SDI Helped End the Cold War – What?

In last night’s 1st presidential debate from Oxford Mississippi, John McCain revised history by saying that the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), nicknamed “Star Wars” was a major factor in bringing about the end of the Cold War.  “Star Wars” helped end the Cold War?  The same failed “missile defense” system Reagan spent 30 billion to develop and test?  Here are the facts.  SDI was ultimately scrapped in 1984 a year after its unveiling because 1) it failed every test and was a waste of money 2) far from ending the Cold war it actually raised tensions between the US and the Soviet Union which could have led to war 3) it violated the ABM treaty under the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I).

For more on the history of the Strategic Defense Initiative see an informative article from the Cold War Museum: SDI – “Star Wars”

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Edge to Obama In Close 1st Debate

McCain may not have wanted to debate, but he didn’t perform as poorly as I thought he would.  That said, he didn’t win the debate.  Nor was he masterful, as Bill Bennett claimed.   McCain sounded annoyed most of the time.  His best moment came when he criticized Obama’s support for earmarks.  Obama countered that 18 billion in total earmark spending in the federal budget is insignificant compared to McCain’s 300 billion tax relief plan for the wealthy.  He never denied the 900 million earmarked for the state of Illinois, though he did mention that some of the dedicated funds went to fund Senior Centers.  As if ashamed, he said he no longer requested earmarks.  McCain rejoined that Obama only stopped his requests for earmarks after he declared his candidacy.  I don’t know why Obama didn’t go after Palin’s record of earmarks, but he dropped the point and lost the argument.  McCain used the refrain “Senator Obama doesn’t understand”, a number of times, but far from making Obama appear inexperienced, this rhetorical device simply made McCain sound cranky.

Obama on the other hand, did try to find common ground with McCain and did say a few times that Senator McCain is “right” and that he agrees with John, but he also said that McCain was wrong several times during the debate. One of Obama’s better points came when he questioned McCain’s judgement on his initial support for the Iraq War and the prediction that it would be a cake walk.  Obama also argued effectively that McCain’s emphasis on Iraq was taking away from the effort in Afghanistan.  I also think his defense of dialogue with Iran, (at whatever level, not necessarily at the Presidential level) which five other Secretaries of State have supported, including Henry Kissinger, McCain’s advisor, deflated McCain’s position that such an approach would be dangerous.  Though Kissinger denied saying he favored top level discussions with Iran, Obama never said that only the President should talk directly with Ahmadinejad.  What Obama said was that dialogue can be constructive at any level.  Conditionalizing talks means diplomacy is not an option.  If diplomatic solutions are not desired, anything can happen, and in my judgement, this is when the situation becomes dangerous.  Maybe the single best moment for Obama came when he pointed out that corporations take advantage of tax loopholes to avoid paying the 35% tax rate McCain claims should be significantly lowered.  Obama argued that he’d close those loopholes to raise revenues to pay for programs like Health Care.

McCain mentioned his hero again, Ronald Reagan.  He admires a former President I believe was one of the worst of the 20th century.  Obama should have pounced on the reference, but let it go.  See my previous post  Reagan – McCain’s Hero, No Hero of Mine

And what was the deal with McCain’s reference to an old pen?  He said “I’ve got a pen, (and he held up what looked to be a sharpie) this one’s kind of old”. I think the idea of using a sharpie or a dry erase pen to veto spending bills amused McCain and he had a sort of, well, not senior moment, that would be unfair, but let’s just say a private joke, that only he understood.  Bizarre, but he won a point with me for humor.

I don’t think there was a clear winner in this one.  McCain performed well, but did not deliver a damaging blow.  Obama performed well, but not well enough to persuade undecided voters.   I give Obama a slight edge.

Obama: B

McCain: B-

A CNN/Opinion Poll showed that 51% of viewers surveyed thought Obama did the better job.  Among women polled, 59% gave Round 1 to Obama.  Read the 1st Presidential Debate Transcript and judge for yourself.

10 Reasons McCain Wants to Delay Debate

ONE, McCain may not feel prepared for Friday’s debate. Using the economic crisis as a front, McCain could be trying to buy extra time to rehearse.

