Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Start Your Own Country Day

November 22nd was, apparently, Create Your Own Country Day.  I can’t find a site talking about it specifically (yet), but I did find this site that talked about the idea started at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, of creating these autonomous entities that offer freedom from whatever the creator is seeking freedom for.  It’s fun to scroll down and read the different ideas of sovereign localities, or even mobile ones.  I think the idea is mostly for fun and posterity, but I’m sure there are those who are more serious about it.

It brings up some interesting ideas of what people are thinking regarding this.  You’re always going to find people who want to live where they live, but don’t want to live under the construct of current government (whether it be dictatorship or democracy).  But how does that work.  If you and some others declare independence from a country, in general, how much do you have to think through to make everything work correctly.  For starters,  you have to think about all the services you now receive from the government in one form or another, like police, utilities, armed protection from external threats (not that you’d always need that, but the larger the country you are, the more of these things you’ll need.

Police for instance.  If I declared my block an independent country, the police and fire departments wouldn’t automatically be obligated to protect me if someone crossed my borders to rob my house, or set it afire, or whatever.  That stuff is paid for by the taxes you provide, but it’s assumed that you wouldn’t be paying those taxes anymore.  Or would it?  I suppose that you could work out an “international agreement” with the local government  you were surrounded by and offer them a fee for providing services to your tiny country.

Also, although some of these countries identify vast freedoms, like this one called Freedom Ship: ” A city that floats around the world and allows freedom from restrictive government.”  But unless you want your citizens to eventually start killing or cheating each other, there have to be rules.  A society without rules will eventually destroy itself, thus our Constitution and rule of law.  So you can never get completely away from “restrictive” government.

A more serious question.  If a group of people really disliked a country, say the U.S.A., and wanted to secede, would the U.S. let them?  How resistant would our country be if someone wanted to separate on their private property?  At what point do you claim that this is overtly restrictive on the part of our government when you might argue that the Kurds should have been able to separate from Iraq under Saddam or from Turkey and Iran.  If you think that Tibet should be it’s own country, how can you argue that people can’t unite to form their own country out of a portion of North America where they live?  And conversely, if you don’t support that type of thing here in America (a-la President Lincoln, Civil war, etc.) can you argue for Tibet?


PS.  There are also books out there on how to start your own country.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It must be said

I’ve read here and there an ongoing discussion about Islam and Democracy.  There are some who would proffer that Islam is incompatible with Democracy and Islam is a religion of hate and violence.  These views are definitely in the minority, but Muslims the world over seem to want to perpetuate the stereotype time and time again.

I would admit, if I were you, that there are many, many Muslim people who are not violent, have a healthy respect for all people, and regard their religion as something that can exist separate from government.  Are they a majority of the world’s Muslim population?  That theory has been pushed time and time again, that there is a “silent majority” out there that needs to stand up and take on the more radical and violent inside of their religion.

Some might compare this with Christianity, that there are some that promote a very conservative brand of the religion, and in some cases are quite violent and intolerant themselves.  But I think this is unfair to do, as the vast majority of Christians don’t act this way, and when some do there is a sizable reaction within the Christian community itself.

Not so with the Islamic community.  But why is this?
Nonie Darwish is a Muslim who immigrated from Egypt when she was very young.  She wrote a book called “Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.”  Needless to say, she gets a lot of flack from the Islamic community because of the book.  Recently she was supposed to speak at Brown University, but pressure from the Muslim groups on campus, and finally the bowing over of the Jewish campus group, Hillel, caused her speech to be canceled.

From the NY Post:

      Darwish argues that her own community - in the Middle East and in America - is hostile to criticism, even from Muslims. After 9/11, she says, many in Egypt refused to believe that Muslims were responsible. Instead, they blamed "the Zionist conspiracy." From her childhood in the '50s, she's seen seething animosity toward Jews, Israel, America and non-believers generally pervert her culture. "I asked myself, as a Muslim Arab child, was I ever taught peace? The answer is no. We learned just the opposite: honor and pride can only come from jihad and martyrdom." In elementary schools in Gaza, where she lived until age 8, Darwish learned "vengeance and retaliation. Peace," she says, "was considered a sign of defeat and weakness."

Which explains some things.  Like why America is considered weak, and invites terrorism when we back down from places like Somalia.


