Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Origins of Al Qaeda

Osama bin Laden is born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He is the son of a rich construction company owner and his least favorite wife. Osama becomes a zealous Salafist Muslim in a sect that forbids all music, dancing, television, movies, smoking and singing in addition to normal Islamic prohibitions against alcohol and unveiled women. Osama also learns to enjoy family camping trips to the desert without electricity or running water for weeks at a time.

In 1978, Osama meets Abdullah Azam, a speaker on the subject of jihad. Azzam says that “The jihad, the fighting, is obligatory wherever you can perform it. And just as when you are in America, you must fast – unless you are ill or on a voyage – so, too, you must wage jihad. The word jihad means fighting only, fighting with the sword.” Jihad is not a spiritual struggle. By this time, Osama has joined the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical organization banned in most Arab countries. The Brotherhood wants to topple Islamic dictatorships and return to the seventh-century values of Mohammed.

In November 1979 revolution in Iran teaches Osama two things: Islamic theocracy is possible, and Carter’s inaction teaches him not to fear the US.

On December 25, 1979 the Soviets invade Afghanistan. Osama joins Muslim radicals in Pakistan resisting them. The group is known as the “Arab Afghans.” Osama spends much of the war in Peshawar, Pakistan at the “bureau of services” (renamed al-Qaeda in 1989, which means “the base” in Arabic). In his role as quartermaster, Osama registers Arab recruits from around the world. He uses these contacts to terror cells in 55 countries in the 1990s. The Arab Afghans are supported by Saudi Arabia and other rich Arab nations. They are extremely anti-western. The Arab Afghans mainly fight amongst themselves and contribute little to the war effort. The US CIA supports native Afghans fighting the Soviets, but does not fund Arab groups like Bin Ladin’s. At this point, the US does not even know that OBL exists.

In February 1989, the Soviets exit Afghanistan. OBL continues fighting to transform Afghanistan into an Islamic state. He constructs many vast training camps that graduate classes of terrorists every six months. On November 24, 1989,OBL’s former mentor, Azam, is assassinated with his two sons. Osama now has total control over the global terror network.
Osama also becomes a hero in Saudi Arabia for his actions, many fictional, in Afghanistan.

In 1990, El Said Nosair kills Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, in New York. Documents in Nosair’s apartment, when translated years later, reveal that Ali Mohammed, an Egyptian soldier who teaches US army soldiers about terrorists and is a source for the CIA and FBI, is a double agent. In 1993, he helped survey several US embassies in east Africa.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invades Kuwait. OBL contacts Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan to propose that his family’s construction firm build border defenses around Saudi Arabia and that he supply thousands of Afghan War veterans to defend SA. In return, the Saudis will keep US troops out of Arabia. The Saudis reject his offer and Osama’s hatred of the US and the Saudi royal family deepen. By February 1991, Coalition forces are victorious in Kuwait, but many non-Muslim forces stay behind to administer the Iraqi no-fly zones and preserve the peace. Osama views this as a violation of a Koran passage that reads “there shall be no two religions in Arabia.” In April 1991, after criticizing the Saudi royal family repeatedly and being placed under house arrest, Osama flees to Khartoum, Sudan. He is treated as a VIP at the annual meeting of terrorists, the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference. He expands his network through these new contacts.

December 29, 1992 is OBL’s first attack on the US. Bombings of the Goldmore and Aden Hotels in Aden, Yemen, which are temporary home to almost 100 US Marines supporting operations in Somalia, are thwarted by security guards and local police. Two civilians are killed and US personnel are withdrawn from Yemen, a moral victory for OBL.

In early 1990s, US Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL) and his staffer Yossef Bodansky, of the House Taskforce on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, learn from Afghan sources that OBL wants to impose Iranian-style rule in Afghanistan and that he is targeting Americans. President Clinton takes no action against the threat.

On February 26, 1993, OBL’s men carry out the first Islamic terrorist attack on US soil when they detonate a van of explosives in the parking garage of the World Trade Center. They intend to kill thousands, but instead kill only a handful. The FBI determines that the explosion is caused by a bomb within hours, but Clinton does not treat it like an act of war, and only addresses it directly in one radio address. The attack is treated as a criminal matter, not as a threat to national security. Clinton continues with cuts to defense budget.

Because the attack is treated as a law enforcement matter, the FBI does not share intelligence with other agencies through the Counter Terrorism Center (CTC). Rule 6E of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure discourage information sharing because a judge could require the information then would have to be shared with accused terrorists or rule it inadmissible. The CIA does not learn the full story of the bombing until after the first trial ends in 1996. FBI agents had known for years that a network of Islamic terrorists was growing in the NY-NJ area, but cannot investigate unless they have evidence that a crime has been committed or is under way, according to law and DOJ guidelines. They are not allowed to investigate CT and PA gun ranges where radicals train or mosques where they meet.

In early 1993, Mohammed Atef, OBL’s chief deputy, goes to Somalia. OBL soon begins supplying Mohammed Farah Aidid, a Somali warlord, with weapons and training. Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, linked to al Qaeda and Islamic Jihad is one of the instructors who teach Aidid’s men techniques to use RPGs against helicopters. US intelligence intercepts Arabic radio transmissions directing mortar fire against UN troops. Somalis do not speak Arabic.

Ayman Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and OBL’s personal doctor, lists enemies of Islam in his book Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet. These are:
(a) The United States
(b) Russia
(c) The United Nations
(d) Muslim rulers friendly to the west
(e) Multi-national corporations
(f) International communications and data-exchange systems
(g) International news agencies and media, and
(h) International relief agencies

In the spring of 1993, Clinton places US troops in Somalia under UN command. This is the first time that US troops have been under foreign command. Typically, US commanders lead UN Peacekeeping Forces. Additionally, UN rules of engagement are stricter than those of the US military. Weapons that would have been seized under US rules now show up again since the UN cannot stop the militias.

On June 5, 1993, Aidid’s men ambush and kill 24 Pakistani Peacekeepers. The UN puts a price on Aidid’s head. On June 26, 1993, Clinton orders cruise missile strikes against an empty headquarters building of Iraqi intelligence as a reprisal for the attempted assassination of former President Bush. The missiles strike in the middle of the night. This is likely viewed as a show of weakness by both OBL and Saddam. On August 8, 1993, four US Army MPs are ambushed and killed by a bomb. Clinton does not respond. On August 22, 1993, six more US troops are injured by a bomb. Clinton orders the Delta Force and US Army Rangers to Somalia as part of Task Force Ranger to capture Aidid. On September 23, 1993, Les Aspin, Secretary of Defense, denies a request for armored vehicles to be sent to Somalia. He believes that they would represent a politically unpopular “escalation.” September 25, 1993 – A US Army UH-60 Blackhawk, “Courage 53,” is shot down in Somalia by an RPG. All aboard are killed.

On October 3-4, 1993 – Task Force Ranger is ambushed. Two Blackhawks are shot down by RPGs. Rescue efforts are hampered by the lack of US armored vehicles, and ultimately Malaysian and Pakistani tanks help relieve the US troops. This mission is the basis for Blackhawk Down. 18 Americans are killed and 84 wounded. Two days later, Clinton announces the decision to withdraw all US troops from Somalia. National Security Advisor Anthony Lake argues, “You’d be painting a bulls-eye on every American soldier everywhere in the world.”