TWO, by not showing up at all for the debate, he can argue that it was better to be a no-show at the debate than a no-show in Washington. He has had his fair share of missed votes in Washington (more than any other Senator by far) and does not want to sit this one out.

THREE, he will argue that he put Country First by suspending his campaign and question Obama’s resolve, leadership and patriotism for not suspending his. Update: My prediction was true: in an interview today with Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News, he actually said that if he did not attend the debate it would be because he was “putting Country First”, implying that Obama is being selfish by sticking to the original debate terms.

FOUR, if the bailout plan is approved, he will take credit for having led the way.

FIVE, McCain is a B- debater (see Mark Halperin’s review in Time magazine of the 1st Republican Debate) and will not fair well against a more polished Obama. McCain has more to lose than gain from a debate.

SIX, McCain’s campaign is losing steam. According to a Poll of Polls, Obama now leads in the critical battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Colorado and is gaining ground in key states like Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Arkansas. He needs to stop Obama’s momentum by diverting attention away from Obama’s message, forcing Obama instead to react to his agenda.

SEVEN, why risk losing ground in Mississippi, a state in which he has a convincing lead?

EIGHT, Bill Clinton defends debate delay.

NINE, McCain is desperate.

TEN, If he debates Obama on Friday, it’s all over!

Dustin Destined for AL MVP

2012 Update:  In 220 plate appearances – BA: .295; OBP: .350; Total Bases: 90; RBI: 21; Runs: 30; HR: 5; Errors: 1.  He’s off to a decent start but has been hurt. Let’s see if the laser show can light up and lead the Red Sox out of the American League East basement.

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Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox second baseman and 2007 AL Rookie of the Year, is having a MVP year in 2008.  As of September 21, 2008, he ranks 1st in the AL in runs (116); 1st in hits (204); 1st in doubles (51); 2nd in batting average (.324); 3rd in times on base (261); 4th in runs created (119) and 5th in total bases (310).  He rarely strikes out, just 49 times in 630 at bats.  He hits anything no matter where the pitch, with some power – 17 home runs and 79 RBI, not bad for a small guy.  Listed at 5’8″, he is one of the shortest players in the league.  Not the swiftest, he has good instincts and has stolen 18 bases; caught stealing only once.  He is also a very good fielder making only 6 errors in 151 games.

Photo by Eric Kilby

The last American League player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP the next,  was Cal Ripken, Jr in 1982 and 1983.

Nellie Fox was the last AL second baseman to win the AL MVP back in 1959. It’s time for another.  Dustin is destined to be the next MVP of the American League.

Goolsbee Cut Short on CNN

Subbing for Lou Dobbs, CNN’s Lisa Sylvester interviewed McCain’s senior policy advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin – the same advisor who suggested McCain invented the Blackberry – and Obama’s economic advisor,  Austan Goolsbee.  Sylvester granted Holtz-Eakin a significant amount of air time to explain McCain’s view on government bailouts and his “detailed” plan.  Yes, as the maverick’s free market theory and fierce support for deregulation over the last 26 years has brought the economy to near collapse, McCain has had a change of heart and now has a 6 point plan of little substance, calling for stronger regulations.   Hypocrisy?  Admission of responsibility? A giant flip-flop? Can America trust a man whose idea of America First is first to war and first to turn a blind eye to Wall Street fraud and corporate greed?  Whatever happened to People First?  Oh, but the Republicans would demonize the phrase as the machinations of an evil Marxist plot.  And Karl Rove, of all people, would say they had gone too far.  If George Orwell (not to be confused with George Will) were alive, I’d like to hear him break down on Larry King Live all the campaign slogans to date.

The irony is that Obama is being portrayed as the candidate without a plan.  Sylvester played a clip of Obama’s response to a question about the “rescue proposal” in which Obama essentially says that he would reserve judgement until he had a chance to study the plan, the details of which had not yet been released.  The clip was intended to strengthen the argument that Obama has no specific proposal to solve the economic crisis,  to which Goolsbee replied Obama, not McCain was the candidate with a detailed plan.

Challenged for specifics, Goolsbee proceeded to explain but less than a minute in, after covering only the first point, barely into the second, she cut him off saying they had run out of time.   It was unprofessional of Sylvester to press Goolsbee for details and then not provide sufficient time to hear him out. Here is the portion of the transcript in question:

SYLVESTER: I have to ask you, you know, we are hearing a lot of talk, but people want specifics. What is the plan then? You’re saying that Senator Obama has a plan. What is that plan?

