Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The winnowing

The departure of Scott Walker from the presidential race brings us into the next stage of the 2016 presidential contest- the winnowing of the chafe from the wheat.  Winnowing is literally the tossing of grain into the air to seperate the lighter chafe, i.e. filler, from the actual grain that is the goal of the whole exercise.

Walker was my first choice in the field.  As strong a conservative as you can expect, with executive experience from the governor's mansion, and a firm stand against public employee unions that, if executed at a federal level, could break the back of union hegemony in America.

But Walker is now out.  He used his departure to make the point many Republicans have been saying-there are too many GOP (and other) candidates in the field that are distracting the conservative base. While I always tend to support more candidates in a race, the fact is that too many of the candidates overlap too much.  Trump, Fiorina and Carson are competing for the 'vote the bums out' crowd.  Walker, Rubio and Jindal were competing for the center right crowd.  Huckabee, Cruz and Santorum are competing for the social conservative vote.

The question now becomes how supporters of the candidates who drop out will be embraced by the supporters of those still in the race.  In Minnesota, the three top surviving contenders seem to be (in my opinion) Rubio, Rand and Fiorina.  Completely scientific anecdotal polling on my part.  There are now scores of announced Walker supporters in Minnesota without a candidate, and the other campaigns are rightfully competing to secure their support and endorsements.

The question has been raised by my friend Rob Doar about what happens when, as is widely expected, Rand Paul drops out of the race as well.  As Rob points out, far too many libertarian minded conservatives coalesced in 2012 to support libertarian Kurt Bills for the nomination, then disappreared when the meat of the campaign needed to be lifted by strong backs.

The answer is this; Charlie Brown still has to try to kick the football.

When dealing with fellow conservatives, you have to give each one the benefit of the doubt until they prove themselves guilty of your bad judgement.  You can't judge all Paul supporters, or all libertarians, or all of any specific group, by the interactions you had with one member of said group last month or last year.  You have to judge each person by their actions and statements, otherwise you are guilty of treating groups like liberals do-pandering to or writing off whole groups of people based on nothing but perception.

Charlie Brown always believes Lucy when she says she will hold the ball for him.  We fault him for it, but in politics, 'Lucy' is actually a diverse group of people.  Charlie Brown has to look each Lucy in the eye and judge for himself if she seems trustworthy enough to hold the ball for him.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

What I need to hear from Rand Paul

The first debate having come and gone, Rand Paul is sinking in the polls and not generating a lot of donations to keep him going.  Despite a natural base of his father's supporters, Rand doesn't seem to even be drawing the minimum level of support that Ron Paul had.

As a libertarian minded conservative, I am naturally drawn to a candidate like Rand.  But the problem here is that I don't just have to choose whether or not to vote for Rand Paul as the GOP candidate for president- I have to decide if it is worth risking Rand as a libertarian leader in the US Senate to run against whomever is the Dem candidate for president.

Rand Paul, like his father before him, has been a staunch advocate of privacy and individual freedoms, and like his father before him, I nearly completely disagree with him on foreign policy.  As a leader of the libertarian wing of the GOP in the Senate, Rand has been able to move the Overton Window to allow most Americans to see excessive executive orders as wrong, NSA spying as completely un-Constitutional, and the general loss of freedoms in America as a dangerous thing.

Rand doedn't just need to get me to vote for him as the presidential nominee, he needs to convince me to take him out of the US Senate and into the White House.  So far, he hasn't made that case.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Arm the Guard

As the conversation about whether to allow members of the military to be armed so as to defend themselves from terror attacks on US soil comes to Minnesota, I think it is time to give some background on who this would affect and what it would mean.  Before retiring last year, I served 22 years in the MN National Guard, and about 2 years of that was on active duty at my local armory.

First, Minnesota can only decide policy for MN National Guard personnel.  National Guard Airmen and Soldiers have a dual chain of command; both the governor and President are commander in chief.  Marines, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard personnel would not be affected by changed made by Minnesota.

Second, there are an awful lot of troops in Minnesota that would be affected by a change to Minnesota policy.  Every National Guard Armory (technically the name was changed to TACC, which is Training and Community Center) and other facility has full time uniformed soldiers, not including recruiters.  Called AGR or Active Guard and Reserve, these are the soldiers that conduct the day to day business of the Guard and make sure everything is ready for weekend drills.  Every TACC will have at least two soldiers assigned to it, but headquarters units will have more.  A battalion HQ like Mankato may have a dozen full time soldiers, and a brigade HQ like Rosemount may have upwards of 50.  The largest military installations in Minnesota are the air wing base at Fort Snelling and Camp Ripley, both of which have hundreds of active duty personnel.

