We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Caribou Win Again

It is getting tougher for America to get its hands on oil. Not only is OPEC negotiating with the Chinese to secure more orders to China as well as planning to cut its output, but also, our very own government is putting the lid on domestic drilling.

Yesterday, the Senate rejected the notion of drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), making it that much harder for the nation to ensure a reliable energy supply.

Senator Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has been fighting hard for years for the chance to open the approximately 10 billion barrels of crude that lie in the area. Stevens and the majority of Alaskans who are in favor of the drilling are going to have to keep fighting. With all the talk recently about "civil liberties", the notion of limited federal authority and State's Rights seems to be lost on this Congress.

Even though oil drillers insist they can pull the oil from the ground without major disruptions to the environment and its wildlife, conservationists are committed to keeping the area closed.

Of course, Alaskans will continue to fight for the right to drill their own land. With reserves at North Slope oil fields get smaller everyday, it is no wonder they are looking to expand. The state needs the money from oil sales to keep it going.

Experts believe the state will receive roughly 75% of its general revenues from oil through 2011. If ANWR was opened to drilling, that figure would get even higher.

Now, I am as fond of low oil prices as anybody, but opening ANWR right now is not a good idea. We’ve got plenty of oil flowing into the country, and, who knows, we may need that land to build condos for all those environmentalists to live in some day since the area is so "pristine".

This country has so much oil in its inventories, OPEC feels that it is necessary to cut its production rate for next year’s second quarter. Just in time, too. Prices were starting to drop.

Once the high-demand period of the northern hemisphere’s winter is over, OPEC will lower its official quota. Earlier this month, OPEC agreed to keep its Q1 quota at current production levels of 28 million barrels per day.

Fortunately, the news of a production cut has not caught the energy market off guard. As I write, a barrel of crude is trading for US$57.75, US$0.81 cheaper than yesterday’s closing price.

Be sure to call you Senators and thank them for making us more dependent on foreign oil.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas Is Alive & Well, Despite Its Detractors

An excellent (if not lengthy) essay by Gary Halbert, an Investment Advisor of all people:

Make No Mistake, A War Has Been Declared

Some of you reading this E-Letter may think that this is just another example of conservatives wringing their hands over perceived persecution that doesn't really exist. That is far from the case. If you go to a Google search-engine and type in "War on Christmas," you will get over 500,000 matches for articles, books, and weblogs discussing the topic.

Some of these Internet entries are by religious groups which provide key evidence that religious expression is, indeed, under attack in America. Other entries are by those who do not believe any such attack is under way, and simply attribute the discussion to much ado about nothing. But a few entries are really disturbing, because they not only admit that there is a war against Christmas (and Christians) going on, but that they have mobilized their forces to participate.

One such posting was in regard to a December 5, 2005 press release by a group called Beyond Belief Media, led by "former Christian," Brian Flemming. The press release was intended to formally declare a "War on Christmas." Here's an excerpt from the release:

Los Angeles, December 5, 2005 -- Beyond Belief Media has formally declared war on Christmas, the December 25 holiday in which Christians celebrate the birth of the mythical figure Jesus Christ, the company announced today.

"Christian conservatives complain nonstop about the 'War on Christmas,' but there really isn't any such war," said Beyond Belief Media president Brian Flemming, a former fundamentalist Christian who is now an atheist activist. "So we have decided to wage one, to demonstrate what it would look like if Jesus' birthday were truly attacked."

As its opening salvo, Beyond Belief Media has purchased advertisements this week in the New York Times , USA Today and the New Yorker magazine. The company's 300-member volunteer "street team" is also descending on Christmas-themed public events with random "guerilla giveaways" of Beyond Belief's acclaimed DVD " THE GOD WHO WASN'T THERE".

"No Christmas pageant or Nativity display is safe from our troops," said Flemming. "Wherever the mythical figure Jesus is celebrated as if he were real, we will be there with an information barrage. We will undercut the idea that there is any point at all to celebrating the 'birth' of a character in a fairy tale."

A recent book by Fox News host John Gibson, entitled "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought" (Sentinel, October 2005) documents the slow erosion of Christian symbolism and values in public life. I have not read Mr. Gibson's book yet, but he has been on the talk show circuit, and his examples of officials trying to remove Christian symbolism from Christmas appear to be well-documented.

At the same time, the ACLU, often a target of criticism from the religious right, states on their website (
www.aclu.org) that they are not involved in a war on Christmas. In fact, they say that they are the victim of a "...well-organized attempt by extremist groups to demonize the ACLU..." And then, taking a page out of the Bill Clinton playbook, they state, "...there is no 'Merry Christmas' lawsuit..."

The ACLU is correct, in that they are not pursuing any current litigation regarding Christmas religious symbolism. What they don't tell you is that they have eagerly pursued such suits in the past. As recently as 2004, the ACLU lost a case they brought against the city of Cranston, RI. It seems that this city had allowed religious Christmas displays on public property, a citizen objected, and the ACLU took up the case. Federal Judge William E. Smith ruled against the plaintiff and ACLU, saying that the city had followed established law (more about this later), and was not in violation of the Constitution.

Judge Smith's ruling stated that nothing in the city's implementation of its policy for Christmas displays "reveals or even remotely supports an inference that a religious purpose was behind the creation of the limited public forum," as the lawsuit alleged. So, when the ACLU says that they do not have a war on Christmas, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they LOST their war on Christmas.

While it is not surprising that there are organizations willing to take up the cause of removing Christ from Christmas, it really steams me that they make it appear that Christian conservatives are somehow the cause of this war, or that we "brought it on ourselves." The ACLU website even goes so far as to try to lecture about how, by resisting these anti-religion forces, Christians are defying Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
Religious Practice Versus Religious Symbolism

As we all know, the US Constitution makes no mention of our modern interpretation of the separation of church and state. The First Amendment simply forbids Congress from enacting laws that restrict the free practice of religion. Thus, since Congress can't regulate religion, the judiciary took up the challenge. These judges are appointed for life and do not have to answer to voters. We all know the term "legislating from the bench," and nowhere is this more evident than in court cases involving the practice of religion.

It is interesting to me, however, that many of the recent challenges focus on what can only be deemed symbols of religion -- the Ten Commandments, "Christ" in the word "Christmas," religious displays, as opposed to the promotion of one religion or another. The judiciary won the battles that surround a public entity's endorsement of one religion or denomination over another, and rightfully so. It is not the job of governments or public schools to promote or endorse religious views.

However, it is a far cry from endorsing religion to allowing religious symbolism on public property. With the battle over religious endorsement won, the ACLU and other groups took on the display of religious symbolism, saying that the mere presence of such symbolism indicates that there is a de-facto endorsement of religion. This is ridiculous.

Some government buildings containing religious symbolism were built decades ago. Are we supposed to believe that current government administrations use these symbols to promote one religion over another, or that voters are somehow influenced by these symbols to elect only candidates who share the religious views depicted in the symbols? Hogwash!

It seems that the mere mention of the word "Christ" in Christmas offends those weak souls who see this as an obvious attempt to change the course of their lives by converting them to Christianity. Obviously, this is nonsense. It is a manufactured sense of being offended simply to drive home a political point.

If one is offended by the name "Christ" in Christmas, then there are a myriad of other things that must offend these weak-minded individuals on a daily basis. Would they be appalled if asked to be a god-parent? Should their children not be required to read about Lady Godiva in school? Will they shy away from doing business with anyone named "Gilchrist ", or "Christian," or "God win," etc., etc.?

If the PC crowd is so intent upon removing all references to Christianity, then why don't they insist that the entertainment industry cease using swear words in movies that invoke the names of "God" and "Christ?" Think about this. If someone was truly offended by the word "Christ" appearing in a Christmas display, then wouldn't it be even worse if someone used the popular curse words that appear to call God's damnation upon the subject of the epithet? I certainly haven't seen any such movement toward less cursing in movies, and I doubt we ever will.

And just think, if the PC police are successful in removing offensive religious words from our language, this may be just the tip of the iceberg. Will PETA members object to the word "dog" in dogma, "cat" in catastrophe, or "hog" in hog wash? (Yes, the last one was intentional.) Maybe it's only a matter of time before feminists start objecting to the word "gal" in gal lon, "she" in sheriff, and "her" in her etical.

Yes, I am just kidding, but the above paragraph illustrates how silly I think this whole debate on religious symbolism is.

An Attack On The Majority

Do the politically correct among us really expect us to believe that the presence of a religious symbol on the county courthouse might make "non-believers" appearing in court feel that they are being oppressed? Or that a manger scene displayed on city property may convince "non-believers" that they are singled out for traffic tickets just because of their non-belief? No way! The illusion of "offense" must be generated to make the objection more palatable.

Earlier on, I stated that there seemed to be a war on Christianity. Perhaps it may be more accurate to say that the current situation is just another in a long line of wars against the majority of Americans. A 2005 Harris poll indicated that 82% of Americans believe in God, and a recent ABC News poll indicated that over 80% profess to be Christians. A December Fox News poll indicated that 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas.

Thus, religion, and Christianity in particular, are the most prevalent religious expressions in the United States.

In America today, it is fashionable to pick on the majority, so that appears to be what is going on. If the minority can convince the majority that those in the minority class are offended each time mention is made of the majority's religion, then perhaps less will be said of religion, and the country will become more and more godless -- just like the atheists want it. Hmmm...it's kind of like negative evangelism, isn't it?

It gets me that when our troops were sent to the Middle East, they were indoctrinated about the local religious customs so that they would not do anything that might be considered offensive to the locals. But the same liberals who cheer this move also think that foreign nationals coming here should be kept from being offended because the US might just have a religious heritage. What nonsense.

The real issue is not that anyone is truly offended; it's just that it is more sellable if the PC forces can make us believe that we are offending someone through our religious expressions. Who among us would want to intentionally offend someone of another faith or nationality? (OK, I admit that some people would, but I hope the best for my readers, so I'm assuming you wouldn't want to do this.)

When you put a human face on the issue, it is much harder to fight than if it were just a philosophy or an idea. Thus, the PC forces formulate their tactics around not offending people rather than the real agendas at work.

