Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The end of America? Tell us what you think

A famous poem written by T.S. Eliot includes the line, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.” Years later, this may have inspired Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (or whoever wrote the quote that is often attributed to him) when he said, “We cannot expect Americans to jump from capitalism to Communism, b

ut we can assist their elected leaders in giving Americans small doses of socialism until they suddenly awake to find they have Communism.” Whether Khrushchev said it or not, the sentiment is proving accurate.

At dinner recently with a coworker, the discussion turned to the upcoming election. My friend stated his belief that President Obama would be re-elected and that the second Obama term would seal the fate of the United States, not with the bang of a nuclear holocaust, but with the whimper of an economy that is doomed to collapse under the weight of a bloated federal debt that can no longer be financed or paid off without painful and draconian cuts that are not politically possible. In short, my friend believes that the United States is about to experience a Greek economic crisis.

He justifies his belief by noting that almost half of all Americans pay no income taxes. Many of these people who pay no taxes get large tax “refunds” nonetheless. Further, the percentage of Americans who are receiving government benefits is at an all-time high. He believes that the vast majority of these people will vote to return President Obama to the White House in order to keep the gravy train rolling.

My own opinion differs slightly. I agree that the current economic situation is dire. However, I believe that many of the Americans who are not paying taxes and who are getting government checks are doing so because they are unemployed and unable to find a job. Many of these people might be persuaded to vote for a Republican challenger with a pro-growth platform that will help the economy recover. I believe that my opinion is backed up by the Republican landslide of 2010 and early indications that the Republicans may well take control of the senate in 2012. Polls also show that Americans want competition and free markets rather than more federal regulation.

Getting the Democrats out of Washington is only half the battle. The other half of the battle is more difficult. Once the free-spending Democrats have been shown the door, the Republicans have to maintain discipline and avoid a return to their own free-spending ways. In this, recent events offer some encouragement.

Most importantly, Republicans in the House of Representatives have held the line on spending and taxes since the election of 2010. In 2011, the GOP house members held spending almost level in spite of the vocal objections of President Obama and the Democrat-led senate. This was the first time in decades that federal spending had not increased sharply, but instead remained almost level.

Republican successes at the state level are also encouraging. Republican governors in Wisconsin and Indiana have rolled back the power of unions. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was vilified for breaking the teacher’s union’s power of collective bargaining, but the legislation arguably put Wisconsin on the road to economic recovery. In Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels passed right-to-work legislation that gives employees the freedom to choose whether to become a union member or not. In contrast, deep blue states like Michigan, California, and New York are basket cases.

According to the Washington Post, at 85 percent, the United States has the world’s seventh highest debt-to-GDP ratio. Under Barack Obama’s borrow-and-spend policies, this ratio is increasing. This puts the U.S. close behind such nations as Portugal (101 percent), Italy (120 percent), and Greece (168 percent). The number one debtor nation with respect to GDP is Japan at 233 percent. Where the U.S. has some advantages over the European countries, such as the ability to manipulate its currency and the size of its economy, there are also disadvantages as well: There is no country big enough to bail out the U.S. President Obama pays lip service to deficit reduction, but his 2012 budget adds $8 billion to the deficit according to MSNBC.

My friend was under the impression that no nation has ever recovered from debt-to-GDP ratio of 100 percent, but this appears not to be true. According to Global Financial Data, several nations including Australia and Canada have paid down extremely high levels of government debt in the past. The process of paying down these high debt levels is long and politically difficult, often taking decades. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the consequences of not paying the debt down could mean be continued economic stagnation, high unemployment, and slow economic growth, especially as the ratio goes above 90 percent.

It could also be as bad as the hyperinflation as experienced by Germany in the 1920s when the Weimar Republic used their version of “quantitative easing” to print money to pay reparations from WWI. PBS tells how the price of coffee could almost double at a restaurant between ordering and getting the bill. In 1923, one dollar was equal to a trillion marks. Even a milder inflation such as the U.S. experienced in the 1970s led to a dismal and stagnant decade.

Holding the line on federal spending is not enough. Since the federal government borrows almost 40 cents of every dollar it spends, heavy cuts are needed in order to actually reduce the federal deficit and debt. With Occupiers already rioting in some cities and Democrats using scare tactics over Social Security and Medicare reform, cutting entitlement spending is sure to be difficult. A large and looming question is whether Republicans in Washington and Americans in voting booths around the country have the intestinal fortitude to make the needed cuts and stand by them.

If not, then it is only a matter of time until the collapse of our economy. American will end, not with a bang at the hands of the likes of Osama bin Laden or the Soviet Union, but with a whimper of government paralysis, inflation, and economic stagnation. The United States of America may continue to exist as a country, but it will bear little resemblance to the America that we know.

My belief is that the Republicans will win big this November, but on the long-term question, I rate their chances at about 50-50.

What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Originally published on

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GOP likely to capture senate in 2012

Just as 2006 and 2008 were disastrous for the Republicans, the election of 2010 was a disaster for the Democrats. The Republicans won control of the House of Representatives by winning 63 seats, but although they won six seats in the Senate remained the minority party by a margin of 53-47 (including two independents who side with the Democrats). There is a strong chance that the Republicans will complete their takeover of Congress in the 2012 elections.

The party affiliation of the senators who are facing re-election this year gives the Republicans a decided advantage. Including the two independents, the Democrats will be defending a total of 23 senate seats while only 10 Republicans are up for re-election. This alone would favor the GOP since it has to defend fewer seats while having more opportunities for gains.

To make matters even worse for the Democrats, many incumbent senators are retiring rather than face angry constituents in a re-election battle. This means that neither candidate in the general election in these states will have the advantage of incumbency. Democratic senators who have already announced their retirements include Kent Conrad (N.D.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Jim Webb (Va.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), and Ben Nelson (Neb.). Connecticut leans Democrat and Nebraska leans Republican, but the rest of these states are tossups according to the Cook Political Report.

