Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
MSNBC To GOP Congressman: "Do You Have A Degree In Economics?"
Classy response from Rep. Brooks.
Does she have a degree in economics?
Thursday, July 14, 2011
There was comment after comment about big, rich Republicans that don't care about people on social security and Medicaid and how they are trying to protect their rich buddies in big oil. They trash the rich, and talk about wanting them paying their fair share of taxes (as if they weren't already paying the majority.) It would be interesting to know how many of the people posting don't pay a dime in income tax, and yet use the roads, schools, and the police. It would be interesting what they consider their own "fair share."
I don't have any rich buddies in big oil, but I am against tax increases, especially when the economy is hurting. Why? Netflix.
Netflix announced on Tuesday that they were raising their prices. For some, the increase will be almost doubling the cost. For my family, our Netflix bill will go from $18 to $24. $6/month increase.
Yet, we are currently in the process of deciding whether to cancel our Netflix subscription or not. Thousands of people have complained and many have canceled their subscriptions. Netflix executives have admitted they plan to lose a percentage customers with the price increases.
Netflix might say, "But you make $30,000/year! You can afford a $6/month increase! That's only 0.2% of your income!" And in fact, a Netflix executive did say that in essence, saying that $6/month is the price of a latte (i.e. not a big deal.)
If you believe we should increase taxes on the rich, then you're obviously hanging onto that Netflix subscription without complaining, because a $72/year increase is a very small portion of your income. (To really be comparable to a tax increase on the rich, they ought to raise their prices 3% of your income. How about a $75/month increase for someone making $30,000?)
When you raise the price of something and hold the supply steady, demand will shift to meet that new price.
When you raise the taxes on business, the result is less business. Less jobs. More layoffs. Less income tax. More individuals on unemployment. Less producers. More consumers.
Many Netflix customers have talked about switching to Redbox. When American taxes are increased, businesses in America say, "Taxes are way lower in Ireland. Time to move."
If it holds true for Netflix, why would it not hold true for all business?
Netflix understands this. This increase has a purpose. They want to get out of the DVD business and move completely to streaming, and this is a step along the way. I read an interview with the CEO of Netflix who said if they were starting today, they would have skipped the DVDs and gone exclusively with streaming. It is obviously much cheaper to go that route as you remove all the costs associated with packaging, shipping, and employing individuals to handle those tasks.
In light of that, this move makes perfect sense. Netflix wants individuals to cancel their DVD subscription, which is suddenly not that great of a deal, and keep their streaming only subscription, whose price went from $7.99 to $7.99. That's right -- No increase in streaming only. You only pay more if you have a DVD plan.
Netflix is using the power of economics to modify behavior in order to meet their needs.
It is true that Republicans have issues with entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicaid that are broken and need to be reformed to function properly. These programs are a major reason for the debt problems. Too many people taking out for those paying in. But that has nothing to do with Republicans being so firm on not voting for any tax increases.
Republicans simply understand Netflix. They understand that raising the taxes on business is the worst possible thing you could do in a bad economy. Why would they vote for something that will stifle any potential growth?
And common sense says that you don't fix a debt problem by extending your credit line. That simply leads to more debt. The Republicans are like the spouse in a marriage that finally takes a stand and says, "Enough is enough -- We have to fix our budget problems."
So if raising our debt limit isn't going to solve the problem, and raising taxes is only going to cause more damage, the only possible solution is to reduce expenditures. I understand that there may be times, especially in times of war, where there is a need for government debt. There have been times in my personal budget where something unexpected came up, and it was nice to have a credit card available to get me through a month or two of some unexpected expenses.
But ultimately, it comes back to spending less than you bring in. One option would be to increase the amount you bring in, which is like the current Democrat strategy with raising taxes. That would be the same as Netflix saying, "I know how we can make more money -- Let's raise our prices!"
The only other option left is to reduce spending. Budgeting is painful. It means you can't buy everything you want. It means there are tough choices to be made, but if you are truly serious about balancing the budget, some things simply have to go. Maybe even Netflix.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
I know that we are still early in the elections and that the candidates will eventaully need to differentiate themselves and that there will inevitably be some mud-slinging. But what I saw on stage last night was a united group of Republican candidates who did not treat each other as the enemy, but focused on the real problem at hand -- President Obama and the Democratic leaders.
A number of times, a candidate began their statement by saying, "What [this or that candidate] just said is exactly right..." When CNN tried to bait some of the candidates to attack Mitt Romney on aborition or health care, they refused. As a group, they did something that would seem impossible: They got 2 straight hours of making solid arguments about how the current administration is doing it wrong and what they would do to fix it... in prime time... on CNN!!! I'm sure it drove CNN nuts.
