Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

3/12/2006

Mainstream Polygamy

Filed under: Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 10:35 pm

Polygamists normally live on the fringe and try to avoid any attention being called to them. Now, though, they're coming out of the woodwork, banding together, and attempting to legalize their practice. As was predicted, they're largely piggy-backing their effort on the drive to legalize gay marriage. While gay marriage is a separate issue and should be judged on its own merits and not because it is the first step on a slippery slope, it's worrying that polygamy could gain any sort of traction.

A problem with our loosening sexual mores is the idea that nobody is in the position to judge the partnering practices of others. That's just lazy thinking and is indicative of those whose response to important moral dilemmas is a subjective hedonist "whatever makes you happy" instead of doing the hard thinking on the matters.

Polygamy is not a healthy practice in a modern society. When implemented, it results in women becoming akin to property, their value exists only in relation to their husbands or to whom they can be married off, and these patriarchies start marrying off girls instead of women. Women become commodities, useful for sex and salvation, and women (at least those who don’t already buy into the men’s excuses for the practice’s necessity) are forced to participate.

Worse still (at least practically speaking, maybe not morally) is that polygamist communities are inherently unstable due to the natural gender balance. The ratio of men to women is typically 50/50. If multiple women are married off to only some men, though, that means that other men are denied spouses. That is, there is an excess of men and the extras aren't happy at not having a mate. In one fundamentalist Mormon sect in Utah, boys are driven out of the community on trumped up (or simply false) charges and dumped in nearby towns – and at ages as young as 13. The sect's male leaders don't want competition for wives and so they simply eliminate potential challengers before they can become a problem. This illustrates another issue: raw power differentials. The men with the wives wield an inordinate amount of power over not only the females who are wholly dependent on them, but also young males. Any boys who expect to rise to any prominence can do so only under the good graces of those above them.

So I don’t particularly care if some people say they can make polygamy work or that it makes them happy. If they care merely to live together, fine. But if they engage in polygamous marriage and demand equal rights, standing, and benefits given to conventional married couples through legalization of polygamy, they should be handed an unequivocal no. While my libertarian tendencies make me wary of the government intruding on private practices, especially those that are religiously based, marriage is also an important social practice. As such, it warrants the attention and regulation of law. Because of the practical social implications described above (and my list is hardly exhaustive), polygamy should be roundly denounced, outlawed, and actively stamped out wherever it is found. If the polygamists unite, let them – we’ll better know who to prosecute.

(Not-so) Secret Agent Plame

Filed under: Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 11:27 am

Not surprisingly, it’s becoming more apparent that Valerie Plame's "outing" as a CIA agent had no effect on national security. Many on the left wanting to get the Bush administration on something – anything – have bemoaned Plame's identification as an agent as damaging to American intelligence. An odd statement, surely, since no one has been able to point to any actual damage incurred. I had also wondered how it could be true that her clandestine activities could have still been secret since she was working for a CIA front company that any intelligence agency worth its salt would have known was a CIA front company.

A new report from the Chicago Tribune reveals further details that Plame once had an embassy address (a big no-no if you're undercover since it's generally assumed anybody assigned to an embassy could be an intelligence agent) and that she was assigned to CIA headquarters as an energy consultant (a real undercover agent would never be spotted going into CIA offices). Her big reveal as an agent couldn’t have harmed national security since any agency paying attention would have already known she was an agent and her weak covers indicate she probably was never undercover to begin with.

In short, there's really no story here except that Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, has managed to milk the brouhaha for all its worth by posing as a noble whistleblower (though he wasn’t) marked for destruction by Bush and Co.

2/7/2006

The Globe’s Brave Surrender

Filed under: Media,Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 12:27 am

Providing a paradigm example of irony, many furious Muslims around the world have taken to the streets committing acts of violence in protest of cartoons that implied Muslims were violent. There's nothing quite like playing to type. Thus far, mobs have torched a few embassies, some neighborhoods have been roughed up, a few protesters have been killed as a result of their own rampage, and untold numbers of Danish flags have been incinerated. The non-violent protests have involved boycotts of Danish goods.

As I argued in my last post, this conflict and how the West responds to it is important. It can either defend its core values of free speech and a free press and insist Muslims put up with these values or assimilate them, or the West can roll over and adopt Islamic religious edicts as binding on it through self-censorship. At least one prominent newspaper has chosen the latter course.

In an editorial, the Boston Globe chastises the European papers for publishing the cartoons, accusing them of pulling a childish prank. In fact, this editorial gets things wrong in a surprising number of ways.

This was a case of seeking a reason to exercise a freedom that had not been challenged. No government, political party, or corporate interest was trying to deny the paper its right to publish whatever it wanted.

The Globe certainly demonstrates its shortsightedness as to what constitutes a challenge to free speech. This statement comes just after explaining that what led to the cartoons’ initial publication is that a "Danish publisher of children's books had complained of trouble finding an illustrator to draw a likeness of Mohammed." This wasn't an accident, it was because potential illustrators were afraid to draw such pictures. It was the threat of violence that silenced them. If it was tacitly acknowledged that anyone who drew likenesses of Jesus would face the real threat of death from Christians, I somehow doubt the Globe would be so narrow in their thinking. They might instead think that the Christians’ threat of death constituted a very real challenge to free speech and a free press and that it should be confronted.

