Sunday, August 31, 2008

Karl Marx for Student Body President

It is back to school time and each year as the leaves begin to change and the air begins to cool, my mind is always consumed with one thought: educational inequality. Did you know that last year, close to 100% of high school diplomas were given to Seniors? What did Seniors do to deserve such special treatment? Why aren’t more high school diplomas given to Sophomores and Juniors? If you are old enough to have your learners permit than, by golly, you should be able to get a high school diploma.

Of course members of the educational-industrial complex, other wise known as “the man”, will argue that Seniors get diplomas because they have earned more credits. How is that fair? Just because you have been at school longer than a 14 year-old freshman does not mean you are any more deserving of pomp and circumstance. Are we not all Americans? Do not all our zits pop and bleed the same? Credit-inequality can no longer go unnoticed by administrators who care more about educating than what is really important: their students feelings.

What I propose is a vast redistribution of credits. Those high school seniors who have more credits should be asked to contribute some of their credits to those students in the lowest educational achievement categories (i.e. freshman and stoners who can’t seem to pass geometry). Just think of how harmonious school will be with Seniors who have the satisfaction of seeing their AP English credits given to a sophomore, and a freshman who realizes that they will never have to take trigonometry because some Junior has already done it for them. Surely the bones and dust of our forefathers are rolling over in their tombs knowing that right now some 15-year cheerleader is having to study for her history exam rather than having the credits given to her by someone who already took the class. Just think of all the contributions she could be making to society instead wasting her time studying, such as texting her friends to find out if Johnny just likes her or if he like-likes her.

This is the moment, my credit-challenged brothers and sisters, when we can finally take away diplomas from the most credit-rich members of our schools and see that they are made available to all, regardless of whether you took Chemistry or not.

Does any of that line of thinking sound familiar? Without being too specific, I have just laid out the economic platform of one of the nation’s major political parties who, for fairness sake, shall not be named. Let’s just say it rhymes with “flemocrats”.

Each time the question of economics comes up in the current political climate it dwells far more on class than on mobility. We tend to look at economic classes as static, much like the congressional approval rating. It ain’t changing, so why bother. Due to our willing ignorance of class mobility, we focus more on taking money from people at the top and giving it to the people at the bottom, rather than moving people from the bottom up to the top. This idea is, of course, as absurd as taking credits from seniors and giving them to freshman rather than helping freshman move up the educational ladder. Economic achievement is no different than educational achievement; it takes time and effort.

A University of Michigan Study shows that only 5% of people who were in the lowest income category in 1975 where there in 1991. This means a full 95% of people managed to move up at least one category. A full 95% of people were economically mobile. A US treasury study shows that in the 10 years between 1996 and 2005, 58% of people in the lowest income group had moved up at least one level. “Twenty-six percent of them achieved middle or upper-middle class income, and over 5 percent made it into the highest income group.”

Need further proof? Three years ago I was so far below the poverty line that I felt like bumming change off of hobos. Have you ever tried supporting a family of four on $600 dollars a month? Mac and Cheese starts to taste pretty gross after a while. It should be noted that I was also a grad student whose earning potential far exceeded his actual earnings. Now, a mere three years later, I am earning well above the median income and I am firmly entrenched in the middle class. It was through education and skill achievement that I became economically mobile, not through government hand-outs and redistribution programs.

Besides, you think the rich don’t already distribute some of their money? Each day, Bill Gates gives out some of his money to over 40,000 people. These people are called “employees” and they do something called “work” and for this they receive “compensation”.

You don’t raise people out of poverty with other peoples money any more than you raise people out of school with someone else’s grades. Poverty is ended when people earn their own money.

A Case for War

Every Thursday I see them. The anti-war protesters standing on the corner of main street, waving their placards and pleading for honks of approval from passing motorists. Not a single one of them is under 50. Those that can, male or female, sport unwashed, unkempt pony tails. Each of them holds up yellow signs that are either morally obvious platitudes, or anti-Bush slogans. “No Blood for Oil.” “Impeach Bush” “Bush Lied People Died” “End the War in Iraq” or my personal favorite: “Say No to War!” Gee, who could argue with that? What these signs lack in creativity, they certainly make up for in brevity. I always wonder how they would react if someone held up a sign that stated what these naive and obtuse slogans conveniently leave out. Something like:

“Liberating Iraqi Women and Children is Costing too Much!”

