Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

3/25/2010

Where Goes Our Republic? Where Goes My Daughter?

Filed under: General,Health Care,Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 9:19 am

I'm worried.  I've been fighting this feeling for awhile and tried to avoid appearing reactionary or overreactionary to recent events, but I'm worried.  Something is happening here and it isn't pretty.

I've grown to distrust modern liberalism.  Its adherents keep changing the U.S. into something it's not supposed to be and wasn't meant to be.  While they claim the changes are consistent with the spirit of America's promise and are making it better, they break it down and rebuild it into something bearing no resemblance to what has made it great.  Where they find nothing broken, they break it so they can repair it.  Where they find something broken, they dash it so they can replace it.

I have always considered America to be something great on this good earth.  Where the rest of the world lived by the grace of kings, we lived by virtue of our own efforts.  When others were ruled by despots, radicals, and the shifting powers of wars, we held firm trusting that our ability to govern ourselves was the answer.  We demanded nothing but the rights of life, liberty, and property and a government composed of our own citizens who would not only protect our rights from foreign and domestic threats, but would also respect those rights itself and not threaten them.  But our social contract isn't what it used to be.  We'll give up some liberty if it means some personal security.  We'll give up some property, especially someone else's, if it means we can get something else in return for little effort.  We have sacrificed so many others in our society for our own gain and in the name of justice and generosity, never realizing that we were really sacrificing ourselves.  We've given up our obligations but expect to keep our rights.  We've given up the rights that make us citizens so that we can enjoy the pleasures that make us hedonists. 

America is not perfect and has never been perfect.  But in a world of deep darkness and oppression, by God, our light, no matter how dim or imperfect it's been at times, was a blinding beacon on a hill, beckoning others to us and to like us.  Our light is now dimming more than ever and we threaten to pitch ourselves into the same darkness the rest of the world inhabits.  We will no longer be exceptional and we will no longer be able to help others or ourselves.  The beacon, the great hope for humanity and the great pro-human force for the past 220 years will be snuffed – not by anybody else.  No external power could ever have defeated us.  Instead we will die the only way we could have – we will have killed ourselves.

Our decline will be slow, but it will be certain.  Those other nations across the Atlantic that so many of our citizens envied will go down with us, and they'll realize the hyperpower they so long criticized, looked down on, and which they celebrated the more it became like them, was the only thing that made their arrogance possible.  With no military to protect it, a hampered economy, and a lack of innovation, they'll have no one to be parasitic upon.  They'll also realize that in America's defeat, they are now subject to the whims of an increasingly despotic Russia, an expansionary China, and aggressive foreign immigration.  They survived in the valley by basking on our light, but they will no longer have it.

So where goes our good republic?  I honestly don't know, but with fiscal time bombs, unsustainable entitlements and ever more people wanting something for nothing, it doesn't look good.  But I'd like to talk about somebody else.

I have a little girl.  When I found out I would have a daughter several years ago, I saw the future stretched out in front of her.  I saw her as a toddler and a young girl.  I saw her as a difficult, but talented teenager.  I saw her going off to college and doing what she found productive and fulfilling.  I saw her contributing to her community and being a good person, friend, and citizen and as someone who would be a credit to the nation that had raised and done so much for me, my father, my grandfather, and my immigrant great-grandfather.  I saw her get married to a good man.  I saw her having children of her own for whom she would see a future like I saw for her.  I saw her grow old and I saw her finish a life well-lived.

Someday, I'd like to sit her down and tell her the future I saw.  None of it specific, more like a cloudy haze. It's a future that exists based upon a society that does not restrict her, that protects her freedoms and allows her to make choices.  I'd like to tell my daughter that it's a great future; that it's cloudy, yes, but she may choose her path and all the side-paths and detours she wants.  I'd like to tell her that the best path will always be found with hard work, with skill, with duty, with being productive, with contributing to the society that protects her, with willingly giving of herself to help those around her, that reason will be her best guide and that virtue is never wasted.  I'd like to be able to tell her that with all this, that haze before is bright and that what lies ahead is better than the cleared area behind us.  That, just as my ancestors had covered so much more of that ground before I began my walk, was cleared ground I had advanced upon so she could go farther.

But I can't tell my daughter any of this.  Not anymore.  How can I tell her to follow hard work when hard work will only be exploited?  Shall I point to her mother, who worked hard for seven years to become a doctor, sacrificed so much and accrued debt, who started working and making decent money at age 30 by treating the children of her community only to be called rich, greedy, selfish and then be claimed by a bureaucracy that will dictate how she exercises her career and from which she cannot escape while remaining a doctor?  Shall I point to the small business owners who invested money and worked hard only to have so much of their work's reward stripped away, to be called greedy and exploitative of their workers?  Meanwhile, those who do less receive rewards for their lack of effort, with their laziness subsidized, handed the fruits taken from the ones naive enough to still work hard.  While handed the fruits, they're told they're the victims and that they're the ones being exploited by the hard workers.  Worse, the lazy, the exploiters, begin to believe they are victims.  Worse still, the hard workers, the victims, begin to believe they are exploiters.  And worst of all, they both begin to think of the lazy as deserving of the fruits.  Shall I tell my daughter that hard work prevails?  Or shall I be honest and tell her that hard work makes her the rube?

How can I tell her to follow duty when her duty is continually narrowed down to being little more than rank obeisance to those who govern her?  What duty has she to others when her duties are taken from her and given over to the anonymous collective?  She'll have no duty to help, to do what she knows is right while risking everything for it, to willingly give of herself for others, to teach, to learn, to fight.  Those responsibilities will not be her's.  The collective will do those things.  It will tell her what is right, it will take from her for others, it will teach.  And should it fail?  No matter.  In the collective, no one is to blame.  All that will be required of her is to do as told.  Shall I tell my daughter to follow duty?  Or shall I be honest, cut out the pointless middle step that has turned into nothing more than a controlling faleshood, and tell her that she need only obey?