This is exactly the case with the Islamists. I don’t suppose the Globe has paid much attention to events in Europe, such as the Muslim riots in France, the murder of Theo van Gogh, that whole Salmon Rushdie thing, and many others, but the Islamists couldn’t make their challenge any more clear or obvious than if they put out a pamphlet called “The Challenge to the Freedoms of Speech and of the Press,” personally authored by Osama bin Laden. To say that the Danish newspaper was exercising a freedom that had not been challenged is a remarkable feat of ignorance.

Journalists in free societies have a healthy impulse to assert their hard-won right to insult powerful forces in society. Freedom of the press need not be weakened, however, when it is infused with restraint. This should not be restraint rooted in fear of angering a government, a political movement, or an advertiser.

This is practically a declaration of surrender. Don't let the fear of censure or strongly-worded letters from governments or politicians restrain the press. Nor let the fear of advertisers pulling their money retrain the press. The fear of riots, death, and the destruction of property, however… well, we’ll let that restrain the press.

The Globe's editorial staff may not agree with what you say, but it will defend to its last advertising dollar your right to say it! Just don’t ask it to put anything else at stake.

As with the current consensus against publishing racist or violence-inciting material, newspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance.

As I also argued in my last post, the value of tolerance has been distorted and misused. It merely means that you put up with people with whom you disagree and you don't try to coerce others into believing as you do. Given the violence and calls for violence from some Muslims in Europe and elsewhere, this is clearly a value that hasn't been inculcated among them. If this is the ultimate Enlightenment value, as they say, and if the West is based on it, then how do they expect the West to stand when a significant portion of its population do not hold it? Is tolerance of the intolerant to be pursued to the West’s own self-destruction or should a line be drawn?

Tolerance also does not demand that I not publish cartoons that, to any rational objective person, are no big deal. Name me another religion that would respond in the way these Muslims have if especially tame, mundane cartoons were published about their religious figures?

That aside, the idea that the Enlightenment's ultimate value or contribution to the world was tolerance is absurd. That's the sort of statement a college freshman throws out as a rhetorical flourish with absolutely no support. The Enlightenment was a rationalist movement that relied on science, logic, and secularism, that sought out to diminish dogma and censorship, and helped to separate religion from government. Given this, the societies and nations that base themselves on Islamism and the people rioting are fundamentally anti-Enlightenment. Western entities that practice self-censorship because of certain religious dictates are also being fundamentally anti-Enlightenment.

Just as the demand from Muslim countries for European governments to punish papers that printed the cartoons shows a misunderstanding of free societies, publishing the cartoons reflects an obtuse refusal to accept the profound meaning for a billion Muslims of Islam's prohibition against any pictorial representation of the prophet. Depicting Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb with a sputtering fuse is no less hurtful to most Muslims than Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks are to those victims of intolerance. That is why the Danish cartoons will not be reproduced on these pages.

This commits two sins. The first is the part about any pictorial representation of Mohammed being prohibited. This is a particular interpretation that some hold, but it has not been consistently followed by Muslims themselves as you can find plenty of representations of Mohammed in Islamic art. I would imagine and hope that there are also many, many Muslims who don't think the rule is valid and/or simply don't think representations of Mohammed are that big a deal, including ones that feature him wearing a turban bomb. So for the Globe to say that this is a prohibition with "profound meaning for a billion Muslims" is simply false and is another college freshman flourish, one that involves irrational, unsupportable overstatement.

Second, to say the cartoons are equivalent to "Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks" is simply false. Even if you want to believe that of the turban bomb toon, tell me what's wrong with the one that features Mohammed traveling with his donkey or the one with a crescent halo over his head? Please find me a Nazi or KKK caricature that is as benign as these are.

Also, the comparison is invalid. Nazi and KKK caricatures mocked races by exaggerating physical features belonging to those races and by attributing certain behavioral traits or societal maliciousness to them that were utterly without merit. These cartoons, however, comment on an ideology, a religious one, but an ideology nonetheless. None of them exaggerate physical features of any race. They further comment on certain very real components of militant Islam, namely violence. As the riots, death threats, and embassy burnings have demonstrated, this concern is warranted and should have attention called to it. So here we have a third college freshman flourish: false equivalence.

So let us review. The reasons why the Globe will not publish the cartoons:
1) Freedoms had/have not been challenged – False
2) Never restrain only in cases of fear of government, politicians, and advertisers – False
3) Tolerance means we shouldn’t publish them – False
4) The world’s Muslims are offended by representations of Mohammed – False
5) The cartoons are racist and as bad as Nazi and KKK caricatures – False

I don't know what I have to fear more: the weak-will of Western journalists or their muddled thinking.

The CS Monitor has a nice roundup of various press reactions here and the Globe isn't the only media organ that's off track.

Others blogging: Rolled Stone, TheRIGHTJournal, themissinglink, and Volokh.

2/2/2006

The West Must Take a Stand

Filed under: Media,Pics,Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 11:38 pm

There's all sorts of uproar among many Muslims about the cartoons of Mohammed that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last September. It's supposedly against the Koran or a surah or some such to produce visual representations of the prophet. So for the paper to do was, again, supposedly a great affront and insult to Islam. In response, Muslim groups called for various sorts of retribution: apologies from the media and from governments, anti-discriminatory laws, a boycott of Danish goods, demonstrations, riots, and the ever-popular death of the infidels.

