Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world


Latest North Korean News Release

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 1:49 pm

Somehow or another during the 2008 presidential campaign, I wound up on Barack Obama's e-mail list.  At first, I was a little irritated at my address padding his formidable number of addresses, but then I started liking seeing what the crew is saying to its supporters.  What I constantly find interesting is the language.  The tone of them is so strident that they usually remind me of North Korean news releases that go so far over the top of even hyperbole that nobody can take them seriously.

Here's an example (italics mine):

It has been recently disclosed that the U.S. and the south Korean puppet bellicose forces are working out "OPLAN 5012″, a new scenario for invading the DPRK, under the pretext of coping with the "transfer of the right to command the wartime operations."

The "OPLAN 5012″ is a war scenario more dangerous and provocative than the "OPLAN 5027″, a scenario for an all-out war of aggression against the DPRK.

They opened the contents of the above-said new scenario to media though it is a top secret document. This is an undisguised threat and blackmail against the DPRK and, at the same time, a revelation of their military scheme to stifle it by force of arms.

All facts go to prove that "peace" and "improved relations" much touted by the U.S. and the south Korean puppet warmongers are nothing but empty talks and they are pursuing only asinister aim to seize the DPRK by force of arms.

The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching close to the brink of a war due to their frantic moves to ignite a nuclear war against the DPRK.

If they unleash a nuclear war against the DPRK, its army and people will mete out a resolute and merciless punishment to the provokers, the commentary warns, urging: They had better stop acting rashly, properly understanding the revolutionary will of the army and people of the DPRK.

Now compare that to the latest missive from Obama concerning Wall Street reform:

Wall Street titans still recklessly speculate with borrowed money. Big banks and credit card companies stack the deck to earn millions while far too many middle-class families, who have done everything right, canbarely pay their bills or save for a better future.

We cannot delay action any longer. It is time to hold the big banks accountable to the people they serve, establish the strongest consumer protections in our nation's history — and ensure that taxpayers will never again be forced to bail out big banks because they are "too big to fail."

Reform will provide crucial new oversight, give shareholders a say on salaries and bonuses, and create new tools to break up failing financial firms so that taxpayers aren't forced into another unfair bailout. And reform will keep our economy secure by ensuring that no single firm can bring down the whole financial system.

With so much at stake, it is not surprising that allies of the big banks and Wall Street lenders have already launched a multi-million-dollar ad campaign to fight these changes. Arm-twisting lobbyists are alreadystorming Capitol Hill, seeking to undermine the strong bipartisan foundation of reform with loopholes and exemptions for the mostegregious abusers of consumers.

I won't accept anything short of the full protection that our citizens deserve and our economy needs. It's a fight worth having, and it is a fight we can win — if we stand up and speak out together.

And how's this for some Orwellian War is Peace action?:

We know that without enforceable, commonsense rules to check abuse and protect families, markets are not truly free. Wall Street reform will foster a strong and vibrant financial sector so that businesses can get loans; families can afford mortgages; entrepreneurs can find the capital to start a new company, sell a new product, or offer a new service.

Sure, new rules and regulations on markets is what makes them free.  And also, apparently, allows them to lend, get mortgages, find capital, sell products and services… 'cause, ya know, they weren't doing that before.

Am I making too much of this?  Ah, maybe, and you can certainly see some hyperventilating language on the right, but this one has the President's name and I find it… distasteful.


North Korea Accuses the Kettle

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

North Korea is demanding a billion dollars in compensation from South Korea for alleged abuses against POWs and spies that it held. SK had held 63 prisoners ever since the armistice put a hold on the Korean War in 1953. They were repatriated after a 2000 reconciliation summit. NK is accusing the South of all sorts of atrocities against the prisoners and thinks they should get compensated:

"The unconverted long-term prisoners reserve the right to punish the assailants and demand they make apology and compensation for the mental and material losses they suffered as miserable sufferers and victims," it said.

