Thursday, April 28, 2011

Decision Points – A Review of George W. Bush’s Presidential Memoir

I am sure many people will scoff at the idea of reading former President George W. Bush’s recent presidential memoir Decision Points. Perhaps these skeptics will say that the book is just more lies, trumped-up excuses, or inside-the-beltway “spin” from a man who ended his presidency with pretty low poll numbers. But the decision not to read the book because you disagree with some or all of the policies of the man would be the wrong decision in my view. The book may not change your opinion of the man, but it does end up presenting him as a man, who in the end picks up his dog’s poop with a plastic bag just like the rest of us.

Decision Points is candid, informative, and deals in a behind-the-scenes way with issues that were argued about ad infinitum during Bush’s presidency, giving the reader his perspective on why he lead the way he did. You won’t get this take on what happened over the last decade from The New York Times or CNN. He deals with the reasons behind decisions he made concerning his response to the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, his decision to take down Saddam Hussein’s regime, his rescue of Chrysler and GM, and the much maligned TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). He also deals with personal issues such as why it was finally time to take responsibility for his life and actions and stop a personally destructive drinking habit.

Here are some of the topics Mr. Bush covers in the 480 page book:
  •  The former baseball team owner talks in detail about his formative younger years and overcoming his negative relationship with alcohol and the effect it was having on his personal and family life.
  •  He talks about his relationships with his wife, his daughters, and his parents.
  • Bush discusses his years as governor of Texas, his decision to run for president, and the two difficult presidential campaigns.
  •  He speaks of his relationships with the people in his administrations like Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Don Rumsfeld, and his reasons behind choosing them for their various positions.
  •  The education reform known as No Child Left Behind is covered in detail along with statistics before and after its implementation.
  • The attacks of September 11, 2001 are discussed and here the behind-the-scenes activities of a president during an unprecedented crisis are informative, enlightening, and emotional.
  • The decision to go to war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda is explained.
  • Though extremely unpopular with many people, the context surrounding the Iraq War is again laid out before the reader.
  • Protecting the Homefront was one of the most important things to George W. Bush as president, and he discusses the steps he and his administration took in concert with Congress to successfully protect Americans from another attack.
  • Hurricane Katrina was the worst natural disaster in U.S. history and Bush explains things his administration got right and the things they got wrong.
  • Aid to Africa to fights AIDS and malaria was also important to President Bush but this received little public attention while he was president. He explains in the book that it was one of the most impactful and important things he did.
  • TARP, AIG, and the auto bailout, were attacked from the right and the left in the last year of the president’s term in office. He deals with the decision to go ahead with these actions while placing them in the context and dismal climate that existed at the time.
The book is honest, heartfelt, and often displays a humbleness that many people found admirable in the man when he was in office. Decision Points was written by someone who comes across as a man who had the country’s best interests at heart, and based his decisions on what he felt was the best choice for protecting or supporting the American people. Clearly he was wrong many times, as most presidents have been about some things, and many times in this book he points out the places where he may have been wrong or would have done something different. But he also defends many of the decisions where he feels he was right and acting in the best interests of the American people. He places all the decisions back into the contexts in which they were made, reminding us of the environments and conditions in which the actions were taken.

I did not agree with some of the policies of President Bush while he was in office, including his push for amnesty for illegal aliens, his painfully slow turnaround on implementing the surge in Iraq, his apparent lack of will to concentrate on winning in Afghanistan, and the extreme bailout mentality at the end of his term. But I believe that anyone who is interested in U.S. history, policy, politics, or presidents, whether they agree with this president or not, will benefit from reading this book. I enjoyed getting to know a decent man a little better, and understanding some of the important events of the last ten years with greater depth and clarity.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Atlas Shrugged Part 1 - Movie Review

Image copyright The Strike Productions
The movie Atlas Shrugged is based on a continuously popular novel of the same title by Ayn Rand published in 1957. Atlas Shrugged opened April 15 (the usual IRS tax return deadline) and through April 28 has made 3.1 million dollars while playing on just 465 screens. (A normal release being 2500 to 3000 screens.) Hopefully the limited distribution of the film and the correspondingly lower box office receipts won’t hurt the chances for the production and release of Part 2. Why? Because for someone who hasn’t read the book, the movie ends frustratingly abruptly and leaves too many loose ends untied. I won’t hold my breath for this movie to have made a profit based on the mere eight people who were in the theater with me and a friend on a Tuesday evening. Hopefully, The Strike Productions will do a better job of marketing and distributing the DVD when it comes out a month or two from now.