In a 1998 interview with ABC News, Osama says, “Our boys went to Somalia and prepared themselves carefully for a long war…. Our boys were shocked by the low morale of the American soldier, and they realized that the American soldier was a paper tiger. He was unable to endure the strikes that were dealt to his army, so he fled, and America had to stop all its bragging.”

In 1994, Osama is cut off by his family and stripped of his Saudi citizenship. The Saudis allegedly order his execution and an attempt is made on his life. In October, Ramzi Youssef begins planning for terrorist strikes using aircraft in the Philippines. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is the operation’s commander. The money trail leads to OBL.

Between January 6 and February 8, 1995 Ramzi Youssef and Abdul Hakim Murad, a US-trained Kuwaiti Airlines pilot, are arrested. Youssef has pictures of OBL in his baggage and a business card from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a relative of OBL, in his wallet. The Filipino police have disrupted a plot to kill Pope John Paul II with a suicide bomb as he visited the Philippines. Youssef had also been testing a bomb designed to get past airport security. This type of bomb was tested with an explosion in a Filipino movie theater. It was also tested with a detonation aboard a Philippine Airlines flight, which ripped a hole in the airplane’s fuselage, killing one passenger. The plan was to set bombs in several US airliners stopping in the Philippines. The project was called “Project Bojinka” (Serbo-Croatian for “loud bang,” a reference to al Qaeda’s activities in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s). Furthermore, President Clinton was also to have been a target when he made a trip to the Philippines. Ramzi Youssef is later convicted of the WTC bombings and sentenced to 240 years in prison. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is tracked to Qatar after stopping in Sudan. FBI agents get an extradition order, but Khalid is tipped off by a Qatari government official and escapes to Prague.

On November 13, 1995, Al Qaeda car bomb at the Saudi National Guard office building in Riyadh kills six Americans and wounds more than 60. The same day, intelligence satellites intercept a wireless phone call in which a caller gives OBL a code word, then Osama becomes emotional, blesses the caller and says “This is not the first or the last. The rain starts with one drop and it soon becomes a downpour.”

In January 1996, the interagency Counter Terrorism Center (CTC) establishes a Bin Ladin Unit. Forty terrorists are captured and turned over to Arab nations (mainly Egypt) where they are tortured, tried, and executed. In February, Sudan offers Bin Ladin to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis turn down the offer. The Clinton Administration tries to get the Saudis to take Bin Ladin. The Saudis want him neutralized, but do not want to take custody. Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Taha tells the US Ambassador, Tim Carny, “If you want Bin Ladin, we will give you Bin Ladin.”

On March 3, 1996, at a clandestine meeting, the CIA and State Department ask Sudanese Minister of State for Defense Elfatih Erwa for information on Bin Ladin. Five days later, Erwa offers to arrest Bin Ladin. The CIA representative tells Erwa that the US has “nothing we can hold him on.” Erwa offers to watch Bin Ladin and pass along surveillance files, but is repeatedly turned down by the Clinton Administration, both formally and informally. (Anthony Lake, Sandy Berger, and Richard Clarke either don’t remember or deny the offers.)

On May 18, 1996 – OBL is expelled from Sudan and relocates to Afghanistan via Pakistan. By switching planes at the last minute, he eludes tracking devices. A CIA memo later discovered by the Washington Times says that “We have no unilateral sources close to Bin Ladin, nor any reliable way of intercepting his communications. We must rely on foreign intelligence services to confirm his movements and activities.”

On October 12, 1996, Osama says “It is the duty of every tribe in the Arabian peninsula to fight jihad and cleanse the land from these Crusader occupiers. Their wealth is booty to those who kill them.”

In February 1997, a paid lobbyist for the Sudan, meets Interior Minister Bakri Hassan Salih, who offers to share Sudan’s Bin Ladin files over the next few months. The lobbyist passes several warnings about al Qaeda attacks on Americans in Africa to the FBI.

In February 1997, Osama says, “If someone wants to kill an American soldier, it is better than wasting time on other matters.”

On April 5, 1997, Sudan President Bashir unconditionally invites the US to share their intelligence files on OBL. There is no response. On May 21, 1997, Clinton fundraiser and unofficial emissary Mansoor Ijaz personally tells Clinton about the offer from Sudan. There is still no response.

In May 1997, CIA Director George Tenet says that he “think[s] we are already at war. We have been on a war footing for a number of years now.”

On September 24, 1997, Madeline Albright, US Secretary of State, announces a plan to re-engage Sudan by sending a diplomatic team, which would have included intelligence officers. The plan is scrapped because of bureaucratic infighting (reportedly involving Susan Rice of the State Department and Sandy Berger, National Security Advisor).

On February 23, 1998, Osama issues a fatwa against the US. “The ruling to kill Americans and their allies – civilian and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it.” One of his reasons for the fatwa is the "Americans' continuing aggression against the Iraqi people." Osama mentions aggression against Iraq four times in the fatwa. Later, Osama says on al Jazeera, “Our enemy is every American male, whether he is directly fighting us or paying taxes.”

In May 1998, Osama speaks at an al Qaeda press conference in Afghanistan:
By God’s grace, we have formed with many other Islamic groups and organizations in the Islamic world a front, called the International Islamic Front, to do jihad against the Crusaders and Jews. "And by God’s grace, the men reacted to this call and they are going on this path and they are doing a good job. By God’s will, their actions are going to have a successful result in killing Americans and getting rid of them."

On May 22, 1998 – Richard Clarke becomes America’s first Anti-Terrorism Czar. Clinton signs finding that allows the CIA to go after OBL, but not intentionally kill him. Several plans are discussed but not acted upon.

On August 7, 1998, US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are attacked simultaneously by suicide bombers. Hundreds are killed. A surviving terrorist, al Owhali, is captured. Two days later, Sudan arrests two al Qaeda operatives planning a second round of embassy bombings. The US never takes custody of the men and they are eventually returned to Pakistan, where they disappear.

On August 20, 1998, Bill Clinton responds to the embassy bombings with a cruise missile attack on al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and the al Shifa chemical factory in Sudan believed to be owned by Osama and making poison gas. Furthermore, the Clinton Administration noted that al Shifa allegedly had ties with Iraq. Unfortunately, Pakistan tips off OBL about the attacks and he escapes. The factory turns out to be an aspirin factory owned by an innocent businessman. Bill Richardson, now US Ambassador to the UN, meets with the Taliban. They refuse to expel OBL because of Islamic duties to guests and because one of Osama’s daughters is now married to a son of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader.

On November 4, 1998, the U.S Department of Justice files an indictment against Osama Bin Laden. This indictment repeats the disputed claim that "al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq."