You see, the religious majority often stands in the way of a number of things desired by social liberals. Some say that the truth behind the anti-Christian movement is that removing religious (and hence moral) standards from public life paves the way for agendas that are traditionally opposed by religious leaders and their followers.

They may have a point. If the public's view of a religious viewpoint can be shaped to believe that all such adherents are extremists or "kooks," then all sorts of evils might make their way into public life. Legalized prostitution, euthanasia, legalized narcotics, gay marriage and all sorts of other "secular progressive" programs might be possible in a country populated by people without a moral compass. Just look at Europe to see an example of what can happen when you remove religion from public life.

Fortunately, There Are Clear Rules To Follow

I noted above that Judge William Smith's opinion in the lawsuit against the city of Cranston, RI cited established law as the reason to rule against the ACLU's contention that religious displays on city property were unconstitutional. From my research, it appears to be very clear that there are guidelines established over years of legal challenges in regard to religious symbolism on public property.

First, religious expression on your own personal property is always protected by law. While there may be challenges mounted by homeowners associations and the like regarding deed restrictions for outdoor displays, these are usually based on community appearance guidelines and not on an attempt to restrict religious expression.

As for schools and public property, a recent article in our local Austin newspaper, The Austin American-Statesman, quoted Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, regarding Christmas decorations. The article indicated that if a Christmas display has secular elements (Santa Claus, Christmas trees, reindeer, etc.), it may also have religious symbols such as a manger scene. And this is from an organization seeking to remove religion from public places.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a legal alliance co-founded by conservative James Dobson, is on the front lines of the war on Christmas. ADF has issued a press release saying that it has 800 attorneys nationwide ready to combat attempts to censor Christmas in schools and on public property. However, other information on ADF's website (
www.alliancedefensefund.org) indicates that, in many cases, religious displays are prohibited without a legal challenge, and sometimes without even a single complaint.

In such cases, it's as if some of the troops in the war on Christmas surrender without a fight. Unfortunately, there are some public officials and school administrators who will take action against religious symbolism because they think they know the rules about such displays in public places. They either react to a complaint with a "knee-jerk" reaction, or they assume that religion has been outlawed in public places, so they will make sure it gets done in their jurisdiction.

The problem with such actions is that many times they are based on assumptions, and not the real facts. The numerous challenges to religious expression in schools and public property have resulted in an established set of guidelines that any public official or school administrator can access. Last year, ADF mailed copies of these rules to over 6,700 school districts across the US so that school administrators will be familiar with the rules should a complaint surface.

The ADF also supplies the following brief summary of the established rules relating to Christmas celebrations in schools and on public property:

* The US Supreme Court has never ruled that public schools must ban the singing of religious Christmas carols or prohibit the distribution of candy canes or Christmas cards.

* School officials may refer to a school break in December as "Christmas Vacation" or as a holiday without offending the Constitution.

* School officials do not violate the Constitution by closing on religious holidays such as Christmas and Good Friday.

* No Court has ever held that celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas as religious holidays requires recognition of all other religious holidays.

* The "Three Reindeer Rule" used by the courts requires a municipality to place a sufficient number of secular objects in close enough proximity to the Christmas display (such as a manger scene) to render the overall display sufficiently secular. Although the overall display must not convey a message endorsing a particular religion's view, Christmas displays are not banned as some people believe. Simply put, the courts ask, "Is the municipality celebrating the holiday or promoting religion?"

More resources are available from the ADF website (
www.alliancedefensefund.com). Note, however, that some of the resources available from this organization may require purchase. You can also obtain information on Christmas displays from the American Center for Law and Justice at www.aclj.org . I encourage you to share these important resources with your local school and government administrators, especially if they are currently dealing with a challenge from PC groups.

Conclusion: The War On Christmas Is Limited

While the war on Christmas is still very much in the news, it is important to realize that these instances are relatively rare, even though egged on by organizations such as Beyond Belief Media and others. There are literally thousands of school districts and public places where religious symbols are not under attack, and Christmas celebrations are proceeding without a hitch.

A recent article from the American Center for Law and Justice indicates that examples of making Christmas politically correct "represent the exception to the rule and most communities are not giving in to the pressure to be politically correct." Good for them!

This observation seems to be supported by a recent Fox News opinion poll that showed 48% of those polled did not believe there was a war on Christmas, as opposed to 42% who did. This shows that about half of Americans are forming their opinions based on what they see in their local neighborhoods as opposed to the news reports of what may be happening thousands of miles away.

What motivates people to complain about religious symbolism varies, but I'm sure some are convinced they know the rules when they don't; others are well-meaning individuals who do not want to offend others; and I'm sure you know that there are some people who just like to be noticed. However, it is important to know that there are individuals and organizations that actively seek to remove every vestige of religion from American life. Thus, even though the current attack on Christians and Christmas is limited, we must continue to be vigilant lest it become more widespread.

A final thought is to be wary of scam artists seeking to make money on the war on Christmas. While many legitimate religious organizations seek contributions to help them combat inappropriate religious censorship, there are likely to be others that see this as a good way to make a quick buck.

I have written before about what are known as "affinity scams," that take advantage of a common membership or belief. I have no doubt that there will be scam artists who see the war on Christmas as an opportunity to separate concerned Christians from their hard-earned money. Therefore, it is important that you check out any organization asking you to send a donation to help address this hot issue.

Now For Some Fun: Let's Be Politically Correct Across The Board

As you have no-doubt been able to tell, I think the whole issue of attacking religious symbols in public places is absolutely ridiculous. As I researched this issue, I began to think of what might happen if we were to remove all religious references from our language, no matter what religion they may represent. What follows is a completely tongue-in-cheek review of just a few instances of where this could be a major problem. Thus, remember while reading this -- I'm only kidding!

It would obviously be unfair for the crusade to drive Christianity out of public life to stop at that point. Fair is fair, and if Christianity has to go, then everything else does too. And since the focus seems to be on the symbolism of religion rather than the actual practices, the PC police have a lot of work to do.

Our Calendars Are Rife With Religious References

One of the most common objects in our world today is one of the most egregious examples of religious symbolism, and that is the modern calendar. Our method of marking time has actually been a process rather than an event. Various ways for measuring days, weeks and months have been tried over the centuries.

However, in 1751, the English Parliament declared that the Gregorian calendar be used in England and all of its colonies, so that's how we ended up with it.

However, this calendar marks years by designating them "BC" or "AD," meaning "before Christ" and "Anno Domini" (year of our Lord), respectively. The PC crowd has already taken care of this potentially offensive technique by substituting "CE" (for Common Era) and "BCE" (for Before Common Era). How imaginative... but not offensive!

Next, however, we have the issue of the days. The various days of the week were named for planets, which have been objects of worship in many cultures over the centuries. Obviously, the PC crowd can't tolerate having days named for objects of worship, since not everyone shares those beliefs. Thus, we'd have to come up with new names, or maybe just use numbers.

Now, let's move on to the number of days in a week. One account of why we recognize a 7-day week as the official way to mark time is that Roman Emperor Constantine declared that the Christian tradition of a seven-day week should replace the older Roman eight-day week. However, the seven-day week is directly from the Old Testament book of Genesis. Since Christians and Jews both revere this book, it could be doubly offensive.

A final task in creating a PC calendar is in relation to the naming of the months. Even if we move to a 10-day week to escape any Biblical reference, we're still faced with 12 months to rename. You see, the current names of months came from the Romans, who named some of them after their own gods. While these gods haven't been actively worshipped in centuries, you never know what the future may bring, or who might be offended through the use of these pagan names. So, something has got to give.

And the calendar is just the tip of the iceberg! Just think of all of the instances in the arts, sciences, city names, street names, etc., etc. where current and former objects of worship have been referenced. Let's just say the PC crowd would have many decades of job security.

For another humorous look at PC run amok, go to the following link to read a politically correct take-off on the classic Christmas poem, click on the following link
"The Night Before Christmas" created by members of my staff for this occasion.

Parting Thought On Christmas

At the beginning of December, Debi and I took a few days off and went to New York City for a long adult-getaway weekend. Among the many things we did in the Big Apple was to go to Radio City Music Hall to take in the yearly "Rockettes Christmas Spectacular." And it was indeed spectacular (as it should have been, given the ticket prices).

What shocked us was the ending of the performance. Near the end, the Rockettes left the stage, and one would have thought that the performance was over. Yet, to our surprise, Radio City Music Hall had an ending performance featuring the Nativity Scene. And not just a visual of the traditional Nativity Scene.

This Nativity Scene was the whole story of Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus, with real actors and real sets, beginning with Joseph and Mary's trip to Bethlehem, how they were turned away at the Inn, how they wound up in a manger, and how Jesus was born there. Then the Wise Men came and brought their gifts. This finale segment lasted 15-20 minutes.

We were shocked to see such a graphic and sensational presentation of the Nativity Scene in New York -- liberal bastion that it is -- but there it was. Most shocking of all was the ending. A thinly veiled curtain came down, and the following postscript was displayed for all to see:

"He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three more years, He was an itinerant preacher. He never had a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While he was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through a mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had -- His coat. When He was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Over two thousand years have passed, and today He is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever set and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this 'One Solitary Life'."

Wow, you could have blown us over with a feather! To see this tribute to Jesus as the ending to a Christmas extravaganza in New York, of all places, and in Radio City Music Hall (one of New York's centerpieces), was a real shocker. We were so moved and so happy we were there.

With that, let me wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah (or Happy Whatever you may be celebrating) and a very Happy New Year!!

Gary Halbert is the president and CEO of the ProFutures companies, a diversified investment advisory firm located in Austin, Texas. ProFutures offers professional financial planning services to a nationwide base of clients. Mr. Halbert's firm specializes in tactical investing, and its recommended investment programs include mutual funds, managed accounts with professional Investment Advisors and alternative investments. For more information about the programs offered, call 800-348-3601 or visit the website at

Relevant LINKS

The Real War On Christmas (Christian persecution around the world)http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/12/19/opinion/main1135805.shtml

Grinches Working Overtime in Schools

Christmas Warfare

Silent Night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright...