There are also two Republican senators retiring, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas. Both of those seats are generally considered to be safely in Republican hands. Texas is rated as strongly Republican while Arizona is likely Republican.

Cook also considers Montana (Jon Tester, D) and Missouri (Claire McCaskill, D) to be tossups. On the Republican side, Massachusetts (Scott Brown) and Nevada (Jon Ensign) are also considered tossups.

Several other Democratic seats might also be in play. Florida is rated as leaning Democrat in the re-election of Bill Nelson, but the state has been a tossup in recent elections according to Likewise, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is given the edge by Cook, but the economic woes of this Rust Belt state, home of Detroit and the auto companies, might make voters discard the Democratic incumbent.

The states of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania make interesting cases as well. The three states lie atop the Marcellus Shale, a geologic formation that contains an abundance of oil and natural gas. The energy boom in these areas has created jobs that are very vulnerable to the regulation of fracking, which the EPA has considered. President Obama’s “green” environmental initiatives may hurt the Democrats in these states.

Ohio is already a swing state with one Republican and one Democratic senator. The Democrat, Sherrod Brown, is up for re-election. Ohio has picked the winner in the last four presidential elections. Pennsylvania’s senate delegation is similarly split with Democrat Bob Casey up for re-election, although it leans more toward the Democrats than its two neighbors. West Virginia has two Democratic senators with Joe Manchin facing re-election, but the state has voted Republican in three of the last four presidential elections.

With a large number of vulnerable Democrats, the Republicans have a good chance of winning enough Democratic seats, while defending the few vulnerable Republican seats, to take a majority of the senate. This is especially likely in a year with an unpopular president facing re-election in a poor economy. Neither of Georgia’s two senators is up for re-election this year.

To control Congress, the Republicans must also maintain control of the House of Representatives, whose 435 members all face re-election. Since the Republicans hold more seats in the house they obviously have more seats to defend so the question is whether the Republicans have more seats vulnerable than the Democrats.

An important variable in the house races is that 2010 was a census year. Based on 2010 census data, house districts were redrawn over the past year. Slower growth in blue states and emigration to red states means that states that typically vote Republican will gain seats in this election while several Democratic states will lose seats. Georgia’s congressional delegation will gain one member after this year’s election. Additionally, since the Republicans won heavily in state races as well as in Congress, the GOP had an edge in the redistricting process, allowing them to redraw districts to favor Republican candidates.

According to the most recent Cook Political Report, only one Republican seat is counted as likely to go Democrat, while two Democratic seats are likely to go Republican. Five Democrats are in districts that lean Republican, while only three Republicans are in districts that lean Democrat. Georgia’s John Barrow (D-12) is one of the Democrats in a Republican leaning district. The Republican challenger, as yet undetermined before Georgia’s primary, is up by 12 points.

Cook has also identified 20 districts as tossups. Of these, 14 are leaning Republican and six are leaning Democrat, but, as the name implies, tossups could go either way. In fact, with nine months to go before the election, a variety of factors from scandals to economic news to a war with Iran could change the dynamics of many races.

There are a few other trends that favor Republicans as well, however. While a poll of party affiliation by Gallup currently shows Democrats with a two point advantage over Republicans (29-27 percent or 45-45 including leaners), the real story is that Democratic Party affiliation has fallen sharply since November 2008 when Barack Obama was elected. At that point, the Democrats led by 37-28 percent (51-40 including leaners). The current numbers are even slightly more favorable to Republicans than they were at the time of the 2010 congressional landslide. Even though Democrats have made some gains in the Rasmussen generic congressional ballot over the past few weeks, Republicans still hold a slight edge there as well.

Perhaps most ominous to Democratic incumbents is that only 31 percent of Americans believe that the country is headed in the right direction according to Rasmussen. For the party that has held control of the presidency and the senate for the past four years, as well control of the house for the first two years of the Obama presidency, that statistic is probably not a good sign.

A big part of the problem may be that when the Democrats had unfettered control of Congress, they pursued an unpopular agenda. Instead of focusing on jobs and the economy, they passed an expensive stimulus package that had no noticeable effect and then spent the next year on health care reform. The Affordable Care Act was unpopular when it passed in 2010 and has not become more popular with the passage of time. The most recent Rasmussen poll shows that Americans favor the law’s repeal by 53-38 percent.

In contrast, the Republicans swept into Congress on two simple principles: To cut spending and stop tax increases. They succeeded in resisting Democratic attempts to raise taxes, but their promise to cut spending has been less successful. Nevertheless, the Republicans in the house did hold federal spending to almost zero growth in 2011 over the loud objections of President Obama and the Democrats in the senate. As a chart from shows, even holding federal spending level is an improvement over the increases seen in past decades.

Some of the recent trends, like the gains in the generic congressional ballot that favor the Democrats, may be byproduct of Republican bickering in the presidential primaries. Until a nominee is picked, President Obama and the Democrats will be able to remain above the fray. However, as the Republican primary draws to a close, the president will begin to attack his new opponent and the general election campaign will begin in earnest.

This article originally published on

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rising fuel costs may hurt airlines

The airline industry is one of the segments of the economy that is most vulnerable to steadily climbing oil prices. Fuel is a large part of the cost of running an airline and when fuel prices increase it cuts into an already thin profit margin. When fuel prices spiked in 2008, CBS News reported that for every $1 per gallon that the price of jet fuel increased, it cost each airline an extra $60 million per year.

Airlines coped with higher fuel costs in several ways. To passengers, the most obvious methods were fuel surcharges on tickets and adding fees for baggage. The companies also grounded older, less fuel-efficient airplanes, changed schedules to drop less profitable routes, and furloughed (laid off) employees as the demand for air travel decreased. Four years later, fuel costs are once again approaching 2008 levels.

