Friday, February 18, 2005

Wrong Analysis

Arnaud De Borchgrave is someone I want to like. He is one of the good guys, and he wants to see us win the War on Terror and see the enemy defeated. He knows right from wrong, unlike left-wing "civil rights" attorneys such as Lynne Stewart. When he criticizes the Bush Administration, then, he does so in good faith. So I don't want to be too hard on him here.

But his analysis can be so exasperating. Consider this piece that appeared in Wednesday's paper. I think he's a bit too approving of the "concerns" of the "EU3" (UK, France, and Germany).

To introduce; Secretary of State Rice told a breakfast meeting of EU3 ambassadors that Iran was a "totalitarian state", and that therefore we would not talk to them. The EU3 approach, she said, should continue negotiations with Iran, using a mixture of carrots and sticks.

De Borchgrave says that this "was deemed absurd" by the Europeans. They have no sticks short of going to the UN Security Council, and the carrots "can be negotiated only in direct talks with the United States."

Ok, so far so good. If he says that we should abandon multi-lateral talks and go it alone with Iran, fine. Maybe we should, maybe we shouldn't. Reasonable people can disagree. Then we have this description of what the EU3 think, with from what I can tell he agrees:
The EU3 are beginning to couple Miss Rice's intransigent rhetoric on Iran with Vice President Dick Cheney's offhand remark that the Israelis might pre-empt before the United States with air strikes against Iran's 12 to 15 nuclear facilities, most of them underground. EU3 have asked their Washington ambassadors if his isn't Iraq deja vu all over again.
Ah, "intransigence." How unreasonable of us! And what exactly would be wrong with deposing the Mad Mullahs? Yes Iran is different than Iraq. Yes Iran can fight back in ways that Iraq never could. But one wonders if the reason why Europeans are so worried is that they'll lose trade with Iran like they did with Iraq. "Oil-for-Food" is the deja vu I'm thinking of.

But ok, maybe the Europeans do have legitimate fears of a "wider war." I'll grant that for now. Then comes this
President Bush's hopefully allegorical reference to a "fire of freedom ... that will burn those who oppose it" and "reach the darkest corners of the world" prompted a number of foreign ministries to ask their Washington ambassadors to reassess the influence of the Born Again Christian Right and the Likud lobby on the Bush Doctrine. The wild card is what the Economist called President Bush's "intellectual love affair" with former Soviet dissident and Israeli Cabinet minister Natan Sharansky.

"There are few things that irritate foreign-policy types more about Mr. Bush than his Manichean view of the world," the Economist wrote. "His infatuation with Mr. Sharansky suggests he is not likely to be any more "sophisticated' in his second term. Mr. Sharansky sees the world in black and white terms " good vs. evil and free societies vs. "fear societies,' with a bunch of "realists' dithering in the middle."
Yeah, well I'm irritated now too. And I really don't care if "foreign-policy types" don't like it. In fact, I'm glad they're irritated. If anything, it's more evidence that Rice needs to shake things up at State.

Heaven forbid we should see the world in "black and white terms." Oh no, we rubes need to adopt a more sophisticated and nuanced view of the world. "Evil" is like, you know, such an absolute word. You can just hear the Europeans saying to each other; "Why, oh why, couldn't they have elected John Kerry?"

And of course they have to drag the dreaded "Christian Right" into all of this, as if our President was a wild-eyed religious fanatic. Perhaps statistics that show that only 10% or so of Europeans attend church might have something to do with how little they undestand our country. And "Likud Lobby?" We wouldn't want to favor democratic Israel over the corrupt and terrorist-tolerating PA, would we?

They said these things about Ronald Reagan, too, especially after his "evil empire" speech. Then when he died they all pretended that they'd been with him all along.

Next we have the alleged hypocrisy
If Iran is a totalitarian state, ask the EU3, what does that make Saudi Arabia? What is worse than totalitarian? There is even less freedom in Saudi Arabia than in Iran.
Let's see, maybe it's the fact that for twenty-five years Iran has been trying to export their revolution, while the Saudis are pretty much happy opressing their own people? The United States has always drawn a distinction between repressive states that are expansionist and those who "merely" wish to repress their own people.