They deserve billions, eh? Well, let's see. Looking strictly at monetary damages, say, lost wages, the per capita income of North Korea is $1,700 according to the CIA World Factbook (188 out of a list of 232 countries, and likely inflated). Assuming this held steady over 47 years, that would be a mere $5,033,700. Kim Jong Il may feel free to hold his pinky to the corner of his mouth in his best Dr. Evil impression. At the demand of just a billion dollars, that would leave $994,966,300 in punitive damages. Not even backwoods Alabama juries would award that much in a class action suit.

What's really galling, though, is the chutzpah of the demand, considering that NK is still holding prisoners from the South, not to mention all the people they kidnapped.

The North, however, has not given a meaningful response to the South's repeated demand for repatriating hundreds of South Korean prisoners of war and civilians held in the communist state.

More than 540 South Korean prisoners of war are still held alive in the North, according to the defense ministry in Seoul. Another 500 or more South Korean abductees are also said to be held in the North.

A UN resolution, issued in November 2004, expressed concern about alleged torture, public executions, the imposition of the death penalty for political reasons and the extensive use of forced labour in North Korea.

If 63 people were worth one billion in compensation, then 1,040 people are worth about $16.5 billion in compensation. I recommend that South Korea ask the North to pay them $15.5 billion and then they'll call it even.

I've posted on North Korea multiple times in the past. It's an impressively corrupt place where joy goes to die. As well as commonsense, usually in the pursuit of perceived self-importance. Time magazine had a short photo essay of life in North Korea and this, I think, expressed the country's absurdity best:

Pyongyang street

It's a street in North Korea's captial Pyongyang. Despite the fact that there are no cars in sight and that cars are extremely rare and used only for official purposes because of their expense and the fact that there's little gas, there's still a traffic cop standing in the middle of the intersection ready to direct traffic that isn't there and won't come, and people are forced to use pedestrian underpasses instead of just walking across the barren street. It's amazing.


North Korea Again

Filed under: Politics,World — Dangerous Dan @ 9:23 am

North Korea is demanding bilateral talks with the U.S. before engaging in multilateral talks. I noted yesterday that the nuke announcement was largely a matter of negotiating leverage and this is bearing out. This, though, is certainly no time for Bush to blink. Kim Jong Il is no position to dictate terms to us and if we agree to bilateral talks, we'll be indicating weakness to the regime which will only prompt further absurd demands to see how far it can push us.


North Korean Nukes

Filed under: Politics,World — Dangerous Dan @ 12:52 pm

North Korea has declared it has nuclear weapons and that it will make more in order to dissuade the U.S. from attacking it. It's also dropping out of talks. I don't really think this means much in substance. I'm quite certain that NK has been producing nukes for some time, it's just now making it official. Doing so and withdrawing from negotiations serves two purposes.

The first is that it hopes to use this as leverage to get concessions from the regional powers, especially the U.S. Team Kim is hoping they'll bend in order to get NK back to the table and work out a deal. Nevermind that their behavior completely undermines the desire to do this. They're probably watching how the world is treating Iran and hoping they can get similar treatment.

The second purpose to this is protecting the regime. Indeed, the announcement may be indicative of how fragile the Kim regime is becoming. As such, Kim and others loyal to him could be getting nervous about outside powers taking advantage of the current weakness of the dictatorship, and are hoping that this will dissuade those powers.

What's clear about the diplomatic history of North Korea is that it negotiates through saber rattling, not through compromise or backing down. One of the truisms about poker is that the more confident a player acts, the worse his hand is. NK is the same. Every time they're on the ropes, they'll start blustering and putting on a show of strength. So we'll see how this plays out. I'm honestly not worried about the country attacking anyone. The regime knows full well that they'll lose a war. Their entire strategy is to ensure opponents that they'll bloody their noses enough that it's not worth the other guys starting the war first.

Before leaving, let's just remember that it was Bill Clinton who worked out the failed Agreed Framework that propped up the Kim regime while it flouted its own obligations to the agreement. Yet another issue that he managed to put off so it could become an even bigger problem for future presidents.


Tour Sunny North Korea!

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 10:47 pm

Yes, you too can visit the people's paradise! Just a little slice of heaven, though, and you'll always be watched, you can't take pictures, and don't talk to the locals in the unlikely event you even get a chance. The account is pretty interesting and amusing in some ways, especially the part about stationing soldiers with alert flags every hundred yards in case someone points their Kodak out the bus window.

