to continue the current practice of paying for the service of those who get help in their hospitals who cannot pay for themselves? This is a question that needs to be address and not simply brushed off, unless of course we can manage to build a fence that is 1000 feet tall and 1000 feet deep and extends the entire length of the border, and since we don't foresee that happening, we need to address the real problems of this health care that will be provided, coverage or not.

Last, the President wants this coverage to be mandatory for every American. He referred to auto insurance as a successful example of how it will work. Let us look at the problems with this. For one, there is an option with auto insurance. If you don't want to pay for the insurance, you can choose not to drive. That is a real option for some. The ability to remove oneself from the system is a right that we hold dear in America. Forcing everyone to have insurance is just not possible in the current system. How do we do this? We need to have the insurance eligibility based on taxes.

What do you mean taxes? Well simply, to get coverage you must file a valid tax return for the prior 3 to 5 years. This will do two things; first, it will make sure that the American taxpayers are the ones that are receiving the benefits from their taxes. The second, it will encourage a substantial increase in the paying of taxes in the United States. If you provide a benefit for paying taxes, as well as a punishment for the lack of doing such, the tax revenue would jump substantially. This would help pay for the program as well as encourage responsible government participation on the part of the people.

To make this work, there would need to be a punishment for the lack of participation. How can we do that? It is clear that we cannot deny emergency care for those who need it, regardless if they pay taxes or not. What we can do however, is to deny other government benefits to those who do not file tax returns for the last several years. What can these be? No student grants, no subsidies for businesses, and no benefit that helps someone in situations that do not risk the health of the individual. By doing this, the government would be able to encourage the payment of taxes, as well as the healthcare coverage for most of America.

It should be noted that even the President of the United States can see that there are healthcare systems that work, for example he noted the Intermountain Health Care Systems in Utah. It "provides above average healthcare, at below average prices" stated President Obama. It is clear that low cost healthcare is possible. The President was referring to the non-profit organization (including the insurance arm under the name of Select Health) that was started by the LDS Church that now provides some of the best medical care in the world, let alone the mid-west. They recently opened what has been come to be called the Deathstar, as it was believed the new state of the art hospital built in Salt Lake City would kill off any other hospital in the area. Yet this single organization now provides better coverage at lower cost, while always keeping the need and rights of the patients as their main concern and not how much money they can make for their share holders. Now if only the government could figure that out.

There are many other things that need to be address, and we will continue with the discussion in the next post.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Photo Too Far

Many people as well as news sources often get their world news from one place, The Associated Press. While for years the AP has been considered one of the most reliable sources of news in the world, it seems that they have now gone too far. In August the AP made the decision to publish a photo of a Marine who had been struck by a rocket propelled grenade and died shortly after the photo was taken. This was done after the family of the Marine, Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, requested that the AP not release the photo to the public. After the AP received the request from the family, they made the decision to run the photo despite the request saying that the photo was needed to show the harsh realities of war.

Now Defense Secretary Robert Gates has joined the conversation. In a letter that he sent to the AP, Gates called the action "Appling" and that the action was a breach of "Common Decency". The letter, which Gates states is one of the first public opinions that he has made after taking his new position, forcefully beseeches the AP to reconsider the decision. He states:

"Out of respect for his family's wishes, I ask you in the strongest of terms to reconsider your decision. I do not make this request lightly. In one of my first public statements as Secretary of Defense, I stated that the media should not be treated as the enemy, and made it a point to thank journalists for revealing problems that need to be fixed – as was the case with Walter Reed."

"I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard's death has caused his family. Why your organization would purposefully defy the family's wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency."

It is often that the media uncovers things that need attention. In that sense, the media is a needed part of society. They have to power to expose the abuse of the week by those in power. They can draw attention to things that would otherwise be ignored by the people and the leaders of our communities. However, it is clear that there is a line that can be crossed.

There are times where we forget the pain and devastation of war. It is an important role of the media to remind us of what can happen because of the actions of politicians, but in this case, the AP went from keeping an important issue at the forefront of our attention, to showing a sensationalized photo to sell papers. The disrespect that the AP has shown to a fallen member of the military is despicable. The fact that they were able to sit down and come to a decision to print a photo of a man about to die should remind us of the frenzy to get the last picture of Michael Jackson as they rushed his lifeless body to the hospital. That tabloid mentality that the AP used is something that should hurt their reputation as a leader in world news.

I made the decision not to look at the picture, and the lack of image above is not an error, it is a sign of respect for the sacrifice that was give for the freedoms of others. While the damage has been done, the lesson can still be learned, there is a line, and it is easy to cross.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Road Texters

It seems that the ever expanding digital age has fundamentally changed the way that we interact with one another. First we moved to the cell phones and email, suddenly we were able to speak to each other no matter where we were. We had the ability to send messages to someone across the country and it was there in seconds as opposed to days. It was as this time that we began to see the arguments for the safe use of these new means of communication while doing everything from flying to driving. Bans on speaking on a phone while in the car were reviewed in every state and report after report came out about how deadly talking on a cell phone can be while driving. We never did come together and agree on what was and was not appropriate use of phones while driving. But it appears that we are trying to avoid that same problem with texting.

Texting has become the primary source of communication for so many Americans, particularly young Americans. More and more the ability to speak to multiple individuals, all without saying a word, is becoming the preferred means for interpersonal relationships leading to thousand dollar phone bills and some very cramped thumbs. In the last few years, the same arguments that arose during the beginning of the cell phone age have begun to arise in the texting era. This time, however, the legislative bodies are trying to avoid the same disorganized effort that prevented all cell phones being banned from use on American roads.

While currently less than 20 states have banned texting while driving, a bill is being pushed forward that is moving the country to laws in every state that would ban texting while operating a vehicle. The bill was not free from running into its own potholes. One of the largest came when the Governors Highway Safety Association came out in opposition to the bill claiming that such a ban would be too difficult to enforce, that was, until the president of the organization actually went and spoke to the members of the association which comprises of the government officials that are responsible for highway safety in each state. Earlier this week, the group reversed its position stating the various studies from places like Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Now the bill, which will require that each and every state passes a law to ban texting while driving, is expected to make it through the legislative process and passed into law.

Is the federal government going too far? No, the need to protect drivers is the responsibility of federal government as well as the local governments. It has been ever since Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway system. For those who think that the ban may simply be over reacting to scare tactics used by supporters of the bill, think again. According to the University of Utah, drivers who are intoxicated are 4 times more likely to get into an accident than a sober individual while those who are texting while driving are 8 time more likely to get into an accident than a sober attentive driver. Why is texting so bad? Texting requires that the driver removes his eyes from his surrounding and focus on their cell phone, some times as long as 10 or 20 seconds.

We should be happy that the government is trying to protect us for others who fail to realize the severity of their actions until after the damage has been done. Those individuals like the bus driver in the video above often care more about their personal lives than they do about the safety of those around them on the road. This is when legislation is necessary. It protects those of us who know how dangerous it can be to drive while distracted. Most of us have see the car that is swerving to stay in their lane because the driver was looking down at their phone, and then 20 seconds later they have to swerve again because they just had to tell Stacy what Sue said.

We should also point out that the GHSA was right in seeing that they made a mistake and correcting it. Yes it might be inconvenient for someone to have to actually wait to send a message, but what is so hard about making a call instead. Keep your eyes on the road. We all want to get home safe. Lets help each other do that.