I finished watching, and I thought, You could almost just pick one of the candidates names out of a hat for the primary! They were all very solid, and they were all on basically the same page. ANY of those candidates would be a huge breath of relief in light of the current administration. They were all strong and decisive and not afraid to say what they thought, despite potentially offending the left.
I couldn't watch the debate live, because I was in class. But I pulled up the debate on my laptop, turned down the volume, and then watched CNN's audience tracker. As they liked what a candidate said, the lines would trend up. If they didn't like what they said, the lines would trend down. With both the Republican and Independent voters, I never once noticed the lines go down. Regardless of who the candidate was, the lines would trend upward.
It was simply a very solid showing for the Republican party. It made me proud to be a conservative. I'm sure strong leaders will emerge out of that group as the debates continue. I would hope that those who eventually fall behind and see that there is no chance will bow out gracefully rather than try to tear down the other candidates. We ought to follow suit and support each other rather than tear each other down. If we can keep the focus on the real problem at hand, 2012 is going to be a very good election. We have some very good candidates.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Obama Tells Companies to 'Step Up' and Hire Workers
Why does this not surprise me? Instead of creating tax incentives for investment, which will naturally create jobs in the free market system as businesses and individuals invest money into the market, we just tell the businesses they need to hire workers.
This is the liberal mentality though. In order to change behavior, we "pass a law", telling people that they have to behave in a certain way.
The sad thing is that President Obama must understand this, because he has done absoultely nothing to fix the prices at the gas pump.
When gas prices were at record highs in 2008, President Bush simply lifted the ban on offshore drilling, and gas prices plummeted to prices that I hadn't seen since I was filling up in high school. The members of OPEC aren't stupid -- They know the U.S. is the biggest consumer of oil. They limit production to keep prices high, but when the U.S. threatens to drill at home, they say, "Oh, no, no, no... You don't want to do that. We'll drop the prices. See how low they are now! No need to drill! Save your environment!"
President Obama could lift drilling bans, but he wants the prices to be high. In fact, as President, he has canceled oil leases and increased the number of drilling bans. He wants high prices! If gas prices are high, we naturally drive less, and we purchase more hybrid vehicles. The government even gives us tax benefits for purchasing a hybrid vehicle!
(Please someone, anyone, explain to me the logic of how a tax incentive for purchasing a hybrid vehicle will lead more people to buy hybrid vehicles, but somehow at the same time a tax hike on businesses will somehow not lead to a decrease in jobs?)
President Obama does understand natural markets, but he uses them only as it benefits his agenda. When asked about the high gas prices, his master plan was:
"If you're complaining about the price of gas and you're only getting 8 miles a gallon, you know, you might want to think about a trade-in."
In other words, he is telling us to 'step up' and buy hybrid vehicles. That's good though, right? Less pollution, and we save the earth from global warming!
The only problem is that he can't control the natural consequences of his manipulation in the market. Semi-trucks and trains don't run on batteries unfortunately, so increased gas prices means increased food costs as the shipping companies need to charge more to keep up with gas prices. And suddenly, the lower class sees their food bill go from $500/month to $700/month as the price of everything naturally goes up.
President Obama will have to pass a law in order to get companies to hire workers, because he is certainly creating no incentives in the natural market. He knows that a tax cut on capital gains would spur investment and create all the jobs we need, but he refuses to cut taxes because that is what the Republicans want him to do.
I'm afraid that we will just have to get used to 10% unemployment and $5/gallon gas as we have a President who is apparently content with those numbers... that is, until November 2012.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
I am currently taking a business ethics class at a local university. The past couple classes we have been having a little role playing mini debate. Let me give you a little background of the debate.
We are taking the role of an admission committee for a medical school. We are choosing from two different students who are on different waiting lists:
- One, a male named Ben, is at the top of the waiting list in the Traditional Pool. The traditional pool mainly looks at quantitative numbers, such as GPA and entry level test scores. Ben received a GPA of 3.8 from
and scored in the top 15% on the entry level tests. Ben grew up in a family that was well-off and he had a lot of opportunities presented to him (he was well taken care of even before birth, put into nice schools, etc). Yale University
- The other applicant is a woman named Bonita. Bonita is in the top of the list of the Diversity Pool. The diversity pool not only looks at the quantitative numbers mentioned above, but also looks at other factors, such as community involvement, life situation, etc. Bonita didn't graduate from high school. Later in life, her employer suggested that she should go to a local university. Bonita went to the university and graduated from with a 3.6 GPA and scored in the top 30% in the entry level tests. Bonita did not grow up in a great family. She was born with a mild case of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. She was not presented with the same opportunities of Ben. She had to drop out of high school to help with her family. She has been involved with and volunteered for many different community activities.