“Saddam Only Murdered his own People, lets Give him Another Chance!”

“Say No to War unless a Democrat is President!”

“War for None. Burqa’s For All!”

“Give Surrender a Chance”

“Useful Idiots: Unite!”

“War Never Solved Anything! (except Slavery, Nazism, Communism, Totalitarianism, Imperialism and Genocide)”

“We’re Winning! Lets Quit!”

Unfortunately, I don’t ever expect someone to hold up such a sign. Doing so would require brains and initiative and anyone with these qualities on a Thursday afternoon is likely to be doing a little thing I like to call “work”.

The protestors clearly prove that mind-numbing platitudes repeated often enough become the truth.

Take the pesticide DDT. Thanks to Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring the whole world became convinced that DDT was endangering birds and humans and that it must be stopped. So, bowing to political pressure, DDT was banned across the globe. Only problem was, Rachel Carson was wrong. DDT did not endanger humans and birds the way she argued. However, without the cheap and effective DDT to combat mosquitoes, malaria, which had been on the decline, suddenly became and African epidemic. Slowly (and silently) the ban on DDT has been lifted but how many millions (literally MILLIONS) of Africans had to die before the world was willing to admit that the lie repeated often enough was still a lie?

Simply put, I believe our decision to invade Iraq was the right one and I support staying in Iraq indefinitely. Sadly enough, this puts me on the fringe of our society. But just as society was wrong about DDT, they are wrong about Iraq. No amount of subjective journalism or late-night punch lines will convince me otherwise. Here is why.

Bush did not lie

Do you realize, Mitt Romney predicted that the Patriots would win Super Bowl XLII? That liar! Sure, the best intelligence at the time said that the Patriots were 14 point favorites, but the fact is the Giants won, which makes Mitt Romney a liar! Romney lied, the Patriots perfect season died!

Does that logic sound familiar? In the run up to the war in Iraq, the whole world believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. By whole world I mean Israel, France, England Canada, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and yes, even Barack Obama. Well it turns out they were all wrong, and yet somehow, Bush is the only one with “Liar” slapped on his back.

Why did the whole world believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? Because he wanted us to. Saddam told his FBI interrogator, after his capture, that he tried to keep up the illusion of possessing weapons of mass destruction to prevent an attack from Iran, who he feared more than the US. With his words may have said they had no weapons, but his actions said otherwise. In order to keep up this illusion, he antagonized weapons inspectors, maintained his labs, and tried to hide indirect evidence where possible. His illusion was a gamble, and he lost.

The idea that Bush lied presupposes that he knew the truth. That, unlike the Democratic Party, Bush knew that Iraq did NOT have weapons of mass destruction. How was Bush going to know this when every advisor and every bit of intelligence he received said otherwise? Lets not forget that Bob Woodward, in his book Bush at War details a conversation Bush had with then CIA Director George Tenet (a Clinton appointee). During this conversation in the Oval Office, Bush questioned the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In reply, George Tenet raised his arms and said that the existence of the weapons was a “slam-dunk case.” So, put yourself in Bush’s shoes. Who do you trust, your intelligence advisor, or a sociopathic madman?

Was Bush wrong about weapons of mass destruction? Mostly. While we never found the smoking gun, we did find enough labs and materials to make any sane person wary. Saddam may have not had the finished product, but he clearly had the capability. Which is worse, meth or a meth lab?

The War Was Legal and Just

There is a mistaken belief that somehow the war with Iraq was illegal. Which law, exactly, did we violate? President Bush had overwhelming approval from Congress to take military action against Iraq. Iraq was in clear violation of its treaty used to end the first Gulf War. It had not allowed Weapons Inspectors the access required by the treaty and was continually firing on US aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone. Simply put, they broke their contract and we had a right to come collecting.

If history has taught us anything, it is that great tragedy is often preventable. When Germany invaded the Rhineland in 1936 it blatantly and aggressively violated the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. Such an act was a gamble by the young German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. He sent in under-trained and under-equipped soldiers into territory Germany agreed to stay out of. At the time, the French military outnumbered the Germans 10-1. Had the French simply upheld the treaty, and forced the withdrawal of the German Army, Hitler would have been humiliated and World War II prevented. Alas, France was in the throws of an aggressive anti-war movement which prevented political leaders from making the prudent decision and stop Hitler in his tracks. I don’t even need to explain how that decision turned out.