Not quite.

In fact, I think the Baby Jesus would have a hard time sleeping in heavenly peace, with all the racket going on about his birthday.

For several years now, Christian fundamentalists and certain media pundits have been battling major retailers, elected politicians, and school districts over the decades-long watering down of Christmas.

They are supported by political heavyweights like Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who this year insisted that the U.S. Capitol Holiday Tree, after a decade of wearing a secular title, be called the Capitol Christmas Tree again. Likewise, Rev. Jerry Falwell threatened to unleash "700 Christian lawyers" on the City of Boston, if it didn't change the name of its 48-foot spruce from "holiday tree" to "Christmas tree."

The bones of contention are manifold: White House greeting cards wishing the recipients a "Happy Holiday Season," retailers' avoidance of the word "Christmas," schools releasing students for "winter break" instead of "Christmas vacation," and so on.

While some incidents are rather trivial, others appear more serious. Some schools have been reported to ban Christmas carols (even the instrumental versions), Christmas school plays, and even items containing the words Christmas, Christ or St. Nicholas, or any depiction of Christmas symbols such as trees or ornaments.

The Plano Independent School District in Texas shunned even the traditional Christmas colors red and green, telling parents to only bring white plates and napkins to the "winter break party." Also forbidden: red and green clothing and seasonal frosting on cookies. To many concerned Christian parents and conservatives, this means a declaration of war.

In his book The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought, FOX-News anchor John Gibson tells horror stories of discrimination against Christmas and all who believe in it. The Alliance Defense Fund--a conservative legal group--encourages devout Christians to come to the rescue of America's favorite holiday with the phrase "Merry Christmas. It's okay to say it." And a writer on the right-wing WorldNetDaily website went so far to warn of the potential "persecution and outright criminalization of Christianity."

But is Christmas really becoming a four-letter word, or is it some paranoid evangelists' figment of imagination? To me, it looks like a severe case of obsessive-compulsive behavior: The obsessive urge of evangelical Christians to shout their beliefs from every rooftop, and the compulsive need of liberals to maintain political correctness (read: inclusivity) at all costs.

For example, before school reforms all but wiped out Christmas in the classroom, it was often reported that teachers forced non-Christian students to partake in singing Christmas carols in class and writing essays about "What Christmas Means to Me." A curricular lapse that many non-Christian parents felt was inappropriate. So, as usual, the bureaucratic solution was to kill the mosquito with a shotgun: Instead of exempting those minority students from participation, red-tape artists concluded that any display of Christmas at school had to be prohibited.

For my part, I would think that to most children living in the U.S., Christmas would still have a meaning. Do Jews who celebrate Hanukkah not still attend Christmas parties and even give Christmas presents? Growing up, I had a Jewish pen pal and we always exchanged Christmas presents. At very least, Christmas meant that his "gentile friend" had a chance to kiss Annette Alberti under the mistletoe at the Christmas dance (alas, that never happened). For agnostics, there's still Santa Claus and plenty of spiked egg nog to celebrate. You don't have to go to church if you don't want to, this is America!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not an Evangelical Christian (not even a good Catholic), but I find that this "Zero Christmas Tolerance" has taken on ridiculous forms.

Case in point: Michigan 5th-grader Joel Curry who--in the course of the annual "Classroom City" project where students build their own store fronts and sell self-made items to their classmates--sold homemade, candy cane-shaped ornaments with an attached message that explained the religious origin of candy canes.

Apparently, school officials feared this could do irreparable harm to the fragile psyches of other-faith students. Thus, Joel had to remove the messages before selling the canes.

Let's forget for a moment the fact that the purported Christian symbolism of candy canes (white for purity and virgin birth, red for the blood of Christ, hard for the foundation of the Church, etc.) is a myth that's easily debunked by urban legend sites like snopes.com, and that little Joel should have gotten an F for uncritically repeating religious hogwash. Even so, here's a word to the Handley School employees: Get a life.

Similarly, a public library in Memphis, TN, allowed a nativity to be displayed provided the religious icons of Joseph, Mary, and the Baby Jesus were omitted. Only legal action from the ADF brought the three figures back on the scene. Which makes me want to tell both the ueber-liberal librarians and the ADF zealots to get a life. What happened to "Let there be peace on earth?"

Naturally, one overreaction triggers the next. By now, Christian paranoia has swollen to a degree that even innocuous events are turned into end-of-the-world affairs.

For example, a major thorn in the Christian crusaders' side is the fact that some retail chains seem to avoid mention of Christmas in their advertising and store decorations. The AFA called upon all Christians to boycott Target stores for this reason, and Wal-Mart recently caved by promising to put a Christmas page, not just a holiday page, on its website.

"I hope we're not nearing a national meltdown over this," scoffs Cynthia Tucker, editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who calls the ongoing battle over Christmas "the most overblown cultural dispute since a national advice columnist dedicated reams of newsprint to an argument over which way toilet tissue should be hung on the holder."

I agree. The liberals caught in their web of political correctness need some serious detangling. Afterall, Christmas to me was about Santa Claus, presents and Dad cursing about the dog "marking" our tree. The fact that it coincided with the Church's decision to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at that time was an entirely separate issue for me. Who is really offended by a manger scene? Come on! Look at the harmony depicted between man and the animals. Are there no lib's who belong to PETA?

And the others who proclaim so loudly that they want to "put the Christ back in Christmas" should remember the primary Christian values of kindness, compassion, forgiveness and turning the other cheek.

Who knows, if everybody could just loosen up a bit, we may be able to have a merry Christmas after all.

The Danger from Below

If you thought that the cold war was won and that communism was no more, think again. Communism is alive and growing in South America, it's protractors taking advantage of the US' preoccupation with the war on terror by conducting a covert strategy of toppling democratic governments in South America using of all things, the Democratic process.

The most recent victim, Bolivia. Evo Morales a self-ascribed socialist, won the presidential election with a 51% outright majority. His victory was a direct result a year long insurgency funded by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez using money from the oil industry he nationalized upon taking office (he purportedly did this to end the exploitation of the Venezeulan people).

Chavez, who is a disciple of Castro although he claims to be a "socialist", diverted oil money to Bolivia to fund the presence of Cuban "doctors" who conducted organizing activities that resemble union drives of small businesses in the US. This is the same template that Castro used to get Chavez in power in Venezuela.

If you think I'm paranoid, get a load of this. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Morales vowed to halt a U.S.- backed program to eradicate coca, to nationalize the energy industry and to be Washington's "worst nightmare."

Given Bolivia's central location in the continent, it will be even easier for Communists to migrate to the surrounding countries and keep the momentum rolling. With Venezuelan oil money backing them, this effort can be maintained for quite a while.

Chavez fought vehemently to prevent a South American free trade agreement last summer because he knows that the easiest way to topple a government is through poverty and hopelessness. Without the ability create an independent working class, small governments are severely hampered in their efforts to grow their economies. Communism is based on maintaining a dependent class and they fear Capitalism over all other ideologies, including radical Islamic zealots.

If we cannot have a continental agreement, then it is in our best interest to establish trade agreements with as many South American countries as we can, in order to help them grow their economies, improve the livelihoods of their people and make it less likely for "pied pipers" such as Chavez to repeat the damage caused by Castro over 40 years ago.

Doing His Duty

This is a longer one, since the story first broke and IBD responded, there has been more information published about the latest claim of "illegal wiretaps". This one is by a Former Clinton staffer.
Kudo's to the Chicago Tribune for being one of the few Major Papers to publish the facts about this:

From today's Tribune:
President had legal authority to OK tapsBy John SchmidtPublished December 21, 2005

President Bush's post- Sept. 11, 2001, authorization to the National Security Agency to carry out electronic surveillance into private phone calls and e-mails is consistent with court decisions and with the positions of the Justice Department under prior presidents.

The president authorized the NSA program in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. An identifiable group, Al Qaeda, was responsible and believed to be planning future attacks in the United States.

Electronic surveillance of communications to or from those who might plausibly be members of or in contact with Al Qaeda was probably the only means of obtaining information about what its members were planning next. No one except the president and the few officials with access to the NSA program can know how valuable such surveillance has been in protecting the nation.

In the Supreme Court's 1972 Keith decision holding that the president does not have inherent authority to order wiretapping without warrants to combat domestic threats, the court said explicitly that it was not questioning the president's authority to take such action in response to threats from abroad.

Four federal courts of appeal subsequently faced the issue squarely and held that the president has inherent authority to authorize wiretapping for foreign intelligence purposes without judicial warrant.

In the most recent judicial statement on the issue, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, composed of three federal appellate court judges, said in 2002 that "All the ... courts to have decided the issue held that the president did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence ... We take for granted that the president does have that authority."The passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978 did not alter the constitutional situation.

That law created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that can authorize surveillance directed at an "agent of a foreign power," which includes a foreign terrorist group.

Thus, Congress put its weight behind the constitutionality of such surveillance in compliance with the law's procedures.But as the 2002 Court of Review noted, if the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches, "FISA could not encroach on the president's constitutional power."

Every president since FISA's passage has asserted that he retained inherent power to go beyond the act's terms. Under President Clinton, deputy Atty. Gen. Jamie Gorelick testified that "the Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the president has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes."

FISA contains a provision making it illegal to "engage in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute." The term "electronic surveillance" is defined to exclude interception outside the U.S., as done by the NSA, unless there is interception of a communication "sent by or intended to be received by a particular, known United States person" (a U.S. citizen or permanent resident) and the communication is intercepted by "intentionally targeting that United States person."

The cryptic descriptions of the NSA program leave unclear whether it involves targeting of identified U.S. citizens. If the surveillance is based upon other kinds of evidence, it would fall outside what a FISA court could authorize and also outside the act's prohibition on electronic surveillance.

The administration has offered the further defense that FISA's reference to surveillance "authorized by statute" is satisfied by congressional passage of the post-Sept. 11 resolution giving the president authority to "use all necessary and appropriate force" to prevent those responsible for Sept. 11 from carrying out further attacks.