And that’s the basic scenario (if you really want, I could probably get the entire scenario and stick it up here). For two days, we have been debating on this situation and who should be accepted into the medical school.
We got to choose our sides and we are able to switch sides at any point. I chose Ben's side. The point that keeps coming up (from Ben's side) is that he scored higher then Bonita. Plain and simple. Before and after class, I have discussed with Ben's side and this is exactly the reason that everyone on Ben's side is trying to get Ben admitted. He went to a highly esteemed school and got a 3.8. He also scored in the top 15%. Bonita didn't score as high. I can honestly say that I didn't even take race (or any other factors) into consideration, as I'm sure most of Ben's side didn't either.
Towards the end of the debate on day one, we were called racists by one of the people pushing for Bonita. The paper scenario the professor read to us, did not once mention race. The fact that Bonita is a minority, is not a fact, it is just an assumption.
Towards the end of the debate on day two, we were called sexist. A lady in the class asked if the roles were reversed (aka Ben was the less-fortunate who scored lower and Bonita was the well-off who scored higher) would we have chosen the same? Yes we would have. We were looking at the FACT that Ben scored higher (not to mention it was Yale university) than Bonita (who attended a local university). Nothing else. So had Bonita scored higher on both her GPA and entry level tests, I would have been in Bonita’s camp.
Both of these people (the person that called us racist and person that called us sexist) seem to have pretty liberal view points. I don't know if they are liberal or not. But it did get me thinking about liberals. In the case of the debate, they want the underdog to win. There's nothing wrong with that. Having the underdog win is great. It makes for great entertainment. It makes everyone feel motivated that they can accomplish anything. But even though it is great to have the underdog win, in life we have to have some kind of guidelines, rules and benchmarks to live by.
Let's take a couple of movies for example. “Rudy”. Rudy wasn't instantly let into Notre Dame. His grades weren't good enough. So what did Rudy do? He tried harder. He went to a school that he was accepted into and tried to raise he grades. Semester after semester he tried get into Notre Dame and he kept getting rejected. Finally, when his grades were good enough, he was accepted into Notre Dame! He wouldn't have appreciated what he had accomplished nearly as much, if he was just let into the school.
“Pursuit of Happyness”. Chris Gardner came from horrible circumstances. But he wasn't handed the position. He had to fight for it. He had to get the best test scores. Which he did! He turned his life around by his hard work!
These are the best kind of underdog stories. These stories wouldn't have been nearly as good if they didn't accomplish their goals by their own merits and they just had it handed to them. In fact, there probably wouldn't have even been movies or books written about them and their stories.
Here’s another example. Let’s say one of the contestants of the Biggest Loser made it to the Olympics as one of the top competitors in the 100-yard dash. Then on the day of the race, they finished only a few milliseconds behind a contestant that had grown up running (and being in shape) with the goal of making it to the Olympics. We wouldn't give the Biggest Loser the gold medal just because of the journey they had completed. They didn't earn it. But, I would still applaud them for all they had accomplished.
Bottom line, we all want to see people succeed. But we have to live by rules. Rules are what make society possible to live in. And just because we live by rules, doesn't make us bad people. It doesn't make us sexist or racist either.
(And p.s. you can apply this to anything: health care, welfare, immigration, etc.)
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
I found myself wishing I could be sitting in the chair responding to the points Letterman was making. Here's the full clip:
I have watched Letterman a lot over the years, and I personally think he falls into the category of a liberal whose heart is in the right place, but who is misguided on how to arrive at the correct outcome.
Most of Letterman's points have to do with the fact that there are a huge amount of middle class people who are unemployed, and the conservatives want to cut taxes for the wealthy to solve the problem.
Letterman framed the tax cuts as being some sort of a reward for the wealthy. The frustrating thing was that Rand Paul responded with figures about how much tax the wealthy pay, which just reinforced Letterman's argument.
If I could have responded in that moment, here is what I would have said:
"Dave, Let me ask you a question. You are obviously among the top 5% of income earners in the U.S. Think for a second about what you do with your money. You obviously buy goods like houses, cars, food and such. But where does the rest go?