Several other European newspapers, in a show of solidarity with Jyllands-Posten and free speech, recently also published all or some of the 12 cartoons on their own pages. This has naturally been followed by an even greater outcry. So far, there have been demonstrations in the Gaza strip that closed the EU office (way to keep that funding you want, Hamas!), the editor of a French paper that published the cartoons got canned, there have been protests in Pakistan, the Turkish Prime Minister said the freedom of the press should have its limits, and a few prominent Muslim leaders residing in Europe have said, respectively, that "the war has begun," that "Friday be an international day of anger for God and his prophet" in which violence is anticipated, and that anybody to do with the cartoons should be killed.

So what's the big deal, you ask? What are these cartoons? Here are they are:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Brutal, right? You should also notice some irony. While the toon with the turban bomb has been getting most of the attention, also observe toons 8 and 11 (the chalkboard one and the one with orange falling on the guy's head). Both of those are criticizing the Danish newspaper for seeking to publish the cartoons. Then you go to toons 3 and 9 (the guy hiding his drawing and the one with Mohammed calling off his guards) and you'll see that they're a commentary on Muslims' potential reaction to the drawings, which was obviously warranted.

Thus far, no MSM outlets in America that I know of have dared publish the images or show them on TV. CNN.com's article, in fact, says that "CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons in respect for Islam." The other MSM folks have said pretty much the same thing. European papers have shown up for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but not those in America. Even a newspaper in Jordan published a few of the drawings and told Muslims to chill. And as MM points out, their excuse of respect for religion seems weak when none of the MSM outlets have had hesitations about showing pictures of Kanye West dressed up as Jesus, of the virgin Mary accessorized with an elephant turd, or of the world renowned "Christ in Piss" that featured a crucifix in a jar of urine. Were people upset at those things? Sure, but nobody, not even Pat Robertson in one of his loonier moments, called for the death of those who would insult Christianity. And the protests certainly didn't stop the images from being published, nor should they have done so.

So either the MSM are afraid or this is a case of tolerance gone wild. One should wonder why, with all the things that come out of the media that could fairly be called insulting to Christianity, that Christians don't have the same reaction as the Muslim world is having over these exceedingly mundane scribblings. The answer is multipart (and this list is hardly exhaustive). First, Christianity has had a reformation, something Islam is sorely in need of having.

Second, in the West, Christianity and the government are not the same entity. Once upon a time in Europe, displaying a crucifix in urine as an objet d'art would likely earn you an appointment with flaming lumber or with an inconveniently large stone pressing down on your chest. The separation of religion from government, though, meant that the Church, no matter how put out it was by a particular act of heresy, did not itself have the power to punish; that belonged to the secular authority.

Third, and perhaps most important, in the West, we believe in certain secular values that allow for effective pluralism and debate. Among them are freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Freedom from being insulted or from being miffed, however, is not among them. Thus, my right to say a religious belief is wrong or to violate a tenet I believe is false, e.g. that displaying a depiction of Mohammed is heresy, overrides somebody's perfectly non-existent "right" not to have that tenet violated. Similarly, though I think "Christ in Piss" is insulting to Christianity, the media's right to free speech overrides my non-existent “right” not to be insulted and so they can do display it. I may say that they shouldn't do so, but this is not a normative claim and it is merely another example of free speech. I certainly wouldn't threaten coercive measures to prevent it.

So this is a case of Middle-East meets West. Islamic values are again coming into conflict with Western values, something that is becoming increasingly common in Europe. The question is how will the West respond? Will it stick to its core values, or will it allow itself to be dictated to by a select group? One core value of the West is tolerance. This, however, merely means putting up with people with whom you disagree. Tolerance does not mean that I shouldn't post representations of Mohammed against Islamic strictures. Tolerance also means that the Muslims, in the West at least, should put up with people not of their faith who do not follow the strictures of their faith and so they should not advocate death for those who violate those strictures.

Two cultures enter and two may leave, but one will have to come out a little different. Either Muslims must conform to Western values of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and of tolerance, and they must give up their militancy at perceived slights, or the West must conform to the religious tenets of Islam and through self-censorship not do anything that could possibly insult Muslims.

The latter would be truly unfortunate. I have said before that nobody can ever defeat the West, the West can only defeat itself. We must remain convicted of the importance of our core values and not shy from controversy. If a subculture in the West advocates anti-Western ideals and that the West also take on those anti-Western ideals, then we must confront it. If one side must conform to the others' core values, then the subculture must conform to the West. If it's the other way around, then the West is lost.

Others blogging: Riding Sun here and here, Belmont Club, Dread Pundit Bluto, Flopping Aces, CQ, most especially RWNH which is on the page as me.

Rhetorical Comparison Can be a Fool’s Gambit

Filed under: Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 11:01 pm

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond spouted off again, this time at a speech at a historically black college. Said Mr. Bond, "The Republican Party would have the American flag and the swastika flying side by side." Uh-huh. The problem with this kind of incendiary, hyperbolic language is that it lessens the seriousness of evil. Bond wants to vilify the Republicans by comparing them to Nazis, but at the same time, he's making the Nazis seem not as bad as they were because the Republicans aren't remotely, dimensionally, spatially-temporally like the Nazis. By drawing down Republicans with the comparison, he's also drawing the Nazis up.