GOOLSBEE: OK, it’s outlined six basic action steps that we need to take to re-establish public trust. Step No. 1, we must immediately put in place anyone that has access to the lender of last resort feature from the fed, the sacred insurance policy that is underwritten by the American taxpayer must be subject at all times to capital and liquidity requirements the way commercial banks were in the past. The fact that we’ve had investment banks running up 30, 40 to one leverage ratios, when they are going to be able to turn to the government in a moment of crisis, means that they are taking risks with the taxpayers’ money and that has to be changed.

No. 2, we have to immediately strengthen the enforcement and stop degrading the capabilities of our oversight agencies like the SEC and the CFTC.

SYLVESTER: OK, we have just a couple of seconds here.

GOOLSBEE: OK, I was trying to give you the specifics.

SYLVESTER: So, if you can kind of wrap up. All right, well, Austan Goolsbee, thank you very much for your time, and we appreciate it.

GOOLSBEE: My pleasure any time.

SYLVESTER: And we certainly will be hearing more from the Obama campaign. Appreciate your time.

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Appreciate your time?  What time I ask?

For the complete interviews with both advisors, scroll halfway down CNN Transcript

T is for Team, not Tom

If you are a Patriots fan, like me, you have to be a little worried, if not downright panicky over the loss of Tom Brady.  Do you feel like withdrawing your emotional investment in this team?  Comfortable with the thought of Sarah Palin at the helm, I mean Matt Cassel at the helm?  Well, I’m not, but time will tell.  I have not been terribly impressed with his performance so far, but the Patriots are 2-0.  Cassel has looked tentative at times; lost at others.   He doesn’t appear very athletic, though he moves better than Brady.  He lacks the patience and confidence in the pocket and the accuracy to throw on the run like say a Brett Farve.  However, Cassel seems to be gaining confidence as a leader.  While I don’t know what his teammates really think of him, he does have the unwavering support of the coaching staff.  I still think they should go after a veteran quarterback, but Belichick could very well be trying to make a point that the T is for Team, not Tom.

Relax.  Don’t sell your season tickets just yet.  Here are some numbers that might make you feel better.    The Pat’s defense is ranked 1st in rushing touchdowns (0); 3rd in fewest points allowed (20) and 5th in first downs (26).  On the offensive side, Matt Cassel, believe it or not, has a QB rating of 101.4 completing 70.7% of his passes with 0 interceptions.  On the downside, he’s only thrown 1 TD pass and passed for a mere 317 total yards in 2 games.   Not Bradylike numbers, but he’s gotten the job done, and not by throwing to Randy Moss who has caught only 8 passes on the year.  See Patriots Statistics for more details.

The Pats should be competitive the whole year, even with an average QB because of their strong defense.  Cassel has not been asked to do much and certainly has not been given the keys to the full repetroire of offensive plays.  If the Pats can get the running game going with Sammy Morris, Marshall Falk, Lamont Jordan, Laurence Maroney and Heath Evans, the pressure will be off Cassel.  T is for Team, not Tom.

Obama Needs Bill not Hill

National polls show Obama and McCain running only a few points apart.  State polls show another story with McCain leading convincingly in 18 states to Obama’s 10.  This leaves 22 states up for grabs including big stakes states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virgina and Missouri.  For details see Election Polls

On the Republican side, It looks like the Palin factor is becoming less of one and whatever bump the Republicans got from their convention has now been erased.  No doubt the Republicans are looking for popular and charismatic surrogates to stump for their uninspiring candidate.  And the Obama camp needs some energy and momentum injected into their feeble campaign; some clarity and persuasive stumping.  Who better than a Clinton!  But which Clinton?  No way, no how, no Hill, just Bill.  I do like Hillary Clinton and think she would have made a good president, don’t get me wrong, but that is the point.  She comes off too presidential on the trail.  She is a loyal Democrat, but not terribly effective in inspiring confidence in Obama.  Many see her and wonder what could have been.

