Random thoughts, 27 March 2009

2009/03/27

The President has announced his plan for Afghanistan & Pakistan this morning. [1] Its nice to see that the focus is shifting back to where it should have stayed in the first place, but I do worry that we may end up short-changing our mission in Iraq prematurely, as a result. There are good reasons to ensure that we complete our mission in Iraq, however we (eventually) define it, not least of which is the risk of belittling the efforts of our armed forces servicemembers who have sacrificed so much. [2] At this point, withdrawl from Iraq is a foregone conclusion, but we need to do so in a manner that is orderly, but above all, it must be honorable. I also wonder about the wisdom of sending a civilian workforce into the region without having first established military dominance in said region. As I recall, this was one of the major ongoing stumbling blocks for Bush II’s administration in the aftermath of the major combat operations in Iraq. It does no good to build roads, schools, infrastructure, etc., if there are still enemies around who can blow up said constructs, and/or kill the civilian workforce at will. Of course, I’m sure that TPTB at the Pentagon will think these things through a bit more thoroughly, but I think it would have been helpful for the President to indicate that such thinking is taking place, if only because it would be a good contrast to the debacle that occured in Iraq. And it would make skeptics like me a little more confident in his long-term planning abilities.

In domestic news, the GOP has released its competing budget document. [3] To be fair, it should probably have been introduced as an outline, since there is no hard data included; Representative John Boehner has stated that details will be forthcoming next week, so I will reserve judgement and comment until that time. Of course, this has not stopped the White House from extracting as much partisan capital from Boehner’s announcement as they can. [4] One can hardly blame them, of course; after all, they need to keep up the circuses while they continue to dole out bread of their own. [5] Still, it would be a welcome change of pace if the administration would refrain from such reactionary criticism until the actual details are known. I guess its too much to ask for the administration to bring about a change from the same-old way of doing things. Oh, right. Oops.

WRT the online “town hall” yesterday, [6] a brief note regarding universal health care, and why we can’t have a European style system here. The short version is that we can have such a system, if we’re willing to pay for such a system. Tax rates in Europe are substantially higher than they are here, [7] and much of those tax revenues go towards the various extensive social programs said countries offer. And, of course, this does not even consider the potential for massive ineffiency and waste that would very likely accompany any government bureaucracy that would be required to administer such a system.

Regarding education, it is clear that some reforms are necessary. I do, however, believe that it would be grossly irresponsible to encourage a complete abdication of parental duty, as some of the President’s comments seem to indicate. The government can’t do everything in terms of educating our children, and I don’t believe that we should expect this from the government, either. Discipline in the classroom is an important matter, but does it not begin at home? Taking the summer off is not necessarily detrimental; I vividly recall receiving private instruction from my parents during the summer months between classes. Is it too much to ask for other parents to do the same, before we beg the government to swoop in and save us? Math and science education are important, of course, but whatever happened to the notion of a well-rounded education? Students don’t just need to know facts and figures; they need to know how to use whatever cognitive abilities they possess. Critical thinking is of vital importance to countless professions and life situations, and it can be learned by anyone who possesses average, or higher, intellectual ability. I fear that our intense focus on test scores and benchmarking, we may forget to teach children how to use all the information they cram into their minds to pass said exams. It may also require accepting that not all students learn in the same ways or at the same rates. While it is currently anathema to even suggest that we aren’t all equal, well, lets face it: we aren’t. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that we each respond to situations in accordance with our abilities, such as they are. Until we start instructing students based on their abilities, and not based on some idealistic conception of their abilities, I fear we are doomed to fail in this endeavor.

And, while they’re at it, the President’s administration is also going to revamp the tax code. [8] I applaud their ambitiousness, but I am worried that they are taking on too much. Not that I lack confidence in their ability to do things successfully, but multi-tasking often brings with it the negative side-effects of inefficiency, lowered attention to detail, and higher probabilty of corruption. I worry that in their rush to handle as many issues as possible in as short a time as possible, too much might slip through the cracks.

Finally, this article [9] just rubs me the wrong way. A little. It sounds a bit too much like the socialist concept of perpetual revolution. Of course, perpetual revolution does have a logic of its own; after all, why should the regime step down if they are the primary agents of social improvement? And what better way to ensure continued support for the regime than to constantly set the goals farther and farther into the future, so that nothing is ever truly complete, while the regime is seen as tirelessly working on behalf of the common man? And would it not be natural for the regime to constantly bombard the people with propaganda that shows just how tirelessly they’re working on our behalf?

Oh wait…did I just compare the current administration to a socialist regime? I didn’t mean to do that, I swear…

Notes:

[1]: CNN article, 27 March 2009.

[2]: The Fury of the Legions; as transcribed at Jerry Pournelle’s blog.

[3]: See this link from the official GOP website, 27 March 2009.

[4]: White House press briefing (about 75% of the way through the long, rambling, unfocused briefing), 27 March 2009.

[5]: From Satire X, by Juvenal: “… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses. [Emphasis added] See the following link for context (Wikipedia article).

[6]: Transcript available from the White House Press Office, 26 March 2009.

[7]: Tax information from Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada, from The Federation of International Trade Associations (FITA) website. Quick summary: American tax rates are progressive from 10% to 33%, from lowest to highest tax brackets. The same rates for Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada, respectively, are as follows: 15% to 42%; 34% to 52% (yikes!); 20% to 30% (state) and 29% to 36% (local); and 15% to 29%. In the lowest cases, the tax rates are moderately higher than ours for each tax bracket, and in the highest cases, well.

[8]: CNN Money article, 27 March 2009.

[9]: From CNN, 27 March 2009.

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