You see, comparisons are a two way street. If I say that a housecat is like a lion, I may intend that you perceive the housecat as being ferocious. At the same time, though, my comparison implies that a lion is in some way like a housecat, and given our experiences with housecats – that they’re not especially dangerous – you may apply that same description to the lion. And that would be a very bad and false impression to have of a lion should you encounter one.

I've long had a beef with this sort of rhetorical trick when used in politics and I find it simply irresponsible. It contributes to the failure of imagination too many people have. They can't imagine that the atrocities reported in North Korea, Cuba, or China could be true or as severe as witnesses say because they have no experiences with which they can compare the accounts. If the worst a penal system can be is the American one, then they can't imagine one in which people are tortured, systemically starved and worked to death, or summarily and capriciously executed. This failure of imagination is why so many liberals accused Gulag survivors of lying or exaggerating the conditions of the Soviet camps. Now, when people like Bond make comparisons between the Nazis and the Republican Party, he creates an impression that if the GOP is the worst it can get, then that's as bad as the Nazis were, when the reality is far from it. This is a dangerous game with negative long-term consequences for short-term gain. The Nazis and their evil should be allowed to stand on their own. He shouldn’t create the impression they weren’t as bad as they were by making foolish comparisons.

Don't insult the benign or the good by comparing it with evil. Worse yet, don't lessen the severity of evil by comparing it with the benign or the good.

Want more?
Visit Dread Pundit Bluto, A Blog for All, and Stop the ACLU

2/1/2006

Bush Better at Speeches?

Filed under: Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 10:53 pm

T.J. Walker at NRO contends that Bush is a much better speaker than he used to be:

Whether you love or loath George W. Bush, you can not deny that he has learned how to read a teleprompter. His smirks are gone. The squinting has disappeared. The nervous rushing through a speech is a distant memory. Tics are nonexistent. The first half of his speech was completely devoid of any stumbles whatsoever. (Granted, he did stumble over ten words in the second half, but none were disruptive.) Indeed, Bush was devoid of Bushisims.

Bush exuded confidence through his steady eye contact and his lack of head jerking. He conveyed emotion without seeming exasperated. For once, he seemed to have spent more hours in a week rehearsing his speech that at the gym.

I hadn't really thought about it, but he may be right. One of the things in which I used to find great entertainment (as I described here in 2002) was watching Bush read the teleprompter screen on his right, then he would look to the middle at the audience for a second while finishing a line, then his eyes would dart to the teleprompter screen to his left to read the next line with his head slowly following. Rinse, repeat. I wasn't watching for it last night, but the fact that I never consciously noticed it likely means he wasn't doing it. He did seem a more self-possessed speaker as far as that goes since I still don't think he's a great orator in terms of presentation.

AP Bias

Filed under: Media,Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 2:25 am

The AP has a few different articles up about the State of the Union address and the editorializing is heavy. Here's a selection with actual quotes. Any italics are mine.

From Terence Hunt, AP White House Correspondent:

A politically weakened President Bush declared Tuesday night that America must break its long dependence on Mideast oil and rebuked critics of his stay-the-course strategy for the unpopular war in Iraq.

He declared that the "the state of our union is strong" despite Americans' anxieties about the war in Iraq, the economy and soaring energy costs. Oil prices are inching toward $70 a barrel, throwing a cloud over the economy and pinching Americans' pocketbooks.

Facing budget deficits that may approach or exceed $400 billion this year, Bush had no room for expensive, new initiatives.

Bush went before the nation after the toughest year of his administration. His job approval rating is in the anemic high 30s to low 40s.

Despite recent elections in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories that have given rise to religious-based parties with views sometimes hostile to the West, Bush pressed Saudi Arabia and Egypt — longtime allies that Washington is loath to challenge too aggressively — to provide greater freedoms to their citizens.

From an AP article about people reacting to the speech:

President Bush delivered his fifth State of the Union address following arguably his worst year in office — so-so poll numbers, the controversial war in
Iraq, revelations about the administration's secret domestic spying program, and missteps following Hurricane Katrina. Americans from Pennsylvania to California watched Tuesday with a mixture of skepticism and optimism — often along party lines.

The writers consulted 12 people about the speech. 10 of them reacted negatively. Moreover, most of them were predisposed to react negatively for various reasons, which should have been obvious. Keep in mind that they were most likely sought out, not just man on the street. Nice balance, guys.

From Josef Hebert, Associated Press Writer:

President Bush acknowledged America's reliance on oil Tuesday night, but his proposals will do nothing to curb today's high energy costs and are likely to make only a modest dent on oil imports — even in the long run.

But the president's litany of initiatives is similar to what he has long touted and reflects many of the same alternative fuel proposals included in a broad energy bill he signed into law last summer.

As he often has in the past, Bush renewed his call to develop hydrogen-fueled vehicles, a technology most energy experts say will not be ready for two or three decades, if then.

From AP's "analysis" by Ron Fournier, AP Political Writer:

The state of the union is fretful.

President Bush acknowledged the public's agitated state Tuesday night when he gave voice to growing concerns about the course of the nation he has led for five years. His credibility no longer the asset it once was, the president begged Americans' indulgence for another chance to fix things.

[And there's plenty more. Fournier also references somebody that appears to have been at the same Costa Mesa party mentioned in the reaction article.]


