Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Dubious Battle

There’s a war in Libya and we’re in it. Obama Administration officials don’t want to call it a war and they don’t want to call it a battle either. They prefer to call it a “kinetic military action.” President Obama ordered our military to protect civilians in Libya who were being killed by Colonel Kaddafi as he tries to wipe out rebels there who want to overthrow him. It’s much more complicated than that though, as wars always are. We’re taking the side of the rebels in a civil war. They’re going to benefit as we restrict Kaddafi’s forces, but who are these rebels we’re helping? If and when they take over Libya, will they be better than Kaddafi? Let’s hope. Might they be worse? Evidence exists that they could be worse, both for Libya and for us. We don’t know, and that’s the problem with what President Obama is doing.

Does our president have a long-term policy in the Middle East or is he just reacting to events as they occur? Is he operating under the auspices of the United Nations? NATO? Is the United States leading this operation or following? Who is with us and who is against us? None of that is clear. If we’re protecting civilians from a dictator, why are we doing that in Libya and not Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Bahrain, or Iran in which civilians are suffering fully as much as they are in Libya?

Obama’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, advised him that Libya was not a threat to America and we had no strategic interests there. Several weeks ago, his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, advised him that we needed to establish a “no-fly zone” in the country as soon as possible and so did Senator John Kerry but Obama did nothing for two weeks. He claims to have been a professor of Constitutional law, but then he acted without consulting Congress, which is constitutionally dubious and which prompted Ohio Democrat Congressman Dennis Kucinich to call for his impeachment.

We have a commander-in-chief who can read a speech from a teleprompter very well. While campaigning, he can appear confident and smart to voters, 52% of whom elected him. Reading from a teleprompter isn’t enough anymore, but it’s increasingly evident that he isn’t good at much of anything else. He’s president now though, and he has to make tough decisions. He can’t just vote “present” the way he was accustomed to in the Illinois legislature, but he’s avoiding decisions until he’s absolutely forced to make them - and Libya is the result.

Is there some other way to make sense of all this? It looks to me like Obama epitomizes the worst of the liberal baby-boomer world view. He’s a reflection of the people who elected him. Baby boomers blame their parents for the evils of the world; Obama blames George Bush. He believes the world would be a better place if it were not for capitalism and US foreign policy. Rather than believing that America is an exceptional country in the history of the world, he sees America as a problem. He’s a utopian who thinks people around the world would get along fine if they weren’t “exploited.” The world would be all smiling happy people holding hands if it weren’t for US imperialism.

Obama admires a Europe which has spent two generations apologizing and flailing itself for colonizing Africa and Asia and then expanding socialist welfare programs for everyone, including illegal immigrants. Now it looks like he’s earnestly trying to copy those policies here in the United States. That both Europe and America are going bankrupt as a result seems not to bother him.

As for dealing with the Middle East, President Obama’s actions so far indicate that his plan has been to make nice speeches in Muslim countries apologizing for American “arrogance” and all will be well there, but it isn’t working. They’re burning him in effigy just as they did George Bush. That the rebel commander we’re helping in Libya fought against the United States in Afghanistan, that he recruits al Qaida terrorists to his side doesn’t seem to trouble our president. That they’re murdering black immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t trouble him either.Rebel Commander Abdel-Hakim Al-Hasidi from Daily Telegraph UK

Until last week when he intervened, Arab Muslim terrorists were killing each other in Libya and we didn’t have to do anything but watch. What could be better than that? Why mess that up? I just don’t understand the rationale and neither, it seems, does our president. I listened to his speech Monday night, but came away still not understanding why we’re going further into debt and further committing our already overstretched military to install a government in Libya that shows all signs of being worse than terrorist, transvestite, mentally-disturbed Colonel Kaddafi.

If our commander-in-chief is going to commit our soldiers anywhere, he has to know what the goal is, then use maximum force to achieve it as quickly as possible. Or, don’t go in at all.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Much Will It Really Cost?

Back in the 1980s, The US Department of Energy had plans to bury “high-level nuclear waste” in the form of spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants in the eastern United States - under the towns of southern and western Maine and eastern New Hampshire. My own town of Lovell was on the northern edge of the site they were considering. Recent events in Japan have brought it all back to me.