Everyone questions the cost of acting in Iraq, but no one ever questions the cost of inaction. Luckily we will never know what would have happened had we stayed at home, because we did what the French would not, stood up to tyranny rather than look the other way.

Many will put forth the petty straw-man argument that if we are going to invade Iraq, we might as well invade North Korea and Iran. The inability to do everything is not an excuse to do nothing. Such a multi-lateral war would be next to impossible given the current size of our military. Of the members of the Axis of Evil, Iraq was clearly the best place to start strategically. We were legally justified to attack and doing so put us right in Iran’s back yard.

Some will argue that the US does not engage in pre-emptive war fare. Have these people ever actually picked up a history book? Do they not remember the Spanish-American War? The Mexican American War? The Barbari Wars? The war in the Philipines? Just look at the Marine Hymn “From the halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.” Each of those represent pre-emptive strikes by the US to protect its security and its assets. The US has always reserved the right to defend itself, even if it means shooting first.

We are Winning

While we are talking about global consensus, how about the silently growing agreement that the US has turned the tide in Iraq? Troop deaths are down. Civilian deaths are down and Al Queda is growing increasingly frustrated and impotent. While a political solution is still necessary, the military solution is being provided. I will be the first to admit that we had a flawed, naive and frustrating strategy for much of the first few years in Iraq. Much of the problems in that country are of our own making. Nevertheless, under the direction of General Patreus, few can doubt that things have improved and America has found a strategy that works. Nothing is certain, but why would we tough it out when things are going bad, only to turn tail and run when we start to win? That would be like the US fighting through the Battle of the Bulge only to turn around and surrender during the push towards Berlin.

If you want to know if Iraq has been a success, you really only need to know one word: Libya. Our invasion of Iraq was just the motivation Libya needed to forgo its covert weapons programs, stop harboring terrorists and restore normal relations with the United States. Had such a diplomatic coup occurred with any other President under any other circumstances, it would have been greeted with Nobel Prizes. However, given the fact that it occurred under Bush and as a result of an unpopular war, it has received little to no recognition. It is, however, the most important diplomatic achievement since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Iraq is not Vietnam. Leave and it Will Be.

During the bloody aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, you could not turn on the TV without hearing the same anti-war diatribes used during the Vietnam War. Journalist wasted no time in digging up timeless classics such as “Quagmire “and “Exit Strategy”. While our strategy may have been flawed, there were several things that were going right. America made great headway in the majority of Iraq in securing its people and protecting her assets within a very short time. It was only in the densely populated regions surrounding Baghdad where trouble brewed. Despite all the violence that existed in Iraq and still exists, we would have to stay for another 40 years to lose as many Americans as we lost during Vietnam. While each soldier killed is a tragedy, in terms of troop loss, the war in Iraq has been the most successful US occupation ever.

The one comparison that is never made is between post-withdrawal Vietnam to post-withdrawal Iraq. When US troops left South-east Asia and funding to the South Vietnamese government was cut off, the communists were finally able to unite Vietnam. In so doing, they killed thousands of innocent and loyal South Vietnamese, forced even more into re-education camps and created the tragic refugee crisis of the boat people. While staying in Vietnam was expensive, leaving was just as costly.

US emasculation in Vietnam also spilled over into neighboring Cambodia. At the same time the US was withdrawing from Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge (with support of the North Vietnamese) pushed into Phnom Penh and took control of the government. Under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, upwards of two million Cambodians were killed.

I have been to Vietnam and Cambodia. I have seen the economic toll being paid by the South Vietnamese. Vietnam is just now allowing the foreign investment and free enterprise needed to grow the economy and lift its people out of poverty. I have no doubt that communist rule of Vietnam set the country back at least 20 years.

I have also walked the Killing Fields of Cambodia. I have seen the thousands of skulls of those who died for committing no crime. I have seen the bits of clothing and bone that still line the trails. I have seen the serrated palm fronds the Khmer Rouge would use to cut off the heads of teachers and government workers. I have seen the Chankiri tree where, after grabbing infants and newborns by their hind legs, their heads would be beaten. No price was too much to prevent such a tragedy from occurring. Is the life of one US soldier worth more than the lives of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians? I don’t think so and neither should you.

