Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Internet and Freedom

"Some say that ending tyranny means 'imposing our values' on people who do not share them, or that people live in parts of the world where freedom cannot take hold. That is refuted by the fact that every time people are given a choice, they choose freedom."
--President George W. Bush, June 5, 2007, in a speech at the Czernin Palace, Prague, Czech Republic

As recent events in Africa and the Middle East have shown us, there is no greater force for freedom in the modern world than the internet.  The recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have shown us how the internet and its social media networks can be instrumental in mobilizing the public in oppressed countries in order to inspire change.  This is further confirmed by the fact that it seems like the first thing a dictatorial regime will do when faced with opposition is to shut down the people's access to the internet and Twitter.  Twitter hashtags like #jan25 have been used to network the grassroots anti-establishment movements in these oppressed countries, and dictators all over the world are nervously eying their own populations, looking for sparks of dissent that need to be stamped out before they engulf the regime in the flames of counterrevolution.
This is why people should be very wary when our government starts throwing around terms like "net neutrality" and "the internet kill switch".  Both of these movements, while well-meaning at heart, need to be very carefully monitored by the American people in order to make sure that we do not end up in a similar situation to the Egyptians and Libyans who found themselves cut off from the world and had to communicate by fax, ham radio, and dial-up modem in order to get their messages out.  These two issues are different, so I'll go through them separately, but they have a common underlying theme:

  • Net Neutrality: This is the concept that the internet's data pipes should be "content agnostic"--meaning that if I use Comcast's network, Comcast should not prioritize content coming from its services (E.g.: NBC-Universal, Versus, PBS Kids Sprout) to the detriment of content coming from other services (E.g.: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video on Demand).  This doesn't mean that ISPs aren't allowed to manage their networks, but it does mean that if subscribers pay for a certain level of service, then they should be allowed to use that service however they want, no matter whose content they are viewing.
    While net neutrality is a great concept, and I fully support the idea behind it, having the government as an enforcer in this arena is a recipe for trouble.  If the FCC would regulate net neutrality, it would create yet another level of regulation which would hurt ISPs, their shareholders, their employees, and ultimately their subscribers with decreased levels of service across the board.  However, I fully understand the arguments the other way: If corporations can decide which subscribers get which content, then the openness which has characterized the Web since its inception would be in jeopardy.  If the Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T versions of the internet are all different, the ubiquitous access to information that we have been enjoying over the last 15 years or so will quickly disappear.  The current situation, an uneasy compromise between the FCC and the ISPs which (kind of) enforces neutrality on wired networks while leaving 3G and 4G networks exempt, may be satisfactory for now, but people need to continue watching both the government and corporations in order to make sure that the open Web is preserved.
  • The Internet "Kill Switch": Several times during 2010, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a bill which would give the president authority to shut down the internet in case of a "national cyberemergency"--without any judicial oversight or review!  While, again, the people behind this bill mean well--we have to protect our vital infrastructure in case of attack!--this bill is a huge overreach on the part of the federal government.  While I don't think the current president would ever abuse power under such a bill, who is to say a future president wouldn't?  It isn't too much of a stretch from declaring a state of emergency when the nation is under attack by Chinese hackers to shutting down Twitter if public opinion turns against the administration.
These issues, combined with what we have been seeing in the Middle East over the last few weeks, show what a precious commodity internet freedom is, and how people have to be vigilant in protecting their rights.  As we have seen, freedom of the Web is a powerful force for freedom in real life.  Hopefully, the Obama Administration will realize this, and go easy on its regulation of our online freedoms.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Book Review: "Decision Points", by George W. Bush