How can I tell her to be productive and contribute to the society that protects her when so much of what she produces is taken away and when her society preys upon and exploits her?  Shall I tell her to produce and contribute?  Or shall I be honest and tell her it's better to prey on others?

How can I tell her that reason is her best guide when emotion, base appeal, irrationality, and lies rule?  Why tell her to search out what is in a world that no longer searches for it or believes it's there?  Why tell her to even think in a world that says thinking is nothing more than believing and, worse, feeling?  People don't look for truth, they look for what's "true to them."  They turn inward, gaze at a hollowness they never filled, then look back out to commit themselves to what they feel is right, not to what they think is right and certainly not what is right.  They appeal to their bestial sides, banishing what about them is most human, and maximize freedoms available to any common weevil.  The rationality occasionally rediscovered and championed throughout the West's history has once again been surrendered.  Shall I tell my daughter to follow reason?  Or shall I be honest and tell her to just follow emotion without the threat of ever being wrong (since it can't be wrong) and to enjoy the lies of the moment while new lies will always be available when the old ones are exposed as false?

How I can tell her virtue is never wasted when the only courage shown by leaders is the courage to defy the will of citizens?  When intemperance and self-indulgence are celebrated except when they get in the way of state priorities?  When the virtue is not taught or expected, but is merely compliance with rules she will be forced to follow?  When temperance makes you the rube whose goods and savings will be taken for others?  When generosity disappears amid the collective doing what was once the duty of the individual?  Shall I tell my daughter to practice virtue?  Or shall I be honest and tell her that it will be cold comfort when her virtue will be taken advantage of?

And so I look back at her future.  What was once a bright haze with any number of paths darkens and the paths narrow.  Many paths have been closed off and she is no longer free to pursue whatever makes her happy.  Those liberal elites determined they know better what should make her happy than she herself can and so those paths are no longer acceptable.  They cannot make her happy and it's not best for her, they might say, but more likely those paths are considered contrary to the good of the collective as determined not by the public, but by the elites themselves.  Or perhaps those paths are still open, but they are far more difficult and rocky than before and the costs of taking them outweigh the benefits.  And so I must set my daughter forth not into a future of promise like I originally envisioned for her, but into a future filled with trepidation, soft smiling tyranny, and exploitation by the worst of society.  A future ruined by the hubris of the liberal elites who think they can direct humanity to its betterment, but who fail always and then create more failure to fix their mistakes.

I want my daughter's future back, you sons of bitches.

11/9/2008

Obama Already Failing on Foreign Policy

Filed under: General,Politics,World — Tags: , , — Dangerous Dan @ 12:56 am

During the campaign, Joe Biden infamously observed that now President-elect Obama would be intentionally challenged with a foreign policy crisis within the administration's first six months, a statement he then followed up by stating that it won't be initially apparent that they're right (no word on whether they'd subsequently appear right either).

"Mark my words.  It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.

"I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate.  And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you – not financially to help him – we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right."

Obama is certainly setting things up nicely for that test.  Despite contrary assertions from Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Obama's people have said the following concerning the President-elect's commitment to the missile shield in Poland and eastern Europe:

President Kaczynski raised missile defense, but President-elect Obama made no commitment on it. His position is as it was throughout the campaign: that he supports deploying a missile defense system when the technology is proved to be workable.

That's real inspiring talk for our allies.  Unfortunately, it really does inspire the Russians, whom the statement is meant to placate.  Russia, under the tender leadership of Vladimir Putin, has been gradually re-Sovietizing and flexing its military and international muscle.  The U.S. has already been soft on this power that is openly challenging it.  We keep politically couching the terms under which the missile shield is being positioned as being for protecting those countries from rogue regimes like Iran.  We may as well be honest about the shield's role in largely opposing Russian aggression, especially as exemplified and proven in the invasion of Georgia.  Russia for its part isn't fooled in the least and has deployed missiles explicitly to counter the shield as well as issued thinly veiled threats that missiles in Poland would make a natural target in case of a conflict (as if it wasn't already a target).

Obama, though, is stepping the vacillation up a notch by declaring 'no commitment' to the shield (apparently a variation on voting 'present').  Obama and his supporters may perceive this as nuance or not wanting to unnecessarily agitate a powerful state.  Russia, however, doesn't need reasons to be agitated nor does it need excuses.  It only wants them and when they're not presented, it will merely create them.  Where Obama sees nuance, Putin sees weakness.  Weakness to be exploited.  A fundamental mistake in the west is to believe tyrants are reasonable men who, like themselves, can be reasoned with.  Tyrants rule by force and see the world as one in which enemies must be crushed if possible or exploited and fooled if not.  The reasonableness of reasonable men is only something to be turned against them to the tyrant's advantage.  Saddam tried to keep the international community dithering in 2003 so that an invasion would not occur.  Iran has succeeded in keeping the world dithering for the past five years, making the chance of any kind of substantive action against it negligible.  North Korea has nearly perfected the art of rattling sabres, appearing to back down, rattling again for concessions, and appealing to other countries' charity for the suffering of its people, a suffering it created.

Russia, of course, is a much bigger, more powerful nation than these, and Putin is a master in manipulative statecraft.  Few politicians can match his cunning and raw will.  After eight years of dealing with him, Bush still isn't in his league.  Obama, with no international experience, protestations of international cooperation resulting from American abdication to the right of unilateralism, waffling on steadfast American posturing and support for allies, and coming into office when Putin is already at full stride… well, Obama is at best a triple-AAA player compared to Putin's MVP major leaguer.