The administration argues that obtaining intelligence is a necessary and expected component of any military or other use of force to prevent enemy action.But even if the NSA activity is "electronic surveillance" and the Sept. 11 resolution is not "statutory authorization" within the meaning of FISA, the act still cannot, in the words of the 2002 Court of Review decision, "encroach upon the president's constitutional power."

FISA does not anticipate a post-Sept. 11 situation. What was needed after Sept. 11, according to the president, was surveillance beyond what could be authorized under that kind of individualized case-by-case judgment. It is hard to imagine the Supreme Court second-guessing that presidential judgment.

Should we be afraid of this inherent presidential power? Of course. If surveillance is used only for the purpose of preventing another Sept. 11 type of attack or a similar threat, the harm of interfering with the privacy of people in this country is minimal and the benefit is immense. The danger is that surveillance will not be used solely for that narrow and extraordinary purpose.

But we cannot eliminate the need for extraordinary action in the kind of unforeseen circumstances presented by Sept.11.

I do not believe the Constitution allows Congress to take away from the president the inherent authority to act in response to a foreign attack. That inherent power is reason to be careful about who we elect as president, but it is authority we have needed in the past and, in the light of history, could well need again.

John Schmidt served under President Clinton from 1994 to 1997 as the associate attorney general of the United States. He is now a partner in the Chicago-based law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw.

AND.....From Investors Business Daily:

Posted 12/19/2005
War on Terror: Shock and outrage have greeted news of the administration's domestic eavesdropping. But just imagine if President Bush were not doing all in his power to protect the American people.

Here's a news story we hope never to see:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2007 — Senators called today for an investigation into reports the Bush administration ignored a flurry of phone calls from overseas to the suspected plotters of the Las Vegas Strip bombings last New Year's Eve.

"Given all the powers that Congress granted President Bush in 2001 to fight the war on terror and to prevent attacks on American soil, this failure to detect the worst attack since 9-11 is unconscionable," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called for hearings on the new information, reported by The New York Times from sources close to the FBI's probe into the Dec. 31, 2006, attack that killed 945 people at seven hotels in the worst terrorist incident since Sept. 11, 2001.

"We now know from phone logs there was an unusual volume of communication between foreign numbers linked to al-Qaida and several people in the Las Vegas area," Rockefeller said. "We want to find out why the government didn't see this attack coming."

The point of this hypothetical case is to frame a question: What's the greater sin — to read the law expansively to protect the American people, or to compromise security to avoid all possible legal trouble? We hear one answer from media elites and other critics of Bush. We strongly suspect most Americans feel differently.

Those who attack the Bush administration for eavesdropping on terror suspects in the U.S. may score a legal point or two. But the White House has at least as much ammunition in the inherent powers granted by the Constitution, court precedent and the 2001 law giving the president broad authority to wage the war on terror.

For example, critics who cite the Supreme Court's key 1972 ruling on domestic surveillance, which went against President Nixon, ignore a key caveat — the court's statement it was not deciding "the scope of the president's surveillance power with respect to the activities of foreign powers, within or without this country."

The Nixon administration pursued home-grown radicals; al-Qaida and other global terror groups qualify as "foreign powers."

Bush is also criticized for not always going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Unnamed officials cited by the Times say this court can OK wiretaps "within hours."

For good reasons, Bush refuses to go into detail to respond to this charge. Tracking terrorists is a game of minutes. It's not hard to imagine the cost of waiting hours to thwart an imminent attack.
Like other wartime presidents, Bush is trying to adjust to threats without violating American freedoms or the balance of constitutional powers. This isn't an exact science. He could err. But some errors are worse than others. Maybe a court will find Bush wrong for approving warrantless eavesdropping by the National Security Agency. Yet how would America react after a second 9-11 if Bush had grounds to act but worried more about lawyers than al-Qaida?
Those who attack him now would show him no mercy then. And — here's the difference — their outrage would be wholly justified.

This president clearly doesn't intend to take such a fainthearted course. His response has been refreshingly defiant. Yes, the story's true, he says. Yes, the spying will go on. Whatever side the Times may be on, there's no doubt George W. Bush is on the side of protecting the American people.

No Tricks on Trade

From Investors Business Daily:

Posted 12/19/2005
Free Trade:

International negotiators appear to have felled a towering redwood among trade barriers. The big beneficiaries will be farmers in poor nations — and consumers in rich ones.

After a lot of cynically and politically generated concern that the talks would end without a deal, World Trade Organization ministers reportedly hit on a last-minute breakthrough Sunday in Hong Kong that will end farm export subsidies by 2013.

This is significant. If actually adopted by the WTO next year as expected, it will open agriculture markets in wealthy nations to farmers from poor countries who have been unable to compete because of government subsidies, especially in the European Union.

The subsidies have let farmers in rich countries sell their goods for less than farmers in developing nations. It's clear that ending this trade-distorting aid will help farmers in poor countries, since they'll have access to markets from which they've been shut out.

Consumers in the subsidizing nations will benefit, as well. Consumers also are the taxpayers who pay bigger tax bills to fund the subsidies governments pay out to farmers. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reckons that protectionist farm supports cost its members $300 billion last year.

Consumers also win because food prices are artificially driven higher in countries that subsidize. Prices will fall under a liberalized trade regime due to competition from developing nations.

Policy Exchange, a British think tank, looked two years ago at the problems created by subsidies and found that EU consumers "pay 42% more for agricultural products than they would if the system were dismantled. Americans pay 10% extra, Japanese more than twice as much. For less well-off families, for whom food takes up a large proportion of household income, freer trade would mean a noticeably higher standard of living."
Farm interests in rich countries will whine about losing their subsidies and put up a bitter fight to keep them. But they're standing on shaky ground. The bulk of subsidies go to the richest farmers — not to struggling family farmers.

The richest 20% of farmers in France get roughly 80% of the subsidies, for instance. In the U.S., 45% of farm subsidies went to the largest 7% of farms in 1999. It's a typical case of flawed policy that benefits some at the expense of others.

Everyone would benefit if all trade barriers were ended. Nothing can boost economies and living standards like free trade across the globe — something even economists on the left agree with.

Look no further than Mexico for proof. Since trade was opened by the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, that country's economy has nearly doubled as its exports to the U.S. tripled.

Imagine what a real global free-trade agreement would do.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Biggest Trade Deficit of Them All

From Investors Business Daily:

Posted 12/16/2005
Immigration: A new study shows no progress in promoting the ability to read English. Cheap labor has social costs, and this could well be one of them.

For those who can read, America is rich in opportunities. Not so for the others. So it's dismaying to learn, from the government's latest National Assessment of Adult Literacy, how many residents lack basic English reading skills. What's worse is the rate of illiteracy hasn't changed since at least the early 1990s.

The study found 11 million Americans 16 or older can't read even simple English. In all, about 30 million adults, or 14% of the adult population, have "below basic" prose skills — meaning they may have trouble reading instructions for taking medicine. The same percentage was "below basic" in 1992.

Put another way, adult basic literacy in America has been stuck at 86%, despite generally rising levels of formal education.

To say nothing changed from 1992 to 2003 isn't quite true. Among blacks, the basic literacy rate climbed to 76% from 70% and among Asian/Pacific Islanders to 86% from 75%. Whites edged up to 93% from 91%.

But among Hispanic adults, the trend is sharply in the other direction. From 1992 to 2003, their basic literacy rate fell from 65% to 56%. In 2003, they accounted for 12% of the overall adult population and 39% of the population with "below basic" English skills.

It's no surprise that a group with a high proportion of native Spanish speakers would have a higher-than-average rate of English illiteracy. But the change in the illiteracy rate among Hispanics from 1992 to 2003 takes more explaining. Why did this group, and not others, seem to lose so much ground?

We can think of at least two possible causes. One is in the schools. Unlike most other non-English speaking immigrants, Hispanic children are subjected to bilingual education that encourages them to continue speaking Spanish and retards their learning of English.

Then there's the impact of illegal immigration, which has soared since the early '90s. The impact of illegals on overall levels of education and literacy isn't hard to guess. Most come here to work in low-paid, low-skill, dead-end jobs; their level of schooling in their native language, much less English, is probably not high.

In the U.S. economy, where knowledge of English is essential for advancement, they pay a price for their lack of such a basic skill. So does society, which struggles to integrate them into the mainstream. Employers who see only the benefits of cheap labor fail to account for those social costs. So do intellectuals and politicians who insist on talking about illegal immigration only in economic terms.

If the influx of unskilled workers is adding to the nation's illiteracy — as the numbers suggest — then cheap, illegal labor is no bargain.

Al Qaida's Bill of Rights - Thank you Congress!

It's nice to know who's on your side during times of war. Will someone please tell me?

From Investors Business Daily:
Tying Our Hands
Posted 12/16/2005

Intelligence: Is torture ever justified? For weeks, Congress has agonized over the question, finally answering "no." But what message do the terrorists take from it?

It started with Abu Ghraib and those embarrassing photos that lowly U.S. soldiers took of captured Iraqis they had humiliated. Critics of the Iraq War gleefully pointed to Yankee perfidy.

Why, they said, these incidents — which didn't begin to compare with Saddam's rape rooms and wood chippers — weren't even equivalent to Baathist monstrosities. Somehow, because committed by soldiers wearing the U.S. Army uniform, they were worse.

There followed court-martials, sentences, a demotion of the general in charge, pious vows that such nastiness wouldn't happen again — and suspicions that the Pentagon's post-9-11 parameters for interrogation authorized the excesses. Had the U.S. broken the Geneva Conventions banning torture of captured enemies?

It wasn't the sort of question our intelligence agents, the Defense Department or the White House needed as they went about protecting us from attack. The administration answered with what it thought was finality: Outside of Abu Ghraib itself, in the wider world of counterterrorism, we were dealing with stateless enemies, none of them subject to Geneva restrictions.

But that didn't satisfy the critics, among them Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He had experienced torture as a Navy pilot captured in Vietnam, and he didn't want our country reduced to that level. So he introduced an amendment to ban such practices.