What Obama needs is Bill, not Hill.   And where is Bill Clinton?  Wasn’t he supposed to begin campaigning for Obama right after the Democratic convention?  By the way, the former President’s speech provided the most compelling reasons to support Barak Obama of any delivered at the convention.  See my post: Bill Clinton Appeals to Hillary Supporters.  After meeting in NYC on September 11, Bill agreed to campaign in Florida on September 29.   September 29 –  that’s two weeks away!  Every day of the campaign is precious, as David Gergen is fond of saying and frankly I don’t think the Obama camp can afford to wait that long for Clinton, especially with so many key battleground states to be contested.  Florida is a good choice, but they also need Bill stumping in Pennsylvania and Ohio.  Can’t Clinton take two months off from his Foundation work right now and help Barak Obama get elected? Time is a wasting!

Looking at the polls, I am deeply disappointed that Arkansas, my native state, and Tennessee look to be McCain strongholds.  Can’t Clinton and Gore deliver their home states to Obama? Arkansas wake up!  McCain is not the answer…and deep down you know it.  Go Hogs!

The Candidates on Education

Education has not been a major issue on the campaign trail, but the candidates’ positions should be scrutinized. I’m going to highlight the major differences between McCain and Obama on Education policy and provide links to information on all the presidential candidates’ views on No Child Left Behind (NCLB)- and yes there are more than 2 parties in this country and more than 2 presidential candidates, but unfortunately, the mainstream media largely ignores third parties like the Libertarians, the Green Party, the Independent Ralph Nader, and smaller parties that participate in the Democratic process here in the US of A.

McCain wants to significantly expand school choice, giving parents more opportunities to enroll their kids in Charter schools. He puts the blame for failing schools largely on teachers and administrators and talks about replacing them. Charter schools are not subject to the same governance rules as traditional schools but are funded publicly. At Charters, more decisions are made at the school level or locally; administrators have more authority in hiring decisions and more flexibility with regard to teacher salaries – they can pay a teacher less than the prevailing Union wage. Charters vary enormously in quality, one from another and from state to state. While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of Charter schools, the fact is they do drain resources from struggling schools that need more not less support. Charters are subject to business like accountability, like other public schools under NCLB, which puts emphasis on high stakes testing, creating the conditions to require teaching to the test. For schools to succeed in a high stakes testing environment, teachers must focus on information processing, rather than critical thinking. McCain’s chief education adviser is Lisa Graham Keegan, herself a proponent of high stakes testing. In a Charter school, extracurricular activities like art, debate and theater may give way to after school test preparation sessions. Regular schools drained of resources, quickly drop music and art programs. Uniforms are standard issue, partly to promote conformity and obedience – I guess this is what’s meant by skilled workers – workers who are skilled at taking orders from those who do the thinking.

McCain’s plan would move funds out of failing schools and into Charters and I presume also into Pilot schools, fulfilling the choice part of the Excellence, Choice and Competition slogan that can be found on the McCain-Palin website. If you are comfortable with this market model of education – pitting one school against another for resources; and like the idea of schools competing for students; and if you think privatization efforts where schools receive support from businesses in exchange for input on the school curricula and access to captive student consumers, already happening throughout the country, you might like the McCain plan. McCain’s plan offers little more than 4 more years of the last 8 under Bush’s failed No Child Left Behind law- flawed and never adequately funded.

Obama also supports Charter schools and favors experimentation with whatever works. Unlike McCain, he emphasizes more support for failing schools, not punishment. He favors higher pay for teachers (and they deserve it) and tax credits to attract new teachers to teach in needy school districts. Obama proposes alternative forms of testing and assessment to counteract the negative consequences of high stakes testing. In my opinion, these standardized tests are biased and do not measure student capabilities. An increasing number of colleges have reached this same conclusion and no longer require prospective students to submit SAT or ACT scores. Obama’s education adviser is Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond whose views are far more progressive than Keegan’s.

The idea of promoting alternative schools has some appeal but not at the expense of struggling schools, schools that badly need increased resources, not severe penalties. In fact, public education needs increased funding at all levels – from Pre-K to Adult Basic Education (ABE).

Candidates Views on No Child Left Behind

And speaking of adults, none of the candidates have said much about the importance or even the existence of Adult Basic Education (ABE). These are publicly funded programs that provide Literacy, GED, English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and transitions to college education for millions of adults. While the candidates talk about the importance of parental involvement in the education of a child, they fail to understand that an adult left behind cannot provide the kind of academic support the child needs to have the best chance of success in school.