Although the airlines were starting to finally recover following the 2008 oil shock and subsequent recession, it is likely that the current increase in oil prices will blunt the airline recovery. As oil prices increase, so will the price of tickets. Basic economic theory teaches that as prices increase, demand will decrease and the airlines will sell fewer tickets.

The price of tickets is not the only problem however. Rising oil prices also mean that other goods and services will cost more as well. If people are paying more to fill their car with gas, as well as more for food, energy, and practically everything else then they will obviously have less money to spend on airline travel. The same logic applies to business travel as well. If the business is paying more for other budget items, there will be less money to send employees on business trips. In many cases, new technology such as online meetings and teleconferencing can take the place of face-to-face meetings.

A Raymond James analyst told FlightGlobal .com that 2012 could be a good year for the airlines if they focus on profitability at the expense of market share. In essence, carriers would keep capacity low and focus on profitable routes while maintaining maximum efficiency. This means slow or no growth for most companies with hiring mainly to replace attrition.

How bad the situation will be for the airlines is directly related to how high the price of oil goes. If the price of oil stays below or near its 2008 high, then the effect on the airlines will be minimal since bankruptcies and cost cutting have already made them much more efficient that they were previously.

However, as the Atlanta Conservative Examiner notes, if the Iranian nuclear crisis results in a military strike or war then the price of oil could double or more. This would be catastrophic both for the airlines as well as the economy at large. In that case, the outlook for both airline profits and hiring would be extremely poor.

This article originally published on

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why gas prices are increasing

Drivers in Atlanta and around the country are noticing rising gas prices.  According to historical data from, the Atlanta average gas price is now $3.588, even higher than the national average of $3.543.  Atlanta area gas prices have risen over 13 cents per gallon in the past month and almost 50 cents per gallon in the past year.  A year ago, Atlanta gas prices were almost 10 cents below the national average.  Economists predict that $4 gas will be a reality this summer and could rise even higher.

In the past half century, oil prices have historically fallen during recessions and then climbed again as the economy improved. This pattern was seen in 2008 as gas prices fell from record highs in the summer to sharp lows after the onset of the economic crisis in August.  According to this historical view, gas prices could be expected to rise as the economy recovers.

The problem with this theory is that, as Dick Morris recently pointed out, the current economic recovery is an illusion.  Changes in the way financial metrics are calculated and cherry-picked statistics mean that while a recovery appears to be underway statistically, the reality is that most Americans are not experiencing it.  As Morris notes, the stock market may be up, but the volume of trading is down because most ordinary Americans are no longer in the market.  The housing markets are still not recovering four years after the real estate bubble burst in 2008.  Housing starts are still at 20 year lows according to the National Association of Home Builders.  Foreclosure rates are up while the average sale price of homes is down according to RealtyTrac.  Georgia remains one of the highest foreclosure states.

Unemployment rates may be down marginally, but it isn’t because more Americans are working.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics changed the population estimates used in determining the unemployment rate in January 2012 just before the rate took a downward plunge.  The BLS notes that “these annual population adjustments affect the comparability of household data series over time” because previous data was not corrected.  Unlike the unemployment rate, the civilian labor force participation rate has not shown signs of recovery.  Similarly, Gallup’s employment survey remains flat.

Even though the U.S. economy isn’t in recovery, other countries are doing better.  Growing economies such as that of China are demanding more oil, which causes the price to increase around the world.

In the absence of a recovery, there are other reasons for the increase in gas prices.  One obvious factor is inflation.  According to a January 2012 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the core inflation rate was only 2.3 percent in 2011.  This rate does not include food and energy, however.  Energy costs have risen by 6.1 percent over the past year, while food costs are up by 4.4 percent. 

One reason for the inflationary costs is the Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing.  The Fed has tried to stimulate the economy by injecting more dollars into the economy.  A basic principle of economics is that when supply increases, price decreases.  In the case of quantitative easing, this means that as the Fed orders more dollars into the system, the value of each individual dollar decreases.  Each dollar buys less as a result.  This means that interest rates stay low, which helps borrowers.  A problem, however, is that imported goods, like barrels of oil, cost more dollars because each dollar is worth less.

Another factor in the rising oil and gas prices is the unrest in the Middle East.  Oil prices often rise and fall with tensions in oil producing regions.  The Iranian nuclear crisis is bringing the region to the brink of war with the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told that if Israel attacks Iran oil prices, currently at about $100 per barrel, could go anywhere “between $200 and pick-a-number.”  There is also a civil war raging in Syria and unrest in Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolt there.  There is also uncertainty over the future of Afghanistan and Iraq, another major oil producer, as U.S. military operations in those countries end. 

Other factors are at play as well.  The Obama Administration’s decision to cancel the Keystone pipeline means that American refineries are denied a source of cheap oil from Canada.  Similarly, Obama has made it difficult and expensive to drill for oil domestically and off U.S. shores, which means that the supply of oil is artificially limited, keeping prices high.  Ironically, the oil from Canada that would have gone to U.S. refineries is likely to go to China after President Obama’s decision.

Other factors, such as weather and refinery closures can also affect the supply of oil and therefore the price.  These factors are reported and analyzed weekly by the Energy Information Administration on its petroleum page.  For example, there have been several Caribbean refineries that previously sent gasoline to the U.S. east coast have closed recently according to the February 23 report.

In the end, there are only two ways to reduce the price of oil and gasoline.  Either the supply must be increased or demand must be reduced.  The Obama Administration is taking only token steps to expand oil exploration and drilling, while demand continues to increase around the world.  Demand will likely continue to rise unless the upward pressure of oil prices or some other factor causes the world to slide back into recession.