      An event in 1996 inflamed her longstanding frustration with her community. Her brother suffered a stroke while in Gaza, and his Egyptian friends and relatives all agreed: To save his life, he needed to go to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, not to Cairo. Even though they had spent their lives demeaning Israelis - and boasting of Arab supremacy. Hadassah saved her brother's life; understandably, her appreciation for Jews and Israelis grew. Today Darwish preaches not only the almost embarrassing lengths to which Jews go to seek dialogue and peace, but also their cultural, political, scientific and economic contributions.

But when Muslims want to speak out against this kind of thing, it’s suppressed, sometimes with threats and violence. 
This brings up a point about Islam that I’m hesitant to make, but should for the sake of discussion.  While there are many peaceful Muslims throughout the world (though, probably mostly here in North America), radicalism and/or the tendency to interpret their religious teachings in a way that promotes hatred, discrimination and violence is much more widespread and problematic in Islam than in any other religion in history.  It’s not enough for some Muslims to come out and proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace.  Really? 

How many Islamic countries in the world allow Christians to live and practice their religion freely?  How many of those country’s governments arrest, torture and otherwise freely discriminate against those who are not Muslim?  How many countries (and I can think of a few) treat a woman’s or a Christian’s opinion (like in court) as half or a quarter that of a Muslim man?  This isn’t simply a minority discriminating in everyday live.  This is government sanctioned oppression.  How many countries carry the death penalty for a Muslim converting to any other religion?

Which brings me close to my point.  My wife and I once knew a Muslim who challenged us to read the Koran, saying that just reading it would somehow convince us to the superiority of the Islamic faith.  Now, having not read it yet (although not opposed to doing so someday), I have a difficult time not laughing at that statement, because it seems to me that Islam is a very, very weak religion.  This is a religion that, over the centuries has spread and gained converts by force and coercion.  From the beginning, the prophet Muhammad declared that the method of choice for spreading the word would be conquest.  Even during the enlightened era of the Islamic Empire at the turn of the last Millennium, Islamic converts were gained because Muslims were not taxed, but non-Muslims were.

All that leads to today, where even self criticism is suppressed to the point that there will never be a public argument against Islam that will be responded to with rational, clear headed defense.

If you can’t defend your religion without threats, violence and oppression, what good is your religion?  Is your God so weak that he can’t defend himself?

Hat tip on the Post article goes to Judith at Kesher Talk, via Instapundit.

Saving Billions

The resurrection of the fiscal conservative in the Senate.  Senators Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint worked hard to block wasteful pork in the last session, and now have the Senate in a position where they won’t enact any more meaningful spending legislation until the Democrats take over.  Until then there’s a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund discretionary spending at the same levels as last year until January.   When the Democrats start as majority party they have to deal with this before anything else.

Andrew Roth (via Instapundit) thinks that it’s likely that the Democrats might just continue the CR through the remainder of the year.  If that happens, Coburn and DeMint’s efforts will have saved taxpayers about $17 billion.

I bring this up because it would be nice if the public noted this behavior in the two senators listed above, decided that it’s a nice trait to have in a Senator, and repeated that by electing Senators in 2008 with the same fiscal tendencies.

The Godfather

Do we need to start treating Vladamir Putin like a thug?  A former KGB agent was poisoned in England this week, while he was investigating the killing of Russian journalist Anna Polikovskaya, which is thought to be government related.

      Earlier on Monday, Goldfarb told British Broadcasting Corp. radio that the former agent was poisoned because of his opposition to the Russian regime.
      "It's very difficult to imagine the president's ordered the killing, it's true, and nobody's saying that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin personally ordered it, though it's very likely," Goldfarb said.

If this is true, and recent events inside Russia make this likely, and Putin’s thuggery stretches outside his own country, then he becomes an international criminal and menace and should be dealt with harshly.  However, I doubt anything significant will be done in the U.N. or in Europe.

Russia is still looking more and more Autocratic, with Putin accused of gangster style murders and vote fraud over the past few years.  This just adds another arrow in the quiver for us to treat them as something other than the democracy we hoped they’d turn into.

Incidentally, check out the description of the poison used.

      Thallium is frequently referred to as the poison of choice: Only a gram of the colorless, odorless, water-soluble heavy metal can kill. It is as toxic as arsenic, and even more so than lead.

“What you do not smell is called Iocane powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadly poisons known to man.”

“Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.”

“I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.”
“Iocane powder.  I’d bet my life on it.”