As if Obama's no commitment position wasn't bad enough, his spokesman threw in the stipulation that the technology will be deployed when workable.  Considering missile interceptors have already proven their workability, though not perfection, in several tests, it's not clear what more Obama wants until it gets his stamp of approval.  Unfortunately, the missile interceptor has long been a target of liberals, who ostensibly opposed it because of expense and initial poor tests.  This means it's likely to be cut in an Obama administration.  The problem here is that no technology is perfect, good, or even necessarily reliable when it's first introduced.  It requires investment, testing, and improvement.  Many on the left, though, have shown little patience with any of this and use initial failure as an excuse for cancellation of projects.  Many of the same also believe that investment in military technology is unnecessary due to America's already clear technological advantage among the world's militaries.  Aside from the silliness of this position and how it ignores that it was only previous investment that got us here, it's not entirely true.  China has already demonstrated its intentions of directly targeting our technological edge by shooting down a satellite and continually probing our computer security.  Both Russia and China have begun deeply investing in their militaries and are trying to modernize them closer to U.S. abilities or at least to counteract our strengths.  While we are now focusing more attention on asymmetric warfare against enemies such as Iraqi insurgents, this is no time to be idyll when it comes to conventional warfare.  Major threats against the U.S., its allies, and its interests still exist in the world.

Biden made an interesting comparison to JFK.  Kennedy may have faced an intentional international test in the Cuban Missile Crisis, but interestingly, he helped invite it.  His actions in the Bay of Pigs were interpreted as weakness by the Soviets.  At least when the big test came, he passed it.  I'm not so confident Obama would do the same.  Kennedy was one of the last prominent Democratic hawks before the absorption of the New Liberal peace lobbies in the 60's and 70's eviscerated the party's guts.  Obama on the other hand is a product of that evisceration and he hasn't the will the party once had in Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy.  His one other response to international crisis, Russia's Georgia adventure, certainly does not make one think of Jack Kennedy.  It makes one think of a Eurocrat.

At least one former president we can be sure Obama is not is Ronald Reagan.  In the 80's, Reagan took technology that didn't work and pretended it did when he supported the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, aka Star Wars).  His bluff fooled the USSR and they invested resources they didn't have in their attempt to counter it.  Obama is using the opposite tactic by taking technology that works and pretending it doesn't.  Reagan's action helped destroy the Soviet Union.  What shall we suppose will be the result of Obama's decision?

11/3/2008

The Election

Filed under: General,Media,Politics,World — Tags: , , — Dangerous Dan @ 6:36 pm

My absence from my beloved blog is regrettable, and somewhat avoidable, but I'm a busy guy. I figured before the election takes place, I might as well give my view on things as they've been building up over the last few months.  And so this post will be a bit long.  But it's good.

First, a prediction. I'll be bold and predict McCain will win. The prevailing opinion is that this is a stupid prediction and it might be. Johnny Mac is down in all the national polls and isn't doing well in several battlegrounds. From what I've been looking at, though, McCain may very well pull this out. I'm not overly confident in the polls' accuracy. Most provide greater weight towards Democrats since more people are identifying themselves as Dem in this election. I'm not sure that this generic party preference will necessarily translate to corresponding Obama votes since it could just be an irritable reaction against the Republican administration, but those folks still don't plan to vote that way for president. There's also still a significant chunk of undecideds and I'd bet most of those who are still undecided at this point will be more likely to break for who they see as the safe choice. Next, most polls are counting on a high turnout of new voters, especially the young, poor, and minority, who will go for Barack. Counting on these people, though, is misguided. There will be a fair number of new voters, but I seriously doubt it will be what the pollsters are expecting. Every stinkin' election, for example, people make noise about how the youth will finally mobilize and vote in large numbers and yet each time, the proportion of youth who vote is about the same. Non-voters simply tend to be non-voters. They're not that way just because there wasn't a candidate to wow them enough for them to get to their polling location; they just don't care enough to bother voting. Finally, there's the dreaded Bradley Effect in which people may tell pollsters they're voting for Barack when really they won't. They lie because they don't want to appear racist (I've repeatedly seen this described as covert racism, but that's a straw man dismissal. People aren't lying because they're actually racist – they likely have very good reasons for not voting for Obama – they just don't want to appear racist and accusing them of covert racism only proves their worries about instead being accused of overt racism should they be honest.). I've read several accounts saying the Bradley Effect has lessened in the past 20 years, but I'm not so sure. There's never been an election of this scale to test it. Most of the citations for the effect's lessening are also not very good since they focus on candidates from mostly black neighborhoods or on black Republican candidates who are routinely impugned as not being authentically black and so eliminating the worry about appearing racist if you say you won't vote for him (you can't be racist for not voting for someone who's not really black, after all). So we'll see. The only poll that really matters is the one from the actual voters at the end of Tuesday night. I think McCain will eke it out, but here's an illustration of my confidence: If you asked me to bet a dollar on who I thought would win, I'd bet it on McCain. If you asked me to bet $10, I wouldn't bet it.

Second, I've been struck recently at what a weak candidate Obama really is. This seems like a surprising statement since he leads in the polls. But c'mon… he's the Democratic candidate in an election year that favors Democrats generally, the opposing party has a very unpopular lame duck president currently in office, he's raised an ungodly sum of cash totaling over $650 million which dwarfs the war chest of his opponent, he has ridiculously compliant and supportive media on his side, and his current advertising spending is third only to AT&T and Verizon… and yet despite all these amazing advantages, the man is still only polling 3%-7% over McCain in the average national polls. You'd think he'd be blowing McCain out of the water. That he hasn't done so is indicative of voters' less than confident opinion of him.