"My guess is that you invest the bulk of your money, and the money that you invest allows businesses to employ workers. I happen to know that one place your money goes is to the Rahal Letterman Racing Team. It's one of your passions, and you have invested a lot of money and time in creating a racing team that (according to your website) now employs at least 65 people.
"You also started a production company called Worldwide Pants that has produced shows like Everybody Loves Raymond, and currently produces the Late Show and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, among other projects.
"How many people does the Late Show employ? How about the Late Late Show? How about Worldwide Pants? Between all of your investments over the years, how many jobs have you, as one wealthy person, created? All of these people wouldn't have jobs if it weren't for your investments.
"The reason we want to give tax breaks to the wealthy is that those tax breaks will lead to an increase in investment in business. Businesses will be more wiling to take risks because the opportunity for reward is higher. The economy will be spurred on by investment."
My mind was wandering as I was driving home today, and I had a thought come to me that I felt proved this principle. I was thinking about the state of the economy and that led to thoughts about the Great Depression. What was it that caused the Great Depression? The major cause, as we know, was the stock market crashing in 1929.
But that always confused me as I was growing up and studying history. How many middle class people do you know right now that have a ton of money tied up in the stock market? If you're like me, there are very few. Most of us in the middle income bracket are just trying to make ends meet.
To me, it made sense that really wealthy people would have lost out big in a stock market crash because they had so much money tied up in investments, and they would be hurting. But I felt like if the stock market crashed right now, it wouldn't affect me at all, because I relatively little money invested. So the middle income earners in 1929 with no money invested should have been just fine, right?
Well, as we know, that was not the case. Unemployment rose to 25% during the Great Depression. How did that happen? The wealthy people and businesses who were creating the jobs had lost everything and no longer had the ability to invest.
The thought I had as I was driving home today is: So if the wealthy losing money leads to losing a ton of jobs and a nation descending into a ddepression (as history has proved), would it not also stand to reason that the wealthy gaining income through tax cuts would lead to an increase in jobs and the wealth of a nation?
Someone explain to me where I'm wrong.
GIVE A MAN A FISH...
I really do believe that Letterman is a kind person at heart. He currently makes $38 million each year. If he were to decide that he wanted to help some unemployed families out at an average household U.S. income of $45,000/year, he could help out 844 families.
Better yet, if Bill Gates decided that he wanted to dedicate $38 billion for the same purpose, he would help out 844,444 each year. The only problem is is that there are currently 6,200,000 people unemployed.
Handing money to people is not the solution. It is simply unsustainable. That is why a wise businessman like Bill Gates choses to take his money and form the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that provides computers to underpriviliged nations. They understand that by raising the education of nations, there will be more individuals who are income-producing and less who are income-consuming. The individuals will get better jobs and earn more income, which will give them more income to spend, and the ball starts rolling. They are trying to create a sustainable model that will not take a $38 billion invesetment... only to require another $38 billion the next year... and the next year... and the next year...
The true way to create wealth in a nation is to create jobs, and that is not going to happen through giving money to low income earners or by the middle class. It is going to happen through the wealthy, as the Great Depression ironically proves.
What Letterman doesn't understand about the conservative call for tax cuts is that the outcome we desire is the same -- That there be no poor among us. We want everybody to be wealthy.
The station we all want to get to at the end of the track is the same. But the train conservatives take is named "Sustainability", and the train liberals take is named "Handouts". One of these two will run out of fuel and never arrive at the station.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
It occurred to me that what made me so uncomfortable was that I was watching a President of the United States take himself on. He was throwing jabs left and right... at himself!
Here are a few excerpts from his speech:
"Now, by itself, this simple recognition won't usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.
"I believe we can. And I believe we must. That's what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they've determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all -- for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics."
Isn't this the same President who rammed through the health care bill despite not having a single Republican vote and with 60% of the public opposing it?
"We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. (Applause.) I don't know if -- I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. (Laughter.) So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's."
Okay, this is one part that has been consistent throughout his presidency: Bashing the oil companies that currently make it possible for he and us to travel around the world in an efficient, cost-effective manner. But the reason that I included this excerpt is that I'm trying to figure out what he means by "the billions of taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies". Please somebody explain to me when the government has evergiven a single dollar to the oil companies? I think what he meant to say there was: "And to help pay for it, I'm asking for Congress to allow the oil companies to keep less of the income they generate."
"Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation's infrastructure, they gave us a 'D.'"