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bomb Iran

This editorial in the LA Times argues that the time has come to make a decision whether we are going to accept a nuclear Iran, or if we are going to attack them.
So if sanctions won't work, what's left? The overthrow of the current Iranian regime might offer a silver bullet, but with hard-liners firmly in the saddle in Tehran, any such prospect seems even more remote today than it did a decade ago, when students were demonstrating and reformers were ascendant. Meanwhile, the completion of Iran's bomb grows nearer every day.
Our options therefore are narrowed to two: We can prepare to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, or we can use force to prevent it.
But he argues that just accepting that fate can't be compared to the standoff that we had with the Soviets or the Chinese. Simply, Iran can feed those weapons off to terrorists and we'd have a hard time retaliating on the hunch that Iran was ultimately to blame.
He also argues that the politics of the region would change dramatically for the worse.
But such ethnic-based analysis fails to take into account Iran's charisma as the archenemy of the United States and Israel and the leverage it achieves as the patron of radicals and rejectionists. Given that, the old assumptions about Shiites and Sunnis may not hold any longer. Iran's closest ally today is Syria, which is mostly Sunni. The link between Tehran and Damascus is ideological, not theological. Similarly, Iran supports the Palestinian groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which are overwhelmingly Sunni (and as a result, Iran has grown popular in the eyes of Palestinians).

Can President Bush take such action after being humiliated in the congressional elections and with the Iraq war having grown so unpopular? Bush has said that history's judgment on his conduct of the war against terror is more important than the polls. If Ahmadinejad gets his finger on a nuclear trigger, everything Bush has done will be rendered hollow. We will be a lot less safe than we were when Bush took office.

Finally, wouldn't such a U.S. air attack on Iran inflame global anti-Americanism? Wouldn't Iran retaliate in Iraq or by terrorism? Yes, probably. That is the price we would pay. But the alternative is worse.

After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, a single member of Britain's Cabinet, Winston Churchill, appealed for robust military intervention to crush the new regime. His colleagues weighed the costs — the loss of soldiers, international derision, revenge by Lenin — and rejected the idea.

The costs were avoided, and instead the world was subjected to the greatest man-made calamities ever. Communism itself was to claim perhaps 100 million lives, and it also gave rise to fascism and Nazism, leading to World War II. Ahmadinejad wants to be the new Lenin. Force is the only thing that can stop him.
So, what do you say? Do you say that we should continue to let the UN work it's magic? That dog has sailed, and considering how effective they've been at solving Iraq and the Sudan, it's apparent that they'll never come up with a solution.
The nuclear non-proliferation treaty? That's over and done as well. The minute North Korea lit up a small warhead and nothing was done to stop them, every tin-pot dictator in the world was put on notice that acquiring nukes will not get you any trouble from the international community. There was never anything in place to police the non-proliferation treaty that held any water. Once again, it's going the be the U.S. or nobody.

Friday, November 17, 2006

RIP Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman, the father of modern Libertarianism, has died at 94.  You can find many links and remembrances over at Instapundit, who is a natural libertarian.

Myself, although I lean farther to the right on social issues, have a strong libertarian streak that was started in the early 90s when a roommate of mine gave me a book by Friedman, Free to Choose.  Up until that point I had been fairly liberal and tended to vote Democrat.  Needless to say, he changed my thinking on economic policy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Reading assignment

Reading assignment for all of you.  This regarding the constant battle between secularists (read:  science and logic vs. religion) and religion in the political sphere.

The first is by Donald Sensing, who argues that modern western science is, in fact, at it’s core a religion.

      And so, following Polanyi's line, we have a culture that is scientistic as well as scientific. Scientism is faith in science. As the dominant world view of the West, it is considered self-validating. Scientism makes two major claims, neither of which, however, are testable using the scientific method:

      (1) only science reveals the Real and only science can discover truth;
      (2) scientific knowledge of reality is exhaustive, not inherently limited, is holistic and sees reality as reality really is.

      Early modernity’s mechanistic view of creation was originally proposed as a way to preserve God’s agency. This view was soon supplanted by the view that knowledge about the world beyond the self was limited to what could be known through sense-perception of material things. The materialism of the modern world view is its central feature. Thus, “the modern world view simply has no natural place for God in it,” as philosopher of science Langdon Gilkey put it.

There are very few Christians (and western based Muslims) who feel that science has no place in religion.  They can coexist in harmony, as long as scientific revelation consists of honesty, instead of pretending it has foundational truths instead of what it actually has, which are theories about how the universe operates.