From Jennifer Loven
, Associated Press Writer:

President Bush, opening the fall campaign season, is painting Democrats as defeatist for criticizing his march to war in Iraq and protectionist for questioning new trade deals and tax-cut extensions.

Encumbered by some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, Bush hoped to take charge of the agenda at the start of a year that will see races for most of Congress and 36 governorships.

Bush has been beset by criticism that his optimistic messages of recent years haven't squared with the worries many Americans feel over high energy and health care costs, the costly and deadly Iraq war and continuing terrorist threats. He acknowledged the anxieties of "a period of consequence," while still expressing confidence in the future.

In Tuesday's speech, the president, hampered by big budget deficits, offered a modest program. He declared that America must break its long dependence on Mideast oil and rebuked critics of his stay-the-course strategy for the unpopular war in Iraq.

Bush declared "the state of our union is strong and together we will make it stronger." But Democrats said Bush was living in a fantasyland.

From Liz Sidoti, Associated Press Writer, writing about Kaine's response:

The president's fifth State of the Union address comes during tumultuous times for the scandal-plagued Republican Party. Democrats are seeking to regain power in Congress by emphasizing GOP woes.

Ten months before Election Day, support for Bush has soured and public sentiment favors Democrats.

[She then goes to report Democratic responses with no commentary.]

That's the AP, everyone! The Agence France Presse article about the SOTU was far more straightforward than any of these. When people complain about liberal media bias, take note – this is it.

Speech from the Throne

Filed under: Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 12:51 am

The Cato Institute has a piece up by that title that criticizes the nature of the current SOTU: a big televised speech before the combined Congress. It wasn't always thus. For 112 years, from Jefferson to Taft, the President merely couriered a written SOTU to the Capital (something I didn't realize was done at all until I read Theodore Rex last year).

The author, Gene Healy, contends that the modern version of SOTU has imperialistic overtones and is not at all republican (small 'r'). I disagree with that. While there is a great deal of pomp to it and it's not very humble, it's the keynote speech of the year for the President. At no other point of the year (except maybe election years at the party convention) will he get as much attention. It's also his chance to lay out some policy priorities and engage in bully pulpit diplomacy. More importantly, it’s the only time that the President appears before the Congress, something that doesn't happen enough in my view. If Healy really is concerned about the accountability of the Presidential office to Congress (as he says elsewhere in the piece), then you would think he’d advocate the President appearing before Congress more often, not less – perhaps engage in a little debate like the Prime Minister has to do in British House of Commons (for my money, the most entertaining show in politics – you won’t care what they’re talking about, but will be hypnotized by the process and theatre of it all). What makes the modern SOTU seem imperialist is that the President shows up to speak to the legislature so rarely. If he had to talk to the chambers once a month, it wouldn’t be such a big deal and would seem much more republican than now.

The part of the article I do agree with is that the speech is often laden with stuff that doesn't belong there:

"A speech from the throne," Thomas Jefferson called it, with republican disdain. He didn't know the half of it. Last year, the president's State of the Union address was interrupted 64 times by frenetic applause, as President Bush promised, among other things, to educate the nation’s children, heal the sick, defend the sanctity of marriage, and bring democracy to the world. This year, the president is expected to pursue a less ambitious agenda, yet don’t be surprised if there's a Mars mission or the like cued up somewhere on the teleprompter.

The Constitution requires that the president "from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." But it does not mandate the modern ritual of the State of the Union, which consists of a passel of promises and demands on the public fisc, greeted with repeated standing ovations from members of a coordinate branch. That ritual reflects the growing dominance of the presidency in our political system, and our retreat from limited, constitutional government.

Thus the State of the Union has settled into its familiar, modern incarnation: a laundry list of policy demands packaged in pomp and circumstance. And the content of the annual message has changed accordingly.

Perhaps the modern "ritual" is a little overblown and the President should certainly refrain from discussing new programs, but it is entertaining.

SOTU

Filed under: Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 12:09 am

For real time thoughts, scroll down.

I thought it was a decent speech, if somewhat unexciting. The main theme seemed to be that we need to be an international country and not an isolationist one – politically, militarily, and economically. I can support that.

I was also a fan of him calling out various dictatorships, Iran, and Hamas. There's nothing wrong with naming names. His tone on Iran was weaker than in the past, but I think that matches the speaking-softly tact the U.S. has been taking on the Iranian nuclear program. That tone itself is, I think, too soft. It's understandable, though, since politically and militarily, Bush can't afford to be too overtly threatening right now.

The biggest thing I worry about when listening to SOTU addresses is any mention of new initiatives, agencies, or programs. I think the federal government should be heavily cutting such things and that the creation of new ones only means money down the hole. This is especially so since initiatives spotlighted during the SOTU are nearly always some fuzzy, feel-good scheme that's supposed to sound good to the public. I can't stand it.

I was able to swallow the alternative energy initiative idea since that at least has some strategic value to it. Generally, though, it's going to be up to private enterprise to develop new energy technologies. I've always thought that if I were the CEO of an oil company, I would invest some serious R&D money in new energy technologies. The demand for such technology is high enough that once it’s invented and reaches a certain level of development, it will slowly cut into oil's energy dominance. While this is probably at least 20-30 years down the road, I, as the oil CEO, would like to be a leader in this technology. Not to quash it as cynics would think, but to profit from it.