In 1999, Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance finds an al Qaeda training manual but no one at the CIA is interested. The CIA does set up communications surveillance equipment in Afghanistan, but little use is made of the intercepts. Also in 1999, the Northern Alliance unsuccessfully attempts to assassinate OBL. The Americans tell them not to try again. Nevertheless, two more unsuccessful attempts are carried out in 2000. The Northern Alliance takes over 1000 al Qaeda prisoners, but only one Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst ever interrogates them. Later, the analyst is ordered by the Administration to cease all travel to Afghanistan, even during vacation.

On July 5, 1999, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offers to form a commando unit to be trained by the US for the mission of killing OBL. The US agrees, but Sharif is toppled by a coup before the mission can take place.

On December 2, 1999, Jordanian intelligence raids an al Qaeda cell in Amman. They arrest 13 men and uncover a plan for multiple attacks on Americans on the Millennium Eve. This includes plans for a small arms attack on the Jordan River site of Jesus’ baptism.

On December 14, 1999 alert US Customs agents in Port Angeles, Washington find a large bomb in the trunk of a car driven by Ahmed Ressam, a member of a Vancouver sleeper cell. His mission was apparently to destroy Los Angeles International Airport.

US submarines are on station to launch cruise missiles to kill OBL, but George Tenet overrules the launch order repeatedly saying that the intelligence on OBL’s whereabouts is not good enough.

In 2000, Ottilie English, sister of Rep. Phil English and Washington representative of the Northern Alliance, obtains seven hours of videotaped conversations with al Qaeda prisoners. A CIA officer tells her that “I’ve been writing that in reports for years now and nothing happens. Maybe you can get them (the Clinton Administration) to listen. Attempts are made by the United Arab Emirates to negotiate a deal with the Taliban to deliver OBL.

On January 3, 2000, OBL’s men attempt to attack the American destroyer, USS the Sullivans in Aden, Yemen harbor. Instead, the terrorists’ boat begins to sink under the weight of the bomb. The US does not learn about this attempt for nearly a year. January 3 is traditionally known as the “night of power” in Islam.

In July 2000, CIA informant reveals that a Lebanese group affiliated with OBL is planning to attack a US Navy ship in the eastern Mediterranean. On August 8, 2000, Al Qaeda bombers attack the USS Cole in the Aden, Yemen harbor. 17 sailors are killed and 39 wounded. Clinton Administration officials decide against a military response.

In September 2000, armed Predator drone aircraft are sent hunting for OBL in Afghanistan. Administration support for the program evaporates when a Predator crashes in October, in large part because of CIA and USAF resentment towards Richard Clarke.

In January 2001, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is photographed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with leaders of the 9-11 attacks. He is also linked to Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi, who funneled thousands of dollars from a bank in Dubai, United Arab Emirates to the 9-11 hijackers.

On September 9, 2001, Al Qaeda members assassinate Northern Alliance military chief Ahmed Shah Massoud. This prepares Afghanistan for the US response to the coming al Qaeda attacks.

September 11, 2001. The Pentagon and World Trade Center are attacked killing 2,998 innocent people as well as 19 terrorist hijackers. The War on Terror begins.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

My Healthcare Reform Plan

Healthcare reform will be a major issue in the 2008 elections. Both Democratic presidential candidates have proposed major government programs to subsidize health insurance premiums as well as sweeping new regulations to improve coverage and lower costs. These plans ignore several key aspects of the healthcare crisis and would substitute government regulation for market pressures. Ultimately, these flaws would mean that government healthcare plans would be costly and ineffective.

One of the major flaws in the Democratic plans is that they do not address tort reform. Currently, malpractice insurance premiums resulting from civil liability suits are a major source of increasing healthcare costs. Since 1994, the average award in a medical malpractice case has risen to $3.5 million. Over 70% of cases are without merit, but defending against them costs doctors and insurance companies millions of dollars, even if they win.

The high cost of malpractice insurance is influencing many doctors to leave the profession. OB/GYNs have been particularly hard hit. In several states, finding a doctor who will deliver babies is difficult due to the high cost of malpractice insurance. Many insurance companies are exiting the malpractice insurance business because of losses. As fewer companies write these policies, premium costs rise for the remaining insurers.

Rising insurance costs are not the only problem stemming from the legal liability crisis. In order to protect themselves from lawsuits, most doctors order tests that are medically unnecessary and refer patients to specialists that they really do not need to see. These unnecessary tests and doctor visits contribute as much as $108 billion in unneeded medical costs. 92% of doctors report that they engage in defensive medicine that, in the end, costs patients and insurance companies more money.

Legal reforms to the tort system, such as limiting awards for punitive damages, “could reduce health care costs by 5-9% without adversely affecting quality of care.” This could save from $60 to $108 billion annually. These savings would lower the cost of health insurance and make it more affordable for Americans.

Another way to help make health insurance affordable for Americans is to offer financial incentives. HSAs allow individuals to deposit pre-tax money into an account to pay for medical expenses and purchase high-deductible health insurance plans. Similarly, Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) allow individuals to use pre-tax money to pay for medical expenses. Because individuals spend their own money in HSAs and FSAs, they are encouraged to shop around for the best prices when they buy healthcare.

There are several problems with HSAs and FSAs. Contributions must be elected in advance. If the money in your account is not used before the end of the year, it is forfeited. This eliminates the some of the incentive to shop around for competitive prices.

These accounts could be improved in several ways. First, a tax credit should be given for premiums paid for health insurance policies. A credit on taxes for premiums paid would encourage more people to buy their own insurance. Second, the accounts should be changed to allow the balances to accrue from year to year. This would eliminate the rush to spend unused money at the end of the year and allow people to save for anticipated medical expenditures, such as a pregnancy.

Current health insurance plans have insulated consumers from market pressures. Insurance co-payments have eliminated the need to shop for the best deal on medical care because the consumer pays the same price for any doctor and the insurance company pays the balance. In most cases, the consumer does not even know the actual cost of their doctor visit. If health insurance plans were modified to require that consumers pay a percentage of the total cost instead of a set fee, consumers would be encouraged to shop for the most cost effective care. Reintroducing competition would begin to put a downward pressure on healthcare costs.

There are other areas in which competition is already reducing healthcare costs. In 2006, Wal-mart introduced a program to offer certain generic prescriptions for $4. The program has since been expanded to more drugs and matched by several other pharmacies. This has made Wal-mart much more effective at reducing the cost of medicine than the federal government.

Similarly, private chains, such as Wal-mart and Target, are introducing medical clinics into many of their stores. These clinics are often staffed by nurses and offer simple treatments that do not require a doctor’s care. Costs are kept down by keeping overhead low. There are no facilities for extensive testing. Serious illnesses would require referral to a traditional doctor’s office or hospital. Many even require patients to process their own claim if they have health insurance.

These in-store clinics expand access to affordable health care. Many patients who visit these clinics would have normally gone to an emergency room and incurred a bill of hundreds of dollars. Many treatments at in-store clinics cost less than $50, even without insurance. Additionally, they are quick and convenient. An emergency room or doctor’s office visit would have taken several hours. A clinic visit can take less than an hour, even including wait time. Clinics also frequently have longer hours of operation than traditional doctor’s offices.