To be sure, Saudi rulers have for too long turned a blind eye to radical Whabbist clerics (a redundancy, I know) who have exported their hate to the west, in particular the United States. And we have let this go for too long. I've written about this before, too (here and here).

Certainly we must press the Saudis to make reforms, and serious ones at that. Along these lines it is true that for far too long we excused them because they were seen as strategic allies and because we feared that change might result in loss of oil production.

But by the same token one does not deal with all totalitarian regimes in the same manner. It has always struck me that the oh-so-sophisticated critics of the Bush Administration cannot, will not, or pretend not, to see this. They pretend (they can't actually be serious) that we deal with each and every regime in the same manner ("You attacked Iraq, are you going to do this to North Korea and Iran too? Huh!? Huh!?").

Lastly, we have the moral equivalency
Iran, say the EU3, also has legitimate security concerns, which only the United States can address in direct talks. Seen from Tehran, there is a military vise of U.S. troops on Iran's eastern and western frontiers, U.S. aircraft carriers and scores of preprogrammed sea-based Tomahawk cruise missiles in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea on its southern border.
Ok, let's get this out of the way up front; when planning our strategy we must take their view into account. It would have been unrealistic, for example, in arms talks, to not have taken into account the Soviet perception of what weaponry needed, and which of ours they feared most. We have always done this by use of "orange" or "red" teams, who play the enemy in diplomatic/war games.

But "legitimate security concerns?" A revealing word indeed. Did the Soviets or Nazis have "legitimate security concerms?" No I'm not saying that we can or should attack totalitarian countries at will, and anyone who suggests such a thing is an idiot (and hasn't read my series on Just War Theory). But the concern for Iranian security is, well, touching.

During the Cold War the left would defend the Soviet position by pointing out that the Soviets considered themselves "surrounded". "Good!" was my usual off-the-cuff response. There's a difference between a gun in the hands of a police officer and a gun in the hands of a criminal. There's a difference between missiles on U.S. cruisers and missiles carried by Iranian gunboats.

To be fair, Arnaud does conclude with some sound advice:
Seventy-five percent of Iran's population is younger than 25. It is the world's only country whose youth is pro-American. But a military attack by Israel or the U.S. would quickly drive them into the hard-line camp " and jeopardize Iraqi democratization.
He is certainly right in that young Iranians are fed up with their mullahs and are at least somewhat pro-American. Indeed all we may need is a spark, some incident, to start off a counter-revolution. A military attack at this time may be ill-considered. But maybe not, either. Reasonable people can disagree.

Syria? Now that's another matter. One of our mistakes in Vietnam was allowing the enemy sanctuaries. Cross-border raids into Syria should and must be considered. We can bomb known terrorist training camps and staging areas. But all this will be the subject of future posts, so stay tuned.

Right Analysis

You can find all that is right in analysis over at The Redhunter.

Ok puppies, what do you think?

Update - More Wrong Analysis
At least one observer thinks the global media has overblown North Korea's strident claim to a nuclear arsenal.

"It's merely a beautiful bargaining strategy on the part of a country with the economic importance of Chad to make itself into a centerpiece of world diplomacy. None of the weapons is usable, since North Korea would be turned into glass within minutes should the country lob a missile at somebody," said George Friedman of Stratfor, a Texas-based private intelligence service.

"Iran's nuclear program isn't really all that viable, and the country has to know that if she continues to enrich uranium in defiance of Western desires, the U.S., or perhaps Israel, will hit them with the big stick. Iran isn't that stupid," Mr. Friedman continued.
The problem I have with this is that it is mirror-image thinking; because we believe in the logic of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) they do too (ok, let's not get into whether MAD is logical or not, you know what I mean here). Friedman is saying "if I were them, then, I would not launch nuclear weapons because I would not want my country destroyed."

We should never assume that others think the way we do. For example, the Soviets never really bought into MAD. We came to accept it by the mid to late '60s, but they continued to believe that a nuclear war was both fightable and winnable.