When Decision Points, President Bush's autobiography of the eight years of his administration, was released, I admit I was a bit nostalgic--I compared him very favorably with the person currently occupying his office.  Coming to my senses a bit, I remembered that W and I had had some disagreements over the years, and I became conflicted about the administration all over again.  That's when I decided to really go through his book--so I can attempt to understand what went into the decisions of the Bush 43 administration.  I wasn't expecting to get my mind changed, but I was willing to leave it open.  All in all, I think Dubya may have won me back.
Have you ever watched a politician's press conference or speech and wondered: What in the world was he thinking?  In Decision Points, we get just that.  Instead of giving us a straight, eight-year timeline, recounting the events of his administration as he remembered them, Bush picks fourteen specific topics and details the decision-making process he went through and what the results of the decision were, as well as if he would have made the same decision again, knowing what he knows now.  The topics he picked are wide-ranging: from social issues (the debate over federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research and the battle against HIV/AIDS in Africa), to national security (the War on Terror), to domestic catastrophes (9/11 and Katrina), and economic issues (Medicare Part D and the financial crisis), very few things are left untouched in this book.
One thing I loved about the book--Bush made me feel right at home with his straight-out-of-MBA-school decision-making process.  He doesn't use the acronym SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-based) for the goals he put out for himself, but he may as well have.  The decisions in the book follow a pattern familiar to anyone who is in business: 1) Define the problem (as opposed to the symptoms of the problem); 2) Identify possible solutions; 3) Weigh pros and cons of all solutions; 4) Pick solution which offers best balance of goals achieved; 5) Implement solution; 6) Follow up: identify what went right, what went wrong, and what can we do better next time.  Bush was the first MBA president, and it definitely shows in this book.
In the book, Bush details some decisions that were unpopular, but he says he would do again if necessary.  Examples include the War on Terror (most of it, at any rate), the troop surge, and the TARP Act/Wall St. bailout.  The problems he faced in implementing his programs he attributes to his own bad communication skills (you know it, sir) and bad PR.  This was especially the case in the disastrous 2005 effort to reform Social Security--he found out that they call entitlements the third rail for a reason.
In a similar vein, he explains what went into the decisions that passed in Congress with no problems, but had (and still has) the conservative base up in arms about how a Republican administration could have overseen such a huge expansion of the power of the federal government.   Medicare Part DTARP, and No Child Left Behind are now roundly criticized by the left (they don't do enough for the average American) and the right (they are way too intrusive and give too much power and money to Washington), but at the time at least, they seemed to be middle-of-the-road compromises which made everyone happy.  For example, Medicare Part D (or, as he calls it, the "Medicare Modernization Act") was actually intended to (try not to laugh) save money in the long run: after all, it is cheaper to pay $500 a year for ulcer pills than $28,000 for ulcer surgery.  In addition, the original idea was that only Medicare Advantage participants (who already had private insurance) would have been eligible for covered prescriptions.  But, then Congress got involved, and that was the end of that.  NCLB was a compromise between issuing vouchers for private or religious schools (never gonna happen) and spending even more taxpayer money on failing public schools.  And TARP, well, THE WORLD WAS ABOUT TO END FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!! DID YOU HAVE ANY BETTER IDEAS?!?!?!?!?  Well, not really, but close.
A few notes in general about the book.  Understandably, the following phrase appears a lot: "My opponents on the left accused me of.... This was ridiculous.  Why would I have done...?"  There were a lot of ridiculous accusations being directed at Bush all eight years.  Also, when calling out senators and congressmen who made disparaging remarks about him or his administration, he usually leaves their names out, I guess in an effort to be classy.  For example: "One New York senator denounced the [] ad [about General Petraeus] but said Petraeus's report required the 'willing suspension of disbelief.'"  That would be then-Senator Hillary Clinton, for those of you who didn't remember.  The classiness is a theme throughout the book--he has nothing but compliments for President Obama and President Clinton, as well as most of the world leaders he met during his time in office.
Finally, it seemed to me that, more often than not, Bush would end up going with his initial leaning, even after going through his whole decision-making process.  This may be why Bush was often accused of leading with his gut as opposed to his head.  In addition, Bush is very religious, so the religious view often seemed to take root first in his mind and never let go.  I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, but it does explain a lot about some of the decisions that he made while in office.
Overall, I really enjoyed Decision Points.  To a certain extent, I am already waiting for President Obama's autobiography of his (hopefully single) term in the White House, just to see the contrast in styles, which I am sure will be epic.  In the meantime, this is a highly recommended read for everyone interested in politics or business management: love him or hate him, George Bush made some everlasting decisions which you owe it to yourself to educate yourself about.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review: "Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure" by Glenn Beck