Ummmm... What was the $1 trillion stimulus for? I remember the bridge in Minnesota that collapsed being referenced in the debate about the stimulus and that all of these construction workers were going to be put to work as a result of the $100+ billion that was going into infrastructure. In fact, a quick Google search shows that "Mr. Obama called the bill 'the largest new investment in our nation’s infrastructure since Eisenhower built an interstate highway system in the 1950s.'" That was two years ago, one month after Obama took office. What happened? (See the link in the next section for the answer.)
"We'll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We'll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what's best for the economy, not politicians."
Again, this is wonderful. But I have to ask, why start now? Since the beginning of his presidency, when has President Obama ever worried about making sure that anything is fully paid for? When has he ever created policies that would attract private investment? And when has he ever picked projects based on what's best for the economy instead of politicians? *cough*Wastebook 2010*cough*
"Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. (Applause.) This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying -- without the pat-down. (Laughter and applause.)"
Ummmmmm... Which President's Department of Homeland Security is responsible for the new intrusive patdowns?
And last, but not least...
"But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same."
I had to check this one again to make sure it actually came out of his mouth. So after a $1 Trillion stimulus consisting of borrowed money and leading to record deficits... now we are going to reign in spending.
Throughout the speech, I felt like I was watching an older brother playing "Quit hitting yourself" with a younger brother... only this time the younger brother was actually hitting himself! It was bizarre.
President Obama's speech had the effectiveness of a parent counseling a child not to smoke with an ashtray full of cigarette butts at their side.
As Rush pointed out, he acted like this was his first day in office. What about the last two years?? He has had TWO YEARS with a Democratic majority in both the House & Senate to try to cooperate with those across the table, to improve the infrastructure, to make sure the projects are fully paid for, to encourage private investment, to fix the tax code, and to reign in spending, among the myriad of other things he mentioned in his speech!
President Obama needs to become familiar with the phrase "Actions speak louder than words." His actions have been speaking for the past 743 days, and those actions make the words he spoke last week completely meaningless. Obama 2008-2010 beat the tar out of Obama 2011 in this fight. He was his own worst enemy last Tuesday.
Monday, January 17, 2011
The venom of the left speaking about George W. Bush, even two years after he left office, is astounding. As I've thought about it, I think the venom must stem from Bush's solid stances on his principles. Ironically, that is the same thing that impresses me so much about President Bush.
If I am at a party where people are drinking and someone offers me some alcohol, and I decline based on my principles, there is a tendency for those who are drinking to assume that I am judging them because they are drinking. There will generally be some comment about "you think you're better than us" or "holier than thou". But the reality is that I just simply choose not to drink. Everybody has the freedom to make their own choices.
The greatest controversy and source of venom in regards to President Bush had to do with his stance on terrorism. September 11th, 2001 had a profound impact on President Bush. In his words:
"As I record these thoughts, that day of fire is a distant memory for some of our citizens. The youngest Americans have to firsthand knowledge of the day. Eventually, September 11 will come to feel more like Pearl Harbor Day -- an honored day date on the calendar and an important moment in history, but not a scar on the heart, not a reason to fight on.
"For me, the week of September 11 will always be something more. I will see the Pentagon smoldering, the towers in flames, and that pile of twisted steel. I still hear the voices of the loved ones searching for survivors and the workers yelling, "Do not let me down!" and "Whatever it takes!" I still feel the sadness of the children, the agony of the burn victims, and the torment of the broken families. I still marvel at the bravery of the firefighters, and the compassion of the strangers, and the matchless courage of the passengers who forced down that plane.
"September 11 redefined sacrifice. It redefined duty. And it redefined my job. The story of that week is the key to understanding my presidency. There were so many decisions that followed, many of them controversial and complex. Yet after 9/11, I felt my responsibility was clear. For as long as I held office, I could never forget what happened to America that day. I would pour my heart and soul into protecting the country, whatever it took."
That was the principle: "Protecting the country, whatever it took." I think one of major contributing factors to the hatred of George W. Bush is that he refused to defend himself in the barrage of relentless attacks by so-called news outlets, talk shows, celebrities, and protesters. Here is a perfect example:
Notice Bush's reaction. Even in the face of a physical attack, Bush doesn't defend himself. If it were me, I would have felt like saying, "Let's pretend this was a few years ago in Iraq that you did that, Mr. Journalist. Somebody get a sword." Instead, President Bush talks about in terms of an "important step" and "that's what happens in free societies." Bush felt it was beneath the office of the President to stoop to the level of the critics.