      The tension between Islam's historic traditions and modern pressures of scientific modernity is found throughout the Muslim world. Many Arab intellectuals know that their countries have fallen behind most of the rest of the world. They want to gain the benefits of technological society, but without the cultural baggage that comes with it. They want to modernize their societies but not Westernize them. Their vision of modernization is mostly technological, such as communications, medical science, education, transportation, and consumer goods. They want our DVD players but not our DVDs. Even al Qaeda will accept the trappings of technology, they just reject the foundation.

Contrast that with this article from the Washington Post about a new think tank in Washington designed to promote “rationalism” as the basis of public policy.

      The brainchild of Paul Kurtz, founder of the Center for Inquiry-Transnational, the small public policy office will lobby and sometimes litigate on behalf of science-based decision making and against religion in government affairs.

There’s a list of issues that the article brings up in regards to “faith based” governing that they are concerned with, but I must print this quote first.

      While the speakers at the National Press Club unveiling were highly critical of Bush administration policies regarding stem cell research, global warming, abstinence-only sex education and the teaching of "intelligent design," they said that their group was nonpartisan and that many Democrats were hostile to keeping religion out of public policy.

First of all, I’m not sure what the global warming issue has to do with “faith.”  Both Darwinism and Global warming have a lot to do with perception of facts and limited knowledge of the limited data that gets force fed to Americans.  The dispute is the interpretation of data by many scientists who believe that the warming going on is mostly natural and cyclical.

Abstinence-only is more of a moral issue, but it needs to be studied further to see if it works well.  I can’t see how it would be such an anathema to scientists when if the plan were followed, it would indeed curtail the spread of HIV and other STDs.  There’s even some evidence that it does work.

Stem cell research plods on, but the issues involved circle around the use of a particular type.  This is less religious (unless you consider fetuses just useless tissue when not used for stem cell research) than it is ethics related.  We should be cautious when rocketing down new scientific paths, lest the ethical horrors happen after significant study has been made.

      "In the current climate there is an implicit, if demonstrably false, sense that if your actions are based on a belief in God you are good person, and if they are not you are a bad person," Krauss said. "We should be very concerned that our political system reinforces the notion that the more you pray for guidance, the better suited you are to govern."

I’m not sure where this angst is coming from.  Where in the current culture do you see people arguing that doing anything in particular just out of faith in God automatically makes you a good person?  On the contrary, never in our history has religion been so non-mainstream and subject to scrutiny than in the present.

New management

Update on my political post from  yesterday.  I was thinking that the Democrats might change their behavior regarding Iraq now that they are in power and are ultimately more responsible for what happens from here on out.  They’ve been criticizing Bush for years about not listening to the military and the generals regarding strategy in Iraq, but the recent hearings where the generals argued against timetables for withdrawal.

So, as Glenn Reynolds points out, either the Democrats were keeping hush hush about what the generals and the military in general actually thought about strategy in Iraq and went with the populist cut and run rhetoric, or they are ignorant as to what military thinking is currently and should have kept their mouths shut.

And now they govern.

Seriously, though, I hope these hearings and commissions are an excuse for the Democrats to get more serious about the war effort.  I’m sure they’ll be able to spin their past behavior in a better light and move on (so to speak).  But if they don’t, what credibility do they have left on the issue?

And read down on the Instapundit post, where Glenn prints part of a letter that indicates rank and file non-coms feel like getting the Iraqi army ready to take over for themselves will take up to 5 years.

And despite this, Senator Reid is STILL calling for withdrawal
Note this ABC post reminding us that some Democrats, including Harry Reid, also took money and gave favors to Jack Abramoff.  How refreshing not to have those corrupt Republicans in power now, isn’t it?

Update:  Also, don’t forget that Nancy Pelosi seems to want to put Alcee Hastings on the Intelligence Committee as chair.  This is the same Alcee Hastings that was impeached from the federal bench for corruption, taking bribes from the mob.  From the New Republic.

      There's ample reason to think that Americans cast a negative vote last week--not so much for Democrats as against Republicans. Over the next two years, voters will be watching to see whether Democrats are up to the responsibility of governing, and doing so with the national interest in mind. If Nancy Pelosi bases her decision about such a critical position on a combination of personal feuding and identity politics, she won't just do Republicans a favor by giving them a readymade bogeyman to attack. She will have shown voters that she's unable to push aside petty institutional politics in the name of the national interest.

Not a good sign when you’ve just been elected into the majority on the basis of criticizing the other party of corruption and there are already corruption issues in your own party that you have to deal with.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On the Election

I have finally decided to issue a few thoughts on the election last week.  I’ve been exceedingly busy these last few days, and up until the election I spent considerable time looking at some of the local issues.  So you might wonder what I thought of the age we live in now that the Democrats have taken not only both Federal houses, but also both houses and the Governorship of Oregon.  It’s getting increasingly difficult for a Republican to win in this state, although Gordon Smith is still pretty popular as an incumbent.