Atlas Shrugged, the movie, is set in 2016 in an only slightly surreal United States mired in economic depression, and hyper-government control of business, and industry. Innovation, invention, and capitalism are frowned upon; success is anathema. Laws are being passed left and right to place controls on businesses and individuals that gain too much success. An anti-dog-eat-dog law is one example. Another example is that individual citizens are limited by law to owning one company. But lobbying, cronyism, political favoritism, and plenty of other immoral activity continues apace, while a liberal agenda of spreading fairness and spreading wealth is brought to bear as the government policy for dealing with the deepening depression and poverty in the country. Unfortunately, and probably not coincidentally, the subject matter bears striking similarities to some of the policies and activities being pursued in the U.S. under the Obama administration.

In the movie, gasoline is 37 dollars a gallon which causes personal travel and movement of freight by train to be the preferred methods of locomotion. It is in this atmosphere that Dagny Taggert, an owner of a family-owned railroad struggles to bring her business back from a disastrous railway accident. She has decided to use a revolutionary metal made from a new alloy to rebuild the tracks of her broken and decaying Rio Norte line. Hank Reardon is the beset owner of the steel company and developer of the new metal. The two CEOs collaborate on the project with Ellis Wyatt, a tough, down-to-earth oil company owner who needs the train line to move his oil cross-country. They succeed, despite being continuously dogged by government regulation, divestiture of personal property, political and industrial sabotage, etc.

Atlas Shrugged has some beautiful cinematography, and good acting by Taylor Shilling, Grant Bowler, Matthew Marsden, and Graham Beckel. Without the background of having read the book, some of what goes on in the movie is maddeningly mysterious, and as previously mentioned the ending is a dissatisfying truncation. But all in all, the good outweighs the little bad there is and this allegorical story is worth the time and money spent to see it. I just hope there is a part two to come.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Source Code - Movie Review

Image copyright Summit Entertainment
Source Code is an exciting, interesting, emotion charged, and sometimes baffling movie. And considering that it is also a riveting whodunit thriller, I am surprised that the box office take isn’t larger than the approximately $36,000,000 (thru 4/18/11) it has garnered since April 1 when it opened in theaters across the U.S. I went to see it on Sunday afternoon and there were eight, maybe ten people in the small theater. I’m not complaining, because the fewer people in the small space we were in, the less distractions while the movie played. But as good as the film is, this didn’t seem like a fair-sized audience. Maybe the marketing of the movie is inadequate, though I do have to give kudos to the studio, who, besides making the standard trailers available for the film, also made available the first five minutes of the movie as a teaser on Yahoo’s movies website. The trailers, including the five minute one hooked me and I had to see the film. Source Code has even gotten many good critical and user reviews (including this one).

Jake Gyllenhaal, is terrific as Captain Colter Stevens, an Air Force helicopter pilot who wakes up in another man’s body on a doomed train headed for Chicago (doomed I tells ya). For a good portion of the movie he is trying to acclimate himself to his confusing situation and finds out a little here and a little there to keep the viewer interested in what is happening to the man. In the seat across from him on the commuter train is a friend of “his”, a woman named Christina who is played very well by Michelle Monaghan.

At the start of the movie, the viewer is made aware that Captain Stevens is apparently on a mission to find out who bombed a commuter train and thwart a possible nuclear dirty bomb attack on the city of Chicago. And there is time travel of a sort involved. The twists and turns of storyline as Stevens tries to figure out where the bomb is, who the bomber is, and what his own situation is, make the movie plenty exciting. The unhomogeneous cast of characters on the train adds a realistic flavor to everyday life in the suburbs of an American city.

If you have ever seen Groundhog Day then you’ll recognize the parallel with that movie almost immediately, but unlike Groundhog Day which beats you over the head with its plot gimmick, Source Code does not. In an interesting casting nod, Scott Bakula, who played a time traveler in Quantum Leap, is cast as the voice of Capt. Stevens’ father, though I didn’t realize it at the time and it doesn’t matter in terms of the movie, it is just a cool connection. 