The White House balked. Does the definition of "torture" include, say, "waterboarding," in which a captive is made to think he's being drowned? And what about that unthinkable hypothetical, the one in which you nab a terrorist thought to have detailed knowledge of a pending attack?
Editorialists at The New York Times and elsewhere who screamed for passage of McCain's amendment danced around that existential issue. But last week President Bush, perhaps in the Yuletide spirit, perhaps wilting before Euro-criticism, but no doubt yielding to mounting congressional sentiment, assented to the McCain amendment, which passed both houses overwhelmingly.

Plenty of parliamentary maneuvering allowed that to happen. Congressman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., inserted language providing that the amendment wouldn't hurt intelligence-gathering. The White House insisted it would continue to define "torture" in any way it plausibly could. Presumably, waterboarding is permitted.

We suppose we're happy Congress and the administration have sent to the world a message consistent with our own prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment."

But we wonder what an al-Qaida operative, plotting another attack on a U.S. facility, might think:
"If they catch me beforehand, they might hold my head under water. But they'll pull it out just in time. OK, I'll live, and I won't be sent to a wood chipper. The virgins can wait."

Nice job, Congress.

When Will Americans Come First?

Russ Feingold is a human piece of excrement.

First he and John McCain penned the Campaign Finance Reform bill which if you read it, makes it impossible for average citizens to run for National Office leaving that area of our live open to only the millionare elite and these incumbent scum (yes, I'm pissed).

Then in June of 2005, he demands a full US surrender in Iraq so that the jihadists can brag to the world that we have no stomach for a fight. He has also supported McCains "Al Qaida Bill of Rights" further signaling weakness to those who would kill us without thinking twice.

Now, he has helped to stonewall the Patriot Act, thereby letting our enemies have full reign to do whatever they please with no more resistance than existed before 9/11.

In the mean time, he has done nothing about illegal immigration, nothing about social security, nothing that would releive our dependency on foreign oil and nothing about the alternative Minimum Tax which will entrap over 19 million tax payers in 2006.

I pray that the next terrorist attack in this country hits the Senate while they're in full session. It's our only hope for the future. Obama, strike them down!!!

From Investors Business Daily:
Victory And Defeat
Posted 12/16/2005

National Security: Even as the election of an Iraqi government marks a victory in the war on terror, some in the Senate consider an FBI agent entering a library a greater threat than al-Qaida blowing one up.

In the space of 24 hours the U.S. experienced perhaps its greatest victory in the war on terror and one of its greatest defeats. As free Iraqis marched to the polls for a third time, this one to elect a permanent government for their new democracy, 47 U.S. senators marched to the Senate floor to thwart renewal of one of the great weapons in the war on terror — the Patriot Act.

The act was passed 99 to 1 four years ago in the aftermath of 9-11. But those on the left had a visceral aversion to many of its provisions, and on Friday they won a big victory when the bill's supporters failed to get the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster against it. The final tally was 52-47.

So though no terrorist attacks have occurred on American soil since its passage and numerous terrorist cells have been broken up, some are putting ideology above national security.

The Patriot Act is not broken and does not need to be fixed. It has been a stunning success.

Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff says the law has resulted in the arrest of 155 people, yielding 142 indictments, the seizure of $25 million in potential terrorist funding and the closure of several unlicensed money-transmittal businesses.

Information sharing facilitated by the Patriot Act was critical to dismantling terror cells in Portland, Ore., Lackawanna, N.Y., and Virginia. Likewise, the act's information-sharing provisions assisted the prosecution in San Diego of those with an al-Qaida drugs-for-weapons plot involving Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

The reaction of the American Civil Liberties Union to the House's approving renewal was to moan that the House failed "to protect the liberty and freedom of innocent Americans."

Adding to the left's Big Brother paranoia was a report in The New York Times that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to monitor e-mails and international telephone calls of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans, often without court authorization.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was "not going to comment on intelligence activities, because intelligence activities by their very nature are activities that are sensitive and should not be compromised."

But comprising U.S. intelligence and U.S. security is par for the course for the Times and others who see nothing wrong in reporting on "secret" CIA prisons and otherwise letting the jihadists know what we're up to.

While it was making its claims, the Times said the program was successful in disrupting terrorist plots. It cited the case of Ohio trucker Lyman Harris, who in 2003 pleaded guilty to supporting al-Qaida by planning to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.

We are in a war between civilization and those who would return the planet to a very dark age. Americans understand that whether it be Abraham Lincoln suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War or the U.S. renewing the Patriot Act, no liberties will remain if our nation does not survive. The Constitution is not a suicide pact.

Democrats are all about protecting our civil liberties, but they forget that on 9-11 the rights of some 3,000 people were violated when they were blown off the face of the earth.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Weaving A Country

From Investors Business Daily:
Posted 12/15/2005

The Iraq Election:
It was a day when everything went right. Iraqis of all stripes — Sunni Arab, Kurd, Shiite — flocked to the polls. Violence was sporadic at worst. So why not indulge in some optimism for a change?

We direct that question at observers such as Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, who was doing his best Thursday to play down the prospects of peace, stability and democracy in Iraq. "The truth of the matter is, there's a simmering civil war here," he told CNN.

Biden does see a glimmer of hope in the latest election and the prospects for a fairer constitution. But if the differences among Iraqis aren't hashed out in six months, he predicted, "we haven't seen anything like the civil war you'll see then, and I'm afraid it will develop into a regional war."

This image of Iraq as a country on the brink of chaos is a staple of the "realists" who think President Bush is on a quixotic mission to plant democracy in a land that has never known it and never will. Its subtext is that Iraqis, and most other people of the Middle East, are too consumed by ancient sectarian and ethnic hatreds to live together without autocratic supervision.

By itself, Thursday's voting doesn't fully refute such a pessimistic view. It'll take time — a lot more than Biden's six-month timetable — to see if Iraq can truly remain a viable democracy for the long run.
It's true that the constitution is still a work in progress and that fundamental issues of power-sharing, allocation of oil wealth and protection of minority rights are still being worked out. Iraqis have a challenging agenda, no doubt about that.

But consider the challenges they faced just over two years ago. The U.S. invasion removed a totalitarian dictatorship and left them to build a nation from scratch. Not only did they have no experience with self-government, but also they were divided by religious sects, ethnicity and violent oppression that cried out for revenge.

And the Americans, at least at first, were doing distressingly little to keep order.

The ingredients were there for war. What happened instead was that most Iraqis — Shiites and Kurds — eschewed violence from the start and pinned their hopes on a democracy.

Sunni Arabs took a more roundabout path that, we now see, has reached the same end. At first they rejected the democratic experiment, and many of them cast their lot with the insurgency.

But after boycotting the January 2005 elections and letting Shiites and Kurds shape the new
constitution, they realized what a serious mistake they had made. On Thursday, they crowded polling places even in insurgent strongholds such as Ramadi.

This is not the behavior of people sliding toward civil war. Rather, it's democratic nation-building in action.

Thursday's vote will advance that project in a number of ways — by giving Sunni Arabs a significant share of parliamentary seats, weakening sectarian Shiite parties and encouraging coalition-building among secular Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds. The prospects for a fully representative government have grown much brighter.

The political haggling to shape the new government may not be quick or quiet. Ditto for the debate over the constitution, which the Sunnis want changed to prevent their own marginalization in the new Iraq. Politics being politics, there will be strife. Doomsayers will continue to see war in the wings.

But as long as the vast majority of Iraqis decide they'd rather live in peace than shed one another's blood, they'll continue to prove the pessimists wrong. As Zuhiar al-Zahawi, a Sunni living in Baghdad, told The New York Times: "We will talk to each other, and we will connect with each other, and we will weave the country together like a piece of cloth."

His fellow citizens have already gone a long way toward making that hope a reality.

Home-Grown Evil

From Investors Business Daily:
Posted 12/15/2005

Islamist fanatics want us dead. Domestic radicals are focused on material and economic destruction. But that's for now. One day, someone's going to get killed by the home-grown terrorists among us.

Six suspects were arrested last week in five states in connection with a series of arsons and other crimes in Oregon and Washington that over three years destroyed about $5 million worth of property.

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) have taken responsibility for the crimes.

For ELF, $5 million is an off day. The damage it has wreaked crossed the $100,000 threshold years ago. Among other achievements, the "if you build it, we will burn it" crowd has firebombed a Vail, Colo., ski resort that did an estimated $12 million in damage and torched a five-story, 206-unit condominium building near San Diego that cost $50 million.

It has also incinerated a number of SUVs and luxury homes and committed 3,000 other environmental crimes, according to those who've tried to keep track.

Meanwhile, those who oppose keeping animals in captivity, using them for medical tests or wearing their fur have been no less eager to make their points.

So far, thank goodness, no one's been killed by the groups, both of which claim to be nonviolent. But to believe they can continue to destroy property without destroying human life is wishful thinking. In a tragic moment, someone will be caught in a building or home to which they have set fire. That someone could be a firefighter or police officer.

Or will these groups, which think of themselves as noble defenders of nature, step up their violence to the point that killing innocents is part of their strategy? We wouldn't be surprised.
Earlier this year, John Lewis, FBI deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, told a Senate hearing of an "escalation in violent rhetoric and tactics" by ecoterrorists. The attacks, he said, "are also growing in frequency and size."

"Harassing phone calls and vandalism now coexist with improvised explosive devices and personal threats to employees."

No wonder the FBI in 2001 placed ELF at the top of the list of domestic terrorist threats, and that ALF was named in January as a terrorist threat by the Homeland Security Department.

The arsonists and vandals who belong to these groups are vicious criminals, not high-minded people simply trying to protect that which they hold dear. Treating them as anything less will only encourage them — and the consequences will be fatal.

Unholy Alliance

From Investors Business Daily:
Posted 12/15/2005

An ad in The New York Times this week shows that the Christmas debate is about more than political correctness. It's part of a campaign to remove religious impediments to the left's secular agenda.

Taken out by a group calling itself World Can't Wait (WCW), the ad was ostensibly an anti-capitalist and anti-war tome opposing the war on terror and the liberation on Iraq. In the process it managed to lay the blame at the feet of those it called "home-grown Christian fascists."