I was in my first term on Lovell’s Board of Selectmen when volumes of bound studies as big as the Obamacare bill arrived at our town office in January, 1986 as well as every other town between Lovell and Westbook, Maine and Conway, New Hampshire. I didn’t know much about nuclear power and neither did most other town officials, so I went to an impromptu informational meeting somebody called at Lake Region High School in Naples, Maine. Interesting people from all over southern Maine appeared and lined up at the microphone.Guys who had served on nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers explained what they knew. Retired geologists familiar with what was under the ground in our part of the world explained gave their opinions. Retired federal employees explained what they knew. Guys who had been drilling wells all over the area explained what they’d discovered - and they all kept it simple enough for lay people to understand. Mostly, I sat and listened, very impressed by how many bright people from varied backgrounds lived quiet lives in rural Maine, and how well everyone cooperated to deal with this threat to the land we all called home.The "pluton" is light-colored on this portion of the 1985 Bedrock Geologic Map of Maine

The DOE (US Department of Energy) was implementing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which had become law in 1982 and directed the DOE to find a “high-level nuclear waste repository” somewhere east of the Mississippi in which to “dispose” of all those spent fuel rods crowding storage pools in dozens of nuclear power plants. They said there was a “pluton” under the ground here at least 1500 meters thick, and it was flawless. It was contiguous. It had no cracks or seams. Vertical shafts could be cut down 1000 meters and lateral shafts could be cut horizontally. Spent fuel rods could be stored in those shafts deep down there and be safe for 10,000 years.

The more we studied their proposal, the more flabbergasted we became. We knew the “pluton” under us had lots of cracks in it because most of us had sunk wells into it and had been using the water that flowed through those cracks for years. It was anything but flawless. How could the DOE insist it was a seamless mass of granite? Were they fools? Did they think we were? This “pluton” underlay Sebago Lake - Portland’s water supply.

Other informational meetings were held. Thousands more came to learn and become outraged at what the federal government proposed for our state. Television cameras were set up, and wherever there were crowds and cameras, there were politicians. Whoever was running for governor, congress or the state legislature showed up to make speeches that didn’t seem to help much. Ironically, local citizen’s groups here in Maine adopted the yellow Gadsden Flag with the coiled snake saying “DON’T TREAD ON ME,” which is, of course, the same one citizens’ groups protesting big government and calling themselves “The Tea Party” have adopted. We especially liked it because the “ME” at the end is the postal abbreviation for Maine. I’ve had mine hanging right under the American flag in my classroom for twenty-five years.Reluctantly, DOE bureaucrats came to Maine and Conway, New Hampshire, conducted their hearings, and felt our wrath. From January to April, I was out at least three or four nights a week at meetings and hearings or organizing opposition. At one of those meetings in Casco, Maine on the night of April 26, 1986, we heard about the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Kiev in the Ukraine. Right after that, the US Department of Energy abruptly discontinued its search for an eastern repository for its nuclear waste. The issue was too politically hot for the federal government to handle. The "Eastern Repository" idea was shelved and the DOE concentrated on "disposing" its waste inside Yucca Mountain, Nevada. We were off the hook. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, however, had the Yucca Mountain site in his home state of Nevada killed last year. The DOE is back to square one.

The still-unsolved problem of what to do with nuclear waste is the Achille’s heel of the nuclear industry. Today, just as liberal and conservative politicians in America are actively considering nuclear power again, Japan is shining a light on it for the world to see. It’s their spent-fuel-rod pool they’re having the most trouble with at this writing. When nuclear powered electric generation was introduced in the 1950s, some said it would be virtually free - too cheap to meter. Today, we still don’t know how much it really costs per kilowatt hour because we don’t know the expense of storing those mounting spent fuel rods or disposing of them - if we ever figure out how.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Aesthetic Attempts