In the 1930's many believed that Hitler could not possibly mean what he said. Mein Kampf was surely just political propaganda designed to gather followers. We underestimated how far he would go until it was too late.

Osama bin Laden wishes to establish a new Caliphate on the model of one of the ancient dynasties such as the Umayyeds. To us this seems so insane it can't be true. But it is, and we must understand his motivations in order to defeat him.

So it may be today with North Korea and Iran. Iranian mullahs are on record as saying that they will destroy Israel if given the chance. We regularly hear threats from North Korea. To be sure, such pronouncements sometimes are for internal political reasons only. But sometimes not.

All I'm trying to point out here is that in my opinion mirror-image thinking is wrong-headed analysis. "What I would do if I were them" is the wrong question. The right question is "What if their mindset and how might they act upon it?"

Monday, February 14, 2005

Simplifying the Social Security Debate

The Social Security debate contains enough policy jargon to make a PHD in political science choke. Can we afford the Social Security transition costs? What is this debate about wage-indexing versus price-indexing? Does the retirement age need to be raised? Is it wise to let workers gamble with their retirement futures? These are the questions that this post will try to answer. And I'll try to keep my answers in English, not Congressional Budget Office mumbo-jumbo. Bear with me here.

Can We afford the Social Security transition costs?

There is nothing in the Social Security reform rule book that says that there has to be such transition costs. I'll provide an extreme reform proposal to illustrate my point. A 16 year old is going to begin working at a fast food restaurant next month. Currently, workers pay 12.4 percent of their pay into the Social Security trust fund, 6.2 percent is from the worker's paycheck and an additional 6.2 percent is from the employer.

But my Social Security reform is going to be in place before our hypothetical 16 year old (let's call him "John Young" from now on) starts his first day on the job. John Young isn't going to pay 12.4 percent of his wages (again, including both employee and employer "contributions") into the Social Security trust fund. Instead, that 12.4 percent is going to be deposited into John Young's personal retirement account. But in exchange for not having to contribute to the Social Security trust fund, John Young is not going to be entitled to any traditional Social Security benefits when he reaches retirement age. The result? John Young pays nothing to the government for the purpose of funding his retirement and John Young doesn't receive any money from the government when he retires. As far as the federal government is concerned, it's a wash and the transition costs are zero.

There is no transition cost over John Young's entire lifetime, including both his working years and his retirement years. And my example assumes that John Young's traditional Social Security benefits would be eliminated. So, there are three points I hope you will take away from this example:

(1) If today's workers are allowed to contribute to personal retirement accounts instead of the Social Security trust fund, their traditional Social Security benefits must be cut in proportion to the share of the 12.4 percent of payroll that is diverted to these personal accounts. (In my example, 100 percent of the 12.4 percent payroll "contribution" was sent to personal accounts and traditional benefits were cut by 100 percent. President Bush said in his State of the Union address that he would allow up to 4 percent of payroll to be diverted into personal accounts. That's (4 divided by 12.4) 32.26 percent, which would require a 32.26 percent cut in traditional benefits.

(2) If the requirements of point number (1) is followed, long term transition costs are zero.

(3) If the requirements of point number (1) is followed, the Social Security trust fund is just as insolvent as under the current system.


Solvency: Isn't that what reforming the Social Security system is supposed to be all about? Yes. And the debate over personal accounts doesn't directly deal with the solvency issue. It's about time we dealt with the solvency issue then.

When someone says that the Social Security system is insolvent what do they mean? They mean that the Social Security system, if unchanged, will pay out more in benefits than it receives in "contributions" by 2018 and will exhaust the trust fund by 2042. What this really means is that the current system over promises benefits to current and future Social Security retirees based on the current level of taxation (12.4 percent of payroll).

What is this debate about wage-indexing versus price-indexing?

Glad you asked. You might have heard some intelligent sounding person say the following: "If the economy grows fast enough, the current Social Security system will turn out to be just fine and no adjustments will be needed."

