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January 23, 2004, 9:00 A.M.

Dianne and I saw Senator Kerry in Laconia yesterday. At this point in the campaign, candidates all have pretty stock speeches and canned answers to questions on major issues. Kerry was no exception.

I found myself wanting to interrupt the Senator from time to time and ask him how he was going to accomplish the goals and ideals he outlined. There was not a lot of meat in the speech. The Q&A that followed was more of the same. Many answers were indirect and seemed evasive.

My principal concern was with Kerry’s answer regarding the vote giving the President the authority to use force in Iraq. I would like to hear Kerry say that the vote was a mistake. That Congress was misled and that such broad authority should never be given again. It is hard for the Democrats who voted to give the President the discretion to wage war to now say that they were surprised that he actually did. This is especially true when the President in question is Bush 43.

Only Lieberman has completely stuck by his position and he should be given credit for that. It’s not Kerry’s stand on the war at the time of the Iraq vote that bothers me. Rather, it is his political backstepping now that troubles me. If he now thinks the war was wrong, he should admit to being wrong, or misled, or to making a political decision to vote the way he did. This will be a general election issue and one on which he is vulnerable to attack.

For Kerry, the debate last night was more of the same. He looked downright uncomfortable as a theoretical front runner and he was almost too careful. His dialogue was almost exactly the same prepared speech we had heard earlier in the day.

To us, the big debate winner was Joe Lieberman. He was strong in his convictions, articulate in his answers and comfortable in his delivery. There was substance in his answers as well. He admitted when he was wrong (on the issue of the First in the Nation New Hampshire primary) and seemed confident enough to admit that with time, one’s mind can and sometimes should change. As I have often said, the hallmark of a great mind is its ability to change. Joe showed me a lot.

Edwards also looked and sounded good. He is a comfortable debater and handled questions from the panel very well, often not accepting the premise of a question when it was designed to make him look bad. The gun control question is the example that comes to mind.

Clark did not come off looking good on the “aren’t you really a Republican” question, but his Patriot Act answer was one of the best of the night. I liked his answer on choice and how he reconciled his position with that of the Catholic Church. He said essentially, “I disagree.”

Dennis Kucinich was great on trade, charts and all, while Al Sharpton kept the focus on inclusiveness. Both of these candidates have issues that need to be included in the platform (limited as they may be).

Dean seemed to regain some of his fire later in the debate when asked about the war. This is his issue and he needs to continue to ride it home. The kinder, gentler Howard is coming out at the wrong time. The war whoop in Iowa, followed by a dumb statement like, “I lead with my heart instead of my head sometimes” have seriously hurt his effort.

I’m still undecided, Dianne is leaning toward Edwards, and there is less than a week left to the primary. Oh, woe is me.

January 20, 2004, 9:45 P.M.

Back at'cha, Walt: I’m not certain that we do disagree, in fact, I agree with your observation and support for the war against al Qaeda. In reading my recent post after receiving your comments, I realize that my point was not well made. While I agree that our government has a responsibility to protect us from threats posed by groups such as al Qaeda, and while I could have accepted the protection of the U.S. against such groups as a reason to go to war, my complaint with the administration is that they have lied to and mislead us. I think a big reason for that is that the Bushies assume that people don’t understand the more subtle explanations that actually do lend support to our actions. Extricating ourselves from the Saudi kingdom is but one example.

My reference to al Qaeda in my last post really refers to the Bush administration’s false statements regarding a relationship before the war between al Qaeda and Saddam. No such relationship existed. Al Qaeda is a fanatical religious group; Saddam’s was a secular dictatorship actually known for persecuting fundamentalists within Iraq. Our lack of a plan for dealing with Iraq after the fall of the regime is one of the factors that has opened the door to multinational and diverse terrorist activity within post-war Iraq.

Regarding your comments on the race for president, I, too, am sorry to see Dick Gephardt go. He is a good man and I think that he added a strong voice for everyday folk to the campaign. I hope his message regarding healthcare and jobs will resonate with the eventual nominee.

The Edwards showing was a bit of a surprise, and I don’t know what effect the “deal” with Kucinich may have had on his showing. I like a lot of what he has to say, and his chances certainly improve as the campaigns head south.

Joe does seem like a good guy. I like his sense of conviction in supporting the war. I like his refusal to campaign on the Sabbath and I like his experience. I just wonder how he will do across the South.

I just don’t like Howard Dean, and John Kerry has never excited me, although he has been feisty of late. I think that Iowa voters chose him on the belief that he has the experience needed to do the job and that he seems “Presidential.” Dean falls down on both counts.

This is going to get really interesting!