Third, both candidates are hurt by the fact they're senators. Americans simply don't like electing senators president. They much prefer vice-presidents, governors, and generals. The last sitting senator to be elected president was JFK in 1960. Before that, you have to go back to 1920 and Warren Harding. And before that… well… Harding was the last. That's right, only two sitting senators have ever been elected president and it sure ain't for lack of trying. There have been a number of senators who were the main party candidates and innumerable more who tried but were felled in the primaries. The voters' ambivalence towards senators is understandable. Senators are not executives. For many, their only executive experience is heading their campaigns. When it comes down to it, though, senators don't have to make executive decisions. They dither and argue, compromise, and cast votes. Successes can be claimed, but are still distributed among others while blame for failures can be spread around. These are not luxuries of an executive. Senators, for all their ability to see nuance, may actually be held back by the talent. I still recall in 2004 how John Kerry had this amazing tendency to nuance himself into decisive paralysis. He would on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand an issue so much that he ultimately couldn't come down on a side. A president needs to see the nuances of a problem, yes, but he still has to make a decision and stand by it. He can't put it off indefinitely, he can't blame somebody else for it (say, a staffer), he can't spread the blame around to other presidents, he can't just be out of the White House when the decision is made, and he certainly can't just vote 'present.' The lack of executive skills comes out during a campaign and voters notice it. A governor may not have the knowledge base for being president since a governor isn't that concerned with national and international affairs, whereas a senator is. The governor, however, knows what it's like to be the head of a government, to make executive decisions, work with a congress, have the responsibilities, etc. A senator does not. It's easier for a person to learn new data than it is to master new skills, which is why the august egos in the Senate don't do well in presidential elections.

Fourth, vice presidential choices. McCain's choice of Palin was a daring one, but it paid off. She energized the conservative base and helped remove the ambivalence they felt about McCain and his history of poking them in the eye. No other candidate could have done that. I also like how she's been more independent lately and breaking away from the McCain handlers who botched her rollout after the convention. She also brings that aforementioned executive experience to the ticket, which can't be found in any of the other three candidates. Obama's pick of Biden was a mistake, but not a serious one. He was an odd choice since Obama positioned himself as the candidate of change and then he picked a man who has spent more of his life in the Senate than out of it (can't we at least make that a term limit?!). I understand Obama needed to balance the ticket with more experience, but he probably didn't need to go in quite this direction. The man is also a gaffe machine who will say remarkably stupid things if you let him. That's why the campaign has kept him on a tight leash since about September 10th and has limited his impromptu speaking. Biden seemed to be a safe choice; he won't help that much, but if he's controlled, he won't hurt things either. At least he'll help bring in those desirable Delaware electoral votes.

Fifth, like many people, I have been amazed by the behavior of the media in this election. I've long been used to liberal bias in the media, but they haven't even bothered much to feign objectivity this time around. After Palin's VP announcement, there were reporters crawling all over Alaska looking for dirty laundry. That in itself doesn't terribly bother me because at this level, it's to be expected. That the media made fair game of her children, however, and splashed stories about them on the front pages was troubling. It was also annoying that hit pieces on Palin quoted only those with whom she had made enemies, of which the largest number were in her own party. By contrast, Obama has gotten nearly a free pass. There are plenty of interesting stories to investigate about Obama and his history and it's mostly been left up to blogs and the alternative press to look into them. It's understandable that the MSM doesn't want to reproduce the work of conservative sites, but they've shown a shocking non-curiosity about anything to do with possible shady aspects of Obama's past. It's not that they're not reporting on these stories that's the problem; the problem is that the media isn't even investigating them. They've consistently turned a blind eye to any stories that could hurt their preferred candidate. Even without the connection to Ayers or the rest, the mere fact he came out of the Chicago political machine means he's got to have dirt on him. A politician can't rise up out of Chicago without having sold parts of his soul, but the media has looked into none of it.

Sixth, the treatment of Palin and how ardently the left tried to personify her as an idiot made me realize a fundamental flaw in modern liberalism: many liberals make the error of equating being smart with being right. Intelligence is no guarantee against error and it isn't even much of a hedge against foolishness. Nor does it preclude emotions, personality traits, upbringing, or any other non- or semi-relevant factors from affecting the decision making process. Nevertheless, the association has been made and because of that, many liberals feel the need to constantly position themselves as smarter than their opposition. Proving your intellectual superiority, though, is more difficult than asserting the other side's inferiority and so the latter course is the one most often taken. Thus, conservatives must be painted as dullards. Ford was a clumsy bumbler, Reagan was a doddering old man, Bush 2nd is a raging moron, Palin is a ditz, etc. None of this is true, of course, but the memes must be established so as to demonstrate that conservatives are dumb and therefore necessarily wrong.

When this can't be done because the person is simply too obviously intelligent, another tack must be taken: the conservative is either evil or simply out of touch. Take Bush 1st, Bob Dole, and John McCain, for example. While efforts were/are made to denigrate their respective intellects, they don't play the role well enough for it to stick. Instead, they're old, out of touch, and sadly want to bring back a past that cannot be. On the other hand, folks like Tom Delay who are clearly smart and not out of touch are wily and evil.

This phenomenon can also create interesting problems. Bush 2nd was long established by the left to be incredibly stupid. But he somehow managed to win two presidential elections and his party controlled the House for 6 of his 8 years and the Senate for 4, a pretty rare feat in modern politics. An idiot shouldn't be able to do that – he should be incapable of outsmarting the smarter Democrats. This creates an unpleasant cognitive dissonance in that Bush beating them would indicate he's smarter and therefore right The resolution came in the person of Karl Rove, a very smart, but evil, man who orchestrated the victories.

So for liberals, conservatives will always be stupid, evil, or out of touch. That is often the only way the left can position themselves as being right since being smart equals being right. Ironically, circular logic sneaks into this arrangement. They are right because they are smarter and they are clearly smarter because they are right. Conversely, the opposition is wrong because they are dumber and they are clearly dumber because they are wrong. I argue most liberal positions are wrong not because of anyone's intelligence, but because they are just wrong (with backing reasoning, of course). I may accuse some on the left of being fools, but not of being of low intelligence.