First the Senate/House races.  So the Democrats took back over from a pitiable Republican contingent.  When the Republicans took over 12 years ago, they were replacing a ages old Democrat led institution because moderate America was looking for a slightly more conservative congress in the fiscal area.  There were some other reasons too, but the Contract with America was all about the moral and core values of conservatism, and people believed that they had a shot at changing what up until that point had been a basically stagnant Democratically

controlled congress.

So they get elected and for the next 6 years fight with Bill Clinton to get stuff passed.  Some of which they did, due to Clinton’s smart move to the center of politics.  Some they also didn’t get through, due to the fact that Clinton is in the opposing party as much as anything.  In the same hour, the economy churned

forward with the added productivity that the internet fashioned.  And so we had limited spending, due to all the vetoes and budget battles, and we had extra tax revenue due to the burgeoning economy.   And so you get a budget surplus.

Now, after 12 years, the last 6 of which were spent under a Republican President, with the exception of support for Bush during the War on Terror, we have a congress who have ramped up federal spending to heights that congresses back from antiquity couldn’t imagine.  Definitely backing out of a few of those promises from the Contract with America, me thinks.

They’ve also spent some time doing terrible damage control from events that they never had much control over, like the Foley incident, or Hurricane Katrina.  Truly these events could not be blamed on the Republicans as a whole, and yet that’s what American has just done.  They’ve sunk the Republicans not because they’re wrong on foreign politics and the war, but because they abandoned conservative ideals and pushed the pork.

And yet that’s not what the Democrats are about.  They are going to be emboldened with the knowledge that America voted them into power because Bush is wrong on the war and we need to cut our losses and get troops out of Iraq.   They tried to look tough, but the leadership has been making cut and run

noises for some time now, so I guess we have to live in hope that Bush can control congress and finally reach out across the aisle in order to maintain what is the correct course of action (by which I mean continuing toughness in the greater war, not specific operations in Iraq). 

However, from what I’ve been reading about the committee that was set up to study the effort in Iraq and make recommendations (like deployment or some such), it sounds like Democrats have an out here.  Except for those in the Senate who are vehemently opposed to us being there, the rest of the Democrats can wait until this committee has finished and then decide if staying the course is the right thing to do, or whatever the recommendation is.  Now that Democrats are in power, they have a bit more responsibility to conduct foreign affairs sanely instead of just criticize everything the Republicans were doing.  So perhaps saner heads will rule.  Here’s hoping.

But I reject the notion that the Democrats have a “mandate” to do anything.  I’ve read several stories about how the election was a mandate for larger government (not in a positive way), or a mandate to get our troops out of Iraq, or a mandate for minimum wage and universal health care.  Just read a bit on the politics of the change in majority and you’ll see this type of talk.

However, considering that the Democrats had no over-reaching vision in this last election, and that the Republican losses appear to have more to do with general dissatisfaction with many Republican congressmen straying from core conservative values, I’m wondering if you can pull anything substantial from the voting public in this last election.  The Democrats didn’t really push anything hard this year, except for nailing Republicans on ethics and economic issues, where they were weak.  They spent a particular amount of time on Iraq as well, but Bush’s numbers are up in that arena in the last couple of months, and the “cut and run” philosophy of the Democratic base can hardly be the carrot that enticed moderate voters.

I think this was more Republican voters straying elsewhere or staying home.

If I had one message for the Democrats who are wanton to ad lib the “mandate” talk, it would be thus:  Be Statesmen and women, not political myna birds.  Don’t govern by polls, do what you think is right, not what you think will get you elected, or what your party is forcing you to do.  That would be a nice piece of advice for any politician, but I think Dems need to stop focusing on what they think the public put them in office for.

I look forward to a two year period where either Bush and Congress are held static, dug in their trenches, or Bush and the Democrats learn to work together unlike the two have done for the past 6 years.   If the former happens, at least spending will be held in check for a couple of years.  However if a Democrat wins the Presidency we’ll have a situation we haven’t in a while, which is full Democratic control of the federal government, and won’t it be interesting to see how they react in that mode.  Will it be any different than what we just had for 6 years?

By the by, normally I link to the stuff I've been reading which contributed to the thoughts you see on this page.  However, this is a  collection of thoughts over a week, and the links inherent would be difficult to amass, and so if you want to find out where all this is coming from, just look at any paper or blog over the last week or so. 