These private companies are not bringing low prices to healthcare solely out of altruism. There is a profit to be made. When a consumer visits an in-store clinic or buys a $4 prescription, they are more likely to bring other business to the store as well. For instance, people might shop for groceries while waiting for their prescriptions to be filled. This creates a win-win situation for both parties without any government subsidies.

Another method of reducing healthcare costs would be to decrease government regulation. Currently, each state regulates health insurance within its borders. Therefore, there are fifty different sets of rules and regulations for insurance companies to follow. In many cases, these regulations add needlessly to insurance costs.

Coverages mandated by the government require increases in insurance premiums. For example, some states mandate that all health insurance must contain coverage for pregnancy. If a consumer does not want pregnancy coverage, if they do not want or cannot have children, they must still pay the increased premiums. Similar mandates for coverages such as co-payments, Viagra, elective surgery, mental health benefits, and chiropractic all serve to increase health insurance costs. It is increasingly difficult to obtain a no-frills, high deductible, major medical plan even though such a plan would provide an inexpensive source of health coverage in the event of a catastrophic illness or accident.

A simple solution to the problem of over-regulation is to allow policies to be sold across state lines. Consumers in highly regulated states who can currently only buy expensive policies would be allowed to purchase cheaper policies from states with less regulation. This would allow more Americans to buy health insurance that would protect them from a major illness, even if it did not pay for each and every doctor visit or prescription.

A secondary benefit of interstate policy sales would be pressure from insurance companies to simplify regulation in expensive states. If sales began decreasing as consumers shopped out of state, legislatures would be forced to make their insurance regulations more competitive. Without change, the insurance industries in their states would continue to decline and lose sales to more competitive states.

A new trend in health insurance is for employers to give their workers an allowance to pay for an individual health policy rather than purchasing a group plan. This is allows the employee to choose coverage that is important to them, while shopping for the most cost-effective plan. If this trend continues, prices would fall as more companies compete for more individual business rather than a monopoly for policies covering a company’s employee group.

An additional problem with the Democratic health plans is that they overstate the severity of the healthcare crisis. Many advocates of a government takeover of the healthcare industry claim that 40-50 million Americans are uninsured. In reality, those numbers are inaccurate because they include noncitizens, people who choose not to purchase insurance even though they can afford it, and people who qualify for government insurance, but have not signed up.

Government statistics indicate that 45% of the uninsured lack insurance because of job changes. These people will become covered again within a few months. Approximately ten million of the uninsured are not citizens of the US. According to a Census report, there are approximately 17 million Americans without insurance who earn more than $50,000 per year. These people can afford health insurance but choose not to purchase it. One prominent study places the true figure for the long-term uninsured as low as 8.2 million.

In a free society, we must accept the fact that some people will make poor, even stupid, choices. Many of the people who elect not to purchase health insurance do so because they are in good health and do not feel that they need insurance. In many cases, they are correct, but sometimes a sudden illness or accident leaves them with large medical bills. This is the result of a deliberate choice that they must live with.

In other cases, health insurance becomes unaffordable or is canceled after a person suffers an illness. Health insurance plans should have renewals guaranteed as life insurance policies do now. A consumer would have the right to renew their health insurance policy regardless of changes in their health during the policy period. Rate increases would be spread over the entire pool of policyholders rather than targeted at those who had incurred large claims.

Some people would remain uninsurable. People with illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, and diabetes should have access to insurance coverage even if they are too high risk for the private insurance market. This is where the government can have a role. In some states, the government currently operates a high-risk insurance pool for people who cannot qualify for private insurance, such as those who have bankruptcies or who own homes in hurricane areas. A similar program for those who cannot qualify for private health insurance would solve the uninsured crisis. The pool could be funded by a small tax added to private health insurance policies sold in the state.

Price controls and increased regulation are ideas that would ultimately be unsuccessful at controlling rising healthcare costs. Price controls would lead to shortages as people and companies leave healthcare for more profitable businesses. Increased regulation would add to the cost of treatments and health insurance.

The government has proven its inability to efficiently manage healthcare in several areas. VA hospitals are notoriously inefficient and often poorly run. Medicare recently announced that it will pay out more than it takes in 2011 and be bankrupt by 2019. Bureaucratic red tape prevents people from getting the care that they are entitled to, while fraud runs rampant. A national government health insurance bureaucracy would likely bring the efficiency and customer service of the Post Office and Department of Motor Vehicles to the healthcare industry. As Americans, we should expect better.


Che’ Guevara: Hero or Mass Murderer?

In recent years, Che’ Guevara has regained popularity. His image adorns t-shirts and posters on college campuses. Barack Obama was even embarrassed by a Che’ flag that a supporter had placed in one of his campaign offices. Who is Che’ Guevara? Is he really someone that people in a modern, progressive and free society should place on a pedestal?

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara Lynch de la Serna was born in Rosario, Argentina on June 14, 1928. He was the eldest child in a liberal, middle class family. His nickname, ‘Che,’ translates as “buddy,” “pal,” or “the kid.”

Che’ studied medicine at the University of Buenos Aires. While in school there, he spent breaks traveling around South America on a motorcycle with a friend. On such trips in 1951 and 1952, Che’ spends time at a leper colony in Peru. His experiences there convince him that equality can only be realized through socialism. He later writes about his travels in his book, the Motorcycle Diaries. In 2004, the Motorcycle Diaries was made into a movie produced by Robert Redford.

After participating in riots against Argentine President Juan Peron in 1952, Che’ travels to Bolivia and then Guatemala. In Guatemala, he aids in resistance against a coup backed by the CIA (and authorized by Presidents Truman and Eisenhower). After the coup, Che’ flees to Mexico.

While in Mexico, Che’ meets Fidel Castro. Castro is in exile after a failed coup attempt against Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Che’ quickly joins Castro’s band of revolutionaries as a medic and trains in guerilla warfare. In December 1956, Castro launches an attack on the Batista regime, which fails dramatically. Only twelve guerillas, including Che,’ Fidel, and Raul Castro, survive and escape.

The defeat is a defining moment for Che.’ He later writes, “I was confronted with the dilemma of dedicating myself to medicine or my duty as a revolutionary soldier. I had in front of me a rucksack full of medicine and an ammunition case, the two weighed too much to carry together. I took the ammunition and left the rucksack behind." The healer had become the killer.

Che’ becomes Castro’s chief lieutenant and then the comandante of one of the largest guerilla bands. He is ruthless, frequently executing suspected traitors quickly and dispassionately. In a 1957 letter to his first wife (he remarried to a fellow guerilla in 1959), Che’ writes, “I'm here in Cuba's hills, alive and thirsting for blood." In a letter to his father, he writes, “I really like killing.” Che’s instructions to a subordinate are simple: “If in doubt, kill him.”

By 1959, with US aid cut off, the Batista regime is finished. Batista flees the country on New Years Day and the US recognizes the interim government six days later. After a vacation through Africa, Asia, and Yugoslavia, Che’ returns to Cuba where he is placed in charge of Comision Depuradora, which includes the military courts and killing squads for former Batista supporters and government officials. All defendants are considered murderers and the appellate court automatically confirms all sentences. Habeas corpus rights are abolished. Che’ says that rules of evidence are an “archaic bourgeois detail.”