This general attitude also leads to unfortunate perceptions of their fellow citizens. The red-staters in flyover country who cling to God and guns are not as smart as coastal lefties and therefore wrong (and circularly, vice-versa). They must be simultaneously combated and also led to the correct positions the liberals offer; they must be forced to be free and to abide by the general will the liberals have decided they themselves embody and represent. While the left may admit there are many uneducated and rather stupid folks who support their liberal positions, those are people who have seen some kind of light and given themselves over the paternalistic shepherding of their betters. And herein lays the danger of this liberal arrogance of intelligence equaling correctness. Classical liberalism dictates that individuals can better choose, pursue, and achieve their personal versions of happiness than can the state and so they must be given the freedom to do so. Too many of the liberal elites, however, view the masses as unwashed and in need of their benevolent guidance. The hoi polloi lack the smarts to know what is best for them and what is in their best interests and they must be directed to what the elites have deemed is happiness for them. It is nearly a secularized religious devotion in pointing people toward a decided-upon earthly heaven they may not even want. This is a dangerous Rousseauean zeal.

Seventh, taxes. Obama's tax plan borders on the obscene. It is a classic case of class warfare and exhibits one of the dangers of democracy (for the record, democracy is the only political system I endorse, but while the best, it is still imperfect, and its mere nature holds dangers). Since the majority are not in the higher income brackets, he can always appeal to their interests by saying he'll increase the taxes of the wealthier minority and provide the not as wealthy majority with the benefit. The majority democratically pillages the minority. This is itself unfair. What is more unfair is the mere concept that the government is permitted to confiscate such huge percentages of anyone's income. The current top marginal rate is 35% and Obama seeks to knock it up to 39.6%. That doesn't include concurrent markups in social security withholding rates or whatever cuts most states and even some cities take out of a person's income.

In this form of class warfare, Obama keeps talking about the rich as Warren Buffet types. He, as most on the left do, makes it seem as if the only people facing tax increases are oil-baron plutocrats who wear top hats and three-piece suits, and have indoor swimming pools filled with $100 bills in which they roll around. Most of those in the top brackets are not filthy rich. Let me tell you about my wife who is a doctor. I watched her spend four years in medical school working her butt off studying, learning medical skills, and taking overpriced board exams. I have watched her during her three-year residency also working her butt off on different rotations, spending the night at the hospital every third night while on call, leaving the house at 5:30 AM and not getting home until 7 PM, sacrificing time with our young daughter due to her job, sometimes even going one or two days without so much as seeing her awake. She has put a lot into becoming a doctor and racked up large debts in order to do so. And when she is practicing independently, she won't be a stock speculator or the manager of a hedge fund or some other demonized profession. She'll be a doctor providing a valuable service to her community. And while her salary will push us into the top bracket, it won't be by much. We will be well-to-do, but not filthy rich and could probably only justify a kiddie-pool filled with $1's. Yet, after she has spent eight years in higher education, three years in an apprenticeship, built up debt, all to be a success and provide valued services to society, the government will deem that she has been too successful and will take ever greater proportions of her hard-earned and well-deserved income. There are many Joe the Plumbers out there and one of them is my wife the doctor.

Is this what our society will be? Constant encouragement to achieve, to excel, to succeed, only to be penalized for daring to be too successful? That seems to be the case as Obama will take greater sums of money from the hard-working well-to-do and redistribute it downwards. While he often touts that 95% of Americans will receive tax cuts, he never mentions how this is possible when 47% of Americans pay no income tax. This is because people will qualify for refundable tax credits, meaning they'll receive checks from the IRS even though they've paid no tax. Its a simple and direct, yet hidden transfer of wealth.

Critics will argue that those who have done well owe more to society than those who have not, and this might be true. But why is the government the arbiter for how much shall be taken and how much shall be given?   Why not leave the money in the hands of the people to spend, to create jobs, to start businesses, to give to charities? Even Jesus said to give to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's. He didn't say give it all to Caesar and let him sort it out. People in society have different responsibilities to their fellow citizens, but the point is that those responsibilities belong to the individual, not the collective, and it is up to the individual to fulfill them. The sort of welfare Obama has in mind (or at least the kind he intends to increase) removes that personal responsibility from the individual. It is no longer the individual who is tasked with caring for his fellow man, it is the state. We have many responsibilities towards the weaker in our society, whether they be poor, young, old, infirm, or suffer some other issue: we are to aid them, protect them, help them improve, give them proper freedoms. Increasingly, though, those responsibilities are being abdicated to the Leviathan. It is the state that is tasked with providing aid. It is only the state that is tasked with protecting the weak. It is only the state that can improve people to the point that even self-improvement is improbable and no longer does one even have a responsibility to himself. it is the state that must grant freedoms, with positive liberties replacing negative ones. It is a dangerous society that gives up its rights, but still more dangerous when it gives up its individual responsibilities. Because when responsibility is collective, no one is responsible. When someone does not receive aid or protection, it is no one's fault and since no one feels the weight of responsibility, everyone may feel free to shirk it.