You'd think "fascists and religious fanatics" would have been a phrase reserved for the regime of Saddam Hussein and those who park car bombs that kill children. But WCW applies the term to members of the Bush administration, charging that the U.S. government "is moving each day closer to a theocracy where a narrow and hateful brand of Christian fundamentalism will rule."

The list of signatories to the WCW ad read like a loony left hall of fame. It included Jane Fonda, from the People's Republic of Hollywood, who once said, "If you understood what communism was, you would hope, you would pray on your knees that we would some day become communist." The irony of praying for communism apparently escaped Barbarella.

Also on the list are such notables as Cindy Sheehan who, despite her son's willing and noble sacrifice, once said, "This country is not worth dying for." Then there was Ward Churchill, the nutty professor from Colorado who called the dead of 9-11 "little Eichmanns," and Mumia Abu-Jamal, poster child for cop killers and counted as one of America's "political prisoners."

WCW, as Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly notes, was founded in part by the Revolutionary Communist Party. Joined by fellow right-wing conspirator John Gibson, author of "The War on Christmas," O'Reilly has been leading the charge in exposing those striving to strip Christmas of all religious content and to suppress religious expression to make it easier to advance their secular agenda.

The "Christianity as a threat" theme in the Times ad echoes campaigns by the American Civil Liberties Union and others. The ACLU, of course, has been "against America from the beginning," as a new book, "The ACLU Vs. America" by Alan Sears and Craig Osten, makes clear.

The book starts off with a quote from ACLU founder Roger Baldwin: "I am for socialism, disarmament and ultimately for abolishing the state itself as an instrument of violence and compulsion. I seek social ownership of property, the abolition of the propertied class, and sole control by those who produce wealth. Communism is the goal."

So, apparently, is the removal of the true meaning of Christmas from the public square and American consciousness. We see it in the campaigns against appeals court nominee William Pryor and Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Both have been attacked as Catholics faithful to the teachings of their church whose faith threatens our rights and the fair administration of justice.

In announcing the birth of our nation, the Founding Fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we were endowed not by government, but by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This government, founded by people motivated by their faith, seeks to spread liberty and freedom worldwide as it protects them here.

The secular left believes something else — that all rights come from government, specifically a "living Constitution" interpreted by activist judges. That is what really drives their agenda, from opposing the liberation of Iraq to fighting the public display of manger scenes.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Right Turns

Sent to me by my good freind Paul Hittler (note: 2-T's, no relation)

A young woman was about to finish her first year of college.

Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, and was very much in favor of the redistribution of wealth.

She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunchRepublican, a feeling she openly expressed.

Based on the lectures that she hadparticipated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his. One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the addition of more government welfare programs.

The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father.

He responded by asking how she was doing in school. Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend, and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, "How is your friend Audrey doing?"

She replied, "Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus, college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties, and lots of times she doesn't even showup for classes because she's too hung over."

Her wise father asked his daughter, "Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct a 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA."

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back, "That wouldn't be fair! I have worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while Iworked my tail off!"

The father slowly smiled, winked, and said gently, "Welcome to the Republican Party."

Alive and Still Free

From Investors Business Daily:
Posted 12/13/2005

Patriot Act: Four years of responsible behavior by the feds should count for something, as should four years of effective defense against terrorist attacks.

As the House and Senate prepare this week to vote on renewing the most crucial law in the global war on terror, it's worth nothing two big things that have not happened since Sept. 11, 2001.

First, there has been no major act of terrorism on U.S. soil since then. The toll in America — including such things as the anthrax mailings that killed five shortly after 9-11 — is still remarkably low.

After all, America is the prime target of Islamist terror networks. Effective law enforcement must get some credit, as should the legal tools given to federal authorities in the Patriot Act, passed in the fall of 2001 by overwhelming majorities in Congress.

This brings us to the other dog that didn't bark. Despite much hand-wringing over the imminent death of privacy and other civil liberties under the Patriot Act, real (as opposed to hypothetical) life has not changed much for Americans.

We still live in a free country. Nightmare scenarios — like that of innocent citizens being hauled off in handcuffs for checking out the wrong library book — have not materialized.

The federal government does have more power than before 9-11 to gather data and share it among agencies, notably the FBI and CIA. Use of that power has been watched by a skeptical press and libertarians, both left and right. Patriot Act critics still aren't happy, but they've not turned up major abuses or rights violations.

That lack of hard evidence against the Patriot Act won't stop the debate over the what-ifs. Every power given to government carries some potential for abuse, and the hypothetical should never be completely ignored.

But there is also a four-year track record to consider. Since the Patriot Act was signed into law, the government by all fact-based accounts appears to have used it appropriately. In other words, it's showing itself able to carry out its new wartime security activities while respecting Americans' traditional liberties.

Will it continue to do so? No one can guarantee that, and there will always be a need for oversight from Congress and responsible private groups. But there's also no turning back to the pre-9-11 limits on surveillance and data sharing.

The old rules were adequate for solving crimes and building prosecutable cases. What 9-11 showed was the urgent need to detect suspicious activity, interpret it accurately and thwart terrorist plots before a massacre.

Last week, House and Senate Republicans worked out a deal to extend the Patriot Act provisions that were due to expire this month. Most of the law would be made permanent, with a couple of controversial sections — including one allowing searches of library records — extended for four years. This is a reasonable response to the continuing terror threat and the government's good behavior.

Some Democrats and Republicans have proposed extending the Patriot Act for only three months to prolong the debate over which provisions to make permanent and which to change. And at least one Democrat, Russ Feingold, threatened to filibuster the bill before the Senate this week.

Both moves would send the wrong signal — that America is becoming complacent about terror and is willing to weaken the legal foundations of its war on terror. The Patriot Act needs to be renewed now because it is working exactly as it should.

Rich Man's Tax' Goes Middle Class

They have time to investigate steriods in baseball and debate the definition of torture, but ask them to represent their constituents on an issue that directly affects them and the Senate goes silent.

From Investors Business Daily:
Posted 12/14/2005

Fiscal Policy: Senate leaders now say they likely won't do anything about the alternative minimum tax this year. There may be good reasons for that. But if they let it slide too long, they risk a major taxpayer revolt.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Majority Leader Bill Frist said "in all likelihood" the Senate wouldn't be able to conclude a deal with the House to cut $30 billion from the alternative minimum tax, or AMT.

Before you tune out, understand this: The AMT, originally intended as a kind of tax-code punishment for a handful of millionaires who didn't pay any taxes, now hits many people in the middle class. In the next few years, it will hit millions more Americans.

William Beach, the Heritage Foundation's top numbers cruncher, recently recalled that he once asked former Sen. Bob Packwood how many people he thought it would affect. Packwood's answer was simple: not more than 150, all fat cats who had used clever tax accounting and various loopholes.

Thanks to bracket creep from inflation and an insatiable appetite for tax revenues (which keep the government from really fixing the problem), more and more people are pushed into the AMT zone.
This year, 3.4 million Americans will have to pay the AMT; next year, the number will soar to 18 million. By 2010, nearly 30 million Americans will pay the "rich man's tax."

That's Washington in a nutshell: A tax that was created by Democrats in the 1970s to snare a handful of millionaires ends up hammering millions of struggling middle-class taxpayers — the very people Democrats now claim to represent. Today, even people earning as little as $30,000 to $50,000 get hit.

Apart from the obvious unfairness of the AMT, there are some big economic and political problems with all this.

The main economic problem is that AMT filers generally pay higher tax rates than other people. Their general rates are 26% and 28% — compared with an effective tax rate of less than 20% for other filers. Many if not most of those affected are small-business owners. So the AMT will work as a tax on enterprise, entrepreneurialism and job creation — just what you don't want a tax to do.

According to Beach's calculations, 1.9 million small businesses will pay the tax this year; that will surge to 6 million in 2006. Small businesses account for most of the job growth in this country.
Firms with bigger tax bills will hire fewer workers and invest less in their own businesses. It's an economic hit we can ill afford.

The AMT is growing so fast that it will soon be the largest source of income tax in the code. By 2008, it will be less costly to repeal the regular income tax than to get rid of the AMT. As economist Alan Reynolds has noted, the AMT will raise an extra $104.5 billion in 2010; repealing the income tax for all other taxpayers would amount to just $57.8 billion.

Enough of this craziness. The Senate is apparently wringing its hands over Washington's version of "Sophie's Choice": Do we reform the out-of-control AMT or keep rates low on capital gains? That's the big debate right now.

In our opinion, the economy that's now growing so powerfully is a case for doing both. Each would stimulate future growth.

2006 is an election year. Leaving the AMT as is will do only one thing: anger millions of voters. Maybe that will get our representatives' attention, even if the economic justifications don't.

Medicaid Meltdown

From Investors Business Daily:

Posted 12/14/2005
Entitlement: The Medicaid program threatens to bankrupt the states, and governors have joined with the Bush administration to seek savings. But senators of both parties who refuse to face reality stand in the way.

Medicaid spending has grown by an annual average of 9.5% the last four years, with the federal share reaching nearly $185 billion.

It's also become the biggest item in state budgets. "Medicaid at 53 million Americans is going to bankrupt all of the states," National Governors Association Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., has warned. "We are on the road to a meltdown."

Fraud and waste in the system are rampant. This year it was even discovered that registered sex offenders were getting Medicaid-funded Viagra prescriptions.

Governors have called for modest savings, such as increasing some Medicaid co-payments to $5 from the current $3 and charging modest premiums and imposing deductibles on families above the poverty line. The House of Representatives approved a bill containing these reforms, with support from the White House.

But there are cries that poor people won't go to the doctor if they have to hand over even the most modest of co-payments. Senators actually fear they'll be branded as heartless for asking for five bucks for a government-financed doctor's visit.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, even presided over a Senate-passed expansion of Medicaid to extend coverage to middle-income families with disabled children who can afford to purchase private insurance.

And joining with Democrats, moderate Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon refuses to cut costs. Instead, he wants the establishment of a bipartisan panel to study Medicaid.