I know I'm a little late to this party, but I finally finished reading Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure, Glenn Beck's latest book.  I thoroughly enjoyed his previous books, especially An Inconvenient Book and Arguing with Idiots, which I felt boiled down essential issues into terms anyone --even someone who is not a political junkie--can understand and enjoy.
To a certain extent, Broke is a sequel to An Inconvenient Book and Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government--they use the same style of writing, the same colorful graphs and charts, and the same page format and print style.  However, keeping up with the tone on Glenn's radio show, Broke is a much more serious, urgent-sounding treatise on what-is-wrong-with-America-today-and-what-can-we-do-about-it.  The "sky-is-falling" mentality which has been more and more prevalent on the radio (which, incidentally, is no longer on 1210 AM in Philadelphia) is on full display in the book, which, as the title suggests, is built on the premise that America is broke, and we have to do something about it ASAP.
When Glenn uses the term "broke", he means more than just financially.  Modern America, he says, is lacking in many things besides money (although that is a huge issue as well).  The steady decline of religion in today's society, the lack of fidelity to the Constitution, and the repeated fiscal disasters which the progressives have led us into are all topics Glenn goes into in detail in the book.
Glenn starts with a quick recap of U.S. history, starting with the fiscal philosophy of the founders (basically: debt is bad), and fast-forwarding through the 1800s to the beginning of the Progressive movement in the beginning of the twentieth century.  Here, he introduces us to the first villain in the book: President Woodrow Wilson, the president who really started using the power of the federal government to impose his vision of a progressive society on the people, beginning with the progressive income tax.  From Wilson, Glenn moves on to Public Enemy No. 2: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Under FDR's New Deal, he says, progressivism moved into the mainstream, where it gained its permanent foothold in the middle class in the form of Social Security.
Glenn continues through the rest of the twentieth century detailing the steady march of progressivism and progressive policies that have made their way into the American system, with the corresponding loss of some liberty and freedom with each step.  From the New Deal, to LBJ's Great Society (Medicare and Medicaid), to Clinton's failed HillaryCare initiative, to Bush 43's Medicare Part D and Wall Street bailouts, to ObamaCare, Beck shows how progressive policies are in the process of bankrupting the country both fiscally and morally.  Fiscally, because we are getting to the point where all taxes collected from the American people will only be able to pay for entitlements, without even paying the interest on the national debt.  In addition, we will soon be paying more in interest payment every year than we spend on defense, which has always been a harbinger of disaster, starting with ancient Rome and continuing to modern times.  Morally, because while our grandparents and great-grandparents would never have thought of demanding a handout from the government, we have been conditioned for more than a hundred years to demand that Washington "DO SOMETHING!!!!" about each new crisis (and it's always a crisis).
To fix the problem, Glenn says we will need a combination of things to get done.  First, we need to get faith back into the daily lives of Americans.  Second, we need to return powers to the state and local governments, as is dictated by the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment.  Finally, and most of all, we need a total reform of the budget process, including the political "third rail": entitlements.
Overall, I enjoyed Broke.  As I mentioned before, the tone of this book is a little more depressing than the last couple of Glenn's books, which made it a little harder to get through., but that wasn't the biggest problem I had with the book.  My biggest problem is that Glenn specifically says that there doesn't have to be massive amounts of pain inflicted on the poor and the elderly in order to reform Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security--and then he doesn't go into any details!  Besides that minor sticking point, I thought Broke was an enjoyable--if slightly depressing--read, which, if nothing else, will make you very wary of any politician promising things to people without giving details on how to pay for them.
Next book review, coming soon: Decision Points, by President George W. Bush.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Election 2012

Now that the 112th Congress is about to take office, the minds of Americans will start turning towards November of 2012, when President Obama will attempt to win reelection.  Given the shellacking Obama and the Dems just took in the recent midterms, they are probably (justifiably) worried about their prospects just under two years from now.  However, they have one significant advantage: they all know who their candidate is. Barring some unimaginable circumstance, no one will challenge a sitting president in the primaries (we all know how that worked out in 1976 for the GOP and in 1980 for the Dems), so we can be close to 100% sure who the candidate on top of the blue ticket will be (who will be underneath him remains an open question, but that's another discussion for another time).
The bigger question lies on the right side of the aisle.  Who will be able to challenge Obama?  Despite the president's recent challenges, many people (especially in urban areas) will still gladly vote for him if he is on the ticket--especially if the Republican on the other side is uninspiring, extreme, or out of touch.  I'm going to go through a bunch of early contenders and explain why each of them will have trouble handling Obama--especially if the 2008 campaign crew is anywhere close to the scene.