This article originally published on

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New poll shows 3-way tie in Georgia

A new poll released Tuesday shows that the Republican presidential primary race in Georgia is a three-way tie. The new poll by the Fox Five and the Southern Political Report shows Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum running neck-in-neck among registered likely Georgia voters.

Newt Gingrich placed first in the poll with 26 percent, but Romney and Santorum are both within the margin of error. Romney was in second place with 24 percent and Santorum placed third with 23 percent. Ron Paul was a distant fourth place with 12 percent. Earlier this month, the Atlanta Elections Examiner predicted that the Georgia presidential primary would be too close to call.

The results come amid a Santorum surge since the first weeks of the year. Real Clear Politics shows that Santorum leads in all recent national polls by margins from two to 12 percent. Romney places second in each poll, while Gingrich has dropped to a distant third, just ahead of Ron Paul.

One interesting aspect of the Georgia poll is that 11 percent of voters are still undecided or have no preference. This year’s fluid race has left an inordinate number of voters open to changing their minds or waiting until the last minute to decide. It remains to be seen who the majority of these voters will ultimately favor.

The Georgia primary election is on March 6, but early voting has already opened. Polls will be open statewide this Saturday. Voters can also check their My Voter Page or the Secretary of State website for more information.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

DeWitt Rucker: Buffalo Soldier of the M.P.E.

It was around Memorial Day 2011 that a high school friend posted a message on her Facebook page. In my hometown, there was a display on the town square honoring the veterans from Hart County who were killed in action. Predictably, there were veterans from the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, but one memorial was a mystery.

This memorial honored Private DeWitt Rucker. The conflict listed under his name was simply “M.P.E.” Since the memorial did not give the date of Pvt. Rucker’s death, my friend wondered what conflict the M.P.E was. After trying unsuccessfully to determine how and when Rucker died, she described the experience on Facebook to see if anyone else knew. Searches of the military and history websites for some clue to Rucker’s story yielded nothing. Googling “M.P.E.” did not turn up any relevant results. Eventually, with a handful of people scouring the internet, some details of how DeWitt Rucker died for his country became known.

The break came when Pvt. Rucker’s name was found listed on a memorial to Buffalo Soldiers at Ft. Bliss, Tx. The Buffalo Soldiers were black soldiers in the U.S. Army. The nickname was acquired during the Indian Wars, but all-black units of Buffalo Soldiers fought in several American wars until the armed forces were desegregated.

The key to decoding the “M.P.E.” reference was also on the website describing the Buffalo Soldiers memorial. Pvt. Rucker was among the casualties of the Battle of Carrizal, Mexico on June 21, 1916. The battle was part of a campaign known as the Mexico Punitive Expedition, the M.P.E.

The adventure into Mexico began on March 9, 1916 when Mexican bandits under Francisco “Pancho” Villa, who led one of the factions vying for control of Mexico, raided the border town of Columbus, N.M. according to the National Archives. The raid killed 10 American soldiers and eight civilians with another seven soldiers and two civilians wounded. An estimated 100 bandits were killed, seven wounded, and one captured before the remainder escaped back into Mexico. The Americans pursued the bandits several miles into Mexico, but were forced to turn back due to a shortage of ammunition and supplies.

As a result of the raid, President Woodrow Wilson, apparently without congressional authorization, ordered a U.S. force that eventually numbered 11,000 men under Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing to capture Villa. With tacit approval, but very little in the way of cooperation, from Mexican president Venustiano Carranza, the U.S. Army set out into the Mexican state of Chihuahua, south of New Mexico and west Texas. For the first time, trucks and airplanes were used in a military expedition (with less than stellar results).

Pancho Villa and his men retreated before the American onslaught, hiding in the rugged mountains of Mexico. Although the local Mexicans hated Villa, they like the Americans even less and offered little help. There were a few skirmishes with Villa’s men, but the bandit chief eluded capture.

To make matters worse, there were also skirmishes with the Mexican army. On April 13, 1916, the Mexican army attacked Americans of the 13th Cavalry at Parral. One American was killed and one was wounded, while the Mexicans lost at least 14 men.

Other skirmishes were fought against the bandits as well. Dozens of bandit were killed or captured with few American losses, but Villa remained at large. At the same time, Mexican raiders continued to raid border towns in Texas. In May and June 1916, Congress approved activation of National Guard units to patrol the U.S. side of the border.

On June 21, American soldiers again clashed with the Mexican army at Carrizal. Acting on intelligence that Pancho Villa was in the town, Pershing dispatched the Buffalo Soldiers of C and K Troops of the 10th Cavalry under Capt. Charles Boyd with orders “to avoid a fight if possible.” Instead of Villa, the cavalrymen ran into Mexican government soldiers who were guarding the town. Max Boot describes what happened next in his excellent book, “The Savage Wars of Peace:”

There was no good reason not to bypass the town, and that is precisely what Boyd’s civilian guides advised, but for some mysterious reason Boyd insisted on going through with it. He was not deterred even when the Mexican general commanding the Carrizal garrison informed him that if he advanced “he would have to walk over the dead bodies of Mexican soldiers.” Boyd was said to have instructed a messenger, “Tell the son of a bitch that we’re going through!”

Boyd dismounted his cavalry and ordered them to advance across a grassy field toward an irrigation ditch where the vastly superior Mexican force was dug in. When the Americans were about 250 yards from their position, the Carrancistas opened fire with rifles and machine gun. Nearly all the men in Troop C were wounded. The Buffalo Soldiers fought bravely, but with bullets “falling like rain,” and their own ammunition running out, they had no chance of prevailing. All the officers, including Captain Boyd, were killed quickly. The troopers, left leaderless, were routed by Mexican cavalry. Twelve Americans were killed that day, 10 wounded, and 24 captured. The rest ran away. The Mexicans lost more men – at least 30 killed, 40 wounded – but the battle of Carrizal was an unmitigated disaster for the U.S. Army.