Overall, though, it's a little depressing at just how oppressive the North Korean state is. Much like the piece's author, I'm inclined to say that it's best not to put any money into NK and thereby support the place, but that it may be best to show the few North Koreans they encounter, even the soldiers, what the face of the West and the Westenized East looks like, with all its freedom and affluence. Those two things tend to be the most potent propaganda… they speak for themselves, and Kim Jong Il can't match their power with a thousand catchy slogans. If even a few locals stop to ponder why the South Koreans look so healthy and happy and why it is that while South Koreans can visit the North, but North Koreans can't visit the South, it'll be a small step in the right direction.


North Korea Bombing Plans

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 11:43 pm

The Washington Times is reporting that the military under the Clinton administration had plans drawn up for using nuclear weapons against North Korea if it invaded South Korea. These stories come out occasionally that we have plans for attacking such and such country, sometimes with nuclear weapons, sometimes not. I really don't see why this is supposed to be news. Part of the military's job is to draw up all sorts of battle plans for just about any situation. That way, no matter what "surprise" scenario may occur, there's a ready made plan of action for how to respond to it. That means we certainly have different attack plans on file for North Korea, China, Russia, Taiwan (in case of Chinese invasion), Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc., and these plans are frequently reviewed and updated. We probably even have an invasion plan for Great Britain lying around somewhere. It doesn't mean the plans will ever be used; the purpose is having them available should they ever be needed.


Kim Jong Il – A God Among Men

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 8:53 pm

For whatever reason, I wandered onto the site for the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, aka North Korea.  I started reading the biography for Kim Jong Il and it's… interesting.  Some excerpts:

From his early years Comrade Kim Jong Il possessed the power of keen observation, the power of clear analysis and extraordinary perspicacity with regard to things and phenomena.  he had a faculty for creative thinking, regarding every problem with an innovative eye.

Courageous and ambitious, Comrade Kim John Il did everything in a big way; he had a strong and daring character which enabled him to carry any difficult task to completion with his own efforts, once he started it.

Possessed of warm human love and broadmindedness, he was always generous, unceremonius and warm-hearted among people.

His unusual natural disposition was nurtured, so developing the traits and quality of a future revolutionary and leader, thanks to the exceptional education he received from his parents.

It then talks about his education, which was wide and "profound."  Most of it deals with how he studied everything possible and how he advanced the party and the revolution.  I did like this part:

During his practice at the Pyongyang Textile machinery Factory he aroused the workers of the factory to launch a movement for  model machines in maintenance and operation, personally handling lathe No. 26.  This movement became the inception of the "model machine movement of loyalty for emulating lathe No. 26″, which is now conducted as a mass movement.

"Dude, what movement are you part of?"   "The model machine movement of loyalty for emulating lathe No. 26.  It's totally sweet."

He's a great author too:

In his treatise On Reexamining the Question of the Unification of the Three Kingdoms, Comrade Kim John Il comprehensively analysed and criticised the "Theory of the Unification of the Three Kingdoms by Silla", and the "Theory of Sila's Orthodoxy", and put forward his view on the need of newly systematizing from a Juche-orientated stand the Korean history which had been distorted by flunkey historians.  As it turned out, this was a great scientific discovery.

I didn't bother reading beyond that.  I can only take so much comedy and so many lies at once.


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?


Beijing Olympics

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 9:27 pm

The real logo

I've only watched the opening ceremony and I'm already irritated by this Olympics.  I'm disappointed a tyranny has the opportunity to make it seem like a responsible nation and not an autocratic oppressor of one sixth of the planet's population.  I'm disappointed news organizations haven't said more on China cracking down on potential dissidents ahead of the games, including the parents of children who were killed in the earthquake, which was largely due to official corruption and incompetence (this made the line in the ceremony about the state being the guarantor of children's safety tragically ironic).  I'm disappointed those same news organizations didn't make more of a fuss when they found out China would censor their internet connections despite repeated claims it wouldn't.  In both cases, though, this wasn't surprising.  They were following a long journalistic tradition, best exemplified by the SOB Walter Duranty, of cowing to tyrannies in order to maintain access and privileges and avoid being expelled.  I don't like the Chi-coms.  And I don't like the international media.  They will crow about freedom of the press while in countries assuring it but will cave without complaint to countries denying it.