My camera is with me wherever I go, on a strap over my shoulder or nearby in the car or the truck. When I see something beautiful or interesting, I want to capture its image. If I should forget it, I’ll turn around even if it makes me late.It’s rare though when can I replicate what I see - especially beauty, which, as the saying goes, is “in the eye of the beholder.” What my eye sees and my camera sees are similar but never the same and neither sees the world as it really is. Objective reality exists, the perception of which I can only approach with the faculties my Creator gave me, or with the device Nikon made. I try to understand the world around me using my brain, and I try to perceive it with my senses knowing those faculties are limited and the results will always be imperfect.It’s helpful to keep this in mind when editing pictures, which I like to do, but for which I seldom have enough time. Editing is so much easier with digital photography and cheaper too. All one needs is a computer whereas in the old days, a darkroom was necessary with enlargers and chemicals. Amateur photographers I know refuse to edit, considering the process unacceptable compromise. One won’t even crop, believing that if he didn’t frame it properly when shooting it, too bad.I’ll bet that if I asked them, few would object to converting a color shot to black-and-white, yet they wouldn’t consider digitally enhancing colors or contrasts or brightness. I use to feel the same way about my images, but not anymore. The way I see it all now, whatever emerges in my picture-taking or my editing will be just another imperfect rendition of reality. I’ll always keep the original, however, and edit a copy. I’ll play with it to enhance whatever feeling I had that prompted me to shoot it in the first place.Every image has feeling associated with it - if it’s my idea to take it. If I’m shooting for someone else, that probably won’t happen. To the extent I can capture the beauty of what I see, I capture the feeling with it. Others may not feel what I do when they look at it, or feel anything at all. Guess that’s because we all perceive the world differently.If I’m shooting, then I’m right with the world. If a week goes by without taking pictures of something I’m not doing well. I’m preoccupied or I’m too busy to live as I should and I need to change something. I’ve learned that it’s a barometer I shouldn’t ignore.Often my children and grandchildren have inspired me to pick up my camera. As infants and toddlers, they’re almost all feelings and they catalyze instinctive, reciprocal feelings in me. My daughters notice my connection to my grandchildren because their love is more intense than mine. They like to see themselves and each other as little children too. Old pictures tap old feelings.When my children were little, I couldn’t afford color prints, so I shot a lot of slides which were cheaper and we’d have set up a slide projector to see them. That was a bother, but it did foster attentiveness. When I made prints of favorite slides, they never looked as good to me as they did when projected onto a screen in a darkened room. Today, I much prefer to see my images on a back-lit computer screen than as a print on photo paper. I’ll enlarge some, frame them and hang them up, but I’m less satisfied with the result. I prefer them on a high-definition TV screen, and if I ever become more prosperous, I’ll purchase some of those large, framed LCD panels to display my images where I live and work.Here’s hoping I never again go off unprepared to capture whatever the world would show me.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Green Goons


Traveling to Madison, Wisconsin last week, film maker Michael Moore said, “America is not broke ... Wisconsin is not broke. The only thing that's broke is the moral compass of the rulers.”

Hmm.

We know that Michael Moore is not broke. He became a millionaire making dubious documentaries that attack gun owners, oil companies, General Motors (before Obama took it over), and “the rich.” We also know that he’s not starving. He’s the most corpulent communist in the country, but he’s wrong about America not being broke.

The United States government debt is over $14,000,000,000,000. President Obama’s budget will add $1,500,000,000,000 to it next year bringing it to $15,500,000,000,000. Then he proposed to do that again the following year bringing the debt to $17,000,000,000,000. After that, many of us hope he becomes former President Obama, but we’ll see.

Michael Moore is right, however, about the broken moral compass of our rulers. For example, gasoline prices go up nearly every hour. It’s getting so people are afraid to drive more than 150 miles for fear that they won’t be able to afford the gas to get home again. Still, President Obama refuses to allow oil development either on government-owned land or just off our coasts. We have enough petroleum in the ground right here in the United States to last us centuries but Obama, the Democrats and their green goons won’t let us get at it for fear there might be a spill and a sea gull might get oil on its wings. It’s all right though to send $1,000,000,000 a day to Muslim countries who use much of it to finance jihad against us in their radical quest to destroy western civilization. Our liberal Democrat rulers want fossil-fuel energy prices to go up in hopes that Americans will turn to solar panels, windmills and Chevy Volts.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said, "[T]his administration's policies have been designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive. . . . In the United States, it's harder to get a permit to mine coal than it is to get a heart transplant. . . . we are going to produce about 13 percent less petroleum in the U.S. this year than last year. Now how is that good policy at any time when energy security is supposed to be a priority, but particularly a time of turmoil in the Middle East in the oil-producing states?"

Barbour may run for president as a Republican in 2012.

Leaders who would intentionally drive up energy prices for every American do indeed have broken moral compasses as Michael Moore suggests, but that isn’t how those leaders see themselves. When they look in their mirrors, they see modern-day saviors of the world looking back because oil and coal are fossil fuels. Michael Moore, President Obama, and millions of other Chicken Littles have been predicting for decades now that we’re all going to be boiled alive by global warming allegedly caused by burning those evil fossil fuels.

Just by inserting the word “allegedly” in the previous sentence, I’ve made myself a heretic in the rigid religion of Environmentalism. I’ve become the equivalent to a Holocaust-denier, a shill for oil companies, anathema to the “Greens” - just like Haley Barbour.People like Barbour and me are understood by the environmental saviors as suck-ups to “the rich” whom they think are ripping off everybody else on earth. Environmental saviors are also champions of “the poor” and those members of the middle class who bow at the same altars they do. They’re on the side of the public-employee unions who portray themselves as champions of ordinary Americans against “the rich.” They would save us all from the the evil intentions of “the rich” who conspire constantly to make everyone else poorer and destroy the world. Wisconsin and America “are not broke” because there are still some rich people who could pay more taxes. No matter that they’re already paying most of our federal income taxes. No matter that, according to an article on CNBC’s web site: “[S]ocial welfare benefits make up 35 percent of wages and salaries [in America] this year, up from 21 percent in 2000 and 10 percent in 1960” Who do they suppose is paying for all that?Hope this isn't a Wisconsin teacher

Michael Moore and Barack Obama, both millionaires, know how much money we’re all supposed to have. They know how much is enough, how much is too much, and what amount each of us deserves. They would use government to take wealth away from “the rich” and fix everything for everybody so we can all live happily ever after driving our Chevy Volts and plugging them in every thirty miles.