Middle East happenings

News from the Middle east not having to do with Iraq:
Arabs are going to start giving money to the Palestinians despite the international ban on giving until the Hamas government recognizes Israel.

The Arab nations are pushing Hamas to attend a peace conference with Israel, but it still hasn’t met the international stipulations, and if they start getting money from some other source, I don’t think they’re going to start.

The Arab nations apparently are going to give money as a protest to the UN over the U.S. veto of resolutions designed to chastise Israel over the latest strike in Gaza.

Tony Blair is asking Syria and Iran to “help” stem the violence in Iraq.  All they need to do is renounce terrorism and any nuclear ambitions they might have.  Seems like not a lot, right?

Lebanon’s cabinet approved UN plans for setting up an international tribunal to try suspects from the investigation of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  Also, a few pro-Syrian members of their parliament have resigned too, so things are looking ok in Lebanon.  Except for all that rebuilding they need to do after the Israeli attack a few weeks ago.

Violence by the government backed Janjaweed militants in the Darfur region has spread to neighboring Chad.   “Everything was burned to the ground — even the Koran was burned.”  I guess you can’t argue that they’re a religious militia.  It appears to be entirely ethnic, and further supports the idea that this is, indeed, genocide.  But you already knew that, right?  Someone please tell the UN.

Oh, and by the way, if I were the president of Chad, I’d be pretty pissed right now.

In other news, Kofi Annan decided today that the real cause of tension between the west and the Islamic world is, of course, just politics.

      Political tensions, rather than religious differences, are the source of the rift between the West and the Muslim world, and any resolution must include an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday.

      His claim that religion was not the root of the conflicts that have multiplied since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States contradicted those of some theorists who believe cultural and religious identity emerged as the main source of tension following the Cold War.

      In a challenge to that theory, Annan traveled to Istanbul to attend a meeting of the U.N.-backed "Alliance of Civilizations Initiative," which enabled a group of experts and luminaries to draft a report on how to promote peace.

Oh, is that all we need?  We need a group of experts to draft a report and then we’ll have peace?  And I was so worried!

I think the terrorists would have something to say about what the core issues in the aforementioned tension would be, don’t you?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Unified Palestine?

Palestinians look like they are moving toward a unified government, with Hamas and Fatah playing nice. 

      Until now, the efforts have gone nowhere, because Mr. Abbas - who heads the Fatah faction - has insisted that any new government accept commitments made by previous Palestinian governments, such as recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting peace agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians. These are issues that Hamas has refused to accept.

Abbas has wanted a unified government and reduced Hamas control, or a change in their stance toward Israel, in order to try and re-qualify for loans from Europe that they’ve been living without for a while now.  One of the main reasons that the loans were discontinued was that the Hamas government didn’t recognize Israel and wouldn’t renounce violence. (Note:  I guess that’s two reasons)

They’re not really saying in this article why the parties are now moving toward unity, and there’s no indication that Hamas is giving in on the Israel recognition, so what gives?  Hamas and Fatah live in a state of constant tension with each other, so I wonder how long it will be before they are back at each other’s throats.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Oregon Measure 46 and 47

Yes, we have lots of ballot measures to think about here in ole Oregon this year.  And these are just the state-wide ones.

Measures 46 and 47 are out campain finance solutions.  Or, rather, someone's attempt at a solution.  The first one just modifies the constitution to allow limits on campain contributions.  As it stands now, the constitution plainly states that you can't limit it in any way.  In that way Oregon is one of the least controlled environments for election contributions in the United States.  Do we think that's a problem?
Measure 47 is, then, a limit on contributions to campains that is pretty far reaching.  All contributers to all sorts of political action is touched by this measure. 

I might be amenable to the first measure, seeing as there might be some reason to limit contributions for something, like, for instance, money coming in from out of state (there, my hat tip to all the nuts who put that as their reason for opposing some of the other measures).  However, it's far from certain where this opening would take us.  Just look at the second measure I'm referring to, measure 47.  It places limits on everybody, limits candidates spending on their own campains, and has unspent money reverting to the government after the election is over!  What, is that a tax?
Oh, my, gracious does the text of this revision to Oregon statues take up pages and pages of the ballot guide.  Do we really want that kind of trash added to the state books?  Even Willamette Week, who seemingly endorsed the measure, admitted that their eyes glazed over after a period of trying to wade through all the regulations involved with the bill.  (Here's WW's endorsements of all the measures and Candidates, most of which I disagree with).
Anyone wanting to know what limiting campain contributions does just has to look nationally.  People with money and some agenda will find a way to get that money into the process for the purpose of influence.  Wouldn't you like that transfer of money to be a little more obvious to follow?
If you want to improve this, go for more transparency laws in contributions and in the bill making process.  See where the money is coming from during election time, and where the money is going during legislative sessions.  That might be a measure I'd vote for.
Voting: NO on both.