That's complete bunk. And it's because of something called "wage-indexing." Wages tend to rise at the rate the economy grows. And under the current system, Social Security contributions are wage-indexed. This means that if I paid $3,000 dollars into the Social Security trust fund back in 1990, the Social Security system will give me credit for having contributed much more than $3,000 because the average wage has increased since 1990. For example, $3,000 contributed in payroll taxes in the year 1990 is equivalent to $4,587 contributed in the year 2000. So, a strong economy doesn't solve the solvency problems of Social Security because a stronger economy leads to larger increases in wages and larger increases in wages cause larger increases in traditional Social Security benefits as a result of wage indexing. For more information on wage-indexing visit this Social Security web page.

If we changed the law so that traditional Social Security benefits were calculated using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) index of a wage-index, this would solve a significant portion of the Social Security solvency issue. Under price-indexing, if the economy were to grow faster than inflation (the CPI), Social Security revenues would be allowed to grow faster than traditional Social Security payments.

Does the retirement age need to be raised?

That's another way to solve the solvency issue. The Social Security system originated at a time when people didn't live as long. Like shifting from wage-indexing to price-indexing, raising the retirement age is another way of reducing benefits and, thus, a means of improving the solvency of the system.

Is it wise to let workers gamble with their retirement futures?

That's really a philosophical issue. An extreme libertarian, like me, might say, "Certainly. People should be allowed to do what they want with their own money." But most Social Security proposals don't allow people to invest their personal account money in race horses, art paintings or soggy real estate. Most proposals won't even let you invest 100 percent of your portfolio in a single corporation. Instead, you must invest in a diversified fund and you must dollar cost average (which means you buy shares of a fund every pay day).

A few concluding points

If you haven't already fallen asleep and hit your head on the computer monitor, I would like to point out a few more things.

The Social Security debate results in people talking about "cuts" in a misleading way. I, being 38 years old, can look at my latest Social Security statement and notice that I am being promised $1,500 per month when I reach age 67. Anyone familiar with the state of the current Social Security system's financial structure knows that this $1,500 figure is unaffordable.

If, as a result of a reform in Social Security, I end up receiving $900 per month when I turn 67 years old, is that really a "cut?" In my opinion, it's as though you promised your son when he was 14 years old that you would send him to Harvard, but a few years later, because of financial considerations, you tell your son that you can only afford to send him to the local State University. If you hadn't promised your son that you would pay a nickel towards his college education in the first place, funding his state University expenses would not have been viewed as a "cut."

Most reform proposals exclude people aged 55 years or older from any changes in their benefits. This seems fair (I'm 38, by the way) since these folks have less time to adjust their investment and work plans in response to changes in the law.

Update: Cato's Social Security Ideas

Visit the Cato Institute's web page on Social Security reform for many interesting columns on this issue.

Update: Delaware's former Governor, Pete Du Pont weighs in

Here's a column about Social Security by Pete Du Pont. I think he has hit the nail on the head.
Why do Dems oppose Social Security reform? Because they're committed to government control.

In 1945 Clement Attlee led the British Labour Party to victory over Winston Churchill's Conservative Party. He then proceeded to socialize much of the British economy, for he believed that "the creation of a society based on social justice . . . could only be attained by bringing under public ownership and control the main factors in the economic system." Labour's goal was to get rid of the waste and irrationality that, in the socialist view, doomed market economies to failure.

Fast forward six decades, and you hear an Attlee echo--Sen. Hillary Clinton telling a California audience last summer that taxes must rise because "We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good."

American socialist Noam Chomsky made the same argument concerning Social Security: that allowing people to invest in markets is a bad thing, for "putting people in charge of their own assets breaks down the solidarity that comes from doing something together, and diminishes the sense that people have responsibility for each other."

So the 2005 Social Security argument is an old and familiar one: government decisions versus individual ones, government control of assets versus individual ownership. In short, socialism versus individualism.

Update: Nick Schulz remembers FDR better than Al Franken
Shortly after President Bush's State of the Union address New York Times columnist Paul Krugman accused President Bush of trying to "destroy" the America created by FDR by introducing private accounts into the Social Security system. I wrote a column at the time claiming Krugman was wrong and that, based on some principles FDR outlined in a message to Congress when Social Security was being constructed, one could reasonably conclude that Bush's effort was in keeping with the principles outlined by FDR.