What a great picture! If you’re going to see a movie in the next week or two, see this film!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Donald Trump, "Political" Opportunist

Donald and Melania Trump (by Boss Tweed)
I hate to admit it. I too was caught up in the Donald Trump possible-presidential-run media-hype, protocampaign tour as much as many other Republicans, conservatives, and independents are. He has compelling arguments. He is saying all the right things about China, OPEC, and Obama's spending. Trump's a successful, self-made "billionaire". He says he's conservative. He's a businessman and would do things as president that would benefit the American economy, and from the point of view of a CEO. I read "The Donald"'s first two books, the first one, The Art of the Deal, was a runaway bestseller and I enjoyed it very much. It was a motivating read. The second book, which may or may not have been called BlaBlaBla, wasn't nearly as interesting. Additionally, the real estate mogul and casino owner also has a successful show called "The Apprentice" and a commanding presence to boot. How many people can say they have a catch phrase? ("You're Fired") In short, he's a doer, not a socialist, community organizer looking to bring the U.S. down a notch.

But my thanks go out to radio talkshow host Mark Levin for opening my eyes to who this guy really is. Mark has been skeptical of Trump since his potential presidential run began. It started with questions about his financial contributions to politicians which were all over the map and seem to actually favor Democrats. Trump sloughed off this criticism as him just being loyal to friends and though he didn't say it, from how it looks it seems as if he is basically greasing the palms of everybody just in case in the future he ever needs to call in a favor from one of these politicians. I'm not saying he is doing this. I'm just saying it looks like that.

Here is the text of some of the recordings of Trump that Levin played on his show on Friday. You can hear them on Mark Levin's website and find them easily on YouTube. Go to the tape: "I'm impressed with Nancy Pelosi...but I'm surprised that she didn't try to have Bush impeached, which personally I think would have been a wonderful thing. He lied. He got us into the war with lies." "I think Obama will lead by consensus." "He's (Obama) done an amazing job." "Bush has been a disaster, he's been terrible...who could be worse?" "Bush has been so bad, so incompetent, so evil, I don't think any (Republican) could have won." And here's the pièce de résistance, something we conservatives say whenever we wake up in the morning, but in this case they are Donald Trump's words, "We must have universal health care."

Wow! What a true-blue conservative. Yep. What? You can't hear me through the dripping wet digital sarcasm that's slogging its sticky way through your broadband Internet connection? Sblorry.

But wait! Just when you thought we'd had enough fun for one day, Mr. Trump switches gears. Back to the tapes: "I used to say Jimmy Carter was the worst president in U.S. history, now I say it's Barack Obama." "Barack Obama is the worst president ever."

Donald Trump calls himself a conservative, and practically called himself a compassionate conservative (which was George W. Bush's label) the other day on Sean Hannity's television show. But many of Trump's views are downright liberal Democrat views. His venomous position on George W. Bush and the Iraq war is a liberal Democrat position. His view that America needs universal health care is a liberal Democrat position. His previous support for Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi is certainly not a conservative position. And a conservative would not financially support Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, and the like.

While Donald Trump would be certainly be better to have in the office of President of the United States than Barack Obama, he would not be better than ANY of the other serious, and proven Republicans. He just happens to know how to play the media. His opportunistic "campaign" for president will end by his own hand when he sees the jig is up, when he doesn't need a ratings boost any more, or when skeptical Republicans dismiss him as the "fake, phoney, fraud" that he is.

Friday, April 1, 2011

If You Want Employment to Rise, Buy American

The headline of this article makes a certain amount of sense, don’t you think? More on common sense in a moment. But first some good news.

Today it has been reported that the unemployment rate has fallen to 8.8 percent, a one tenth of one percent drop from February. This is due to the economy adding 216,000 jobs in March, the second month in a row that jobs were added at that rate. Hopefully this number won’t be adjusted down in the coming days as is often the case with unemployment numbers. These figures are good news and come in spite of the President’s anti-business policies such as the Stimulus, Obamacare, Quantitative Easing, and the previous Congress’s neverending unemployment insurance extensions. It’s no surprise that Mitt Romney says in his USAToday opinion piece that the rate of new jobs production would be much higher (and the unemployment rate lower) by now if it were not for Obama’s policies. This is part of the common sense I was talking about earlier, and it’s a view held by a large and growing portion of the American population.