He is placed in charge of La Cabana prison, where the majority of the executions take place. According to the Black Book of Communism, by the mid-1960s, 14,000 Cubans have been executed without fair trials. 500,000 Cubans were incarcerated in labor camps. At one point, in 1961, one of every 19 Cubans was a political prisoner. Che’ plays a major role in developing Castro’s penal system and defends the executions publicly in 1964 after he had ceased to command the prison. He even dismisses his victims as “all CIA agents” before his death in 1967.

During the 1960s, Che’ is instrumental in aligning Cuba with the Soviet Union. Che’ begins meeting with GRU (Soviet military intelligence) operatives, mostly Spanish communists who had fled to the Soviet Union after the Spanish Civil War, soon after the fall of Havana. Soviet agents help to establish Cuba’s G-2 secret police force. As Cuba draws closer to the Soviet Union, the US imposes trade restrictions and, finally, an embargo and travel ban.

Che’ holds several posts in the new Cuban government. He begins as head of the National Bank of Cuba and of the Department of Industry of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform in 1959. In 1961, he becomes Cuba’s Minister of Industry. His economic policies include price controls, heavy taxes on the wealthy, and restrictions on private capital. Land is seized from the rich and given to the government. Virtually everything is nationalized in a war on capitalism and personal property.

Che’s authoritarian economic policies, together with the US trade embargo, cause the once powerful Cuban economy to decline. Che’s plans at industrialization fail, sugar production collapses, and rationing is introduced. Che’s economic deputy, Ernesto Betancourt, later says that Che was “was ignorant of the most elementary economic principles.” Eventually, Cuba relies on sugar exports and Soviet subsidies (the equivalent of eight Marshall Plans, $72 billion) to survive. As the Cuban economy falters, Che’s popularity begans to wane.

Che’ also writes Guerra de Guerilla (Guerilla War). This book serves as a guide for revolutionaries throughout Latin America and the Third World. In Latin America, only one of these movements, in Nicaragua, is ultimately successful. Che’s goal is to spread his brand of Marxism to other countries. After touring the world, he resigns from his duties in Cuba in 1965.

Che’s next move is to lead a group of Cuban fighters to aid in a communist revolt in the Congo. One of his rebel allies there, Pierre Mulele, occupied Stanleyville and was known for murdering everyone who could read or who wore a tie. The people of the Congo do not support the rebellion and Che’ eventually leaves.

Che’ briefly returned to Cuba, but quickly left for Bolivia where he joins another guerilla movement against the government. His goal is to create another Vietnam in South America. In Bolivia, Che’ found virtually no support from the peasants. The Bolivian army, with US support, was soon on his trail.

A series of tactical, strategic, and logistical errors by Che’ and his forces cause problems for the revolt. Even the Bolivian members of his guerilla band do not speak the dialect of the peasants, making recruiting difficult. Che’ wrote that “The ... masses don't help us in anything and instead they betray us." An English journalist and a French writer, Regis Debray, leave the group and are soon captured by army troops. Che’ divides his tiny army and one group is destroyed by the Bolivian army. Che’s health deteriorates in the jungle and he loses his asthma medicine to the pursuers. He is reduced to riding on a pack mule as the remainder of his army tries to escape.

Bolivian Rangers are deployed to the area and, on October 8, 1967, Capt. Gary Prado and his men surround the remainder of Che’s force in the Quebrada de Yuro, a steep ravine near La Higuera. The guerillas try to escape. In the ensuing firefight six guerillas and two soldiers are killed. Three guerillas, including Che,’ are captured. Three guerillas eventually escape to Chile and three elude capture and hide out in Bolivia.

The prisoners are held in a nearby school, and Che,’ wounded in the leg, receives medical treatment. At the time, Bolivia has no secure prison facilities and it is thought that a trial would be media circus and attract other leftists to Bolivia. Bolivian President Rene Barrientos orders the execution of the prisoners in hopes of avoiding further problems.

Che’ and the other two prisoners are executed on October 9, 1967 and buried at an airfield in Vallegrande. His remains were exhumed by the Cubans in 1997 and reburied in Santa Clara, Cuba, the site of one of his most famous battles against the forces of Batista. His summary execution is a fitting end, given his role in Cuba’s executions.

A footnote to Che’s story is that he planned terrorist attacks against New York City long before 9/11 or the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. In 1962, while Che’ headed Cuba’s Foreign Liberation Department, the FBI stopped a plot Cuban UN officials and members of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (made famous by Lee Harvey Oswald) to detonate 500 kilos of TNT (five times the amount used in the Madrid bombings) and incendiary devices in Macy’s, Gimble’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Grand Central Station. These bombings, set for the week after Thanksgiving, would have killed thousands of New Yorkers, mainly women and children.

Che’ and Castro’s goal in the New York bombing plot was probably to start a war between the US and the Soviet Union. If Cuba were implicated in the attacks, the US would retaliate. In a war, the USSR would probably intervene to protect its ally. If the conflict had gone nuclear, a distinct possibility, deaths would have numbered in the millions.

The Cuban leaders had tried to start a war the year before during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Che’ and Castro had argued for a first-strike against the US before Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, agreed to withdraw the Soviet missiles from Cuba. They dreamed of telling the Americans, “Say hello to my little friends!” as missiles rained down. In 1962, Che’ told the London Daily Worker, “If the missiles had remained, we would have used them against the very heart of the U.S., including New York City."

Che’ Guevara was a sadistic killer. He enjoyed killing and torturing. His writings preach hatred against capitalism in general and the United States in particular. He was also incompetent. He almost single-handedly destroyed the Cuban economy and his only military successes came against the Batista regime, whose army was weak and ineffective, only after the US withdrew support in 1958. According to some reports, Che’ was betrayed in Bolivia by Castro, who instructed the Bolivian Communist Party to pass information on his movements to the army.

Che’s latter day disciples fall into two categories. The first are committed socialists and anti-Americans who eagerly consumed Castro’s propaganda after Che’s death. Many of these people are Lenin’s “useful idiots,” who live in free and prosperous societies, but dream of socialist utopias and look the other way at communist atrocities. This is the same “Blame America First” crowd who cry for appeasement to dictators and Islamic radicals.

The second group is the people who don’t really know or understand who Che’ was. They see the long haired, “Guerilla Hero” image as a symbol of youthful rebellion and social change. Few, if any, fathom Che’s depravity or have any clue as to the number of lives that he destroyed.

On a per capita basis, the number of people killed and imprisoned by Che’ and Castro rivals that of Hitler and Stalin. Che’s legacy is one of mass murder, assaults on human rights, and the enslavement of entire nations. The world is a better place without Che’ Guevara in it.


Whatever Happened to Canadian Bacon?

I like to eat pizza. I travel a lot and, as a result, I get to sample a lot of pizza from pizza restaurants around the country. One thing that I have noticed over the last few months is that it is getting harder and harder to find Canadian bacon.