So what did FDR say? Let's look again at the quote:

"In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, noncontributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps 30 years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities that in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Introduction and Manifesto:

I Am Not A Conservative

I Am A Radical Change Agent

This is my introductory post. I was invited by the co-bloggers of Conserva Puppies to join their blog as a fellow conservative. Mark suggested that maybe my first post should be about my travels to "the dark red side" of the political scope. I think this is an excellent idea.

I did write about this trip in my own blog The Middle Ground in a four part series called "I Once Was A Card Carrying Democrat" which can be found in my July Archives. Along with that series, and mostly in my July section, are other musings about my party affiliation and my change in political leanings.

As a detail to the road I travelled to get here, I think those writings are the best representation. They might even be amusing in some respects. I think, though, that they can be categorized under two topics: youthful liberal idealist to adult taxpayer, home owner, business manager and mature liberal idealist; the party that left me (and many like me) out in the cold.

First, I want to put something to rest. I am not a conservative. At least, I am not a conservative in the words and the meaning that past political understandings would imply. In my company, I am known as a "change agent". That's not my official position, that's just one of the functions I fulfill. I look around at what we do, from the smallest aspect all the way up to financial and technical side and I make recommendations on how to change and improve (hopefully) all of these functions whether for fiscal, operational or technical efficiency or to align us with current business and industry practices or to align us with government or company policies.

I can tell you, in my company, I'm known as a radical. Nothing is sancrosanct. Nothing is safe from change. I have over turned entire facilities, their functions and their staff to reach the desired goals. I have dragged people, kicking and screaming sometimes, out of the hole that they were operating in and into the light. Some of it I enjoyed and some of it was painful and exhausting, but, at the end of the day, it is always satisfying to see your brainchild put into effect and perform exactly as you planned it. Sometimes, it wasn't exactly as I planned and sometimes, a piece or a function did not gain the expected efficiency, but, as a change agent, it didn't hold me back. I just looked at it again and re-aligned it until I got the desired effect.

I believe that this is exactly how I view my politics. There is nothing sacred in politics nor party platforms nor agendas. The word "conservative" would imply an enjoyment of status quo. Maybe not totally devoid of "change" or "movement", but generally, a less vigorous and applied movement towards that goal. In the world of conservatism, small changes that do not effect the over all flow of the government. I don't believe in that. I believe in agressively pursuing changes, even complete overhauls, of policy and administration, whenever and however it is possible. I do understand when "something isn't broken, don't fix it", but I also understand that nothing is ever as good as it can be and there is always room for change.

So, I don't claim the word "conservative" as a good representation of my political ideology. I will claim "neo-conservative". That word seems to scare the spit out of some people and it is often tossed around like a dirty curse word. I don't mind. I'll take it as my own and folks can curse it as they see fit. I am "neo" because I am new to this side of the political sphere. "Conservative" by itself doesn't work, as I've already explained, but "neo-conservative" that implies the "new idea" of conservatism, then yes, that is me.

I didn't leap from one end of the political sphere, ultra left and ultra liberal, to the other, far-right and ultra conservative. As a matter of fact, I don't think I changed my ideas very much at all. Maybe I tweaked them a little here and there and maturity lent some polish to the ideas I had always had, but, I don't think it was me that changed that much so much as the political parties have re-aligned to some degree.

I was a card carrying Democrat for 16 years. In major elections, I voted for the Democrat party. In representative and senatorial races, I was more open and voted for the person that most closely represented the things that I believed in. Although, most of those were votes for the Democrats. Even more locally, I was more open and voted on agendas and the people, not the party. But, nationally, I almost always and invariably voted Democrat.

Until 2004.

I was born into a Democrat household. I truly believe that your politics begin to take shape in two ways: aligning or rebeling against your parents' politics and financial status. To be sure, there are some wealthy Democrats walking around. I don't think I need to name them. But it is equally obvious that the further down the economic chain you reside, the more likely it is that you will be a Democrat.