Some general observations on the opening ceremony:

  • Just as I did in 2004, I dearly wish Bob Costas would shut the hell up.  I've always been irritated during these ceremonies when the man is unable to let more than 10 seconds go by without blithering something – anything – no matter how inane.
  • The three major Chinese philosophies were listed as Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.  What?  No Maoism?  Communism?  Oppression…ism?
  • In all the symbolic dancing representing Chinese history, where were the dances for the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution?  Think of the great costumes with dunce caps on intellectuals and everybody wearing Mao suits!  Oh and backyard smelting furnace props!  Oh, and the leaping, the leaping that could have been done!
  • Of the 22 ethnicities making up China, did that include those that were conquered and forcibly relocated throughout China in order to destroy their cultural identity while their homelands were repopulated by loyal ethnic Chinese?
  • With the nations' delegations walking in, the crowd has thus far cheered for Taiwan, Iraq, the U.S., and North Korea.  Curious selection.  Is it cynical of me to think the cheering is directed and not spontaneous?
  • Those girls along the sidelines in the white caps were pretty active at first.  They're barely moving an hour in.  They better get with it; it would be sad if their families never saw them again.
  • Yao Ming is tall.
  • Why can't they just have somebody run up some damn steps and light the damn torch?  That goes for all Olympic opening ceremonies.


Incompetent Dems

Filed under: Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 9:10 pm

One thing that has truly amazed about American politics in the past four years is that no matter how many problems the Republicans have, how many missteps they make, scandals that pop up (real, imagined, and exaggerated), or how low Bush's approval ratings go, the Democrats have been utterly bereft of vision and have been completely clueless as how to take advantage of any of it. What has kept the Republican party in power the last several election cycles, more than anything, has been the Democrats' complete incompetence. The Dems can't find their ass with both hands and the Repubs can at least manage to land one hand on a buttock when they go looking for it.

As I've skewed more libertarian (with a strong conservative streak) and seen the bang-up domestic job the Repubs have done with their majority status (yet more bread and circuses, bigger government, more pork, poor execution of priorities, and giving up when the going gets tough) I'm no friend of the Republican party, though I usually vote for them only because Dems are far more distant from my politics. So it is with some amusement and consternation that I watch the opposition party constantly being given golden opportunities to make inroads on the majority and to be a responsible minority party and then just messing up every time. Plamegate, Tom Delay's indictment, Duke Cunningham, Iraq, and others and the Dems haven't been able to make a single thing of any of them.

And now there are high hopes among Dems that they'll be able to retake the House in this year's election and possibly gain in the Senate. I wouldn't count on it. These same hopes were around in 2002 and 2004 and look what happened.

Some liberals like to tell themselves the fairy tale that they lose because they don't play dirty like the Republicans do or that they just don't know how to play dirty. Anybody who tells himself that is lying to himself. Both sides come to play, but at this point in American politics, the Dems just aren't very good at it. That is, they know how to play dirty politics and they do it; they just don't do it very well.

Ultimately, it comes down to leadership and vision and the Dems lack both. Harry Reid’s a stuffed shirt, Nancy Pelosi comes off as a San Fran loonball, and then there’s Dean. The Dems did themselves no favor by selecting Howard Dean as their party chairman. It's still amazing that they picked as their dear leader a guy with a failed presidential run whose campaign famously imploded and who amassed a phantom internet funding empire. What, was Gary Hart too busy? Typically, an organization chooses a proven winner to lead it, not a loser who became an instant punchline and who has a reputation for amazing soundbites.

And then the vision problem. Dean and the Dems can't seem to figure out anything to say about themselves other than that they're not Republicans. Here's Howie at a speech last week:

You know, people say the Republicans are tough on defense. How can you be tough on defense if five years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is still at large, the Iranians are about to get nuclear weapons, North Korea's quadrupled their nuclear weapons stash. . . .