January 20, 2004, 7:30 P.M.

From the mailbag: We received the following e-mail from Walt K on the subject of al Qaeda, and other things.

Hi Ed,

It's me again. This time I beg to differ with you, not directly, but tangentially. I think Al Quaeda is a subset of the true Islamic Terrorist problem. Such a big wooly problem has to be packaged in simple tidbits by the media and politicians for the American public's fifth grade reading comprehension level. So a shibboleth like "Al Quaeda" is created to describe the bad guys. This, however, sets up the upportunity to allow parsing by the politicians as we see in the debate between Democrat aspirants and the present US Government administration. In the bigger picture I see, there is a war, or counter-force, against Al Quaeda, plus misdirected fanatic Islamists, plus any other motivation for terror. This justifies in my mind the military action in Iraq, the military action in Afghanistan and whatever else becomes necessary to counter the overall terrorist force and motivation. If the USA with whaterver administration or political entity would stand by passively and let the attack against Western Civilization proceed, then who would carry the burden of saving our (Americas, Europe, most of Asia) way of life? This is an argument larger than politics.

On last night's results in Iowa. My condolences to our mutual friend, Dick Gephart. It was indeed a priviledge and a pleasure to meet him at the Philpot Breakfast last year. It's my take that I like the guy, You know, I see these political people as personalities that I like or dislike. The test is, would you like the guy (or gal) to be your neighbor and share a beer or barbecue once in a while? I would certainly like Dick Gephart or Ed Philpot to be my neighbor. I would not like Howard Dean or Wesley Clark or Hillary Clinton or George Bush living next door.

With Dick out of the race, my favorite now is Joe Lieberman. He would also be fun to cut the grass and banter with. He's moved to New Hampshire temporarily. He's welcome to stay as far as I'm concerned.

Walt K

January 19, 2004, 11:10 A.M.

I believe that I am becoming increasingly isolationist in a trade sense. I do not believe that NAFTA is a good idea, and I do not believe it is a treaty that should continue to be ratified. I think that NAFTA and the WTO do not benefit the group of Americans that I am concerned for, middle Americans, blue-collar workers and skilled tradespeople. This is an incomplete thought, and a subject that I intend to return to later.

January 19, 2004, 11:05 A.M.

One of the ancillary and unintended results of the invasion of Iraq has been to create a fertile recruiting and breeding ground for al Qaeda. There appears to be no credible argument for the administration’s pre-war claims that al Qaeda had been operating within Iraq and that the Saddam Hussein regime provided or intended to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda. There is simply no evidence to support these claims, and in fact, the evidence appears to be to the contrary based on correspondence found with Saddam Hussein when he was captured.

There is evidence, however, of an infiltration by foreign fighters, and more importantly, foreign recruiters into Iraq. As the Iraqi people become disenfranchised and dissatisfied with their American liberators/invaders/occupiers, they will become fruit ripe for the picking by terrorist organizations. The continued occupation of Iraq serves to deplete the country’s resources, which could be directed at domestic financial reconstruction, health care and education. What’s worse, however, is that our continued presence in Iraq foments opposition to America and resentment of Americans in many parts of the world. This has the unfortunate result of decreased safety and stability for our economy and our lifestyle.

The United States is becoming completely isolated: isolated in our failure to join the Kyoto global warming accords, in our refusal to participate in the world court, in our unilateral actions in the Middle East, and in our world view. Even the President’s recent announcement of a desire to go to the moon and Mars was an announcement about the future of the American space program, and not of any broader participation in that endeavor.

January 19, 2004, 11:00 A.M.

The Bush administration's MO is to create programs that appear on their face to solve big problems. However, upon scrutiny, those programs seem to not really solve the problems, but to benefit small groups of constituents of the President. These include, of course, tax cuts for the wealthy, No Child Left Behind, and the mission to Mars.

$87 billion spent on tax cuts for President Bush’s friends, as well as $150 billion spent on the war in Iraq (not including Halliburton contracts) could be better spent on real, fundamental change in domestic programs, like educational funding support, universal health care, job development and investment in small business. I recently heard an article on National Public Radio on state-sponsored health care in certain provinces in Canada. All Canadian citizens in these provinces pay a flat rate annually for health care. The program is administered by a government agency that provides full health care for all citizens in the province and operates in the black. Of course, in a public program like this, there are no advertising costs, stock options or exorbitant salaries for corporate officers. There are also no bad insurance company investments, resulting in escalating premium costs.

This country needs fundamental change. The current system, if it continues, will disenfranchise poor and middle class Americans and it will continue to ship jobs overseas.

January 19, 2004, 10:45 A.M.