Side note.  Interesting collection of folks opposing these measures.  The ACLU is opposed.  As is the right wing Oregon Family Council.

Oregon Measure 45

More local blogging.

OK, I'm kind of bringing up the rear with these last few state ballot measures.  The vote is on Tuesday, and since our state is vote-by-mail, most of you have already sent in your ballots, I'm guessing.  I've looked somewhat at these, but I'm running out of time to do any thorough research, so I'm going to wing it a bit and just give you my opinion about where I'm at.

Measure 45 is about term limits.  The rule would be 6 years in the House and 8 years in the Senate and no more than a total of 14 in both (which just adds up, so why even say it).  I'll admit right now that this measure tugs at my heart strings.  I've never wanted to vote for a measure concerning a limit on political terms so badly in my life.  Why?  Well, all you have to do is look nationally, where the longer a person lives in Washington, presuming to represent the boys and girls back "home" the longer they seem to entrench in a pseudo-corrupt, pork infested and insulated world and lose any conception of how regular people think and what people really need.
However, two things cross my mind before I look into the arguments.  One is that this isn't the national congress, and that means that a. congresspeople are not living thousands of miles away and b. they aren't full time and have to return home for part of the year and tend to their actual life, job and all.
Two is that the limits on tenure are pretty small.  Three terms for House and 2 terms for Senate.  Is that too short a time to really get to understand the runnings of our government? 
Also, I'm naturally opposed to amendments to the state's constitution unless I think they're a really REALLY good idea that is necessary to the underlying structure of the government.

Anyway, I looked throught the arguments and here's what I'm thinking. 
The major arguments of the opposition that were persuasive boil down to the effectiveness of the legislature.  Argued over and over again, with some detail, was that without some legislators that have been there for long periods of time, the experience to handle bureaucrats and other parts of government that don't cycle in and out like congress people dimminishes. 
I'm slightly less convinced that influence by lobbyists would be more pronounced.  I think the supporters argument that lobbyists rely on long term relationships and legislator's desires to stay in office after the next election make long-term legislators more beholden to them.  But that's just my logic working it's way out.  And government has never been a very logical place.
However, I've read and heard from several sources that the 90s was a particularly chaotic place for legislative action, and wonder if it's right that experience is a necessary thing.  Gridlock was pronounced in the 90s, and there was trouble trying to solve funding for education and other things.   Is this because legislators weren't experienced enough, or is it because bureaucrats are too powerful in the government?
I am sympathetic to the supporter's argument that the citizens of Oregon voted for term limits, and the decision to turn back was not placed back on the citizens lap, but was reversed by the legislature and the courts.   Would the public have agreed? 
I'm generally against this measure, but on principle I like the idea.  I wish that the legislature would understand that it's not about being in power, but I think that the only way to really solve that is going to be to remove the power from the government, i.e. reduce the size significantly (and no, I don't think there's been a Democrat or Republican who's ever put up more than petty and insignificant ideas to reduce only peripheral areas of government.  No one's really serious about it).  The more money the government takes from us, and the more it tries to do "on our behalf,"  the more power it offers to the bureaucrat AND the elected official AND the lobbyist.  Only by reducing it will we lessen the lure of the career politician and corrupt state.
But for now, I'm voting: NO

Bush was right before he was dumb

Looking at the NY Times yesterday I was struck by this article's insistance that the Bush administration made a fatal and horrific error in letting information about how to build an atomic bomb out to the public by way of secret documents discovered in Iraq displayed on the internet.  (First seen on Instapundit)
The documents, roughly a dozen in number, contain charts, diagrams,
equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building that nuclear
experts who have viewed them say go beyond what is available elsewhere
on the Internet and in other public forums. For instance, the papers
give detailed information on how to build nuclear firing circuits and
triggering explosives, as well as the radioactive cores of atom bombs.

Apparently this isn't the first time either.
The government had received earlier warnings about the contents of the
Web site. Last spring, after the site began posting old Iraqi documents
about chemical weapons, United Nations
arms-control officials in New York won the withdrawal of a report that
gave information on how to make tabun and sarin, nerve agents that kill
by causing respiratory failure.