Third, how we allow troops to be armed makes a huge difference.  Personal weapons, what most of us in Minnesota would think of as conceal carry, is not a good option for the military.  Good order and discipline in the armed forces relies on every Soldier or Marine being dressed, trained and equipped the same as the next.  Carrying personal weapons would mean dozens of different calibers of ammunition, hundreds of different options for holsters, and most significantly almost limitless options for the mechanics on how a weapon is fired, and how it is made safe.

Every M-16 or M-4 in the US military, no matter what variety of sight it has, is fired in the exact same manner: rotate the selector switch to fire and squeeze the trigger.  Conversely, every M-16 or M-4 is made safe by rotating the selector to safe and clearing the chamber.  With personal weapons, that is not the case.  Some pistols have grip safeties, some have safety selectors on one of both sides of the weapon.  Some are single action, others dual action.  The differences are too numerous to mention, but the key concept is that if one soldier falls, the next soldier can pick up their weapon and continue the fight.  Personal weapons do not work in that scenario.

Instead of personal weapons, the Guard has plenty of weapons of its own to issue to soldiers.  This promotes accountability, but keeps the possibility of firing that weapon as a function of the soldier's duties.  Importantly, military weapons use universal ammunition.  So every M-9 pistol will fire the same ammunition from the same type of magazine.  Military weapons could also be rotated from soldier to soldier, whereas personal weapons are specific to the soldier who purchased it.  For a Guard Armory with a dozen soldiers assigned, six M-9 pistols could be assigned, allowing soldiers to rotate who carries the weapon.

Our men and women in uniform are, unfortunately, targets for our enemies, whether they are overseas or here at home.  They should be equipped to defend themselves, no matter where they are.

And just to keep the lawyers happy, this post represents my opinions, and not the views of the MN National Guard or the Army in general.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

OPM is not liable for being hacked?

So I got my letter today.  The courtesy letter from the Office of Personnel Management telling me that my personal information has been exposed.  While in the MN National Guard, I applied for and received a Secret clearance, submitting mine and my family's personal info, bank accounts, social security numbers, ect.  There are a number of outrageous statements in the form letter, such as 'OPM takes very seriously its responsibility to protect your information' and 'the incident was uncovered as a result of OPM's aggressive effort to update it;'s cybersecurity posture'.

But the real howler is this-
"The (identity theft protection) services are offered as a convenience to you.  However, nothing in this letter should be construed as OPM or the Government accepting liability for any of the matters covered by this latter or an other purpose.  Please note that these services are offered to the specific addressee of this letter and are not available to anyone other than the individual who received this notification."

So OPM gave access to mine and millions of other Americans personal data to China, yet wont accept any blame for doing so. According to news reports, no individual at OPM has accepted any blame, nor has anyone offered to resign, nor has anyone been fired. 

Worse, I am being offered identity theft protection for 18 months, but none of my family members are given this same offer.  Aside from the concern over wife and husbands of military or government employees who have their identity hacked, think of the effect on morale;  family members of our military are now at risk to identity theft.

The OPM data hack won't just have terrible consequences for those who had their data stolen.  It will shake the confidence of the US military as an institution for years to come.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Lack of free pre-K causes kids to go to prison

This morning on the Up and At Em show on Twin Cities News Talk, an interesting conversation with Rep Nick Zerwas and Rep Dan Schoen ranged around light rail and the governor's proposed universal pre-K.  The topic of Rep Jim Newberger's dumb comment on the House floor from this week about the usefulness of a light rail line from North Minneapolis to the prison in St Cloud.

In the middle of these competing topics, an incredibly insulting comment came from Rep Schoen, when he linked kids going to daycare rather than pre-K with those kids later ending up in prison.  The full podcast is here, and the section in question starts at 13:20.

Zerwas: There's no such thing as free.

Andrew Lee: Right.

Schoen: Then tell the families that are forking over thousands a year to go to daycare...

Zerwas: Yeah, it's daycare!  You had a kid, it has to go to daycare.  Not, you had a kid, so I need to pay for your kid's daycare. NO, no no, no, no, NO.

Lee: Alright, George in Hastings...

Schoen: But you will be paying when they're in prison.

So a DFL member of the house is saying that if taxpayers don't foot the bill for 'free' pre-kindergarten in Minnesota, kids will end up in prison. 

Stay classy, Rep Dan Schoen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pot calls the kettle a darker shade of black

I am no fan of Rand Paul's foreign policy ideas, though Lord knows they are much better than his father's views.  But to hear Sen John McCain, who has yet to make a logical case for any foreign policy position he has taken over the last decade, call Paul out on foreign policy is simply ludicrous.

 “The record is very clear that [Paul] does not have an understanding of the needs or the threats of United States national security,” McCain said.