I am currently reading "Decision Points", George W. Bush's autobiography. It has been so refreshing as I've read to finally hear President Bush discuss why he made the decisions he did. Here are a few excerpts I've selected that address some of the more controversial decisions of his presidency:
"Prior to 9/11, many had viewed terrorism primarily as a crime to be prosecuted, as the government had after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. After 9/11, it was clear that the attacks on our embassies in East Africa and on the USS Cole were more than isolated crimes. They were a warm-up for September 11, part of a master plan orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, who had issued a religious edict, known as fatwa, calling the murder of Americans 'an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.'
"On 9/11, it was obvious the law enforcement approach to terrorism had failed. Suicidal men willing to fly passenger planes into buildings were not common criminals. They could not be deterred by the threat of prosecution. They had declared war on America. To protect the country, we had to wage war against the terrorists."
"[In the speech following 9/11] I did want to announce a major decision I had made: The United States would consider any nation that harbored terrorists to be responsible for the acts of those terrorists. This new doctrine overturned the approach of the past, which treated terrorist groups as distinct from their sponsors. We had to force nations to choose whether they would fight the terrorists or share in their fate. And we had to wage this war on the offense, by attacking the terrorists overseas before they could attack us again at home."
THE PATRIOT ACT
"Putting the country on war footing required more than just tightening our physical defenses. We needed better legal, financial, and intelligence tools to find the terrorists and stop them before it was too late.
"One major gap in our counter terrorism capabilities was what many called 'the wall.' Over time, the government had adopted a set of procedures that prevented law enforcement and intelligence personnel from sharing key information.
"'How can we possibly assure our citizens we are protecting them if our own people can't even talk to each other?' I said in one meeting shortly after the attacks. 'We have got to fix the problem.'
"Attorney General John Ashcroft took the lead in writing a legislative proposal. The result was the USA PATRIOT Act. The bill eliminated the wall and allowed law enforcement and intelligence personnel to share information. It modernized our counter terrorism capabilities by giving investigators access to tools like roving wiretaps, which allowed them to track suspects who changed cell phone numbers--an authority that had long been used to catch drug traffickers and mob bosses. It authorized aggressive financial measures to freeze terrorist assets. And it included judicial and congressional oversight to protect civil liberties.
"One provision created a little discomfort at home. The PATRIOT Act allowed the government to seek warrants to examine the business records of suspected terrorists, such as credit card receipts, apartment leases, and library records. As a former librarian, Laura didn't like the idea of federal agents snooping around libraries. I didn't, either. But the intelligence community had serious concerns about terrorists using library computers to communicate. Library records had played a role in several high-profile cases, such as the Zodiac gunman murders in California. The last thing I wanted twas to allow the freedom and access to information provided by American libraries to be utilized against us by al Queda.
"Lawmakers recognized the urgency of the threat and passed the PATRIOT Act 98 to 1 in the Senate and 357 to 66 in the House. 'We took the time to look at it, we took the time to read it, and we took time to remove those parts that were unconstitutional and those parts that would have actually hurt liberties of all Americans, 'Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said. His Democratic colleague, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, added, 'If there is one key word that underscores this bill, it is 'balance.' In the new post-September 11 society that we face, balance is going to be a key word . . . Balance and reason have prevailed.'
"Over the next five years, the PATRIOT Act helped us break up potential terror cells in New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Florida. In one example, law enforcement and intelligence agencies shared information that led to the arrest of six Yemeni Americans in Lackawanna, New York, who had traveled to a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and met with Osama bin Laden. Five pled guilty to providing material support to al Quaeda. The other admitted to unlawful transactions with al Qaeda.
"Some claimed the Lackawanna Six and others we arrested were little more than 'small-town dupes' with fanciful plots 'who had no intention of carrying out terrorist acts.' I always wondered how the second guessers could be so sure. After all, in August 2001, the idea that terrorists commanded from caves in Afghanistan would attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on U.S. commercial airplanes would have seemed pretty far-fetched. For me, the lesson of 9/11 was simple: Don't take chances. When our law enforcement and intelligence professionals found people with ties to terrorist networks inside the United States, I would rather be criticized for taking them into custody too early than waiting until it was too late."
"As part of the 9/11 investigation, we discovered that two hijackers who had infiltrated the United States... had communicated with al Qaeda leaders overseas more than a dozen times before the attack. My immediate question was: Why hadn't we intercepted the calls? If we had heard what [the hijackers] were saying, we might have been able to stop the attacks of 9/11.
"The man with the answers was Mike Hayden, the three-star Air Force general who led the National Security Agency... Mike told me the NSA had the capability to monitor those al Qaeda phone calls into the United States before 9/11. But he didn't have the legal authority to do it without receiving a court order, a process that could be difficult and slow.