I've been giving a good deal of thought to President Bush’s recent announcement regarding the future of space exploration. Despite my instinctive skepticism of Bush administration proposals and some obvious political undertones in the announcement, I believe it is important for our government to be talking about the future of exploration, discovery and the attendant technological advancements.

As a child I was enamored of the space program. I grew up around the Apollo program and the moon landings. This was a great time for national pride and for technological advancement and discovery. Many of the technologies, inventions and gadgets developed to put a man on the moon translated into our everyday lives in the form of advanced computer technology, plastics, Velcro (and Tang), to name a few. It is my fervent hope that the future of space exploration, and for that matter, government sponsored technology of any kind, will lead to alternative energy sources, making us less dependant on foreign oil and non-renewable energy sources and products of our own planet. But exploration is more than that. Exploration is a manifestation of natural human curiosity and energy. It is healthy for human beings to direct their energies toward endeavors that change, and hopefully advance, mankind. I believe in space travel, and I believe that space travel, exploration and the attendant scientific and technological gains have to be encouraged and undertaken.

That being said, I am suspicious of Bush’s announcement and timetable to establish permanent lunar facilities intended to support an ultimate manned mission to Mars. I’m suspicious for several reasons. First, I’m not convinced that the proposal put forth by the Bush administration is the best proposal in a scientific and engineering sense. There are certainly options that may be more technologically feasible that should not be foreclosed in the early stages of planning further exploration. I would prefer more comprehensive scientific and technical planning, in other words, more forethought, than appears to have been put into the Bush plan. Second, I’m concerned about the economics. The plan to increase the funding does not include new funding sources. In other words, the money to support the President’s proposal will have to come from a budget that is already in record deficit, which is unrealistic and clearly political. It is unrealistic to believe Bush administration claims that we will fund NASA to the tune of additional trillions of dollars, while reducing the most massive budget deficit in the nation’s history by half. It is especially unrealistic at a time where millions of manufacturing jobs are being shipped overseas.

My third observation, building on the first two, is that there is a real and tangible political benefit to the President and his party in making this announcement. President Bush has made these big announcements (regarding immigration, science and technology, and the economy) to lay the groundwork for his upcoming reelection campaign. Karl Rove, in that infamous New Yorker article, suggested that it was his goal to create essentially a Republican dynasty. While it may sound cynical to call into question the motives behind these announcements, the short view of the details (or lack thereof) of these programs clearly suggests that they are designed for their political impact, and not for long-term consideration.

For example, the President made Medicare reform a priority. He pushed a bill through Congress that will substantially increase the cost of drug programs to senior citizens in the future at a time where the baby boomer generation will just be entering that system. There is no reasonable mechanism for funding these increases, and the burden of either changing the legislation or increasing the burden on taxpayers to pay for these programs is put off far enough into the future that the current administration will be a memory and its architects will have the opportunity to figure out a way to blame problems brought about by this legislation on future administrations.

The proposal regarding the space program is the same. The President has made an announcement that will clearly increase his popularity in California, Texas and Florida, where large aerospace industry contractors and their employees will soon be asked to vote for president. But the numbers are not going to work. This is reminiscent of the shuttle program when it was proposed almost thirty years ago. It was clear at the time that the shuttle program was created and presented to Congress that the numbers projected for the cost of the program were simply unrealistic. The idea was to get Congress to commit to the program and leave the funding problem to a future administration and Congress. This is a dishonest process. It is a process, however, that is currently being used to sell the Bush vision of manned missions to Mars. It is a political statement that is intended to get votes for the President by tapping into the national and intrinsically human spirit of curiosity and exploration. A more honest administration (if there is any such thing) would say that this is a noble goal that will advance knowledge and civilization in general. It is something that we must do. It is also something that we must figure out a way to pay for.

If we truly are committed to revitalizing and reshaping the future of the space program, the plan should revitalize entire sections of American industry in order to motivate the people to support the program. A space program of this magnitude should include investment in American manufacturing that would allow many of our high-tech manufacturing jobs to remain in this country, and encourage the startup of new manufacturing businesses. We should put American workers to work in this program, rather than allowing multi-national corporations to ship the benefits of this program to overseas workers.

We need to provide incentives to start-up businesses to allow them to compete not only in this program, but to compete on a global scale to maintain jobs at home. If investment in a Martian landing will stimulate this type of reinvestment in American manufacturing infrastructure, it’s a good thing. If pieces and parts of the next generation spacecraft and attendant technology are shipped to China for creation by cheap labor, it will be nothing more than another failure to protect jobs for Americans at the expense of multi-national corporate profits.

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Copyright 2003 Edward Philpot

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