Explain to me how it is that this president is tough on defense? I think this president is weak on defense and he's hurt America because he hasn't done the right thing.

So what do you propose instead? What's that? Eh? Speak up!

Oh, but don't worry, through magic fairy dust, we wouldn't even be in this situation now:

If you think what's going on in the Middle East today would be going on if the Democrats were in control, it wouldn't, because we would have worked day after day after day to make sure we didn't get where we are today. We would have had the moral authority that Bill Clinton had when he brought together the Northern Irish and the IRA, when he brought together the Israelis and the Palestinians.

That's right, due to the persistence of the Democrats in an alternate timeline, they would have been able to salve over a centuries old problem. And they'd have the moral authority of Bill Clinton who popped in for a photo op for the Oslo Accords (but did no work in the matter) and who failed spectacularly at the end of his presidency to broker an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. That failure (to be fair, it was mostly because Arafat was a snake not interested in peace) led to the latest ongoing intifada, which got to us to where we are today. Ironic? Sure.


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]


V for Vendetta

Filed under: General,Media,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 1:53 am

I saw V for Vendetta last Friday. I thought it was a well-executed movie with an engaging story.

Other than that, I thought it was dreck.

The modern political commentary was unmistakable, heavy-handed, and distinctly moonbatty. Possessing a Koran earned the death penalty. So, apparently, did being a homosexual. Many other cultural objects were prohibited for being unwholesome. A right-wing fascist dictator has taken over England and uses fear and Christian faith to control the populace. America's in a civil war after "its war" that started 20 years prior went horribly wrong (although it seems Texas is ok in this war since Dell is still making computer monitors). Government surveillance is omnipresent and the control of media absolute. Oh, and at one point, two central characters are aghast at discovering that the worst terrorist attack in the country's history was inflicted by its own government so as to generate fear and… to control the populace.

If there's something that's always annoyed the hell out of me, it's how movies always depict dystopian futures as being that of some conservative theocratic fascism. Why not make them about atheistic socialist dictators that control their citizenries through fear, killing their own people, constant surveillance, and control of the media? Nah, for liberals, the very concept of such a thing would just be too far fetched and unrealistic.

While the tools of control can belong equally well to a fascist or communist dictator, dystopias of the far left have been far more common over the past century as well as longer lasting and more pervasive. Two hands and at least one foot are required for rattling off the communist totalitarian regimes whereas the fascist ones need just a few fingers.

Moreover, while conservatives long ago learned what an ultra-right-wing government looked like and wholly rejected it as abhorrent, liberals have never thus rejected ultra-left-wing governments. The same people who pat themselves on the back for rebuking conservatives and waling about a slide towards an utterly improbable fascism are the same ones who for years denied that Stalin, Mao, Kim, and other communists were doing any wrong. Then when the atrocities became impossible to deny, they merely claimed that the same countries they had so long touted as paragons of leftist idealism were impure forms of socialism and so a socialist utopia should still be attempted. I imagine that Conservatives in the UK would be surprised to learn they're on the cusp of taking ultimate power since the Labour party has been thoroughly dominating them. All of Europe decidedly belongs to the left and most countries are at least quasi-socialist, if not outright so. Their surveillance methods are also far more liberal (ahem) than our own. The world is not in danger of a fascist dictator. It is in danger of a socialist or communist one. Or at least a new one since I can think at least five current ones just off the top of my head.

It is a further irritant that V for Vendetta intimates intolerance towards Muslims will outlaw them. This is high-handed morality considering that the only countries that outlaw religions are Islamic nations. While V portrays a future in which Korans are illegal, in the present, Bibles and any non-Islamic religious texts are forbidden in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere. The movie shows a future Christian theocracy, though the only theocracies that exist now are Islamic. Instead of commentary on what isn't and won't be, why don't filmmakers criticize actual religious injustice? The thought that any modern Western society is a step away from outlawing unfavorable religions, homosexuals, and certain cultural artifacts borders on the absurd. Yet the very societies that already do this, the Islamic societies, are given sympathy as victims. Instead of placing V in an improbable future London, why not put him in actual modern-day Riyadh or Tehran?