The administration did this under pressure from congressional Republicans worried that they wouldn't be able to adequately research the 48,000 boxes of documents for clues that Hussein did actually have weapons and weapons programs in support of their decision to invade the country.
Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in
the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making
sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the
Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein’s
scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a
year away.

OK, this is the whacked part.  I'll admit that the process of releasing this data wasn't air tight.  Bush and company look pretty bad for releasing the data pell mell, and he can't just say "because they told me to," of senate Republicans, and look like a responsible adult.  It's possible that Iran and many other countries are now a "year away" from producing their own nukes because of this information.
However, you do need materials to make the bomb out of, the most important being fission matter, like say: yellowcake.
They would have needed something like... um... you know... what's that stuff called? Oh, that's right.
But we know Iraq would never make an effort to get yellowcake. Joe Wilson had tea with officials in Niger who said so.

That's right.  While rightly chastising the administration for it's handling of sensitive and secret data (which the Times is being hypocritical for doing anyway), the Times all but admits on it's face that Bush was right 3 and a half years ago when we invaded Iraq.  The country was closer to building a bomb than Iran, and was trying to get sanctions and inspections lifted before 2003.   So everything the Times and the left have been trying to do over the last three years to convince us that Bush was lying is contradicted by an article in the Times itself.
I think the Times editors are counting on this being spun as a "Boy,
did Bush screw up" meme; the problem is, to do it, they have to knock
down the "there was no threat in Iraq" meme, once and for all. Because
obviously, Saddam could have sold this information to anybody, any
other state, or any well-funded terrorist group that had publicly
pledged to kill millions of Americans and had expressed interest in
nuclear arms. You know, like, oh... al-Qaeda.
The antiwar crowd is going to have to argue that the information
somehow wasn't dangerous in the hands of Saddam Hussein, but was
dangerous posted on the Internet. It doesn't work. It can't be both no
threat to America and yet also somehow a threat to America once it's in
the hands of Iran.
Captain Ed points out that by declaring the documents a serious security threat, they are also suporting their authenticity.  So if the documents are authentic Iraqi security secrets, this little tidbit will also prove hard to explain for the anti-war crowd.
This is apparently the Times' November surprise, but it's a surprising
one indeed. The Times has just authenticated the entire collection of
memos, some of which give very detailed accounts of Iraqi ties to
terrorist organizations. Just this past Monday, I posted a memo
which showed that the Saddam regime actively coordinated with
Palestinian terrorists in the PFLP as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
On September 20th, I reposted a translation of an IIS memo written four days after 9/11 that worried the US would discover Iraq's ties to Osama bin Laden.

And he also point to some documents in this mass of information that highlight Saddam's contacts with bin Laden in the mid 90s.  So how much more evidence does the left crowd need before it shuts down the "Bush lied about WMD" thing?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Oregon Ballot Measure 44

I'm typically skeptical when looking at ballot measures, and that skepticism goes up big time when I see some thing about "Medical Plan"  or "Prescrition Drugs."  I'm not surprised to see the types of supporters that are arguing in favor of it either.  However, I'm not sure that I really dislike this measure considering that it's the first time that someone is asking government to provide something at virtually no cost to anyone.
No, really.  The whole point about this measure is that it sets up a bulk rate for prescriptions, giving people who don't have prescription coverage a way to buy them on the cheep.  The statement of financial cost in the ballot guide says that there isn't any.   And there are no arguments against this measure at all.

Is there anyone out there opposed to this?
Perhaps not.  I noticed that the Oregon Family Council, which is a Christian organization, finds no reason to oppose this.  I thought that, since I seem to be taking not much time to go over this one, that I would point to this resource for Christians.  They seem to have a head on their shoulders and argue things from a Biblical point of view.  I've agreed with most of their positions, except for measure 40 (and then I think I'm only differing on symantics).  Although they seem to not have their guide online (I got one at my church), which isn't very convenient.  It's not like they're charging for it.
Jack Bogdanski says: Yes!  "poor people should be able to get medicine, for Pete's sake."
Wait!  Here's somebody.  No on 44. I can see where this person is coming from.  They're nervous about big Pharma companies taking advantage of the state later in the process and raising the "bargain" price they've negotiated.  I'm not sure I see where they're definitely going to do that, and I'm going to give the industry a shot at being the good guy for once.  If they come through everyone looks like the hero.