I thought the rest was fine. As for Tim Kaine's response, I found it woefully unimpressive. I'm often surprised at how politicians, who give speeches for a living, are so horrible at many televised speeches. Maybe it's because they don't have an audience. Maybe I got spoiled by Bill Clinton’s mastery of the form. Maybe most politicians really are that bad at it. Kaine wasn't very aggressive in challenging Bush, I could not take my eyes off his left eyebrow which was oddly arched the entire time as if only the right part of his forehead had been botoxed, and his cadence was plodding and stuttering. It sounded like he was doing his best William Shatner impression. I think he either needed the teleprompter sped up or somebody needed to flip the cue cards a little faster.

1/31/2006

Real Time Thoughts on SOTU

Filed under: Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 11:41 pm

Here's what I thought as I watched the State of the Union (transcript here):

  • How about Sam Alito in those robes? This is a nice venue to make his first big public appearance as a Supreme Court justice.
  • The SOTU: American political theatre at its most entertaining (it still can't compare to the British House of Commons).
  • At the mention of Coretta Scott King, FoxNews scoped out black people in the audience for close-ups. Real subtle, guys.
  • His concerns about economic protectionism are strange coming from the guy who instituted protectionist steel tariffs
  • Nice chord in saying that the spread of democracy will keep us safer
    -Bush called out some countries that are dictatorships! Burma (I'm glad he didn't call it Myanmar), Zimbabwe, Syria, North Korea, and Iran. Hell yeah!
  • Bush speaks truth about being aggressive towards terrorists instead of trying to be isolationist
    -"The U.S. Will not retreat from the world and we will not surrender to evil."
    -reject the false comfort of isolationism
  • Bush says in regards to Iraq, "Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning." Apparently the Dems don't believe that we're in this fight to win and that we are winning. None of 'em clapped!

    Wow… This really demonstrates just how anti-war the Democrats have gone. They're sitting on their hands about anything good and/or optimistic said about Iraq.
    -"Hindsight is not wisdom and second-guessing is not strategy." Yes! Take it to 'em!

  • "We must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and stand behind the American military in its vital mission." They clap for that, but probably only because of the military reference.
  • Called out Hamas to work for peace
  • Not trying to westernize the mideast. Democracy will look different, but everybody deserves freedom.

  • Called out Iranian mullahs, their terrorism, and denounced their nuclear program.
    -Spoke to Iranian citizens and said we want to be friends with you.
  • Defended the wiretaps
    -other presidents used it, courts have used it, congressmen have been kept informed, it's constitutional
    -mentions it could have been used against 9/11 attackers
    -ok, but I'm still wary of them
  • If there's one theme tonight, it's don't be isolationist.
  • Economy is good and grew despite problems
    -Sounded like Reagan in rejecting economic centralization and higher taxes, but then he says immigration is good: "We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy — even though this economy could not function without them." Yes, but the problem is illegal immigration. No rational person on the right is harping about immigration generally.
  • Yeah, get rid of useless programs! Cut the budget! Cut more programs! Cut pork! Cut earmarks! Pass the line-item veto!
  • Calling again for Social Security reform and the Dems act like little kids by cheering (I half expected to hear Nelson going, "Ha ha!"). Then Bush spanks 'em! And then spanks 'em some more! Hell yeah!
    -But then he calls for a bipartisan commission to study the problem. Sigh. This may be an interesting political move, though. If the Dems are on a commission that says there's a problem with SS, then they'll have trouble blocking reform.
  • Every time anybody talks about health care, I immediately picture the government wasting more money
    -I like the private health care accounts, though, and the call for medical liability reform. That's good stuff
  • Break dependence on oil
    -The key to breaking it is technology
    -new initiative for clean energy: zero-emission coal, nuclear energy, others
    -fund research for clean fuel for cars (hydrogen and ethanol); wants it due in six years
    -I like this and new energy technology is eventually going to be developed anyway. It would have been nice, though, if Bush had reiterated his call from last year to drill in ANWR. Getting new, efficient, and effective energy technology fully implemented is at least 20 years down the road. If the goal is to break our dependence on foreign oil, steps need to taken now to do that.
  • Bah! Not an education initiative! There goes money!
  • Ack! Another initiative! The youth imitative! The funds, the funds!

  • The Dem Response (transcript here):

  • What's the deal with Tim Kaine's left eyebrow? It's in permanent arch mode. I can't take my eyes off it!
  • On tax cuts, he talks about not passing the deficit to our kids in the same way parents wouldn't make their kids pay the mortgage. I would expect, though, the parents to cut spending on unnecessary stuff. Curiously, Kaine says we shouldn't "allow this administration to pass down the bill for its reckless spending to our children and grandchildren" even though the section began talking about making tax cuts permanent, which leads me to think he doesn't want them to be permanent. A little rhetorical sleight of hand, I think.
  • Could somebody tell me what's wrong with pushing the costs of health care onto the states, as he says? Personally, I think public health care should be entirely the responsibility of the individual states.
  • On Iraq, he repeats meme of Bush lied (couched in these terms: "We now know that the American people were given inaccurate information about the reasons for invading Iraq.")
    -He also says that the troops in Iraq were not given the best body armor. This is misleading. The armor has been the best at any given time and has been upgraded as needs have been identified. It's also been replaced as quickly as possible. As for the current body armor and the recent complaints it doesn't cover enough body area, others (including soldiers) have already noted that the current armor is almost too cumbersome as it is and more would seriously impede their battle effectiveness. Putting soldiers in steel eggs, after all, would protect them, but they wouldn't do well in combat. The aim should instead be towards developing tougher, lighter materials that can be used in body armor.
  • Kaine's cadence is like William Shatner's. "When it comes to energy… Americans are using… more than ever…" I think he needs to speed up the teleprompter.
  • 1/27/2006

    What About Those Iraqi WMDs?