Gourmet pizzas featuring strange toppings are becoming more and more common. Margherita pizzas featuring Italian tomatoes are frequent finds on room service menus at many hotels. All sorts of things that shouldn't be on pizzas are showing up on pizzas around the country. Some pizzas look like the salad is being served on top of the pizza instead of beside it.

I am a pizza traditionalist. I am also a carnivore. My perfect pizza is a thin-crusted New York style topped with pepperoni and Canadian bacon. Garnish it with a little crushed red pepper, Parmesan cheese, and, if available, some garlic salt. Serve a nice, chilled Coke with it. It makes my mouth water just to think about it.

The problem is that more and more often, when I call to order my perfect pizza, they tell me that they don’t have Canadian bacon. Sometimes they offer ham instead of Canadian bacon. Other times, they commit the atrocity of substituting bacon bits for Canadian bacon. I can accept ham as suitable alternative, even if it is diced instead of sliced, as Canadian bacon should be. But bacon bits are a completely different taste. It isn’t even remotely the same thing.

Why do they call it Canadian bacon anyway? What do they call it in Canada? American bacon?

According to the bacon experts at Wikipedia, Canadian bacon is usually made from back bacon, bacon from the back of the pig, rolled in cornmeal. Ordinary bacon, called “streaky bacon,” is normally made from pork belly meat. In Canada, Canadian bacon is usually referred to as “peameal bacon.”

I conducted a brief survey of the menus of some of America’s largest pizza chains for bacon-related toppings. Pizza Hut lists ham as a topping, as do Papa John’s and Domino’s. The big surprise came from the upstart purveyor of untraditional pies, California Pizza Kitchen. CPK actually has honest-to-goodness authentic Canadian bacon. Of course, they have it on a very untraditional Hawaiian pizza, which also features pineapple. I guess they might be persuaded to add it to a pepperoni pizza if I asked nicely.

So why the change away from Canadian bacon in so many places? Maybe health concerns are causing people to stay away from pork. Maybe it’s an adverse reaction to the 1995 John Candy film in which the US President tries to start a cold war with Canada. Maybe it’s some sort of politically correct fear of ridiculing our neighbor to the north. Maybe it has just gotten lost in the shuffle with all the new gourmet toppings and combinations.

At any rate, I’ll continue to ask for Canadian bacon whenever I order a pizza. I like to try local pizzerias instead of the chains. Many of these smaller restaurants, especially the authentic Italian ones, still serve real Canadian bacon. If I can’t find Canadian bacon anywhere else, it is always available in the grocery store so I can make my own perfect pizza.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Verdict On Iraq

There has been much debate and second-guessing of the decision by President Bush and the Congress to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. Claims have been made that US intelligence was mistaken about Saddam’s attempts to create weapons of mass destruction as well as Saddam’s ties to terrorist groups.

In reality, the Duelfer Report, issued in 2004, revealed that although Saddam did not have militarily significant stockpile of WMD, his production and procurement networks were intact and would have been able to resume production after UN sanctions were lifted. The report also detailed how Saddam used the UN Oil-for-Food program, which was meant to provide humanitarian relief for Iraqis, to instead rearm Iraq and bribe government officials around the world.

Often forgotten is the fact that UN inspectors found banned missiles in Iraq prior to the Coalition invasion. Iraq’s al-Samoud missiles had a range greater than allowed by UN resolutions, and thus were a violation of international agreements. Similarly, few remember that US forces were attacked with IEDs made from artillery shells containing the nerve gas sarin in 2004. The shell was determined to be from Saddam’s era and proves that Iraq did possess some stockpiles of chemical weapons. Saddam had used sarin in the past to attack both Iraqi Kurds and Iranian troops.

Clearly, Saddam’s WMDs were a legitimate justification for war, and now a new report reveals that Saddam’s ties to terror groups were also real. Conventional wisdom in some quarters has been that Saddam’s secular regime would never support religious fanatics. That assumption, however, turns out to be much in error. The report is based on 600,000 captured Iraqi documents and provides “strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism.”

There were many examples of Saddam’s cooperation with radical Muslim groups. In 1993, while the US was bringing humanitarian aid to Somalia, Saddam formed a “group to start hunting Americans present on Arab soil; especially Somalia.” Al Qaeda was working against Americans in Somalia at the same time, culminating in the Mogadishu battle described in Black Hawk Down. The Iraqi military also trained Sudanese fighters in the 1990s. This was the same time that Osama bin Laden resided in Sudan. The Sudanese government offered bin Laden to President Clinton, but the offer was never accepted.

The report states that Saddam’s “regime was willing to co-opt or support organizations it knew to be part of al Qaeda – as long as that organization’s near-term goals supported Saddam’s long-term version.” One example is how an Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) agent was told to support the Army of Muhammad, a group “under the wings of bin Laden” in Bahrain, according to “priorities previously established.”

Two other notable groups to receive Saddam’s support were Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Afghani Islamic Party. Egyptian Islamic Jihad was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri who is now bin Laden’s second-in-command. In 1989, Zawahiri was a founding member of al Qaeda and EIJ played a major role in al Qaeda’s early days. The Afghani Islamic Party was headed by Gulbiddin Hekmatyr. Peter Bergen, a skeptic of the Iraq-al Qaeda connection, said that bin Laden and Hekmatyr “worked closely” in Afghanistan. IIS documents now show that Hekmatyr relied on Iraqi funding and that the relationship went back to 1989.

An Iraqi memo from 1993 proclaims support for a Palestinian group “dedicated to armed jihad against Americans and Western interests.” For over twenty years, training camps around Iraq turned out Islamic radicals into jihadists. The Iraqis offered “financial and moral support” to terror groups operating in Kurdish controlled areas of northern Iraq.

Saddam’s support for terrorism continued up until the fall of Baghdad. In 2002, the Iraqi government hosted a series of thirteen conferences for terrorist groups and issued hundreds of Iraqi passports to terrorists trained in Iraqi camps. The Iraqis developed, constructed, certified and provided training for the use of car bombs and suicide vests. The Iraqi government even developed a complex bureaucracy dedicated to recruiting, training, and financing terror groups. Baath Party leaders provided recruits to Saddam’s “Martyrdom Project” while the IIS began to build IEDs “designed to be used in civilian areas.”

This report, “Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents,” will ultimately help to vindicate President Bush for his decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The Iraqi documents show that Bush’s claims that Iraq was a state sponsor of terrorism under Saddam Hussein were accurate. As with al Qaeda, Iraq was at war with the United States long before we were at war with them.

“Saddam’s Terror Links,” Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2008

Friday, April 4, 2008

Making Every Vote Count (But Some More Than Others)

Ever since the 2000 Presidential election, the Democratic Party has repeatedly emphasized election reform. We have heard calls to ensure that every vote counts as well as proposals to eliminate the Electoral College in favor of a strict popular vote. The 2008 primary campaign season has shown the hypocrisy of some of these positions and the impracticality of others.

The Democrats commitment to making every vote count did not even survive until the beginning of the primaries. Prior to the start of the primaries, states began competing to have the earliest primary in order to capture national attention and prestige. When Michigan and Florida moved their state primaries beyond February 5, the date imposed by the Democratic National Committee, the Democrats decided to strip both states of their delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Through no fault of their own, Democratic voters in Florida and Michigan were denied representation in the Democratic convention.