Pvt. DeWitt Rucker, native of Hart County and U.S. Army Buffalo Soldier, was among the dead. It was rumored that Pancho Villa watched with amusement from a hideout in the mountains as his two enemies battled, but in reality he is believed to have been wounded at the time.

At this point, the U.S. and Mexico were on the brink of war. Leaders of both countries paused. Carranza agreed to release the U.S. prisoners who had survived the battle. According to Boot, these men blamed Boyd for provoking the battle in violation of his orders from Pershing, which helped calm the situation. Eventually, the U.S. agreed to withdraw its forces from Mexico if Carranza could control Villa. The American forces in Mexico began to return home in January 1917. The conflict officially ended on February 5. The National Guard was demobilized and the troops returned home.
Army units remained along the border to protect against further raids.

In spite of the failure to capture Pancho Villa, the expedition was officially considered a success. The National Archives records the words of Secretary of War Newton Baker: “[the] objective, of course was the capture of Villa, if that could be accomplished, but its real purpose was a display of the power of the United States into a country disturbed beyond control of the constituted authorities of the Republic of Mexico as a means of controlling lawless aggregations of bandits and preventing attacks by them across the international frontier.  This purpose is fully and finally accomplished."

Only a few months after the end of the American incursion into Mexico, President Wilson and General Pershing were fighting a new enemy as the United States entered WWI. Memory of the Mexico Punitive Expedition was overshadowed by the epic struggle against the Kaiser in Europe. A 1917 silent movie, “A Trooper of Troop K,” was based on Buffalo Soldiers at the Battle of Carrizal.

Fighting continued in Mexico as it had before the Americans had arrived. Carranza fought for control of Mexico against Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Carranza was assassinated in 1920 while fleeing a coup attempt. Pancho Villa was given amnesty by the new government, but was assassinated himself in 1923. Another rumor has him saying as he died, “Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something.” In reality, he is reported to have died instantly.

There are many similarities between current Mexican-American relations those of 100 years ago. Violence along the border is increasing and threatens to spill over into the United States. The National Guard has been called upon to patrol border areas. Tensions are running high between the two nations over illegal immigration and the Obama Administration’s policy of allowing guns to be smuggled to Mexican drug cartels. Perhaps, the lessons of the past can teach us to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Originally published on":

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ron Paul’s strategy: Poach candidates from caucus winners

Ron Paul hasn’t won a single primary or caucus in Republican primary, but Rachel Maddow of MSNBC notes that Paul seem “both happy and like he has something up his sleeve.” In an interview with Paul’s senior campaign advisor, Doug Wead, Maddow explains the reason behind Ron Paul’s giddiness.

Essentially, Ron Paul’s strategy centers on the fact that votes in caucus states are not binding. After the votes are cast at the caucus, many of the voters go home before delegates are actually chosen for the state convention. Ron Paul supporters are apparently staying behind to make sure that delegates who support Ron Paul are chosen regardless of the results of the vote. This isn’t how the process is supposed to work, but it isn’t illegal either.

Maddow cites one Larimer County, Co. precinct as an example of the strategy in action. In the precinct, Rick Santorum won the straw poll with 23 percent of the vote. Ron Paul finished second with 13 percent. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich received five and two percent of the vote respectively. However Ron Paul supporters were awarded all 13 delegate slots for the precinct in spite of the fact that he lost the vote. Wead told Maddow that the Paul campaign is tracking delegates at the precinct level and believes that it has won Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado and Nevada in this manner; all caucus states where Ron Paul has lost the popular vote.

Georgia does not use the caucus system. Its 124 delegates will be distributed proportionally among the winners of the March 6 primary election.

Paul’s delegate strategy is roughly analogous to usurping the Electoral College in the presidential election. Voters actually vote for electors, who then cast their vote for president in the Electoral College. Although the electors almost always vote to reflect the will of the people of their state, they are not legally bound to do so. The strategy raises concerns that are also reminiscent of the super-delegate controversy from the Democratic primary of 2008.

The Paul campaign is open about the delegate strategy. Wead openly acknowledges what Paul supporters are doing. Wead tells Maddow, “There is nothing wrong or deceptive about this. Anybody can stay. Woody Allen says 80 percent of success is showing up. Well, our people show up and they have a right to do that and they are committed.”

An article on by Todd King, Paul’s New Mexico state leader, explains the process in detail. King describes how the goal of the Paul campaign is to get enough Paul supporters to the precinct caucuses to win there, then take control of the county and state caucuses in turn. He writes, “Gaming the system is easy for anyone who seriously wants to.”

According to King, the goal is make Ron Paul the party nominee because “typical boobus-americanus [sic] does not think for himself, and accepts the party nominee.” According to this line of reasoning, “If Ron Paul gets the party nomination, then he gets top line on the ballot during the primaries, and is almost assured a win” at the convention.

Nevertheless, although Paul may be winning delegates in spite of the will of the people, he is not winning primaries. It is highly unlikely that Paul’s supporters will be able to use their sneak attack to win enough delegates to secure the nomination, especially as supporters of other candidates become aware of what is happening.

Wead raises the possibility of a contested convention in which no candidate receives enough delegates to secure the nomination on the first ballot. Although Wead concedes that the possibility of a contested convention is remote, he points out that while some delegates might support other candidates, “Ron Paul delegates are not going to go, even if they are offered Secretary of State….” Wead hints that even if Ron Paul is not the final nominee, his delegates might be traded in exchange for “many things we want. We would like to see the Federal Reserve audited for example….” If Paul cannot win the nomination, his campaign is positioning itself to play kingmaker, most likely favoring Santorum or Gingrich over Romney.