Why? Because Democrats have always presented themselves as a party for the people, for their interests, protection from government intrusion and protection from exploitation from "big money". When your family is low on the economic food chain, these ideas sound pretty good. Of course, when your family is low on the economic food chain, there is a high probability that you don't actually understand how economics work in the first place and don't understand how these "protections" equate to higher company overhead and less money to employ people, thus keeping you down on the economic food chain.

Democrats also always seemed to be the party that was espousing and claiming the idealism of true liberalism. Equality for men (and women) regardless of race, creed, color, ethnicity, sex or nationality. I was, and will be forever, inspired by the likes of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, I know that they were not perfect. I know that they struggled with personal and political issues. To me, these things do not tarnish the ideas that they aspired to, but make them that much more grand because ordinary men with struggles and failings could still think grand ideas and strive to achieve them.

This is what always inspired me.

Certainly, I can list off a number of Republican Presidents in history that had some inspiration for me. Mr. Lincoln can never be denied as a great influencer. Teddy Roosevelt with his blustery, cowboy politics. Ronald Reagan at the Berlin wall. Yet, I remained a Democrat because it seemed that their idealism spoke to me.

There were a lot of things that led up to my change in voting for 2004. Little things like becoming an intricate member of the financial planning team for my company and realizing there was a lot more to financial management and fiscal responsibility than meets the eye. I realized how much government policies, legal codes and taxes took up of corporate overhead and how that affected our ability to expand, hire more people and generally function without collapsing into bankruptcy. I found out that you sometimes have to make very hard decisions in order to stay afloat and that sometimes meant reducing your work force.

I know now when it is feasible to carry debt and that such debt should be for feasible, productive programs that will eventually have a positive net effective and eliminate your debt. I learned that gross spending on "touchy, feely" programs hardly ever result in the effect that you want and cannot out perform the dividends achieved by efficiency and investment in viable revenue generating programs. I learned that people will not do what you want just because you told them to or showed them it is the best way. You have to "inspect what you expect" and never assume. You have to monitor and review reports and numbers. If you take your eye from it, it will immediately sink back into the black hole of inefficiency because people think, if you are not looking, then you don't care and, therefore, they don't have to care. While there are many achievers in this world, most people will only be as good as they have to be to survive.

The last three years, I've translated what I've learned in business over the years to personal life and politics. Where I used to look around and see people who needed help and look at the government and wonder why they didn't do more, now I look around at the people that I am in community with and wonder why they don't do more.

Not long ago, shortly after my political persuasion began to morph, one of my very liberal, socially conscious friends said to me, "These programs are failing because they are underfunded. We are failing because we don't have enough programs." I looked at my friend incredulously. My friend had a Bachelors in Business Management and works for an investment company. I was sure she understood how expenses and cash flow interdicted the amount of work or good you could do at any level.

I replied to my friend, "Are you kidding me? We don't need MORE programs, we need these programs to be gutted, re-aligned and simplified. Do you KNOW how many programs we have on a federal, state and municipal level? Do you know how much money we spend in our top heavy bureacracies? Do you know how much money actually reaches the needy out of every dollar we spend? We don't need more money or more programs, what we need is change. Do you understand that we have a giant government "office of accounting" just to over see this money and that, even as large as they are, they are still inefficient and unable to truly manage or report on these programs and their effect? Do you understand that we have overlapping agencies, each dipping their finger in the money pot and getting in each others way, slowing down the delivery of service? Actually reducing the number of services we can provide and the number of people that can be assisted?"

My friend was actually shocked. I think I have that effect on a number of people. I am a radical. I am the kind of radical that scares the hell out of ultra-liberals and ultra-conservatives. Mostly because I see both of these intenties as protectionist and not change agents.

I can look at the numbers and know that we are not performing at maximum efficiency and we are not having the desired effect. I can see our poverty level trends for the past decade and know that, since the advent of welfare reform in the mid 90's, the percentage of people at or below the poverty level has been stagnate at 12%. That's 37 million people at today's population. I can see that, as our population has grown, so has that number even though the percentage stays stagnate. What that means to me is that what we have been doing to date is not effective.

It means we need a change.