Both states held elections anyway. Hillary Clinton won the primaries of both states. In Michigan, many of the other candidates were not even on the ballot. With the close race for the Democratic nomination, there is much discussion of having another election in both states, but problems with paying for and getting approval for second elections makes this unlikely.

A second problem with the Democratic primary system is that Democratic delegates are awarded based on the percentage of the popular vote that they won in each state. This means that, unlike the Republican winner-take-all system, neither candidate can score a complete victory. This means that the Democratic primary drags on, costing both candidates money and wearing down their supporters, while the Republican nominee can raise funds and consolidate his base of supporters.

The Democratic system of apportionment does have exceptions. In Nevada, Clinton won 51% to Obama’s 45%. Ordinarily, this would mean that Hillary Clinton would win more delegates, but in Nevada, Obama won thirteen delegates to Hillary’s twelve. This is because Nevada delegates are apportioned by congressional district and Obama won more districts.

A decidedly undemocratic policy of the Democratic Party is the use of superdelegates. Superdelegates are not elected by primary voters and are not bound by the results of the primary vote. Superdelegates are party leaders and elected officials and are free to vote for any candidate they choose. A superdelegate vote is equivalent to approximately 10,000 primary votes.

Superdelegates were introduced in 1984 to re-establish the role of party leaders in the primary process. Changes in the Democratic delegate selection process after 1968 had put more control in the hands of voters and less in the hands of party leaders. Superdelegates currently make up about 20% of delegates to the Democratic convention.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are openly courting superdelegates because they are free to vote for anyone and for any reason. Much like the 2000 presidential election, the winner of the Democratic primary popular vote may not necessarily become the Democratic nominee.

The situation is made even more confusing because some superdelegates can appoint other superdelegates. In many states, these super-duper-delegates, chairmen of state Democratic Parties, can appoint anyone they choose to be “unpledged add-ons.” The 76 unpledged add-ons are distributed based on population and Democratic strength. Each state gets at least one add-on.

The Democratic primary process does not instill me with confidence that Democrats would be capable of finding simple and workable solutions to the problems that America faces. Voters should carefully the Democratic primary mess before allowing the Democratic Party to tackle such important issues as healthcare, tax reform, and the War on Terror.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Barack Obama’s Radical Side

Over the past several months, numerous chain emails have circulated around the country. These emails make several misleading claims about Democratic Presidential candidate, Barack Obama. These emails made claims that Obama was a Muslim who took his oath of office on the Koran rather than the Bible, that he refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the US flag, and that he was educated in radical Muslim schools. All of these claims were either totally false or exaggerated. The truth about Barack Obama would be almost as disturbing to most mainstream Americans.

Throughout his life, Barack Obama has kept company with leftist radicals and anti-Americans. Obama’s long association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright is now widely known and discussed in the media. Despite admitting to a personal friendship with Wright and attending his church for twenty years, Obama claims to never have heard any of the myriads of anti-American diatribes delivered by Rev. Wright.

Among the controversial comments of Rev. Wright are his claim that 9/11 represented “America’s chickens coming home to roost” as a result of US support of Israel and South Africa. He also claimed that the US government gave drugs to blacks in order to be able to imprison them and created the AIDS virus to kill black people. On at least one occasion, Wright claimed that blacks should sing “God damn America” rather than “God bless America.”

In his book, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama discusses his association with a poet named “Frank.” Obama describes Frank as a person who was much like a father and who gave him advice on his career. Frank has been identified as black poet and Communist Party-USA member, Frank Marshal Davis.

Davis was identified as a communist by the Commission on Subversive Activities report to the Hawaiian legislature in 1951. The House Un-American Activities Commission also identified Davis as active in several communist front groups. During its heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, the CPUSA was received funding and support directly from the Soviet Union.

While campaigning for elected office in 1995, Obama became friends with William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. Ayers and Dohrn were convicted members of the Weather Underground, a 1960s leftist terror group. The group was involved in a Brinks truck robbery in which a guard and two New York State Troopers were killed, as well as the bombings targeting US military officers. In 2001, Ayers told the NY Times, “I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough.”

More recently, a key Obama fundraiser, Chicago businessman, Tony Rezko, was arrested in January 2008 on charges of hiding assets while on a bond. He was originally arrested several years earlier on corruption charges relating to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Rezko’s association with Barack Obama goes back to 1990 when a Rezko executive read an article by Obama in the Harvard Law Review. The executive introduced Obama to Rezko when he learned of Obama’s interest in politics. When Obama ran for office in 1995, Rezko became one of his first contributors.

When the Obamas shopped for a house in the Chicago area, they found a $1.65 million dollar mansion with four fireplaces, a wine cellar, and a wrought iron fence. The problem was that the house was owned by a doctor who also owned a vacant lot next door and wanted to sell both properties at the same time. The Obamas could not afford both properties. The Obamas closed on their house in June 2005 and, on the same day, Rezko’s wife bought the vacant lot for $625,000. The Rezkos later sold a portion of the property to Obama for $104,500 and paid $14,000 to build a fence on the property line.

Obama remained a friend of Rezko throughout Rezko’s criminal investigation. The friendship finally cooled after Rezko’s indictment. Obama reportedly may be called as a witness in Rezko’s corruption trial due to the fact that he engineered $10,000 in illegal contributions to Obama’s campaign.

When we view Obama’s past associations, it is easier to understand Michelle Obama’s comment that “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.” Based upon the people whom Obama chooses to associate with, and whom he courts as political allies, he may very well share his wife’s pessimistic views of the United States in spite of his denials.

It is also interesting to note who Barack Obama’s supporters are around the world. Daniel Ortega, communist President of Nicaragua, said that Obama lays “the foundation for revolutionary change” in the US. Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, called a hypothetical Obama-Hillary ticket “invincible.” Most Americans would probably prefer not to have the support of Communist dictators.

A closer look at Obama’s record as a public servant, both in Illinois and in the US Senate, would also disturb most Americans. National Journal named Obama as the most liberal senator in the entire US Senate in 2007. (Hillary Clinton was 16th.) He has ratings of 100% from the Planned Parenthood, NAACP, Illinois Environmental Council, and the National Organization for Women, as well as 92% from the AFL-CIO. Conversely, he was 0% by the National Right to Life Committee, Americans for Tax Reform, and Federation for Immigration Reform. He was also given 8% by the American Conservative Union and an ‘F’ by the NRA.

With respect to abortion, while in the Illinois state senate, Obama voted against a law that have guaranteed the right to life for any baby born alive. This law would not have affected legal abortions, but would have prevented the killing of any baby born living. Obama also said that he did not want his daughters “punished” with a baby for making “a mistake.”