    Filed under: Politics,World — Dangerous Dan @ 1:16 am

    MM notes this New York Sun story about Saddam Hussein's former second in command of the air force. He's claiming that Hussein smuggled WMDs into Syria aboard modified passenger planes.

    It wouldn't surprise me if what he says is true. We haven't found any WMDs in Iraq, this is true. My concern, though, has always been that we know Saddam had the things, but we don't know what happened to them. Many anti-war folks talk about the lack of WMDs in Iraq as if they never existed, but that's just not the case. We found them after the Persian Gulf War, we found more we didn't know about when Saddam's son-in-law snitched on him, we're certain he had more when he threw out the inspectors in the late 90's, and nearly all the world's intelligence agencies think he was producing them while he wasn't being monitored. So they existed. But in the time since the Iraq invasion, I've seen nothing that tells us what happened to them. We have no evidence Saddam destroyed them, which would have been the best outcome. So if they weren't destroyed and weren't found in conventional warehouses or storage facilities, that leaves two other options: either they're unconventionally stored or they were shipped out of the country prior to our heavily advertised invasion. For the former, they could be buried out in the desert somewhere. The Iraqis buried entire jet fighters in the desert, so it wouldn't have been difficult to do the same for much smaller munitions or barrels. And for the latter, they could have been transferred to Syria for safekeeping until Saddam repelled the Yanks. This is the worst-case scenario because it means the WMDs still exist and they belong to a bad regime.

    So until we have solid evidence that the WMDs were destroyed or are buried somewhere, it's best to assume the worst. We've got to figure out what happened to them and if we think they're in Syria, then we should step up the pressure on the Assads.

    Also read this post by Rick Moran who has similar concerns to mine and who notes other reports that are collectively worrisome.

    HuffPo’s Guy on Iran

    Filed under: Politics,World — Dangerous Dan @ 12:44 am

    HuffPo has a regular contributor named Hooman Majd, who's a real interesting guy because he's taken up the challenge of consistently defending Iran in all its crazy glory. In one post, he argues for Iran developing a nuclear program because it will run out of oil in 30 years. He admits that it could build a bomb and that would be bad, but then he happily dances around the issue without ever really addressing it.

    In his latest post, he chides the U.S. government for rebuffing Iran's friendly overtures, such as this one:

    Today, in what has to be another effort to reach out to the U.S., Iran revealed that a proposal has been sent to the Civil Aviation Authority suggesting a direct air-link between the U.S. and Iran (and even allowing U.S. airlines to fly the route). So far, there has been no response from our side, or from Delta and United. The timing of such an overture is no accident. It indicates that despite all the rhetoric, the Iranians still want better relations with America.

    Feel free to take a moment to wipe that incredulous look off your face. Hmmm… yes, it is curious that we wouldn't allow Iranian airliners to fly over American cities. It's not like we've ever had bad experiences with airplanes and Muslim extremists or anything. I'm sure our reluctance also couldn't be because an anti-American country with nuclear ambitions could obviate the need for ICBM's when they can just deliver a weapon in the cargo hold of an Airbus.

    The spit takes don't stop there. Check out this one:

    The Iraq war, it should be remembered, started in 2003, and it's anyone's guess how that adventure might have turned out if the Iranians weren't sitting back, gleeful that Saddam was gone, but hoping for a quagmire that would exhaust the U.S.. Given the Iranians' pathological hatred of Saddam Hussein, it is not inconceivable that Iran might have joined the "coalition of the willing," had relations improved sufficiently.

    Why our government persists in rejecting every Iranian overture is baffling, considering that we could use Iran's help in Iraq and its help in fighting Al Qaeda terrorism.

    This is the same Iran sending insurgents into Iraq and which is supplying them with sophisticated mines and explosives. Iran has no interest in fighting terrorism or in stabilizing Iraq. Its interests are actually the exact opposite. It desires a weaker U.S. and for America to have problems in Iraq. The more problems we have there, the less likely it is to be attacked since it weakens Bush's political position and preoccupies our military. Iran would also dearly love to turn Iraq into an extension of itself. Conquering Iraq would probably be going too far, but if Iran can make it go towards being an Shiite-dominated Islamic republic, then it will essentially turn it into an Iranian client state.

    Majd's arguments are so weak and fallacious, it's stunning. What's even more disturbing are the number of commenters who agree with him.

    Hamas Wins

    Filed under: Politics,World — Dangerous Dan @ 12:08 am

    The Middle East Peace Process (TM) has certainly been put in an interesting spot with Hamas taking control of the Palestinian government. Hamas's avowed goal is the destruction of Israel and it's recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the EU, and others.

    At the moment, Israel has said it will not speak to or negotiate with the new government. This is understandable since Hamas has that whole "destroy Israel" platform and the Israelis are likely a little upset at the numerous civilians killed by Hamas rocket attacks and suicide bombings.