Now, I realize that the current administration is not pushing for some of the changes that I would invision. I also realize that, in some instances, they have actually grown government instead of reduced it as "conservative" would imply. I also know that our national debt has increased significantly. But, I also know when some debt is good to have and that some debt will eventually pay off in certain dividends and outcomes. What I do know is that this administration has been more of a change agent than the one that came before them. What I do know is that the Democratic party, while attempting to balance the budget in the 90's, actually cut spending in core areas and continued to apply "snap on" programs and throw money at other programs that did not render dividends.

Having a balanced budget does nothing if what you are spending on does not obtain the maximum benefit required. Having a balanced budget does not mean anything if you have to increase taxes or cash flow to support these inefficient programs.

So, while the party was continuing on about current spending and the tax reductions, that made good fodder for the folks that are just happy to go to work and get their pay checks, who barely balance their checkbooks and whose ideal of recovering from a financial problem is to borrow more, but it really didn't do anything for me. When changes were proposed, they did not render up any comparative idea that would have the same effect, improving services and reducing cost. Instead, they went into protectionist mode and refused to move. In short, they bacame the conservatives.

I am a radical change agent. Protectionist conservatism doesn't do anything for me.

That was one small part of the over all idea that started praying on my mind. What have I been supporting all of these years and what has been the net effect? When I looked at it, I couldn't see the benefits that I was expecting to see. It just went on and on.

I could talk about Medicare and the drug benefit. That's a touchy subject among Democrats and Republicans alike. What is the projected cost of these benefits? Is it 400 billion? 600 billion? 795 billion? As a person that deals with numbers and statistics every day, I can tell you that you could apply hundreds of scenarios and forecasting tools and get a different projection every time. By choosing to use the worst or the best outcomes, you can support your plan or your stand against it. Me, I didn't get upset at all. The spending is somewhere between the best and the worst, I know. However, the current spending is not a problem for me because there are two factors involved: we were spending that money all along it's just that we never paid attention to it because it was spread out over other budgets and the expenses were hidden in hospitalization costs, nursing costs, physician costs, federal funding to state programs, federal funding to other assitance programs to pick up those that couldn't get the state's assistance, etc. In the long run, appropriate drug coverage will reduce the cost of "backend" services like hospitalization, nursing and higher cost drugs and treatments.

This isn't new spending, its just that we are getting to see it in one place for once and it's not pretty.

So, when my party started obfuscating and denigrating the program, I had to truly wonder if any of them had any idea how to run a business and really understand effective budgeting. Just because it was hidden before, doesn't make it good.

Well, I've been talking mostly about fiscal issues and ideas that affected me, but, honestly, I can tell you that there were other things that inspired me more. It was not 9/11 that suddenly changed me. September 11, 2001 was the spark that started the fire. That morning, I had been doing what I always did. I turned on the news and went to take a shower. When I came back, a news alert was on and it showed the first tower on fire and first reports indicated a small plane had crashed into the building. First reports are always wrong and, as I continued to towel my hair dry and sip coffee, I watched as a second plane flew into the second tower, live on my television. I knew instantly we were under attack. I knew instantly it was the same people that had taken out the Khobar Tower, the USS Cole, our African Embassies. What I didn't know was, "why?"

What had we done to inspire such hate? What did they hope to achieve? For days afterwards, many experts tried to tell us "why". Some told us that it was our policies. We had consorted with the devil and it was time to pay our dues. They said that our support of Israel over the Palestinians caused it. Our support of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes in the ME had caused it.

In some respects, on the peripheral, it sounded plausible and quite probably played into it. But, the President came out and said that they hated our liberty, our freedom and our democracy and they wanted to destroy it. The previous experts laughed and said that was a simplified view. I decided that I needed to know myself so I did what any person should do when faced with two opposing ideas from a third party. I went straight to the horses mouth. I read everything that they said, everything that they wrote. I looked at what they had created in Afghanistan and reality hit me like a brick.