For the states, however, there's nothing to study, and they've already begun to act unilaterally. Thirty-four have reduced benefits in the last several years. Tennessee has already excluded more than 200,000 people from the Medicaid rolls, and Missouri is dropping 100,000.

The much-touted Congressional Budget Office analysis that "about 17 million people — 27% of Medicaid enrollees — would ultimately be affected by the cost-sharing provisions of the (current House of Representatives) bill" is proving to be a moot point. Millions are going to be affected eventually anyway.

The only question is whether the states will make the cuts in the panicky context of their inevitable budget crises or Congress will step up now and cut costs in a more rational fashion.

Real reform of health care for the poor would include helping those at low incomes purchase private insurance — which is far more efficient and cost-effective than Medicaid. Hundreds of millions of dollars could also be saved by placing Medicaid recipients in managed private health care plans, as Texas has done.

Meantime, it shouldn't be too much to ask that those whose health care is being paid for by their fellow citizens practice a little personal responsibility by shouldering a few dollars of the cost every time they receive services or medicine.

Homemade Deficits

From Investors Business Daily:

Posted 12/14/2005
Trade: Anxiety over trade deficits is misguided. Still, it's funny how deficit alarmists never recommend an obvious solution: reduce reliance on foreign energy.

The Commerce Department on Wednesday reported a U.S. trade gap for October exceeding all forecasts, as industrial materials purchased from overseas climbed by more than $3.5 billion.

Lots of protectionist Chicken Littles are running around warning of dire consequences if American consumers and businesses continue to seek and find bargains on cars, appliances and attire in the global marketplace.
But a big reason we're wealthy enough to buy so much from abroad is that our economy is growing so much faster than Japan's, Germany's and most other industrialized countries. Those nations' economies would be in trouble without their U.S. customers.

The trade deficit does highlight serious concerns surrounding our reliance on foreign nations for oil and natural gas. In October, we imported 305 million barrels of crude oil, 26 million barrels more than in September. Our annual trade deficit from oil is close to $130 billion — a tripling in just one decade (see chart).
While the media wring their hands over a nonexistent "real estate bubble," OPEC is poised to keep oil prices high by cutting output early next year. Analysts at Goldman Sachs predict we may soon be hit by a "super spike" in oil prices that could last for four years — thanks to high demand and low supply growth.

We're not that gloomy, but others are. Interior Secretary Gale Norton warned this week that "America is on the cusp of an energy crisis." Drilling in a tiny 2,000-acre portion of the 19-million-acre Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, she noted, would provide more oil than now supplied by any other state, including Texas.
It "would supply every drop of petroleum for Florida for 29 years, New York for 34 years, Illinois for 43 years." That's a lot of oil.

It would also mean hundreds of thousands of jobs. As Norton also said, the U.S. would have as much as a million barrels more a day to use if drilling in ANWR hadn't been vetoed by President Clinton.

We wouldn't just stop at ANWR. We need a green light from government on exploration in the Rocky Mountains, the continental shelves and other promising offshore areas. Regulatory relief is also vitally needed, especially in the overworked refining sector.

We're free traders on most issues. But when it comes to oil, we'd rather not send billions of dollars to questionable regimes in the Mideast that even now are helping fund jihad against the West.

Why the Republicans Can't Get Anything Done

I know that many of you, like myself, follow politics and related issues closely. Like me, you have probably been surprised at the utter failure of President Bush's second term legislative agenda. People ask the following all the time: Aren't Republicans the majority in BOTH houses of Congress; don't they control ALL the committees; and don't they determine and set the agenda? The answer is obviously yes, yes and yes!

So why then hasn't President Bush been able to get anything done in his second term? A lack of leadership is usually the first thing that comes to mind when reviewing the causes of the Bush legislative failure. That is certainly a part of it, and you may recall that I have criticized President Bush and the GOP leadership numerous times in past E-Letters. But blame can't simply be laid at the feet of George Bush, Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert.

The bottom line is that while the Republicans do hold a majority in both houses of Congress, the fact is that "conservatives" do NOT hold a majority in both houses. There are quite a number of so-called "moderate" (read: liberal) Republicans in the House and Senate that do not support President Bush's agenda, and probably should move to the Democrat Party.

A new article by Paul Weyrich, CEO of the Free Congress Research & Education Foundation, and long-time champion of conservative causes, does an excellent job of bringing the failure of Bush's second term into specific focus. Weyrich provides us with the core reason for our legislative malaise in his article entitled "A Leadership Lacking Spirit."

In this blog, I'm going to summarize Weyrich's latest article, and provide some additional insights of my own as to why I think the conservative legislative agenda has been stalled in Congress. What you read below may help you understand the lack of progress on key conservative issues in Washington.

Please Note: While I am not a member of any political party, and have never been, I am a "conservative" (i.e. -- on the right) on most issues. So read on with that in mind.

The Conservatives Are In Control, Right?
Many conservatives felt that with Bush in the White House in 2000, and with the overwhelming wins by Republican congressional candidates in 2002 and 2004, we would usher in an era long dreamed of by those of us on the right. It was an opportunity to advance the conservative agenda: 1) above all, to rein in government spending; 2) to continue Ronald Reagan's vision of limited government; and 3) subsequently, to make Bush's tax cuts permanent.

But as we all know, none of that has happened. And much has happened on President Bush's watch that conservatives abhor. More on that later.

Paul Weyrich puts it like this:
"When President Bush won re-election by a healthy margin and when Republicans increased their margins in both Houses of Congress, expectations ran high. Conservatives believed that, at last, good things could be done by the Congress and these good things surely would be signed by the President. The elected Leadership in both Houses at the beginning of the 109th Congress was the most conservative it had been since the 1920s."

However, ever since control of Congress passed from the Democrats to the Republicans, it seems that conservative issues have been stalled, stymied or even defeated outright. Many, myself included, have scratched our heads and wondered why such issues as the Education Bill, the Farm Bill, steel tariffs and the Medicare prescription drug program have sailed through Congress, while other issues such as limited government, spending cuts and Social Security reform hit a wall.

To this question, Weyrich offers a simple answer: Liberal Republicans.

No, Liberal Republicans Are In Control
The US House of Representatives is comfortably in the hands of the GOP. However, that is not to say that it is safely in the hands of conservatives. It is not. Weyrich goes on with how the liberal Republicans in the House have disrupted a great deal of legislation. He writes:

"Liberal Republicans have tremendous leverage over the rather Conservative [House] Leadership. They are the margin of victory or defeat. A majority, 218 votes if all 435 Members vote, is required to pass legislation in the House. Republicans hold 232 seats. There are anywhere from 22 to 26 Liberal Republicans depending upon the issue. That means that the Leadership could have between 206 and 210 votes to pass measures but would be short of the majority required."

"Unless Liberal Republicans get their way they won't go along with the Leadership, not even to vote for bills aimed at keeping the government going. Thus the House Leadership found itself on the short end of votes when the FY 2006 Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill was up for consideration. All 201 Democrats voted against the Bill. The GOP Leadership thought it had the votes but when the roll call was taken the Leadership was a few votes short. The vote was a tremendous embarrassment for the GOP Leadership."

"Likewise, the Deficit Reduction Act, a reconciliation bill, had to be pulled. First, Liberal Republicans demanded that Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and offshore drilling for oil and natural gas be stricken from the Bill. The Leadership reluctantly agreed because without the votes of Liberal Republicans the Bill could not be passed. When the Leadership pulled those items from the Bill it angered Members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the caucus of House Conservatives. The RSC Members threatened to bring down the Deficit Reduction Bill, which the Leadership pulled from the calendar so as not to cause the Bill to be defeated ."

Surprised? Sadly, we shouldn't be. While the more conservative elements of the GOP are firmly in control of the House Leadership, they are frequently forced to compromise on conservative ideas in order to appease the more liberal members of their own party.

The Democrats have frequently whined about how the Republican leadership holds votes open longer than the allotted time. The reason for this is clear: they don't have enough Republican votes to pass their agenda , so they have to resort to arm twisting, compromise, or remove the bill from the floor to avoid embarrassment.

So the situation is that, while Republicans have a majority in the House of Representatives, conservatives obviously do not. Americans who assumed that they elected conservative candidates simply because they were Republicans are now learning that they may have elected foxes to guard the henhouse, in some cases.

What About Senate Republicans?
In the Senate, liberal Republicans are more likely to do their dirty work through committee. Due to their current 55-45 margin, the GOP commands a two-vote advantage on each committee. This, by itself, is excellent news, but Weyrich points out that there are at least seven liberal Republicans in the Senate, and they sit on virtually every important committee. This situation alters the voting landscape dramatically, as Weyrich explains:

"The Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, is comprised of ten Republicans and eight Democrats. If one Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee were to oppose a judicial nominee, the vote would be 9-9, which usually means the nomination would fail."

Through the use of powerful committee assignments, liberal Republicans are able to influence legislation in an environment that is out of the view of most Americans. While most committee meetings are open to the public, few people ever take them in. Weyrich provided an example of this tactic in the person of Senator Olympia Snowe, as follows:

"Liberal Republicans usually operate the way Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) did in the Senate Finance Committee. Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) was attempting to move legislation which would have made President George W. Bush's tax cuts permanent. Senate Finance Committee Democrats, who believe tax cuts would give them fewer dollars to spend on federal programs, opposed the Grassley Bill. Snowe voted with the Democrats and Grassley was forced to postpone consideration of the measure and to negotiate with Snowe."

Imagine this scenario replayed in other committees and you begin to get an idea of the gravity of the problem. This is the type of political gamesmanship you would expect from the opposition party, not the party in power. Right? Well this is a portrait of the sad state of affairs in Washington today. The will of the people, the will of the party is meaningless. It has all been reduced to a never-ending battle over personal power and agendas. So is the present condition in Washington.

Conservative Democrats To The Rescue?
Are liberal Republicans something new? No. There have always been Congressmen who have been identified as RINOs, or "Republicans In Name Only." Remember former Republican and now "Independent" Jim Jeffords of Vermont? His liberal leanings finally caused him to leave the GOP, to which I say 'good riddance.' And I'm sure that many of those who Weyrich may consider to be liberal Republicans are not new to their elected posts.