"The reason was a law called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Written in 1978, before widespread use of cell phones and Internet, FISA prohibited the NSA from monitoring communications involving people inside the United States without a warrant from the FISA court. For example, if a terrorist in Afghanistan contacted a terrorist in Pakistan, NSA could intercept their conversation. But if the same terrorist called someone inside the United States, or sent an e-mail that touched an American computer server, NSA had to apply for a court order.
"That made no sense. Why should it be tougher to monitor al Qaeda communications with terrorists inside the United States than with associates overseas. As Mike Hayden put it, we were 'flying blind with no early warning system.'
"After 9/11, we couldn't afford to fly blind. If al Qaeda operatives were calling into or out of the United States, we damn sure needed to know who they were calling and what they were saying. And given the urgency of the threats, we could not allow ourselves to get bogged down in the court approval process. I asked the White House counsel's office and the Justice Department if I could authorize the NSA to monitor al Qaeda communications into and out of the country without FISA warrants.
"Both told me I could. They concluded that conducting surveillance against our enemies in war fell within the authorities granted by the congressional war resolution and the constitutional authority of the commander in chief. Abraham Lincoln had wiretapped telegraph machines during the Civil War. Woodrow Wilson had ordered the interception of virtually every telephone and telegraph message going into or out of the United States during World War I. Franklin Roosevelt had allowed the military to read and censor communications during World War II.
"Before I approved the Terrorist Surveillance Program, I wanted to ensure there would be safeguards to prevent abuses. I had no desire to turn the NSA into an Orwellian Big Brother. I knew the Kennedy brothers had teamed up with J. Edgar Hoover to listen illegally to the conversations of innocent people, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Lyndon Johnson had continued the practice. I thought that was a sad chapter in our history, and I wasn't going to repeat it...
"I gave the order to proceed with the program. We considered going to Congress to get legislation, but key members from both parties who received highly classified briefings on the program agreed that the surveillance was necessary and that legislative debate was not possible without exposing our methods to the terrorists."
"Initially, most captured al Qaeda fighters were held for questioning in battlefield prisons in Afghanistan. In November, CIA officers went to interrogate Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners detained at a primitive nineteenth-century Afghan fortress, Qala-i-Jangi. A riot ensued. Using weapons smuggled onto the complex, enemy fighters killed on of our officers, Johnny 'Mike" Spann, making him the first American combat death in the war.
"The tragedy highlighted the need for a secure facility to hold captured terrorists. There were a few options, none particularly attractive. For a while, we held al Qaeda detainees on Navy ships in the Arabian Sea. But that was not a viable long-term solution. Another possibility was to send the terrorists to a secure base on a distant island or U.S. territory, such as Guam. But holding captured terrorists on American soil could activate constitutional protections they would not otherwise receive, such as the right to remain silent. That would make it much more difficult to get the urgently needed intelligence.
"We decided to hold detainees at a remote naval station on the southern tip of Cuba, Guantanamo Bay. The base was on Cuban soil, but the United States controlled it under a lease acquired after the Spanish-American War. The Justice Department advised me that prisoners brought there had no right to access the U.S. criminal justice system. The area surrounding Guantanamo was inaccessible and sparsely populated. Holding terrorists in Fidel Castro's Cuba was hardly an appealing prospect. But as Don Rumsfeld put it, Guantanamo was the 'lease worst choice.'"
"While our humane treatment of the detainees was consistent with the Geneva Conventions, al Qaeda did not meet the qualifications for Geneva protection as a legal matter. The purpose of Geneva was to provide incentives for nation-states to fight wars by an agreed set of rules to protect human dignity and innocent life--and to punish warriors who do not. But the terrorists did not represent a nation-state. They had not signed the Geneva Conventions. Their entire mode of operation--intentionally killing the innocent--defied the principles of Geneva. And if al Qaeda captured an American, there was little chance they would treat him humanely."
"On March 28, 2002, I could hear excitement in George Tenet's voice. He reported that Pakistani police--with a hand from the FBI and CIA-- had launched a takedown operation against several al Qaeda safe houses in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad. They netted more than two dozen operatives, including Abu Zubaydah.
"I had been hearing reports about Aubaydah for months. The intelligence community believed he was a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden and a senior recruiter and operator who had run a camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers had trained. He was suspected of involvement in previous plots to destroy targets in Jordan and blow up Los Angeles International airport. The CIA believed he was planning to attack America again.