Eighth, health care. Obama isn't trying to directly create a national health care system. He's smart enough to avoid past Democratic mistakes. It is, though, an effective outcome of his system since it will gradually force more people into government insurance. I've always been mystified when people complain about insurance companies and HMO's and then their solution is to create a gigantic monopolistic HMO out of the federal government, as if it will be magnanimous, efficient, and not under financial pressures. This is absurd. Nationalizing an industry is a guaranteed way to make the industry moribund and eye-poppingly inefficient, cf. Amtrak. Current federal meddling in health care is already responsible for many of the field's problems. And a government can hardly do more violence to its citizens' health than by mandating national coverage. The systems often pointed to, such as Britain and Canada are not good. If all you need is a primary care physician, you might be ok. Since that's all most people need, the system frontloads the industry to these doctors and invests more resources there. If you need specialist care, however, expect that to be severely rationed. Remember that there is no market that will fill the demand for this care; the government allocates limited funds and since the minority will need this care, it gets less emphasis. You will be placed on waiting lists, be limited in what medication you may get (what good is free or cheap medicine when it is ineffective or less effective than other drugs?), and will likely not survive as long. The five-year survival rate for men diagnosed with prostate cancer in the U.S., for example, is 91.9%. In Britain, it's 51.1%. I'll take the 40.8% greater chance of living, thank you.

Ninth, foreign policy. To say I distrust Obama on foreign policy would be an understatement. He has been consistently wrong on what he has so far had a chance to weigh in on. He's been on the national stage for so little time, however, that he hardly has a record. His rhetoric, though, is indicative of weakness and a failure to realize that nearly all of America's soft power of diplomacy derives from its hard power of military might. Without the latter, the former cannot hope to be effective. On the one significant crisis that came up during the campaign, Russia's invasion of Georgia, Obama's first instinct was moral equivocation while his second was a soft-gloved almost-condemnation of Russia (more like furry-mittened almost-condemnation) and his third was calling for the UN Security Council (this was bad enough) to pass a resolution against one of the Security Council's veto-wielding members. His desire to immediately pull out of Iraq invites disaster, a destruction of everything we have so worked so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve in the past five years, and will finally be what achieves what the liberals have so tried so hard to claim is the result of Iraq: that the lives lost there were lost without purpose and were wasted.  They will fulfill their own prophecy.

Tenth, who is Obama? Rarely has such an empty suit ever been such a contender for the presidency. His life has been one of non-accomplishment save for getting elected to higher offices or appointed to better positions. He did nothing of note in teaching law school or as editor of the Harvard Law Review. Bizarrely, he has published nothing in his life except for his two memoirs, which even he doesn't claim are factually accurate autobiographies. Having taken a sojourn through academia, I can attest that this is remarkable. Publishing is not the expectation for professional academics, it is almost always a requirement. That Obama has nothing to his name is simply odd. It is also unfortunate since we have no written evidence of his constitutional interpretations, his real thoughts on law and the courts and judges, the nation's place in the world, an evolution of thinking, etc. All we have to go on is whatever he says at the time, which is as likely to be from shifting political expedience as from firm belief. Consider… I, an amateur little read blogger, have left far more evidence about my political thinking in the six and a half year operation of this blog than Obama has over the course of his life. From reading this site, you will know more about my political beliefs and interpretations than you will ever firmly know about Obama's. And yet, nearly half the country is prepared to vote for a man they do not really know and who they cannot claim to know.

But Obama is the candidate of the abstract concepts, of hope and change, and so people who hope for whatever and who want change will vote for him, heedless of the fact that change can be either good or bad, that hope is at best merely potentiality, not actuality, and is meaningless unless it is hope for something.

Eleventh, the economy. The economy is troubled and it is suffering from a big crap sandwich that lots of people made, but too few of whom will have to a bite. Deregulation played little role in the subprime lending debacle, while greed was more prominent and government meddling in the lending market is most to blame (another case of government interference in a market causing problems). The government's heavy-handed "encouragement" of lenders to give mortgages to the poor and minorities whose credit ratings would not normally qualify them for large loans was a prime ingredient in the tasty recipe for economic disaster. With the threats and backing of the feds, the loans were made and then creative accounting took over, seeking to minimize risk to the bank while increasing profit by securitizing the mortgages and then spreading them out throughout the financial sector. Shockingly, the default rate was much higher than was speculated and the damage started hurting everything else. Despite warnings and attempts by Bush, McCain, and other Republicans to reign in the problem, especially the risky mortgage backings by the quasi-governmental Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the Dems plowed ahead, saying there was no problem and any claim to the contrary was tantamount to racism. Barney Frank was the worst of all and has so many conflicts of interest in this debacle, he should be impeached. Now that the economy is troubled, however, the Democrats seek to capitalize on it. It's a great irony that the problems they did so much to cause are being used to their electoral advantage, as if their further intervention will make things better.

The bailout was a mistake and is yet more government meddling and preventing the markets from natural self-correction. It is also dangerous to allow the government to hold stocks in private companies. While the idea was for the government not to have voting or controlling stakes and for the stocks to be bought back, don't count on it. Should the government decide to exercise control based on its stock holdings, there is little to stop it. It can certainly exert influence unofficially. The state is also not inclined to give up whatever power it is given and so will not be inclined to give up its ability to manipulate the banking system. For their parts, the banks and companies, while disliking government meddling, will grow to like the financial backing of the government. The possibility for failure is gone and the removal of this market-driven competitive fear will make the companies worse for consumers and inefficient for stockholders.

Into this fray steps Barack Obama whose policies will sound really good, but will only make things worse. If he follows FDR's example, though, he will continue to tout what good he's doing and how the economic downturn is only due to Republican malfeasance and how the economy's failure to improve is due only to Republican intransigence.  How great will Obama be able to make this downturn?

Twelfth, the nightmare scenario is that Obama wins, the Dems significantly extend their majority in the House, and then they gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. This would allow them to ramrod almost whatever measures they want through the government: Fairness Doctrine, national health care, whatever. Due to libertarian sensibilities, I prefer a divided government since that slows down just how much the government can do and it therefore minimizes just how much damage it can do. The Republican dominance was certainly not a success story in small government. If the Dems take the executive branch, I'll be happy to be left with a consolation prize of a Republican filibuster minority in the Senate. If the polls can be trusted, it looks like the Repubs will get it.