    The states that prop up the Palestinian government with foreign aid have also been put in a pickle. They have until now blamed the regional problems on Israeli aggression and have also excused the terrorist tendencies of previous Palestinian governments by saying that at least those in charge were not as violent as those who could be in charge, i.e. the less crazy people were running the asylum and so they were reasonable when compared to the nutjobs in the padded rooms. That won't work so well anymore. As Bluto points out here, it will be illegal for the U.S. to give aid to the Palestinians while Hamas is in charge. The Euros, the primary enablers, will have trouble justifying giving material aid to a terrorist group.

    So what to do? Many countries are saying that for Hamas to be a good member of the world community (and to ensure their continued support), it will have to recognize Israel and its right to exist, support the Oslo Accords, renounce violence, work for peace, etc., etc. Essentially, it will have to do all the things it now and in the past has made a point of explicitly rejecting. Past parties in charge of the Palestinian government, e.g. the PLO and Fatah, weren't high on those things either. They, however, were successful in paying lip service to the world's demands for rhetorical obeisance while still privately supporting terrorism. Thus, they were wolves in sheep's clothing. Hamas, on the other hand, so proudly parades its status as the baddest wolf around that sheepskin will be a poor fit indeed. Any claims it makes about supporting peace with Israel will strain credulity to the point that not even the Euros will be able to find excuses to believe them.

    So as it is, Hamas can either choose to be an open wolf or a disguised one. Considering it has built its reputation and popularity on its lycanthropic image and that attempting to present a wooly visage is too dubious for plausible belief, it will probably choose to continue being what it has always been: a terrorist organization bent on destroying Israel by any means necessary. It might as well be what everyone knows it is.

    This is bad for the Middle East Peace Process (TM), so called, but probably better for Middle East peace. As Emanuele Ottolenghi argues here, the mask is now off. A wolf has always led the Palestinians, but at least now its obvious and foreign governments can now no longer point to a wool exterior in excusing their own behavior or aid. Real progress can be better made in the long term when an enemy is open about being an enemy.

    What's unfortunate is that the Palestinian people continue electing factions that advocate violence and, accordingly, they wind up working against their goal of having their own autonomous state. My contention has been that the Palestinians could accomplish more in six months than they have in sixty years if they just adopted a policy of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance, while simultaneously proving they were not a material threat to Israel. Instead, they continue down the same failed path they've traveled the past half-century with the ever-present promise that victory is just over the next hill. Too bad.

    1/25/2006

    Sheehan Jumps the Shark

    Filed under: Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 1:07 am

    If Cindy Sheehan hasn't already jumped the shark, she certainly did with her little jaunt to Venezuela. She's in Caracas this week for the World Social Forum, which is an anti-globalist and anti-American group. She's there talking about how she doesn't like Bush, how the troops should come home, the U.S. shouldn't be meddling in other countries, etc.

    It's one thing to do this in the States. That at least has the tone of honest disagreement and using her voice in dissent of the government. Going elsewhere to do this, however, and speaking at a fairly explicit anti-American gathering makes her seem like she is herself anti-American instead of just a concerned American mother, the image she likes to project.

    Most Americans seem to have a pretty high tolerance for domestic disagreement, but a curiously low tolerance for bad-mouthing the U.S. on foreign soil. Take the Dixie Chicks, for example. The uproar against them started because they insulted Bush at a concert in the U.K. Had they made the same comment in the U.S., I doubt the retaliation against them would have been as bad. Lefty folks invented the verb of being 'dixie chicked' to describe the phenomenon of popular revolt of red staters against entertainers for speaking their mind. There was also a perception that middle America and especially country folks won't put up with liberal tendencies among country stars.

    That's incorrect. Many of the most famous country artists have been anti-establishment and somewhat liberal on many issues: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, among others. And let's not forget Willie Nelson who famously smokes pot and who campaigned on behalf of Dennis Kucinich and John Kerry. Nobody threw away his CDs. Part of the problem with the Chicks is that they didn't own up to their views. They made the comment on foreign soil and then made stupid, weak excuses about being misquoted or it being misinterpreted instead of just defending it and chalking it up to political disagreement. The fact that they ran from the comment instead of embracing it made them look like deceitful sunshine patriots who will praise U.S. actions at home, while disparaging them abroad. They came off as dishonest panderers.

    Anyway, tangent aside, by speaking at the World Social Forum and buttering up to dictator Hugo Chavez, Sheehan now looks like a useful idiot of foreign anti-American elements. She's the dancing bear people like Chavez trot out to perform for the slogan-chanting faithful.

    1/20/2006

    A Parody Comes True

    Filed under: Media,Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 12:23 am

    An old joke is that because of the media's racial angles, if a giant asteroid were headed towards Earth, the headlines would read, "Asteroid to Destroy All Life on Planet! Blacks to be Most Affected."

    Well, the joke is coming true. BET has a piece up declaring that "Global Warming Could Spell Disaster for Blacks."

    It's fun reading. It also contains this gem: "President Bush enraged environmentalists when he opted out of the Kyoto protocol global warming treaty, saying it would harm the U.S. economy." This is the treaty that was voted down in the Senate (the only entity that can approve treaties) by a vote of 95-0. Yet curiously, Bush always gets all the blame for it.

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