The end result of Paul’s gambit is questionable. It is highly unlikely that most Republicans will look favorably on such questionable tactics from a man who did not endorse the Republican candidate in 2008. While Paul’s tactics are not illegal, they clearly flout the will of the people and are not likely to win Paul any friends within the Republican Party. This raises the question of how effectively he would be able to govern if he did win the nomination and the presidency.

Originally published on

Contraception compromise not likely to satisfy Catholics

The brouhaha over contraception for Catholic churches and charities began with a ruling issued by Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius a few weeks ago. The ruling, as part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), would require that all companies provide their employees with health insurance that included contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization at no out-of-pocket cost.

As originally drafted, the rule exempted churches, but not religious charities, schools and nonprofit organizations. Since the Catholic Church teaches that birth control is wrong, the HHS rule put Catholic groups in the uncomfortable position of being forced to purchase a service they believed to be morally wrong, a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee against laws preventing the free exercise of religion. The controversy provides a stark example of the difference between freedom of religion and the “freedom of worship” that is often referenced by members of the Obama Administration.

The ruling also mandates that insurance policies cover abortion-inducing drugs, which many other religions besides the Catholics oppose. Ironically, the Affordable Care Act was passed because President Obama signed an executive order that convinced pro-life Democrats that federal funds would not be used for abortion. Now, under Sebelius’ ruling, federal funds are not being used, but the government is compelling religious groups to use their own money to pay for drugs that cause abortions.

The United States has a long history of including exemptions in legislation to respect the freedoms of religion and conscience. In particular, laws have been passed to protect doctors and pharmacists who believe that abortion is wrong and choose not to involve themselves in abortion procedures or fill prescriptions for abortion-inducing drugs.

Even though the Obama Administration gave the religious organizations an extra year to comply with the ruling, the result was a firestorm of opposition. Many Catholic bishops announced their intention to not comply with the HHS ruling. Religious leaders of other faiths joined them in protesting the president’s disregard for the freedom of conscience. Chuck Colson, a prominent evangelical leader, urged Christians to sign a petition asking President Obama to overturn the ruling and suggested that the time for civil disobedience may be near.

Georgia has several Catholic hospitals, including St. Joseph’s in Atlanta, which could be affected by the policy. In addition, the Catholic Church operates other charities in Georgia that include services from disaster relief to pregnancy counseling and adoptions. If the rule stands, these organizations could be forced to choose between abandoning their principles or using their money to pay hefty government fines instead of helping people.

As Democratic congressmen began to side with the religious groups against the rule, President Obama unveiled a compromise on Friday in a speech in which he equated pregnancy with an illness. In his speech, which is available on Youtube, the president proposed a compromise in which religious organizations with a conscientious objection would not have to pay for the undesired coverages. In those cases, “the insurance company, not the hospital, not the charity, will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays, and without hassles.”

The compromise left several questions unanswered. Most obvious is the question of who pays. President Obama’s new ruling mandates that women not be charged for the contraceptive care, but nothing is free. If the insurance companies are forced to provide the coverage and are unable to pass the costs along to the religious groups for whom the women work, they will most likely raise the cost of insurance for nonreligious groups and companies. Essentially, insurance rates will be increased so that the government can force contraceptive and abortion coverage on groups that don’t want it.

Another question is how groups that self-insure would be treated under the new law. When a group self-insures, it uses its own money to pay medical claims without purchasing insurance. Therefore, there would be no insurance company to “reach out” and provide the contraceptive coverage. In a statement on its website, the Archdiocese of Atlanta pointed out that it, like many Catholic institutions, is self-insured.

Most importantly, religious groups are still being forced to accept insurance coverages that they find immoral, even though they are not be forced to pay for them directly. Likewise, nonreligious groups would still be required to pay for the coverages, even if they find them objectionable.

Consequently, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said in a statement , “The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.” The statement continues, “We will therefore continue–with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency–our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government.” The bishops then call upon Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which would allow health plans to decline coverage that is against religious beliefs.

At this point, it appears unlikely that President Obama’s proposed compromise will result in a solution to the crisis of conscience. Even though most Americans support the right to use birth control, they oppose government attempts to force it on religious organizations. With Americans split on abortion, there is likely to be even less support to force abortion-inducing drugs on religious groups. A further retreat by the Obama Administration is likely in the coming weeks in order to avoid alienating Catholic and independent voters.

Originally published on

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Klan killing in Georgia

In the early morning of July 11, 1964, three U.S. Army officers passed through Athens to their homes in Washington, D.C. from Ft. Benning where they had been training. At the wheel was Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn, a veteran of WWII who had earned the Bronze Star for his service in the New Guinea and Philippines campaigns against the Japanese. All three officers were black.

Nine days before the men started their drive home from Ft. Benning, President Lyndon Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. This landmark legislation banned racial discrimination in hiring and ended segregation in public places and many businesses. Local members of the Ku Klux Klan in Athens had heard rumors that Georgia might become a “testing ground” for the new law according a 2004 article from Online Athens.

Lemuel Penn and his two brothers-in-arms, Major Charles Brown and Lt. Col. John Howard, stopped to change drivers in Athens in the early morning hours of July 11. After Penn took the wheel, they resumed their journey, but caught the attention of a trio of Klansmen before they left town.

James Lackey, Cecil Myers, and Howard Sims were blue collar workers in their mid-twenties who were conducting a KKK security patrol in Athens with the intention of “scaring off any out-of-town colored people before they could give us any trouble.” They noticed the Washington, D.C license plate on Penn’s car and decided to follow it. Sims reportedly said, “I’m gonna [sic] kill me a nigger [sic]” as they began the chase.

It was about twenty miles before the Klansmen caught up with the army officers. They had driven through Colbert and then followed Ga. Hwy. 172 north toward Bowman. As they reached the Broad River, which serves as the line between Madison and Elbert Counties, the Klansmen pulled alongside Penn’s car. As Lackey drove, Sims and Myers both fired shotguns into the side of driver’s side of the car.