  1. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: Oh, where to begin?  We fell in love with her so quickly, but it also became clear quickly that a) her relative inexperience was indeed a problem, and b) the mainstream media were eating her alive.  Now, despite her incredible popularity among the Tea Party-types (see Bristol's surprise DWTS run), not much has changed since '08; in fact, her standing may have only worsened among independents (her resigning the governorship before the end of her first term will surely come back to bite her in any general election campaign).  I think she could be a much greater asset to the conservative cause if she remains where she is: running her PAC, attending tea parties, and showing up on Fox News on a regular basis, as opposed to being in elective office.
  2. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich:  Take everything I just said about Palin and triple it.  I can't even imagine where the far right is coming from on this one.  It's as if they have totally forgotten about how he started dating his current (and third) wife, Callista, while he was still married to his second wife and, oh yeah, in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal, while he was getting all sanctimonious about President Clinton's lack of fidelity.  Again, Gingrich is a great idea factory, and whoever wins the nomination should probably hire him as an advisor.  But as a presidential candidate?  No, no, and no.
  3. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: Speaking of No, no, and no.  Holy @#$%, have you ever heard this guy talk economics?  Pastor Huckabee is so far to the right on Christian issues that he expects the government to force people to give charity.  Yes, as in redistribution of the wealth.  As in not remotely fiscally conservative, right after an election when the American people declared emphatically that the government needs to stay out of our pockets.  From 1996 to 2004, Arkansas' budget increased by 65%, with Huckabee's progressive tax policies funding much of the growth.  And let's not forget the compassionate Christian pardoning/clemency/etc. of Wayne Dumond, Maurice Clemmons, and Eugene Fields.  The Democrats have been waiting for nearly a quarter century to take revenge for Willy Horton.
  4. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: From an economic standpoint, I would have loved to support Romney in 2008 (would have beat the heck out of McCain, at any rate), but there were several reasons (legitimate or otherwise) he didn't win the nomination then, and none of those reasons have gone away.  His well-documented flip-flop on abortion rights and his implementation of socialized healthcare in Massachusetts, in particular, are problems that cannot be explained away easily to the base of the GOP.  In addition, as unfair as it may be, the fact that he is a Mormon will create a huge problem among voters on the Christian Right (i.e., Huckabee's base).
  5. Former New York Mayor Rudy Guliani: Speaking of 2008 retreads whose problems aren't going away, no one who has the abortion, guns, and personal record of Rudy will ever win Iowa or New Hampshire.  Sorry.  He has my vote for VP or Attorney General, though.
  6. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: Notice that Christie is the only one on this list not to be preceded by the word "former"?  He actually has a current job.  Which, unfortunately, he has been in for less than a year.  Maybe in 2016 or 2020.
  7. The rest of the pack: Bobby Jindal?  Mike Pence?  Tim Pawlenty?  Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, or Jim DeMint?  Basically, everyone who has an elected office and has appeared on Fox News in the last two years is being looked at as a possible GOP contender.
And herein lies the root of the problem.  There is obviously still a while to go until the 2012 primaries begin, but that doesn't mean that the problems I've outlined here aren't real.  Hopefully, the nice people at the RNC can stop tearing each other to pieces and focus on the real issues here--otherwise Obama will have a cakewalk back into the White House in 2012.


Hello everyone!  Allow me to introduce this blog, by which you will get to know me.  The purpose of this blog is to get my thoughts out into the open on a variety of topics: mainly politics, but also sports, religion, technology, and whatever else strikes my fancy.
A bit of background on me first.  I am in my late twenties, a religious Jew, a resident of Philadelphia, and in the financial services industry.  In addition (as the title of this blog should suggest), my politics tend to be waaaaaaaay to the right of center, which will become obvious fairly quickly.  However, I am always willing to hear both sides of an issue, and I'm not afraid to "cross the aisle" if I think the "liberal" side of an issue makes sense (see Kelo v. New London, for example).
You will hear about all of the above-mentioned topics in this blog, and I hope to get comments from any reader who is willing to give his or her point of view on any given topic.  The point is to be able to open a dialog, so all parties to the discussion can come away feeling more educated than they did before.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @shimonmds, or post a comment if you want to contribute to the discussion or if there is a topic you want to hear about.
Thanks, and I'll see you on the interwebs!