The same post-Vietnam War tragedy is exactly what we will get if we leave Iraq. Al Queda will regain control and sectarian violence will tear the country apart, one bomb at a time. We can expect sectarian strife to grow more bitter and ceaseless violence to fill the power vacuum our departure will create. Can we honestly expect any different? Can you honestly expect things to just work themselves out? In the wake of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, such a power vacuum was created and it was eventually filled by the Taliban. Which was worse? The violence we see now in Iraq pales in comparison to the violence we will see if we leave. This is the one question never answered by those who encourage retreat, yet it is the question that matters most. We already have the Killing Fields of Cambodia on our hands, leaving Iraq will give us a thousand more.

If anything, this blog proves why the war is so unpopular. Thoughtless excuses for abandoning Iraq easily fit onto a poster. Well-thought out reasons for staying need more explanation.

Moving On Up

Now that Sam has christened the new house by peeing on the floor, I guess we can say that we have officially moved in! Huzzah! For our little family, this now makes six different houses in the passed seven years. Needless to say, when it comes to moving, Robyn and I are pretty much experts. However, this move has been different than all the others because, for the first time, we are moving into a house of our own. This may be our sixth house, but it is our first home. Here are a few thoughts I feel moved to share (Worst. Pun. Ever.)

Families are not solid, but rather liquid. They will quickly move to fill any space they are given. We have added an extra bedroom and almost an additional 1000 square feet and, somehow, it already feels like it is too small. Of course that feeling of claustrophobia is probably the result of the mountain of unpacked boxes filling each room.

Old diaper boxes are the best boxes you will ever find for moving. They are easily stacked, you can fit most anything inside, and they have holes in the sides for handles. When you move as much as we have, you learn these types of things.

Grass is a fickle, demanding master. Feed me. Water me. Weed me. Mow me. Caress me. Love me. I feel like we adopted another child.

Every time I move, I am glad I am Mormon. With just a few phone calls I was able to get complete strangers to show up at my house on a Saturday afternoon to do all the brute labor that I am incapable of doing by myself. Joining the church is worth it, just for the moving plan.

The perfect house is a lot like the perfect man. It does not exist. The trick is learning to love what you got.

We all have a terribly distorted view of what is necessary to survive. I spent two years of my life, as a missionary, sleeping on foam pads on the floor with only two desks and two chairs filling the entire one bedroom apartment. If I wanted a nice glass of cold water, I had to boil it first and then put it in the fridge for a whole day. Now look at me, I would not survive two minutes without central A/C, a comfy couch, and my king sized mattress.

If I ever get carpel tunnel syndrome, I am suing the loan company. Having to initial and sign a document proving that you read and signed the thing that you just read and signed? I am sure somewhere deep inside that mortgage contract I promised away my first born son.

Graffiti is the single worst property crime possible. Sure burglary and arson may destroy one home, but graffiti destroys every home in the neighborhood. Other crimes can be committed by people who don’t live there, but graffiti is always local. The only thing that graffiti says loud and clear is that this neighborhood is full of crappy neighbors.

The second most satisfying thing in the world? Putting the brand new key into the brand new lock on your very first home. The most satisfying thing in the world? Carrying your wife across the threshold of your very first home.

Our Master Bathroom shower contains a bright canister light above it in the ceiling. I have never had a light in the shower before, and I must say, it is very disconcerting. I am not used to seeing quite so much vivid detail.

Craigslist is the single greatest innovation since Ziploc bags. Great looking, six seat kitchen table? $400. Twin bed frame for Tyler? Free. The trick when you are emailing the potential vendor is to come off sounding one part nice and friendly and another part desperate and pathetic.

With all the genetic engineering going on these days, how come no one has engineered the Strawberry Banana. That would be the greatest fruit in history. I know this has nothing to do with owning a home, but that is something I had to get off my chest.

We have a mesquite tree in our backyard that well represents Texas. It is big, beautiful, makes for a great BBQ, and is filled with half inch thorns that will punish anyone who dares walk barefoot near by. On the list of famous Texas icons, it deserves a place right alongside the lone star, Armadillo and Type II Diabetes.

Good fences don’t make good neighbors. Blinds do