Hang on America. The journey to the Big Green Paradise is going to be expensive and if you’re not broke yet, you soon will be.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Laptop Is Mightier Than The Tank


If the pen is mightier than the sword, the laptop is approaching omnipotence. Instantaneous flow of information changes our world so fast it’s hard to keep up. The power and scope of the internet is enormous and growing. It may have originated with government research decades ago, but it has grown so rapidly because government has had nothing to do with it since. It’s not clear how long that will continue though because we’re witnessing how vulnerable governments are around the world when citizens are informed. Their control over what citizens know or don’t know is diminishing fast.And it’s not just in the Middle East. Two years ago at this time, nobody in the United States ever heard of the Tea Party, but in about eighteen months it virtually took over the US House of Representatives. The United States government, however, is not so vulnerable compared to middle eastern dictatorships. Thanks to the First Amendment, we’ve always had a free press. Americans have been as informed as they wanted to be and our media has tended to keep government relatively honest throughout most of our history. Ours is a government designed to be responsive to the will of its citizenry - especially the US House of Representatives and state houses.

Here the internet threatens the mainstream media, which has become entrenched and complacent with a profound left-of-center bias. Lately, they have tended to protect politicians who share their political perspective, like Bill Clinton and the current White House resident. After wielding their power to depict George W. Bush as a moron and anointing his successor, Barack Obama, as a savior, the mainstream media ignored the Tea Party movement for about six months, then tried to portray it as an angry mob. It grew anyway, however, because the MSM no longer controls what the public knows or doesn’t know.

The New York Times’ motto has been: “All the news that’s fit to print” - the news its editors believed was fit to propagate, that is. Every evening, the alphabet networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC broadcasted pretty much what the Times printed on its front page - no more and no less. Today, however, people can find out whatever they want online and they do. They can also spread that information around to their friends and associates via email and social networks.

So, when Democrat congresspeople went home to their districts in the summer of 2009 and conducted “town hall” gatherings as they always had, they didn’t find the usual sleepy meetings where they could shake hands and renew acquaintances. Citizens had informed themselves about President Obama’s proposed health care bill and they asked questions the representatives could not answer. They knew more about the bill than their representatives did. They recorded congressional ignorance on video and put it on Youtube where it “went viral” as the expression goes, and most of those congresspeople were voted out last November in a conservative, Tea Party tsunami.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi never knew what hit her. She’d heard about the crowds her minions were encountering in their home districts back in 2009. She sensed how nervous they were too, but she insisted those crowds did not represent a grass-roots uprising of concerned citizens as her fellow Democrats suspected. She called the boisterous, town-hall gatherings “astroturf” as if they were rent-a-crowds ginned up by Republicans. Not recognizing that a new political phenomenon was emerging, she thought it was politics as usual and rammed Obamacare through her chamber. She found how wrong her assessment had been when she became the former Speaker of the House.

And it’s not just Congress. The Tea Party voted out governors and state legislatures across America and the new ones have started cutting government in formerly-Democratic enclaves like Wisconsin. The Democrats’ core constituencies - bloated, overpaid, arrogant, out-of-touch government unions are on the ropes and getting pummeled. Union demonstrators are the “astroturf” Pelosi thought she was seeing two years ago. Unions turned out their troops in Wisconsin, Indiana and elsewhere to protest state budget cuts and they were getting paid to do so by taxpayers. Public-sector parasites called in sick at their schools and civil service jobs and had tantrums at state capitols - hoping to keep the taxpayer money-spigot flowing.

Tea Party taxpayers showed up to counter-protest at their own expense. They paid to be there and realized that they were paying for the other side to be there too. They were even paying for the publicly-funded doctors who wrote phony sick notes to shield teachers from accountability in their districts.

Thanks to the internet, the Tea Party understood that they were funding public employees who don’t work as hard as they do, who have more job security than they do, who make more money than they do, who have a better medical plan than they do, who have more generous pension benefits than they do, and who pay less for it all than they do. President Obama supports his public-employee-union constituents and the mainstream media depicts them as sympathetically as possible, but it’s not working the way it used to. Citizens aren’t buying it. Why? They have their own sources of information now.

Old political play books have to be re-written everywhere. The internet is changing everything. The laptop is king.

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