One blast hit clothes and luggage in the backseat, waking Brown and Howard. The other hit Penn in the jaw and neck. Brown later said, “I believe that Penn died before we managed to stop the car.”

Penn’s car ran against the concrete side of the bridge, helping Brown and Howard stop it. As they did, they saw headlights and thought the Klansmen were returning. Brown took the wheel and tried to turn around, but missed the road in the fog, causing the car to roll over.

The men got out and attempted to flag down another passing car. The driver did not stop, but apparently notified the Madison County sheriff who soon arrived with the coroner.

Almost immediately, the case received a high priority from the Johnson Administration. J. Edgar Hoover sent scores of FBI agents to crack the case. Georgia governor Carl Sanders told the public that he was “ashamed for myself and the responsible citizens of Georgia that this occurrence took place in our state” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Suspicion quickly fell upon Lackey, Sims, Myers, Herbert Guest, the owner of Guest’s Garage, a Klan hangout, and Denver Phillips, a mechanic employed by Guest. Over the next few weeks, the FBI agents watched and followed their quarry in a friendly game of cat-and-mouse. At one point, the agents sent a birthday cake to Guest and the Klansmen invited their FBI tails to a meeting, offering to provide them with robes.

Finally, Lackey came in to talk to the FBI agents. When he complained of stomach problems, one of the agents said, “I know something's eating you, and your stomach is not going to get better until you tell me about it.” At that point, Lackey told the story of the murder.

What happened next is as shocking to a modern American as the murder itself.

Lackey agreed to testify for the prosecution and was not charged in the murder. Both Sims and Myers were brought to trial in Madison County on charges of first degree murder. At the trial in Danielsville, the men were found not guilty by jury composed solely of older white men.

The story did not end there, however. In the first case of its kind, based on the pattern of intimidation and violence by the Klan uncovered in their investigation of Penn’s murder, the FBI filed a federal case against Sims, Myers, Lackey, Guest, Phillips, and another local Klansman, George Hampton Turner. The charge was conspiring or threatening to abridge another person’s civil rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sims and Myers were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The other defendants were acquitted.

Lemuel Penn left behind a wife and three children. His wife, Georgia, died from lupus less than a year after her husband’s murder. Her daughter has little doubt that she actually grieved herself to death.

Lt. Col. Penn’s body was flown home to Dover Air Force Base, the same base where fallen soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan often return to American soil. He was honored with a twenty-one gun salute. Penn is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia with more than 285,000 other American heroes of all races.


I grew up about 20 miles by road from the murder site. I have driven hundreds of times across the Broad River bridge on Hwy. 172 where Lt. Col. Penn died as I commuted to the University of Georgia and then to a job in Athens.

I was born a little more than seven years after the murder. In that time, Georgia changed dramatically and for the better. By the time I went to elementary school, my class included both black and white children and teachers. For the most part, race wasn’t something that we thought about much, if at all. For most of my life, I really had no idea how much the world had changed a few short years prior to my entering it.

After the murder of Lt. Col. Penn, the House Un-American Activities Committee launched an investigation of the Klan. As the Bible says, evil loves darkness. When the government shed light on the actions of the Klan, the domestic terror group entered a steep decline from which it has never recovered.

I can only remember seeing Klansmen once in my life. While I was in college, working part-time at a local drugstore, a small group of Klansmen, complete with white robes but without masks, got a permit to hand out literature on the town square in Hartwell, Ga. They were neither vilified nor ignored. Instead, people drove by to see the oddities, treating them with the curiosity that such moral relics are due in the modern world.

To learn more about the murder of Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn, refer to the following sources:

“Murder at Broad River Bridge: A True Story of Murder and the Ku Klux Klan,” by Bill Shipp (1981), available on

Time magazine subscribers can view the link the trial coverage from Sept. 11, 1964:,9171,830636,00.html

Online Athens article from 2004 gives a detailed account of the killing and investigation:

New Georgia Encyclopedia: has photos of Lt. Col. Penn’s grave at Arlington and allows users to add flowers in his memory:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

This article was originally published on

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Georgia Republican primary too close to call

It is now less than one month until March 6, when Georgia and nine other states conduct their Republican presidential preference primaries. Thus far, the only constant in the Republican primary is that there is no constant. There have been a multitude of frontrunners and the states that have conducted primaries and caucuses so far have been split between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.

In Georgia, Newt Gingrich has held a commanding lead for the past several months. The most recent poll by Survey USA was conducted February 1-2 and showed Gingrich leading Mitt Romney by 45-32 percent. This was similar to a December poll by Mason Dixon that showed Gingrich leading Romney by 43-21 percent. A series of Insider Advantage polls from the summer shows Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, both now withdrawn from the race, leading last summer and fall.

Although the most recent two polls show Romney rising by 11 points, the real story may be Rick Santorum. As late as December, Santorum garnered less than two percent in the Insider Advantage poll and one percent in the Mason Dixon poll.

Santorum eked out a surprise victory in Iowa on January 3, even though his victory wasn’t known until two weeks later. In the meantime, he placed a distant third in South Carolina and Florida. It was at this point that the Survey USA poll was taken that showed Santorum had jumped to nine percent. Since then, Santorum pulled a hat trick, winning all three of this week’s primaries in the states of Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado.

In the weeks remaining until Super Tuesday, there are only four states holding primaries or caucuses. Arizona and Michigan hold primaries on February 28 while Maine caucuses on February 11 and Washington on March 3.

It remains to be seen whether Santorum’s victories this week will increase his popularity in Georgia and the other Super Tuesday states. If so, he may be unable to keep up his momentum in the weeks until Super Tuesday with few elections and debates.