The Democrats then have two years to prove themselves to America. If things don't turn around by 2010, they may find their majorities in Congress slashed. If Obama wins, they will already be pressured by the trend in modern politics of no party controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency. Obama himself will have just four years. Considering how close things have been for him this time, without a real record for him to stand on, 2012 is no lock. And if McCain wins… Sarah Palin 2012?

Thirteenth, I think I'm finally done.

3/5/2007

Ads in the Personals Section Will Be Next

Filed under: Media,Politics,World — Dangerous Dan @ 9:28 pm

ABC is reporting that the CIA is rushing resources into Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden:

Armed with fresh intelligence, the CIA is moving additional man power and equipment into Pakistan in the effort to find Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahri, U.S. officials tell ABC News.

"Reports that the trail has gone stone cold are not correct," said one U.S. official.  "We are very much increasing our efforts there," the official said.

People familiar with the CIA operation say undercover officers with paramilitary training have been ordered into Pakistan and the area across the border with Afghanistan as part of the ramp-up.

Apparently when these undercover officers arrive in Pakistan, they plan on finding bin Laden by driving around in firetrucks with the sirens going while shouting on megaphones, "Osama!  Osama, are you there?!  Ummm… candygram."

Honestly, who are these "U.S. officials" who are leaking what would seemingly be top secret and very important information that you probably don't want, you know, being broadcast to the world.  Either this is part of some kind of scheme against bin Laden or some idiot in the CIA with loose lips and a feeling of self-importance needs, in this order, a swift kick in the balls, a pink slip, and an indictment for revealing state secrets.

7/14/2006

Protect the Hairs of this Mustache!

Filed under: General,World — Dangerous Dan @ 10:50 pm

CQ found this gem among the captured Iraqi documents that have been declassified and translated. It's a speech Saddam wrote for the dedication of a mosque in 2002. It's about his mustache. Excerpts:

God has blessed us, and in us, he has blessed our mustaches, as well as any mustache jealous for his nation, his homeland, and his people.

Today, as I bequeath these hairs of my mustache to you, at the Umm-al-Ma`arik (TC: the Mother of All Battles) Mosque, I want you to remember the values that I have bequeathed to you.

Protect the hairs of this mustache with your protection of Iraq. Aid it with honor, and with the dignity of your nation and faith.

The man was certainly proud of his 'stache. Although I don't think I would find protecting Hussein's mustache hairs as good motivation for fighting.

6/27/2006

Lies, Damn Lies, and You Know the Rest

Filed under: General,Media,World — Dangerous Dan @ 9:07 am

"Poll: Majority of Americans want withdrawal plan for Iraq" says the USA Today headline.
If you go to the poll results, though, you find the following:

17% said withdraw immediately. 33% said withdraw in 12 months. That makes 50%, which is not a majority; it's half. 41% said withdraw, but keep troops in Iraq as long as needed and 8% said send more troops (1% had no opinion). So that means a full 49% don't want the troops out within a strict 12 months, which, again, is about half. Given the 5% margin of error, it could easily be the case that a majority of Americans want troops out in 12 months or want them to stay as long as necessary. Also notable is that the percentage of 12 month folks as gone down from 54% in March.

I suppose it could be said a clear majority wants withdrawal since three of the five options say withdraw (at differing times) for a total of 91%, but that’s like saying a majority wants clean air or low crime. Of course people want our troops withdrawn; nobody wants them there permanently. It’s the details that matter.

The article later says, "The poll finds support for the ideas behind Democratic proposals that were soundly defeated in the Senate last week."

This is apparently pure speculation based on 57% saying Congress should outline a withdrawal plan. I guess the author wants to think that because Democrats have been pushing for such a plan, that it explains that number. It's completely contradicted, however, by the 25% who think the Dems have a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq compared to the 68% who think they don't, which is even worse than Bush's 31% and 67% respectively. I don't think that qualifies as "support for Democratic proposals."

3/25/2006

Albright and Evil

Filed under: Pics,Politics,World — Dangerous Dan @ 1:00 am

In an LA Times editorial, Madeleine Albright takes the Bush administration to task for shaping foreign policy around 'good and evil.' Essentially, that it's not nuanced and pragmatic enough, which has been the common complaint from the left.

Her nuanced advice for the middle-east is to enter into constructive dialogue with Iran about its nuclear program and its role in Iraq:

…the Bush administration should disavow any plan for regime change in Iran — not because the regime should not be changed but because U.S. endorsement of that goal only makes it less likely. In today's warped political environment, nothing strengthens a radical government more than Washington's overt antagonism. It also is common sense to presume that Iran will be less willing to cooperate in Iraq and to compromise on nuclear issues if it is being threatened with destruction. As for Iran's choleric and anti-Semitic new president, he will be swallowed up by internal rivals if he is not unwittingly propped up by external foes.

Albright's problem is that she has no concept of evil regimes. You'll excuse me if I don't trust the woman who did this:

Clap, Maddy, Clap!

That's Albright alongside Kim Jong Il, happily clapping away at a massive stadium rally that only a dictator can assemble, and which is a display of pure power. This is the woman whose brilliant statecraft (along with Clinton's) allowed North Korea to extort the U.S. while NK reneged on its side of the deal, didn't do anything constructive with Iran, constantly hedged on Iraq, played footsy with Arafat, and turned a blind eye to terrorist attacks on American interests. The Clinton foreign policy as supported by and implemented through Albright punted on nearly every difficult international problem, which tended to be the ones that might require serious military intervention and could be publicly unpopular. Her negligence became Bush's problem and now her advice to him is to keep punting down the road.

Totalitarian regimes don't need an actual threat from the U.S. to stay in power. A voiced threat by them is all they need. Kim Jong Il announces every other month or so that the U.S. is about to invade North Korea. Castro will occasionally say something like that too.