Yes, they made some claims about our policies and about Palestine. Yes, they talked about how western liberalism and freedom was infecting their culture and turning people away from the "true path" of Islam. But, underneath it all, I detected something that I thought we had conquered in the 20th century: fascism and it was wrapped up in a religion. In fascism, the state makes the decisions for the people. The state decides what is good for the people ostensibly to protect the people, but mostly to protect the state. The state believes in constant war because there will always be a struggle between the supremacy of the state and the ideals of other men. These men, these Islamists, believe that liberalism and freedom allowed the people to sin and make mistakes, so the state, or in this case, Islam, would take that freedom and keep it to protect the people from doing harm to themselves and, thus, the state (Islam) from being harmed. The west and its civilization was its chosen continuous war. Dar al-Harb, the house of war.

I realized then that some of what the other experts were saying was true as well. Our policies had caused this to happen, but not in the way that they meant. Our polices, detente diplomacy, turning our eyes away and ignoring this spreading ideology, had precipitated this attack in the same manner the world had turned a blind eye on the rising fascism of Italy and Germany. I realized right away that this was a war of ideas and that we needed a radical change agent for our foreign policy. We needed an idea that was directly opposing and capable of defeating this ideology, this fascism.

The president presented his idea: freedom and democracy. Radical change to a radicalized area. I recognized in the President and his staff, my own ideas, my own need for radical change. My party, who I had not given much thought to except that I expect they would join into this idealism, this march of freedom which they had once been the arbiters of, suddenly became the conservatives. They said they wanted to change and yet all that they suggested was more of the same. The same diplomacy. The same "working with our allies". Yes, we needed to do diplomacy and yes, we needed to work with our allies, but it didn't and shouldn't stop there.

After three years of watching the party dig its heels in, denounce the changes, and insist on doing something less, unfortunately, in this one area, I could not have disagreed with it more. Further, I felt, and still feel, very strongly, with every utterance of nearly insane denial and denigration of the actions, that they were harming the chance to make this change work. I won't say that they were traitors or Un-Amercan. What I will say is that war efforts require many ideas, but war efforts require united fronts in the face of the enemy, even if you disagree behind closed doors.

I'm afraid that was, quite literally, the last straw. The party of idealism had gone to the party of protectionism. They were more afraid of what our actions might do to our external relationships than what our actions might do for our safety and the future. They were more interested in protecting alliances with countries and entities than getting down to the business of insuring that this fascist entity could never be born into a state. I realize that part of the problem was disagreeing on how to accomplish this, but, again, it was not sufficient to me that we would attempt to minimize this threat through small and covert police actions. In history, fascists and totalitarian movements did not cease to exist under the boot of police or suppression. They just continue to grow while we pretend we are being effective until we wake up one day and find that they have a state, they have resources, they have a military and they have entire peoples either joining in their ideology or suffering under their boot.

I found the problem with the Democrat party was that they did not think in big pictures. They did not think outside of the box. They could not really imagine what that fascist state would look like or do. They had forgotten the lessons we had learned.

So, there I was, completely on the outs with my party. A party that seemed more and more inculcated with fringe elements directing their policy. A party that seemed more and more protectionist and less and less like the radical change agents I had always imagined them to be.

I didn't change. The party had moved away from me long ago and I had just been asleep for a bit and hadn't noticed it.

The President began to speak more and more about freedom and democracy as ideas worthy of spreading. He began to speak to my wounded idealism, to the part of me that was still the old liberal who believed in the words of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy. Freedom. Equality. Democracy. These were the ideas that had beaten back fascism and Communism. These were the ideas that raised men up. These were the ideas that inspired generations before me. These were the ideas that had inspired me.

I didn't come to this party to be a conservative. I came to this party because I saw radical change agents like me and that is where I belong.

The Republican party may lose me someday. I don't believe in being so static that one should never consider the possibility or the need for change. They may run the deficit beyond control and throw us into another recession. They may expand the government beyond what I find acceptable. They may stop being radical change agents in our foreign policies and fiscal planning and stagnate without a new idea or direction.

When that time comes, I may change political parties again.

Until then, I am a registered Independent, currently affiliated with the Republican party.

I am a not a conservative.

I am a radical change agent.

Update (Mark): You can also read the mini bios of Larry F (My Confession), Tom (A Cold Warrior) and Mark (Always a Republican, sort of).