As Newt Gingrich’s campaign sags under the weight of his personal baggage and high unfavorability ratings, it is likely that he will not receive anywhere near the 45 percent of the vote that he received in the most recent poll. It is most likely that Santorum will be the beneficiary of disaffected Gingrich supporters as the new alternative to Romney.

At this point, factoring in the recent events, the Georgia primary is too close to call, with Romney at 32 percent and Gingrich and Santorum splitting another 60 percent, Romney looks to be the favorite. Ron Paul is unlikely to go much higher than 10 percent. The big question is whether Santorum’s rise will cause Romney as well as Gingrich voters to defect.

Originally published on

Chemtrails or contrails?

An enduring aviation conspiracy theory is the idea of chemtrails, the belief that jet airliners are spraying mysterious chemicals as they fly over the country. The motive of these sprayers varies according to different websites and conspiracy purveyors. Some claim that the chemtrails have to do with global warming. Others claim that it is a sinister New World Order plot to kill millions of people.

“Chemtrails” are actually composed of water vapor. More accurately they are known as contrails, or condensation trails. These trails occur when the cold air at high altitudes is meets the warm exhaust of an aircraft’s engine. The fuel burned by the engine contains water. As the water in the exhaust cools, it forms ice crystals or water droplets, forming a cloud. This is similar to how fog comes from a car’s exhaust on a cold day. Keep in mind that even if the temperature is hot on the ground, it is very cold at high altitudes where jets fly. There are many pictures of WWII bombers with piston engines leaving contrails in the sky. These pictures predate jet airliners and global warming theory by decades.

Variations in wind, humidity, and temperature aloft may cause contrails to dissipate more quickly in some areas than others. A chart on shows under what conditions contrails form. As one would expect from a natural phenomenon, contrails form under scientifically predictable conditions.

If you watch airplanes landing on a damp day, you might also see a different kind of vapor trail. On some occasions, you can see vapor trails streaming from a plane’s wingtip close to the ground. These trails can be caused by the wing of the airplane changing the pressure of the air it flies through. Vortices from the wingtips reduce pressure and allow the already humid air to condense.

There are some airplanes that really do spray chemicals. These are known as crop dusters. There are important things to notice about crop spraying operations. First, the airplane only sprays very close to the ground. The higher the chemical is released, the greater the chance that will disperse or be blown away before settling on to the crop. A crop duster normally flies and dusts from altitudes lower than telephone and power poles.

Second, you can also see that crop dusters have a lot of plumbing on the trailing edge of the wings. These lines and nozzles are where the chemicals are dispensed. Airliners and military jets have no such apparatus. A typical jet’s wing has many moving parts such as flaps, slats, and spoilers that are designed to improve handling, especially at low airspeeds, and to slow the airplane down for landing. They have nothing in the way of pipes and nozzles, however. This is true even for military tanker aircraft, which transfer fuel to other airplanes by either a single boom or hoses that trail behind the tanker.

Crop dusters have been considered as a possible terrorist weapon. It is not outside of the realm of possibility that they could be used by a terrorist group to launch a chemical or biological attack. This would require not only the skill to fly the airplane low over an urban area, but also the technical knowledge necessary to get the proper mixture of the chemical or biological agent to work with the spraying equipment. This makes such a scenario unlikely.

The lack of spray equipment isn’t the only factor limiting the use of airliners as spray planes. Fuel is a major component of the weight of an airplane, especially one that travels for long distances.  If an airliner were to carry enough fuel to fly across the country or the ocean as well as a heavy load of chemicals to spray, there would be no room left for passengers or baggage.  

In some cases, chemtrail believers claim to have discovered fibrous material that fell to the ground after “chemplanes” flew over. This is apparently the caused by a variety of material, from plant fibers to spider webs to trash. An interesting explanation is that floating strands of fibers are actually the product of ballooning spiders.

Ballooning spiders have been observed for hundreds of years. According to Australia’s Museum Victoria, occasionally thousands of spiders will ride on thin strands of web. As they land, their webs can cover the ground or stick to other objects. Spiders can ride the wind on their webs for hundreds of miles according to Live Science. An article on notes that the light strands of gossamer silk used by ballooning spiders can collapse when touched, giving the appearance of dissolving.

There have been real attempts to modify the weather with aviation, typically through cloud seeding. Cloud seeding is an attempt to control where rain falls by dropping materials such as dry ice or silver iodide into clouds to promote the formation of rain. In WWII, the British experimented with cloud seeding and may have caused a flood that killed 35 people. In June 2010, Smithsonian Air & Space magazine detailed a U.S. effort to divert hurricanes. Project Stormfury began in the 1940s and lasted until the 1980s when the experiment was deemed ineffective. In 2008, the Chinese attempted to seed clouds to prevent rain during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Cloud seeding is usually performed locally rather than on long range flights.

After the 9/11 attacks, when all flights above the US were grounded for three days, scientists did have a rare opportunity to conduct a study of how contrails affect climate. They did determine that contrails affect temperature, just as other clouds do. Scientists believe that contrails help to reduce the temperature range between daytime highs and nightly lows. Ironically, some scientists believe that, because contrails are more prevalent when the sun is out, that they may actually help to reduce global warming.

In the end, there really is a chemtrail conspiracy. Like many other conspiracy theories, it is a conspiracy to separate gullible people from their money. The sites that promote the chemtrail conspiracy often sell documentaries that purport to tell the “truth” about chemtrails or devices that they claim will neutralize the chemicals being sprayed. Save your money.

Instead, go visit your local airport. Many airports have viewing areas where you can watch the airplanes taxi, take off, and land. Even many military airports are located in urban areas where you can watch their flight operations from parking lots or roads. Take a pair of binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens and look for mechanisms that would allow any of these airplanes to spray chemicals or drop “nanotechnology fibers.” See the truth for yourself.

This article was published on