Furthermore, when dealing with Iran, taking the threat of regime change or military force off the table is to take away our one major bargaining chip. Iran has been in talks with the EU about its nuclear program for years and those talks have gone nowhere. Iran has merely been stringing the international community along while its nuclear development continues apace. Euros and UN types don't care about results, they care about process. As long as the process is ongoing, they can pretend they're achieving something when they're not. Iran knows this well and knows that if it can tie up the EU or anyone else in beloved talks, then it can stall for time long enough to complete its weapons. Considering the history of negotiations with Iran and the EU, Albright is only displaying willful ignorance in saying we should disavow the use of force when dealing with Iran and should only enter into negotiations.

Albright makes it seem as if the mid-east would trend toward moderate democracies if only we were to leave things alone. That might be true if you extend the trend line out a hundred years or so. It certainly isn't the case now and the bare glimmers of democracy that we've seen the mid-east have been the result of U.S. intervention (for good or bad) and the fear in those countries of American force. Albright is right that a foreign policy shouldn't be based purely on notions of good and evil,1 but it also shouldn't be ignorant of them.

Others blogging: California Conservative and Uncorrelated,


  1. Albright's portrayal of Bush foreign policy as being oversimplified is itself oversimplified. [back]

3/12/2006

The Dictator Chavez

Filed under: Politics,World — Dangerous Dan @ 11:30 pm

Hugo Chavez is continuing his dictatorial ways in Venezuela. One of a tyrant's favorite things to do is to continually reshape his country's symbols and institutions to his liking. By restructuring the institutions, he makes the machinery of government loyal to him. By remaking the symbols, he makes the people loyal to him as their national consciousness becomes slowly based not on their nation, but on their leader. What it means to be X is dependent on the man who creates what it means to be X.

All the great tyrants have done this: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, even Napoleon. Chavez is following in their noble tracks by redesigning Venezuela's flag. He's making the horse run left instead of right (not a coincidence, I'm sure) and has added a bow and arrow to represent Venezuela's indigenous people as well as a machete to represent the labor of workers. Oh, and he added an eighth star because Simon Bolivar originally wanted it (another tyrant trick: favorably compare yourself to some past national hero).

Among his other changes to national symbols and names: renamed the legislature the National Assembly, renamed the Supreme Court the Supreme Court of Justice, and renamed the country itself the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

But dictator techniques don't end there. Chavez also declares that his leadership is a revolution marking a new era in Venezuela: the Fifth Republic. Think Third Reich here or something similar. At least one lackey lawmaker says all the changes Chavez is making are justified because "Chavez's 'revolutionary' process should be accompanied by a new set of national icons." If you ever take over a country and want to become a good autocrat, always declare that you're so goshdarn important that you're personally ushering in a new epoch in history.

Seriously… is there a book of rules for this sort of thing? Maybe "Tyranny for Dummies"? 'Cause dictators all seem to do so many of the same things. Perhaps they're just tips that get passed around and Castro told them to Chavez. I'm sure Chavez has in turn told them to new Bolivian President Evo Morales and that's a cause of concern for Bolivia.

Means and Ends in Iraq

Filed under: World — Dangerous Dan @ 2:06 pm

Sunnis and native insurgents in Iraq are starting to band together to kick out foreign al-Qaeda fighters. This isn't the first report I've seen on the phenomenon and it isn't terribly surprising. The problem is that the three groups do not share the same ends. The insurgents' primary end is to get Americans out of Iraq, the Sunnis' is to regain power, and al-Qaeda's is to kill infidels. That is, the ends are nationalistic, political, and ideological, respectively.1

When the U.S. first invaded, these three groups were natural allies in attacking American forces. The insurgents thought doing so would bloody our nose and get us out of the country, the Sunnis thought it could drive us out so they could reassert their authority, and al-Qaeda wanted to kill soldiers of the Great Satan. So, for the insurgents and Sunnis, attacking Americans was a means to a further end, whereas for al-Qaeda, it was an end in itself.

Things have changed, however. Following the first general elections in Iraq in January 2005 and Bush's insistence on not withdrawing, it started becoming apparent to the native insurgents and especially the Sunnis that outright violence was becoming a less and less effective means to achieve their ends. After the Sunnis largely boycotted that election and were excluded from the government-building process, they realized that if they wanted any power in the new Iraq, they were going to have to start participating in its nascent government and elections. The path to political power lay in democracy and not the old-fashioned tyranny to which they had been accustomed.

While some (many?) insurgents continue violence against Americans, others have realized that the best way to get U.S. forces out of Iraq and regain control of their country is to make Iraq stable and self-sufficient. That is, the reason for the U.S. being there needs to be removed, control needs to be centered in a truly Iraqi government, and perhaps the new government can even request that America remove all its forces. Again, the best means to achieving their end has changed.

Al-Qaeda, though, never saw killing Americans as a means to something else (as the insurgents or Sunnis did), but as an end in itself. They accordingly have continued their violence and, as it becomes more difficult to kill U.S. soldiers, have turned their ire on the Sunnis and other Iraqis whom they see as collaborators with America because they are participating in the political process.

Thus, the insurgents, Sunnis, and al-Qaeda are no longer the natural allies they once were. Since foreign al-Qaeda fighters who fight for ideology are now harmful to the ends of the insurgents and Sunnis (as well as to their lives), the insurgents and Sunnis have a potent interest is ridding the country of al-Qaeda.

(link via CQ)

Others blogging: TigerHawk


  1. I'm roughly lumping them into three different groups with specific interests, but there is obviously gray here and overlap among them such that, say, a native insurgent is both nationalistically and ideologically motivated and some native insurgents are purely ideologically motivated. Nevertheless, I think these divisions describe the primary end they seek and I'm describing native insurgents as not ideologues. [back]

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.

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.

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