Another real shame here is focusing on the terrorist tactics of some supernatural hero who is a latter-day Guy Fawkes, speaks of revolution, says words are powerful, and is more than mere flesh, but is also an idea and "ideas are bulletproof." These men don't exist. Real men who resist totalitarian regimes really are mere flesh and suffer because of it. They live in fear of the consequences of their resistance, they are arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and often executed directly by bullet or indirectly through work. These are the men of Tiananmen Square, of the Hungarian Revolt, of Solidarity, of the gulag in the Soviet Union, of the laogai in China, of the labor camps in North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Nazi Germany. These are Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sinyavsky, Oskar Schindler, Raul Wallenberg, Lech Walesa, Wang Dan, Shen Liangqing, and millions more who go unrecorded. Their ideas may have been bulletproof, but they weren't. Where are the films in their honor? Schindler got one, what about Wang Dan? What about Sinyavsky? They didn't/don't have fancy knives, explosives, or kung-fu moves that get them out of trouble like V does. Real heroes are the men who persevere despite the overwhelming chance of failure, not the ones arrogantly guaranteed of success.

V for Vendetta is a morality tale warning of things that could be in the same way that Mars Attacks! implored us against complacency towards alien threats. The events (or anything similar to them) of neither are going to come about. V is another version of the oft-told tale liberals tell each other whenever history fails to steadfastly march to their drumbeat. Conservative power necessarily means fascism while liberal power means utopia. They ignore their own sins, they ignore the threats they present, and they ignore the sorry history of the extremism of their own ideology. And we're all the worse for it.


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.

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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.
  • 11/14/2005

    Can the Commies Control the Technology?

    Filed under: Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 12:05 am

    One of the especially nice things about the increasing miniaturization and spread of technology is that it's opening up worlds previously hidden to us. Sure, there are there are the pervs who use small cameras to take upskirt pics (I said here that science will always be exploited for pervy purposes), but there are also stories like this. In North Korea, dissidents have managed to smuggle out images and video of the prison camps Kim Jong Il's regime claims do not exist and also street scenes it would rather you not see:

    Images from video smuggled from North Korea show a public execution and what appears to be a concentration camp housing political prisoners, according to a CNN documentary set to air Sunday night.

    Sarah McDonald, who produced and directed the documentary, "Undercover in the Secret State," said her crew interviewed a man who had been in a camp shown in the movie.

    "What he described, we didn't put it in the film," she said Friday from London, England. "It is so appalling, you just can't imagine. He said that 95 percent of people who go into that prison die in the prison. Their whole motivation is to kill these people, but they won't let them die easily.

    "They — they torture them to death over a very long period of time."

    Other images from the film include emaciated children begging and stealing on streets littered with dead bodies and a nearby market selling bags of rice that had been provided by the United Nations for famine relief.

    Nothing quite like a worker's paradise.

    Because cell phone cameras, as well as dedicated digital cameras and vidcams, are essentially spy cams and because they're in so many hands, we're getting to see things that simply weren't possible before now. Regimes are having trouble restricting their use.

    This goes for technology generally. China censors what internet sites its citizens may see and has recently restricted cell phone text messaging. A communist country (especially of the Stalinist derivation) depends on being able to limit and monitor what information gets to its people. In the days of dinosaur media, this was a relatively easy task. Newspapers, broadcast TV, and movies1 were by nature large operations that could not be done discreetly; they required government patronage and control. Violations were obvious. Now, though, entire books can be carried on a memory card the size of a postage stamp. Publishing your thoughts to the world takes only a few mouse clicks. Audio podcasting is increasing in popularity and as memory and bandwidth costs lower, vidcasts will come along as well. And the commies are desperate to control it all.

    It remains to be seen that they can. Information among a populace is like a flow of water. It will leak through any cracks it can find and will steadily beat at its barriers, constantly eroding them until it finally breaks through.

    1. Radio could be done more easily, but signal triangulation could find you out. It was usually left up to free radio operators on the borders broadcasting into the country. This is one reason why radios in North Korea must be registered with the government, are modified to receive only a few approved stations, and are subject to random searches to see if they've been tampered with. [back]
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