"Zubaydah had been severely wounded in a gun battle prior to his arrest. The CIA flew in a top doctor, who saved his life. The Pakistanis then turned him over to our custody. The FBI began questioning Zubaydah, who had clearly been trained on how to resist interrogation. He revealed bits and pieces of information he thought we already knew...
"Then Zubaydah stopped answering questions. George Tenet told me interrogators believed Zubaydah had more information to reveal. If he was hiding something more, what could it be? Zubaydah was our best lead to avoid another catastrophic attack. 'We need to find out what he knows,' I directed the team. 'What are our options?'
"One option was for the CIA to take over Zubaydah's questioning and move him to a secure location in another country where the Agency wold have total control over his environment. CIA experts drew up a list of interrogation techniques that differed from those Zubaydah had successfully resisted. George assured me all interrogations would be performed by experienced intelligence professionals who had undergone extensive training. Medical personnel would be on-site to guarantee that the detainee was not physically or mentally harmed.
"At my direction, Deptartment of Justice and CIA lawyers conducted a careful legal reivew. They concluded that the enhanced interrogation program complied with the Constitution and all applicable laws, including those that ban torture.
"I took a look at the list of techniques. There were two that I felt went too far, even if they were legal. I directed the CIA not to use them. Another technique was waterboarding, a process of simulated drowning. No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did no lasting harm...
"The new techniques proved highly effective. Zubaydah revealed large amounts of information on al Qaeda's structure and operations. He also provided leads that helped reveal the location of Ramzi bin al Shibh, the logistical planner of the 9/11 attacks. The Pakistani police picked him up on the first anniversary of 9/11.
"Zubaydah later explained to interrogators why he started answering questions again. His understanding of Islam was that he had to resist interrogation up to a certain point. Waterboarding was the technique that allowed him to reach that threshold, fulfill his religious duty, and then cooperate. 'You must do this for all the brothers,' he said."
"Pakistani forces raided the complex and hauled out their target. It was the chief operating officer of al Qaeda, the murderer of Danny Pearl, and the mastermind of 9/11: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
"I was relieved to have one of al Qaeda's senior leaders off the battlefield. But my relief did not last long. Agents searching Khalied Sheikh Mohammed's compound discovered what one official later called a 'mother lode' of valuable intelligence. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was obviously planning more attacks. It didn't sound like he was willing to give us any information about them. 'I'll talk to you,' he said, 'after I get to New York and see my lawyer.'
"George Tenet asked if he had permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I thought about my meeting with Danny Pearl's widow, who was pregnant with his son when he was murdered. It thought about the 2,973 people stolen from their families by al Qaeda on 9/11. And I thought about my solemn duty to protect the county from another act of terror.
"'Damn right,' I said.
"Khalid Sheikh Mohammed proved difficult to break. But when he did, he gave us a lot. He disclosed plans to attack American targets with anthrax and directed us to three people involved in the al Qaeda biological weapons program. He provided information that led to the capture of Hambali, the chief of al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate in Southeast Asia and the architect of the Bali terrorist attack that killed 202 people. He provided further details that led agents to Hambali's brother, who had been grooming operatives to carry out another attack inside the United States, possibly a West Coast version of 9/11 in which terrorists flew a hijacked plane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles.
"Years later, the Washington Post ran a front-page story about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's transformation. Headlined 'How a Detainee Became an Asset,', it described how Mohammed 'seemed to relish the opportunity, sometimes for hours on end, to discuss the inner workings of al-Qaeda and the group's plans, ideology and operatives. . . He'd even use a chalkboard at times.' The intelligence he provided, which proved to be vital to saving American lives, almost certainly would not have come to light without the CIA's enhanced interrogation program.
"Of the thousands of terrorists we captured in the years after 9/11, about a hundred were placed into the CIA program. About a third of those were questioned using enhanced techniques. Three were waterboarded."
These are just a few of the issues discussed in Bush's "Decision Points." It has been refreshing to hear him address the attacks from his critics and explain why he made the decisions he did. In every case, he has a sound logical argument for his decision that he arrived at with the consulation of experts.
If you agree with the philosophy of "terrorism as a crime to be prosecuted", I can see how you can disagree with his actions. But if you believe that we need to prevent terrorist attacks before they happen, I don't understand how you can disagree with his actions, given the facts, unless it is simply because he has an "R." out to the side of his name. (This is blaringly apparent by the fact that President Obama has continued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has maintained the prison at Guantanamo Bay, despite criticism from his supporters.)
President Bush made the decisions he did through the filter of 9/11 and protecting the country, whatever it took. Nobody can argue with the results. There has not been a single terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. I, for one, am grateful for President George W. Bush.