Let’s put people first and leave no child and no adult behind!

Candidates on Wind Power and Renewable Energy

The candidates have touted their energy plans as the key to reducing our dependency on foreign oil. Both the McCain and Obama plans support the development of renewable energy sources and the expansion of conventional non-renewable energy from clean coal (is there really such a thing as clean coal?) and drilling. “Drill baby drill” has been the new Republican mantra; not exactly a kind environmental statement. Even the Democrats concede that drilling is necessary, though I disagree on this point vehemently. I believe we should simply reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. Global Warming is real. Even science skeptic S. Palin in her Interview with Charlie admitted that man is “potentially causing some of the changes in the climate” . If we do not become more responsible for the damage we continue to inflict on our planet, we will leave a global disaster for our children to solve, if we leave our children anything at all. But I fear shortsighted thinking will prevail. People seem to be more worried about their SUVs than the fate of our planet.

McCain’s record shows he has not been an ambassador for environmental concerns, even as he calls for credits for exploring renewable energy alternatives. In 2007, McCain earned a shocking 0 percent rating for his environmental record – missing every vote related to renewable energy and has an embarrassing 24% lifetime ranking from the League of Conservation Voters. And his energy plan does not specify any federal spending whatsoever on renewable energy, instead favoring a rationing of existing tax credits to provide incentives, whatever that means.  See Fact Check on Windpower.

Obama, on the other hand, would spend 150 billion on renewable energy. Not much, considering we spend up to 700 billion a year to import foreign oil according to an article in USA Today highlighting the T-Boone Pickens energy proposal. Though 150 billion is not much, it would be sufficient for modernizing the antiquated power grid to accept increased electrical generation estimated to cost 60 billion .

Plenty Magazine has a breakdown of the candidates’ positions on Energy and Cimate Issues.

I’ll leave you with this note. Wind Power is not a quick fix to our energy needs, but it won’t be a fix at all unless we make substantial investments in the technology. One turbine here and there ain’t gonna cut it. Take the example of the lone Wind turbine at Boston City Hall.  It cost $13,000 to install and creates a mere 1.9kw of electricity, enough to power 19 light bulbs.

Reaction to National Service Forum

McCain is talking now on volunteerism.  He sounds so calm, confident and secure.  Where is the bitterness?  His mission is to charm, reassure and show respect for national service.  He praised Obama’s community service.  He praised Teach for America, but mischaracterized it as a program where volunteers go teach in inner-city schools, leaving out the fact that Teach for America also sends volunteers to rural America.  He praised the Peace Corps.  He cautioned government not to get too involved with administering the programs and I presume not to get more involved with funding.  But if not funded adequately by the government, our national service programs would collaspe – not only the Peace Corps, but Americorps and it’s offshoots like Citiyear.  He would not require any kind of national service and argues that the volunteer model works, that the major national service programs are oversubscribed.  I don’t know if that is true, but it strikes me that McCain thinks, as do most Republicans, that social services can be adequately performed by volunteers.  Remember Bush the Elder’s 1000 points of light?  Why invest in social programs when we can get the services for free, at least that is the message.  On this point I completely disagree.  We must continue to invest in our social infrastructure, to provide a safety net for all Americans who struggle or may struggle in the future; to support our public schools, not with a volunteer force but with serious funding on the level of what we spend on military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries we have destabilized in our wayward war on terrorism and thirst for oil.

McCain’s tone has been eerily civil, nothing like his negative campaign strategy which has sought to distract the media from covering and talking about issues of substance with Palin and phony lipstick outrage. He even said tonight, as if he were completely innocent, that Americans want to focus on the issues that matter.

Obama seems to be commited to funding national service programs, expanding them, unlike McCain and providing incentives to attract more young people to the ideals of national service.  But ROTC at Columbia?  I doubt it would happen.  I don’t remember why Obama favors the return of the ROTC to his alma matter, but I am a little surprised to hear of his support for the idea.  I don’t think the Republicans can continue to call him the most liberal candidate ever.  Not that the L word is anything to shrink away from, but I think if you look at Obama’s positions, he is more of a centrist a la Bill Clinton.