In times past, however, it was always a fact of life that there were some conservative Democrats who would usually vote with the bulk of the Republicans and move forward with a conservative agenda. Perhaps the best example of a conservative Democrat was now-retired Senator Zell Miller of Georgia (we miss him). Not only did he vote consistently with conservatives, but he was also the keynote speaker at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Don't hold your breath until Ted Kennedy gets that honor!

But that was then, and this is now. As we head into the 2006 election year, the Democrats smell blood in the water. When you have a recent ABC News poll showing voters trust Democrats more than Republicans on economic and defense matters, there's opportunity in the air. They see President Bush's approval ratings plummeting and the Republicans in general disarray, so why cooperate in any way when a big change may be just down the road in 2006, so they think? Along this line, Weyrich writes:

"Usually Republicans can count on a handful of Democrats, twenty-some to be more precise, to pass appropriations bills or other controversial measures which come before the House of Representatives. Not now. Even the most reasonable Democrat again sees him- or herself as a committee or subcommittee chair after a dozen years in the wilderness. So Democrats are not about to help Republicans enact any legislation."

Not Only Liberal Republicans Are To Blame
Are the so-called Liberal Republicans the only ones to blame for the total legislative failure of the Bush second term? Frankly, no. President Bush and his administration have done an awful job of communicating with the American people (particularly to their base) regarding the reality of the legislative and congressional situation. Consider Weyrich's simple statement:

"Republicans have a majority in Congress but Conservatives do not have a majority. Expectations were built upon the assumption that Congress was Conservative. The elected Leadership reinforced that perception. Now comes reality. Liberal Republicans hold the balance of power. The Leadership either compromises or loses." [Emphasis added]

Nothing I have read more perfectly summarizes the GOP's plight better than the above quote, and this is what you need to understand (frankly, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, conservative or liberal). The liberal Republicans are pretty much running the show. As a result, the Bush administration is floundering in terms of pushing its agenda, whatever that may be.

At the same time, supposedly conservative members of Congress have also not helped themselves in the eyes of their constituencies by approving pork-laden legislation such as the Transportation Bill. By continuing to expand governmental spending, and thus government itself, they abandon their supposed allegiance to the ideals that got them elected in the first place. Put differently, they simply succumb to the politics of it all. And they are not alone.

President Bush also deserves some of the blame. I know some of my readers don't like it when I criticize the president, but to pretend that the current political situation is anything other than a disappointment would be irresponsible. It is important to keep in mind that I have never held back from criticizing any president -- Democrat or Republican -- when I felt it was needed, and in this case, President Bush rightly deserves some criticism. Here's why.

To begin with, President Bush campaigned both times as a strong conservative, yet he has been anything but conservative on a number of issues. Steel tariffs, the farm bill, the highway bill, prescription drugs, etc., etc. Bush has yet to veto anything! As a result, we have record large budget deficits.

Bottom line: if there is a Democratic sweep in the 2006 elections, which I still doubt at this point, it may not come because more liberals are energized to vote, but because too many conservatives are too disappointed to go to the polls.

How We Got These Liberal Republicans
Everyone knows that Republicans are supposed to be conservative, right? After all, the Republican Party platform is replete with conservative ideals of lower taxes, less government, more power at the state level, a strong defense, etc., etc. So, how can someone running under that banner actually be a closet liberal?

There are lots of theories about this, but here are a couple of reasons I think are interesting. The first is that there are very few people who are completely conservative or completely liberal on every single issue. In fact, it is almost ridiculous to believe that all of the disparate beliefs and values of all Americans could be neatly categorized into two competing political parties. In between the far right wing and the far left wing are a multitude of shades of gray. As a result, some elected officials reflect these views in the middle, and that means they will oppose their own party on some issues.

Another reason why we have liberal Republicans might be illustrated by the history down in Texas. There was a time in Texas that if you wanted to be elected, you had to run as a Democrat. Regardless of one's ideology, Republicans just didn't get elected, period. Yet, in the 1980s (thanks in part to Ronald Reagan), all that began to change. This can be illustrated by the number of prominent Texas politicians who have switched from the Democratic Party over to the Republican Party. Former senator Phil Graham, former Texas governor John Connally, current Texas governor Rick Perry and a host of other lesser-known politicians all saw that their conservative views were out of place in the national Democratic Party, so they followed their principles to the party that best fit their political philosophies.

The fact is, this is not just a Texas phenomenon; it exists in many parts of the country. The only difference is that in recent years, it has been more popular to be a Republican than a Democrat. As a result, some liberals now realize that they must run as a Republican to get elected, even though they may not agree with much, if any, of the supposed Republican agenda.

Addicted To Politics At Any Price
While the four paragraphs above are indeed accurate, it is my view that the main reason we have liberal Republicans is simply the "Washington Mentality." The political reality in Washington is decidedly liberal.

"Political correctness" abounds. Otherwise conservative leaders go to Washington, and unless they are deeply rooted in their convictions, they tend to migrate to the liberal side of the spectrum over time.

They also get addicted to politics, the grandeur of it all and especially the social life in Washington. This, too, has a way of changing their thinking on the issues. Staying in office becomes more important than their views on the issues. Staying in office may mean voting for pork barrel legislation, even if you don't really agree with it, especially if you can deliver some pork to your constituents back home, who may then vote to re-elect you.

It's a nasty and vicious cycle, which only benefits those in office.

So, What Should Conservatives Do Now?
For starters, President Bush and the GOP should adopt a genuine agenda and then stick to it. While the Republicans love to blast the Democrats for their constant attacks and for not having a legislative agenda and real ideas for solving our problems, the fact is, the GOP doesn't really have an agenda either. Granted, it is difficult for conservatives to have a defined agenda when they are not really in control of their own party. But worst of all, their excuse is that if they reveal their true agenda, it would provide far too much "ammunition" to the Democrats and give far too much leverage to the liberal Republicans. How weak!

Secondly, conservatives in Washington also fail to recognize another point. If they were to articulate a truly conservative agenda, it would force the hands of those "centrists" who have hijacked the Congress. This would allow the leadership to clearly and publicly identify who is, and who is not, in support of the agenda and why. Would this really work? I think so as does Weyrich:

"Most Liberal Republicans have been in Washington long enough to chair either [a] committee or subcommittee. The Leadership should get the Republican Conference in both Houses to adopt a legislative agenda. Senators and Congressmen would be told in advance that the agenda would include party discipline votes. If a Senator or Congressman would not vote for the GOP agenda he or she could not chair a committee or subcommittee. Just watch how reasonable some Liberal Republicans would become. Chairmanships bring prestige. They bring the opportunity to move issues of interest to the chairs. They bring additional staff and monies with which to run the committee or subcommittee. Few willingly would give up those chairmanships for the sake of voting against ANWR or other divisive issues."

Apparently, the conservative leadership -- and President Bush -- have concluded that such a bold move is too heavy handed, but in fact, it isn't. Most of you will remember the "Contract With America" in 1994. That is the same type of concept that we need today. The Contract was very successful, so much so that Bill Clinton often co-opted many of its core issues as his own. More importantly the public responds to that type of leadership and initiative. Sadly, that is precisely what has been lacking from this Congress and this administration for some time.

Another possibility would be to take a page from Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's book. Koizumi, a reformer, had set forward a bold agenda for Japan. His reform initiatives met stiff resistance in the Japanese legislative body. Many in Koizumi's own party went against him.

So, Koizumi took his case directly to the people. He also selected a number of "replacement" candidates for the upcoming elections. Placing his personal credibility and agenda on the line, Koizumi campaigned for and vigorously supported these candidates. When the results were tallied, most of these candidates won, and Koizumi's legislative agenda was quickly adopted.

For reasons I still do not understand, President Bush has never taken his case to the American people. He has never used the "bully pulpit." Why not go on national TV and plead your case directly to the people as Ronald Reagan did so often? Yes, he has been distracted by the war in Iraq. But that is no excuse, in my opinion. Weyrich agrees:

"If the Leadership would say, 'We simply do not have enough Conservatives to do what you want. Send us 15 more House Members and 6 more Senators and we'll produce the most remarkable record of the past century. Until we get those extra Members we can't give you what you are expecting'."

Why not just tell the American people the truth? Why not tell conservatives that it is liberal Republicans that are the problem? But apparently, President Bush and the conservatives in Congress believe they are too weak as a party, and too fractured, to attempt anything of the sort. This is sad!

Conclusions: The Trouble With Power
In the commodity futures business, there is a saying - 'the solution for high prices is high prices.' We've seen that saying played out in the energy markets this year. Well in politics, there's a similar saying, 'the trouble with being in power is being in power.' The sad truth is, the GOP seems to have fallen victim to its own success.
When a political party is in the 'wilderness,' their various elements are forced to close ranks and unite in order to find their way back. The party in power grows fat and happy and eventually its fringe elements rise up to the surface and find themselves in a position to "wag the dog." This typically causes the party in power to implode and the opposition then takes over and the cycle repeats. It could well be that the GOP is up against such a political force of nature.

But for now, the liberal Republicans are in control. They know it, and the Democrats know it. President Bush and the conservatives in Congress should expose this reality and put forth a truly conservative agenda. President Bush should take to the airwaves and explain to the country why he has not been able to advance his agenda, assuming he has one. He should specifically identify those in the Republican Party who are the problem.

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? So why is this not at least an option under consideration?

I could write volumes on this subject, but fortunately space does not permit. The bottom line is that the political process has devolved to the point that few in Washington want to take strong positions. It's hard to tell Republicans from Democrats and conservatives from liberals, at least in Washington.

Part of me believes there is still a remote chance to change all that, but I don't think President Bush and his advisors have the courage or commitment to take the actions I suggested above. So, the most likely course is more politics as usual.

Hopefully, this will help you to understand why, even though the Republicans are in the majority, they are not in control. Unfortunately, this explanation does not have a happy ending. So I apologize for bringing disappointing news (not that this is really news to most of you) as we head into the holidays.