John McCain is the reason I got active in the Republican party- to make sure that Milquetoast candidates like him would never again be nominated by the conservative party.  I rarely if ever give to candidates outside of Minnesota, but a primary challenger to McCain would have my support.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Straw men and fabricated facts

Former Republican turned blogger Michael Brodkorb has a post at the StarTribune calling 'Keith Downey's' ad campaign to 'Give It Back' Dead on Arrival.  Brodkorb, whose current notoriety is based solely on his ability to drop Mentos in the MN GOP soda bottle, relies on several straw men and a few facts fabricated out of thin air.

Straw man  #1- Downey 'introduced his personal dogma of Give it Back'

A massive over taxation of MN taxpayers leads to a logical conservative position of giving back the money to the people who were over taxed.  Similar sentiments have been expressed by conservatives every time the MN budget shows large surpluses.  Downey was expressing the thoughts of a large percentage of Minnesotans, and specifically of the various Tea Party groups in the state.

Straw man #2- Legislators and members of the state exec were 'confused' by the ad campaign

This argument is wonderful irony coming from Brodkorb, who is the cause of the problem he pretends to lament.  Brodkorb's reliance on unnamed, anonymous, and unattributed sources inside the party for his gossip column/blog created an environment where the details of the ad campaign had to be kept close to the vest.  Further, the ad was a product of the state party, and did not need to be cleared or coordinated with members of the legislature.  The intended audience for the ad was the taxpayers of Minnesota, not just GOP lawmakers.  The public can make their voices heard to every member of the legislature, DFL and GOP.

Straw man #3- It has become clear that $350 checks...will not be arriving in mailboxes

No one from the state party, the state exec or the donors who believed in this ad campaign ever stated or implied that refund checks were the way to 'Give it Back'.  In fact, the specific downsides of sending refund checks were discussed and it was quickly dismissed as impractical because of the cost involved, as well as the limited and temporary nature of such a refund.  Tax cuts, in the form of changes to the MN tax code that permanently reduce taxes on Minnesota families was always the intended focus of the Give it Back campaign. 

Fabricated fact #1- The ad campaign has created more discord than unity

Besides being completely subjective and based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence (according to Brodkorb), this is ideologically false.  Staking a position to the right of the GOP House caucus is not disunity; it is the military equivalent of sending a small force on a flanking attack.  Much like when a state party runs negative ads during an election season because the candidate wants to stay positive, the Give it Back campaign establishes support for a position farther to the right of the House caucus, allowing the legislators to focus on their job of negotiating the best bills they can in a divided legislature.

Fabricated fact #2- Downey was authorized to spend 'up to $999,999.99' on the ad campaign

This is either an outright lie by Brodkorb, or a 'fact' fabricated by his supposed source.  I wont go into the details of the conversation by the state executive committee, but no such motion was made, nor seconded, nor voted upon.  The authorization for the ad campaign was for a specific amount of money, not an 'up to' amount, and the dollars spent were to be limited to the amount of money raised specifically for the campaign.

Fabricated fact #3- the ad campaign was 'not designed by an astute political tactician'

David Schultz, political professor and vocal commentator on all things political in Minnesota and usually favoring the left, said the ad campaign was 'brilliant politics'.  He commented that tax cuts have been a staple message of Republicans for decades, and that DFL opposition to the campaign helps cement their personae of being 'the tax and send liberals we know they are'.  Moreover, 60% of Minnesotans favor giving it back, a number echoed in small town newspaper polling around the state.

Michael Brodkorb is a blogger who relies almost exclusively on anonymous comments from sources who may be pursuing their own political agenda.  Read him for entertainment purposes, but take him with a very large grain of salt.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Veterans on the Hill Day

Today is invasion of the respect thefunny hats* at the state capital- the annual lobbying day for the collective veterans service groups.  Represented together by the Commander's Task Force, this group is made up of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMETS, Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Marine Corps League, Military order of the Purple Heart, and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Unlike the dozens of lobbying groups lined up to demand a chunk of the budget surplus announced last week, the Veterans groups have no big funding requests this year.  Instead, the agenda is about technical fixes to previous legislation, such as relaxing the rules on where dollars raised by Support our Troops funds can be spent, and improving the Veterans Preference process for hiring by Minnesota companies.

Not on the official agenda but showing support from the legislature this year is the idea of making military retirement pay non taxable.  Minnesota is one of only a handful of states that treats military pay just like ordinary income, giving us a competitive disadvantage when veterans are planning out their retirements.

So watch out for the funny hats at the capital today, and take the chance to thank a veteran for their service.

*'Funny hats day' was the phrase coined by Rachel Stassen-Berger a few years back, and changed at her request to 'Respect the funny hats day'.  If you get a chance, ask one of the funny hat brigade where all of the pins came from on their hat.  You'll get a two minute history lesson.