On fiscal issues, Obama is a proponent of tax increases. Obama has floated plans to repeal the Bush tax cuts and to increase the Social Security payroll tax. Obama specifically plans to raise taxes on the “wealthiest Americans.” He also opposes ending the Death Tax, the Estate Tax, even though this tax causes many family businesses to fail. Obama voted to repeal the capital gains tax cut. The capital gains tax affects millions of Americans who sell homes or own retirement accounts. Tax increases have historically caused the economy shrink and reduced tax revenues.

Ironically, Obama used his influence as a senator to win tax breaks for companies in Illinois. His campaign stated that tax breaks "lower costs for customers and create jobs." This is correct, but it is not a policy that Obama seeks to implement beyond his home state.

Obama’s healthcare plan would reduce market forces in the health care industry and replace them with government mandates. His plan calls on government subsidies, which in turn require massive tax increases to provide funding. He also wants to define minimum benefits and place limits on deductibles and co-payments. These regulations would strangle innovation and efficiency. In spite of his claims, Obama’s healthcare plan is not truly universal coverage. It does retain some freedom to choose not to purchase coverage.

Obama’s energy policy is centered on cap-and-trade of carbon emissions and renewable energy. Cap-and-trade involves the buying and selling of pollution credits. Companies would be required to bid for a limited number of these pollution credits. In a growing economy, demand for these credits would send their prices skyrocketing. This would further increase the cost of consumer goods and drain the bank accounts of American families.

Renewable energy sources are inadequate and impractical with current technology. Biofuels require more energy to create and transport than they would supply. Creating enough biofuels to make a meaningful impact on oil imports would require that prohibitively large areas of the US be dedicated to crops for biofuel production. Diversion of crops to biofuels causes food prices to increase. Similarly, solar and wind power requires large areas of land dedicated to solar collection. There are also problems with storage of electricity from solar and wind power, as well as the changing nature of the winds and clouds. Nuclear energy, the most promising and cost effective renewable energy source, is seldom mentioned.

With respect to the War on Terror, Obama would remove all US combat troops from Iraq within sixteen months. This would create a power vacuum that would be filled by either Al Qaeda on Iranian-backed Shiite groups. The sacrifices of the US and Iraqi troops would be squandered. Thousands of Iraqis who have aided the Coalition-supported government of Iraq would be murdered. American prestige would suffer and our enemies would gain control of Iraq’s oil fields, further endangering the American economy.

Barack Obama is neither a moderate nor a consensus builder. His associates and his record portray him as an extreme leftist who is far from the American mainstream. His excellent public speaking skills are no substitute for experience and understanding of economics and diplomacy. Should we really expect the most liberal senator in the country to bring us together?


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Getting Started in an Aviation Career

Presently, the United States is undergoing a shortage of airline pilots. For the first time since 9/11, virtually all companies, from flight schools to the majors, are hiring. If you have ever thought about becoming a professional pilot, the time is now.

If you would like to pursue an aviation career, the first step is to get a college degree. Most companies do not require a specific course of study, but do require a bachelor's degree. Since aviation is an inherently unstable industry, my recommendation is that you major in something other than aviation. If you have a physical problem or lose your job in an industry downturn, this will make it easier to transition to another career.

After earning your degree, you will need to obtain a commercial pilot license for multi-engine airplanes. A commercial license requires 250 flight hours and an instrument rating. Typically, students earn a private pilot license first, then an instrument rating, then a commercial license.

Aside from military training, there are two main routes to a commercial pilot license. The first option is to go to a local airport and find a flight school there. The second option is to enroll at a large training academy. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options.

Local flight schools, normally called FBO (fixed base operator) schools, are more convenient and less expensive. You don't have to move or take time off from work to attend. You can work on your own schedule and your own budget. FBO training also offers more real world experience than academy training. You will find different aircraft, different instructors with different perspectives, different weather, and different places. Most academies are located in Sun Belt areas like Florida or Arizona, so your exposure to bad weather is limited.

Disadvantages are that the training might not be oriented towards professional flying and the instructors are of unknown quality. Some FBO instructors are excellent and some are not. Some are retired jet pilots and some have never flown anything larger than a Cessna 172. Some are very professional and others are only building time to go to an airline. Speak to current students and find an instructor that is right for you.

Flight training academies are expensive and may require you to quit or take a leave of absence from your job, but they also have some important advantages. You can complete your training at an academy much faster than at an FBO. Zero time students can obtain a commercial license in as little as nine months. Because academy instructors are standardized, you can be sure that the quality of your training will be high, regardless of who you fly with. Many academies also have placement programs or offer interview opportunities for graduates.

Academy training is similar to airline training in many ways, and this can help you later in your career. Academies use checklists that are similar to those found in jet aircraft. Additionally, academies will expose you to flight simulators. Simulators are used extensively in the airline interview process and in airline training.

An additional consideration is that academy graduates often log more multi-engine time than FBO pilots. The normal progression for an FBO pilot is to earn a single-engine commercial license then add a multi-engine rating. In the academy where I taught, the normal syllabus called for a private multi-engine license first. The student then flew multi-engine airplanes while working on his instrument rating. Finally, they would add the commercial license. This means that academy students have many more multi-engine hours on their resumes. This looks good to prospective employers. Other than that, the license that you will receive from training at either school is the same.

My personal recommendation, based on instructing at FBOs and academies, is to start flying at an FBO. Earn your private license at an FBO and see if flying is for you. Continue to fly and build some cross-country flight time, which is a requirement for the instrument rating. If you continue to believe that an aviation career is for you, transfer to an academy when you have a private license and twenty to thirty hours of cross-country time. This will give you the advantage of more standardized training for your instrument and multi-engine training, while giving you the real world experience of FBO flying for the first part of your training. At the same time, you will save thousands of dollars.

Depending on the job market when you get your license, you may need to build flight time to be attractive to the airlines. If you are lucky, the airlines will be facing a pilot shortage and will hire you as soon as you get your license. If you are not lucky, you may spend years building time.

The most common way to build flight time is to earn a Certified Flight Instructor license and teach others to fly. This is not for everyone. To be a good instructor, you have to be a good communicator as well as being a good pilot. Others might find jobs flying freight in twin-engine piston airplanes or flying as a First Officer for a charter company. Forest fire patrol, aerial photography, traffic reporting, and flying on personal business are other ways to build flight time while earning money. Groups like the Civil Air Patrol and the US Coast Guard Auxiliary don't pay, but do allow you to build time at low cost. Opportunities to earn Pilot-in-Command (as opposed to Second-in-Command or First Officer) or multi-engine flight time look best on your resume.

When you get close to the minimum flight times found on the websites of your target airlines, start sending out resumes. Your first airline job will probably be with a regional airline flying turboprops or regional jets. These companies pay poorly for the first couple of years, but allow you to earn hundreds of hours of jet time each year. Job fairs, such as those put on by Air Inc. ( are are excellent ways to meet airline recruiters and get interviews.

Entry level jobs in aviation pay poorly and require long hours. Find professional pilot mentors to find out what the career is really like before you start the journey. If possible, save a large nest egg to pay for training and help you through the early years. Avoiding large debts early on can help minimize your stress level later.

Professional aviation is a fun career. The view from the office window is great and it definitely beats working for a living. Plan your career and make good choices and it will be a source of enjoyment for years to come.