But we as Americans can (and should) do more to make the employment numbers rise in our towns and states. We can buy American-based services and products. We can buy local. It is only common sense. Do you think buying Japanese Playstations made in China will help U.S. unemployment numbers? Or would buying a Microsoft Xbox 360 be a better idea? Would buying a Toshiba laptop be a good idea? Or would buying an Apple, Dell, or HP product help more? Of course the latter would help more.

But we Americans don’t always do what is common sense when it comes to what we buy. Americans most often buy whatever is the lowest-priced product or service, generally not paying attention to (or caring) where something is made. For instance, if Moammar Gadhafi was selling gasoline at $2 a gallon in New York City right now, there’d be a line into the gas station as long as Fifth Avenue. That’s the way it is for many American consumers. Too often today there is no choice but to buy products made in China by foreign national companies. Although buying Korean cell phones and automobiles does involve employment for the people selling those goods in this country, there are not as many people employed as if the product were designed, made, and sold by an American company. In addition the tax benefits accrued by the various taxing authorities are fewer leading to lower tax revenues flowing into the various governing authorities. Not to mention greater debt and lower employment.

Is your neighbor out of work? Are you? What better way to support them than to buy American, and even better to buy LOCAL. Being from Michigan originally, I have always supported American automobile makers. Especially nowadays, the vehicles Detroit makes are stylish, and built with real quality. I had friends in the auto business, in addition to having a brother who works directly in that industry. I felt that if I ever bought a vehicle that wasn’t made in America, that I’d be doing my small part in diminishing the business that he depends on for his family’s bread and butter. It’s not much to ask of a family member or neighbor to support the company that employs them and provides a tax base to the state and local governments where you live, instead of supporting the workers and the tax base of some city, say in Germany.

If you lived in a town full of bakeries, some of them run by your relatives, would you buy bread from Denmark? If you lived in Idaho would you buy potatoes from Michigan? If you would, let me just remind you that you only have two feet that you can shoot.

Buying local, means, as much as possible, eating in your town, buying gasoline in the burg where you pay your real estate taxes, grocery shopping in your town, and buying your car and your cell phone where you live. This supports the businesses that pay taxes in your town, thereby keeping the pressure on raising your taxes lower.

It’s hard sometimes to find American-made options, but in the car market, it’s easy. Besides American automakers, there are many foreign companies that manufacture cars in the U.S. now, which is a good alternative for consumers who don’t like Detroit’s big three automakers. Honda makes many Accords, Civics and Acuras in the U.S., as does Toyota with their Camry, Hyundai’s Sonata, BMW’s Z series, Mercedes, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Subaru all make cars in the U.S. using American workers. These car buying options are good for those people wanting to support American jobs, and as with American automakers you have to look at them on a model-by-model basis to see if they are actually “Made in the USA”. Look at the sticker on the window for the country of origin.

Other options for American-made goods are bath towels which I found at Bed, Bath and Beyond which were luxurious and only slightly higher cost than their Chinese and Pakistani-made counterparts in the store. Oh, and buy American-made bottled water. There’s really no excuse for buying water from Fiji, or France, from an ecological standpoint or from an ideological standpoint. Same for beer and wine. There are so many super California wines that there is no excuse for buying wine from anywhere else. And small and large American breweries have a wide variety of tasty beers these days that employ American workers. Buy some American beer if you’re imbibing this weekend. You’ll feel great about it. Without going into everything that’s made in the U.S., some of the bigger items like appliances from Whirlpool, Maytag, and Kenmore are made in the U.S. as are most lawn tractors, and heavy equipment from companies like John Deere, Caterpillar, and Komatsu among others.

The more we Buy American, not because we are against other countries, but because we are for our neighbors, family members, and fellow citizens, the better the chance we’ll have of digging ourselves out of this jobless, economic funk that the U.S. currently finds itself in, despite the monetary policies of the government which continue to choke economic growth.

For more exhaustive lists of American-made products, check out these Made in the USA links: